Jorah Kai sat down recently with fantasy author Donna Sundblad to discuss his publication of Amos the Amazing and writing.
Hi Donna, thanks for asking me to do this interview. Like most Chongqingers, I’ve spent most of the last two months in total lockdown in Chongqing, China – I have rarely left my apartment and only then to get COVID tests (on campus) or to pick up deliveries from the school gate.
About a week ago, China lifted all lockdowns, and every single one of my friends in my city now has a fever and has tested positive for COVID. My wife and I have stayed home and remained relatively cautious, and I’m lucky I’m still COVID-negative. We’ve dodged COVID for almost three years now! I must be one of the last humans on Earth to have avoided it all this time, although I guess most of China is in the same boat. I’m happy it seems so mild now, and most of my friends have recovered in a few days or are almost there. I hope to go back and visit my family in Canada this coming summer (2023), but publishing Amos the Amazing in English, looking forward to this audiobook release for Spring Festival, and the Chinese language edition release later 2023 is keeping me excited and life interesting. I’ve had so many unique opportunities as a foreign expert, writer, and teacher in China over the past nine years. I cannot clearly express the gratitude and quality of experiences I’ve been afforded. I still believe moving to China was the best decision I ever made, and I hope for many great experiences still to come.
Don’t miss the link to a 1-hour’ teaser’ of the Amos the Amazing audiobook read by award-winning voice actor Christian Neale. We aim to release the complete book on Audible, Spotify, and other platforms for Spring Festival this year (around Feb 1, 2023). I’m excited, Christian is a fantastic voice actor, and I think this book will be a real treat.
Book Hookup sat down with Jorah Kai recently, who wrote Amos the Amazing, and this is what he had to say:
When did you consider yourself a writer? Do you know what I mean? The time when you realized that you crossed the line from ‘want to be a writer’ to ‘I am a writer’.
I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I was an avid reader as a child and remember writing stories at about 8-10 years old. I first published a short story at about 11 in middle school and got a lot of good encouragement along the way. I wrote stories growing up and published short stories and poems in college. That said, I was not a published novelist until I moved to China, and actually, the catalyst was the beginning of the pandemic. I remember looking at a bookshelf full of printed drafts and binders of books in development and felt a creeping horror, similar to Hemingway’s musings in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ when he realized he wouldn’t have the chance to write all the stories in his life he put off. Suddenly, I had to tell my story, and I started to blog about my pandemic. That became Kai’s Diary (The Invisible War), a book published in multiple countries, editions, and languages. I realized that the only difference between a book almost finished and a published book was my desire to take it seriously enough to put in the time and hard work to get it done. I promised to repeat the success of that 2020 book, and this, Amos the Amazing, is my next book and first (published) fictional novel in 2022. I’m proud of it and hope to keep writing like I’ve got a fire under my butt because, as the great stoic philosopher Seneca said, life is short, but if you use your time wisely, it’s long enough.
Do you feel you have more than one voice in your writing?
I definitely do. My life has been full of colorful experiences, so when I write nonfiction and my ongoing column, journalist work, etc., I never doubt my voice and can write and publish quite quickly. Novels are a different kettle of fish and take a lot more time to refine. Even in one book, Amos the Amazing, there are many voices of many characters, all containing a little of me, but I try to make them quite unique. My next books will push my boundaries in new directions because I don’t want to get typecast as one kind of writer. I always want to expand my voice and style, constantly improve and challenge myself to do something different with my work. That said, I will return to Amos, and I enjoy writing in a setting and developing it, but I have no rush to return. It’ll happen when it feels right, and I want the next one to be much better and more developed than this one, so I will take the time to do it right.
What kept you writing while getting rejection letters or struggling with writer’s block?
I have been fortunate because my first book happened organically. First, with a nationally and internationally syndicated column, I didn’t have to deal with the typical process of querying and rejecting. My agent offered the book to a major traditional publisher in China, and they said they wanted it off the bat. There were a few in Canada that were interested as well, but my last book was a Chinese story, so we wanted to give them the first crack at it. That doesn’t mean the process was easy, but I bypassed the years of rejection letters typical in this industry, and for that I do feel fortunate. With this second book, we also hit gold and got a very prestigious Chinese publisher to take on the book, and I hope it can be a big commercial success. Their last big science fiction novel (The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu) was the biggest Chinese sci-fi novel since the Qing dynasty- that’s about 150 years! And it’s been published in more than 30 countries and languages sold millions of copies and is currently developing both a Chinese movie series and a Western adaptation from the former showrunners of Game of Thrones and Netflix. So if they can find a little magick in my story and it can be a fraction as successful as their last big release, I’ll be over the moon. Seeing my work take on its own legs as a novel, as a story for others to enjoy, and then as an audiobook with a fantastic voice actor is so unique and rewarding. To see it on the big screen would be the thrill of a lifetime. By teaming up with a good friend, Garrett H. Jones, and using a boutique imprint, More Publishing, to get an English version out to market in 2022, I was able to amplify the stakes and improve the quality of the book that I gave to the Chinese publishers, and able to hold it in my hand, after years of world building and planning – what an incredible feeling! I’m so grateful.
