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Advice from IR Approved Author Jo Sisk-Purvis: “Find the writing habit that works for YOU”

The Watchers received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author Jo Sisk-Purvis.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

The Watchers, released by Evolved Publishing as an eBook on December 11, 2022. The paperback and hardback launched on January 19, 2023.

What’s the book’s first line?

“Argh!” My fingers tangled like the washed-up seagrass piled on the sand, and I struck an angry, sour chord on the strings of my lele.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.

Watchers’ eyes track a miles-distant bird; Listeners’ ears hear a whisper a village away. Knowers, extinct for 500 years, possessed telepathic powers straight out of a nightmare.

Alesea’s sole extraordinary trait is her musical talent. But when Watchers invade her tiny island on the night of her professional debut, she’s the only one who escapes—unwittingly using the powers of a Knower. Now, it’s up to her to save her people while coming to grips with her dangerous new identity, her pacifist beliefs, and only a traitor to help her.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?

Growing up, I couldn’t get enough of female protagonists in fantasy and sci-fi. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy male heroes—The Lord of the Rings was life changing—but I also wanted to see girls and women as more than sidekicks and love interests. I devoured the novels of Tamora Pierce, Anne McCaffrey, Patricia McKillip, and others who brought to life complex, strong, female protagonists. But still one thing was missing for me—even though fantasy characters frequently grapple with the morality of violence, I never read a truly pacifist protagonist. Many are reluctant to commit violence, of course, but I couldn’t find one who consistently and actively chose nonviolence when violence seemed the only possible way to succeed.

This search—and my own struggle with pacifism—led me to create Alesea and her peaceful island community, faithful to a pacifist philosophy-religion I named the A’lodi. I shaped Alesea’s beliefs by writing large parts of the Book of A’lodi, inspired by Buddhism, Quakerism, and humanism, and excerpts appear at the top of sections and are quoted by characters in the book. Then I threw every challenge I could at Alesea. Kidnapped family, dangerous pirates, an army on the “right side” that tries to recruit her, and her own growing telepathic ability that too easily turns into a terrifying weapon. As Alesea’s world grows, her understanding of what nonviolence truly means changes with her, and she realizes that physical violence is only the tip of the iceberg. She struggles horribly, as any protagonist should, and sometimes she fails. She confronts her own prejudices and biases and her impulsive nature. But she never changes her mind about nonviolence being the only choice she can live with.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

The Watchers is an entertaining, page-turning fantasy (at least, the reviewers say so!) but it confronts complex, serious issues that are relevant to everyone, such as violence, privilege, and bigotry. I personally love a SFF novel that makes me think be- yond its story.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?

In her own little world, Alesea is responsible and a brilliant musician following in the footsteps of her mother. But when faced with the bigger world, she is incredibly naive, and her impulsivity is both a blessing and a curse. She is much stronger than she realizes, and loyal to a fault.

Alesea isn’t based on any particular character, but many of her character strengths and flaws are shared with, well, her creator. 🙂 I’m a musician by trade, I’m a lifelong pacifist, and I was certainly a naive teenager with a lot of eye-opening in my late teen and early adult years (though fortunately, nothing like the horrible things that happen to Alesea!)

When did you first decide to become an author?

I’ve loved to write since I first held a toddler’s chunky pencil. I was known in my school years for scribbling stories on the sides of my math tests—some explanation was needed for those 27 watermelons in the man’s grocery cart—turning grammar exercises into social commentary, and creating a fantasy backstory for every member of the marching band. But I mostly just journaled throughout my young adulthood, as I was deeply involved in my music education and career. I wrote my first novel when I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2010, and then I was hooked!

Is this the first book you’ve written?

Though it’s my “debut,” it’s definitely not my first novel! I spent my first few years improving my craft, and Watchers is my fourth of six novels so far. I didn’t want to self-publish, so I went through the submission grind with multiple novels before Evolved took a risk on me. Fortunately, I stayed motivated through my writers group, professional organizations, and having two middle-grade stories accepted into Cricket Magazine.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

I’m a music educator at a fantastic independent school, a music director/pianist/conductor for musical theatre and operetta, and a freelance flutist. You can hear some of my music at I also have three kids, and a wonderfully supportive partner.

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?

Because I’m involved in so many things I love, my writing time varies widely! I write the most on weekends, but I’m also able to write during my lunch breaks, after the kids go to bed, etc. I spend anywhere from two to twenty hours writing each week.

What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?

Write what you love, because you love it! If you write for kids or teens, be sure you spend time around them, especially if you write contemporary fiction. Get some kind but honest critique partners (Zoom makes that easier than ever), and never stop studying the craft. Also, find the writing habit that works for YOU. It turns out I produce my best work in random spurts, while others need a consistent time each day, which is the more commonly recommended method and discouraged me from writing for a long time.

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