In terms of how to get over writer’s block – well – I think I had it for years when I didn’t take my writing seriously, I treated it as a part-time hobby, and that’s what it was until I realized how short my life is and that if I don’t do something now my life will pass me by, my writing was just that, a hobby. In the last two years, I’ve published two books and have plans for 20 more at least. Life is short, but I want to make the most of it! So I sit down and work every day. Some days it is hard, and I struggle to get 1000 words down; other days, it flows, and I can write 4 or 5000, but I aim for about 2000 words or one chapter a day when I’m drafting a new book – and I use outlines and plan well – and it seems to be working well for me. So much of the magic comes in the revision, working with talented editors who push me and my work farther, and just having the patience to rework the page until I feel it’s ready – or my publishers demand it – and then I hand it in and move on. I do the best I can and know that my following books will improve, so I take solace in constantly growing and challenging myself.
Do you use certain tricks that help prevent you from straying from your goal?
For me now, it’s all about planning and structure. I set daily goals and strive to meet them, no matter what. If life gets in the way some days, I get back on track the next day. The main thing is showing up to meet my Muse at the desk and working at it until the magic strikes.
How did you come to set this goal?
After a dozen abandoned 150-page manuscripts, I realized writing by the seat of my pants was not for me. Now, I use outlines and work with beats, and if I don’t feel artistic or creative one day, I write the scene as I see it, as I would imagine it in a movie – a matter of factly – and then move on. So some of my first drafts can be pretty sketchy in some places, while others are much more artistic and fleshed out, but either way, I get the draft done and know that in rewrites, it will all be developed as it should be before it gets published.
Tell me about any workshops you offer.
I have also taught writing at an international school in China for the last decade, as well as art history, which I really love because art through the ages is just an amazing thing to study and so much inspiration fuel for my work. I’m working with my friend Garrett on some online writing courses in China, one we call the Hemingway course, and we have more in development. We’re working on expanding those in 2023 to teach people all over the world on multiple platforms. Teaching people to slow down and appreciate their lives, to write diaries and stories and record their treasured memories, and for some – to become published authors- is an incredible joy, only second to me in fulfilling my dream of becoming a novelist.
What inspired you to write Amos the Amazing?
That’s a complicated mix of my observations as a Canadian in China for the past decade, seeing my international students travel to remote rural areas in China and teach children there, and a love letter to the thousands of magic, fantasy, and fairy tale books full of classic tales and mythology I loved growing up. I tried to bring all of that into the story of Amos and share with readers a Solarpunk vision for the future. Set in 2038, we have overcome many challenges, working together and employing incredible technologies to improve the world. I hope some young readers who enjoy the book this decade will continue to help curate and invent the technologies tomorrow that will do just that.
How long will we wait for the next book?
Amos has several iterations ahead of it, from the audiobook release in early 2023, the Chinese language release later in 2023, and a special hardcover edition. I am writing a novel set in 1920 in Paris with a horror twist, and I can’t wait to share that when it’s finished – I plan to publish it about a year from now. The next Amos book will come after because I have many stories left in that world to tell, there are so many characters, and they have goals, desires, and plans within plans. I’ve been developing that world for years, and what you see in Amos the Amazing is just the tip of the iceberg. I also love writing nonfiction and have several other books and series drafted that I could work on. If I’m lucky, I will be busy for years and have many stories to offer before I’m old.
How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I wouldn’t say I use any formula, but sometimes I’m inspired by aspects of people I know, characters I’ve read, and ideas I’ve had. I’m sure all my characters have a piece of myself in them and, sometimes, people I’ve known over the years. I spent about 25 years as a touring music performer as a young man, so luckily have seen and known many people in many places and have this vast, weird, wonderful experience of life to tap into and inspire my writing.
How do you develop ideas for your writings, and why do you feel you choose some over others?
Luckily, I get many ideas and write them in journals, and the most challenging part is deciding what to put my time into developing further. I have several ideas that I’ve marked as a trilogy or more… I think it’s important to listen to my dreams, find inspiration everywhere, and be as curious as possible. I ask many questions and try to imagine how far I can take those ideas.
How much time do you devote to marketing your book, and what kind of marketing do you recommend?
This is a good question. I honestly prefer to write first and foremost and think that’s the most important job of a writer. Of course, I have spent time on my website, building content, and have made some YouTube videos, but I prefer to focus on my writing because that’s the expertise I want to craft. Some people have told me that if you want to get traction as a writer, you have to put out five videos a week, but that sounds exhausting! I have teamed up with an American PR agency to do some marketing. I hope my continued partnership with American, Canadian, and traditional Chinese publishers will help get my work out to the world. So I do a little bit, maybe an hour a day, of social media and marketing, but after I get my writing goals done, it sort of decompression before I move onto the day-to-day management of my life and family time.
What are your current projects?
I would love to tell you about my current project, but I promised to keep it an absolute secret until it’s done. I have a few other books in the works, including a paranormal thriller and a time-travel civil war space captain science fiction space opera. All of them are fun to put time into. I hope to be able to keep writing until I’m 100 and have many books to give. It’s always been my dream, and I am thrilled it’s what I can do every day now.
Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
I would love to write on the moon, in a lunar cafe, staring out at the brilliant beauty of space. My wife says she prefers to stay on Earth, but I’m thrilled about the idea of space travel. I don’t think we’re that far off! I’m patient. I’d love to see my books in many languages and countries and eventually follow humans onto other planets. You know, what every writer hopes for, I guess.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? Any special memories that you would like to share…please, oh, please?
Honestly, I’ve already fulfilled my life dream by publishing nonfiction and fictional novels more than once and writing fantasy novels. That was my life dream; the rest is just icing on the cake. A special memory? Holding my copy of Amos the Amazing around Halloween this year, flipping through 400 pages and realizing that it had all come out of my imagination. Putting it on my bookshelf, next to my favorite books, and watching how it owned that space next to those giants and feeling incredibly grateful for my opportunities and blessings. A finished book is more than a dream come true – it’s 1000 or more days when I conquered the resistance and procrastination of life and accomplished some great writing. It’s all of that dreaming and planning and more, manifested in a physical artifact, 110,000 words, painting a world of my creation that will live forever, and when I’m gone, it’s where people can still go to find me. That’s the magic of writing.
How do your friends and family feel about your writing venture in general?
My friends and family are really proud of me and find it inspiring. They know how hard I work at it, and it’s great to see so much hard work finally culminated in a tangible goal. The key is to stick the new book on my shelf, smile, and then move on to the next goal. There will always be another mountain to climb!
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I mean, the first step was moving to a mountain in China, retiring from being a touring DJ/music producer, and focussing on meditating, mindfulness, stoicism, exercise, good sleep, nutrition and listening to my own thoughts. I did that in 2014, my last world tour was 2016, and I’ve spent the last most of a decade sort of relaxing and trying to get ready for my next career. My life was too busy when I was gigging to really put the time in to write well and clearly, and so that was a first step for me. I love my quiet, simple life in Chongqing, China, with my wife and family and I couldn’t get this quality of work done with out the peace and quiet.
I started playing guitar this year, finally, and I really enjoy it. It’s a different skill than writing, and although I used to make music as a younger man, I never played guitar before. It’s so relaxing for me, like therapy. I love to cook with my wife also, and we love watching films together. I really love taking in all kinds of stories. My new habit is to slow down and really appreciate life, every moment, as much as I can. I have begun to really watch the credits at the end of shows and films, and really think about the amount of work that went into them and celebrate all the individuals that made that possible. Plus, you’ll never miss those end-credit scenes when you take the time to really soak the credits in!
If you had to do it over again, would you do anything differently?
Everything! And nothing at all! I’ve had a wonderful, bonkers, absolutely crazy, at times exceptional, and also tragic life, full of ups and downs, but where I am today is where I want to be. Amor Fati, according to the Stoics, means love your life and love your fate, for it brought you here today. Memento Mori means remember you will die. Together, those pillars remind me to use the time I have in every day to its fullest and don’t feel bad about my mistakes because they brought me to where I am today.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Yes. Just do it. There are so many reasons to feel like you’re not good enough yet, to want to procrastinate writing until you’ve got a better space, better gear, have read 100 more books on craft, gotten another degree or two, but actually, the most important part of being a writer is just sitting down to write and putting the time in. Trying, failing, rewriting, and eventually landing on something you’re happy with or that someone else picks up and runs with. If you feel like a writer, if your heart says, this is what I need to do, then just do it. Don’t be afraid to fail because failure is part of the process, and just keep going, keep writing, and keep rewriting. It’s the only way you’ll really learn, and the only way you’ll go pro is by treating it as more than a hobby. I feel like it took me way too long to learn that for myself, but we all get there eventually.
Thanks for your time! I really appreciate all the support. Compared to the relatively ‘instant’ gratification I used to feel when writing a new song and getting to play it out, writing a story or a novel and sharing it can be a long, lonely road full of quiet contemplation and solitude. Still, actually, I’ve grown to love it, and building a community of writers and even finding some very old, dear friends delighted to see my new success, means the world to me. I couldn’t be happier!
Amos the Amazing
A 'Chinese Rock 'N Roll Harry Potter' meets 'A Darker Alice in Wonderland'
What happens when you take an almost-famous D&D dungeon master with a history of headlining major music festivals and breathing fire in the circus and send him to a mountain in China to sit alone with his own thoughts? A new epic solarpunk fantasy novel, somewhere between a 'Chinese Rock 'N Roll Harry Potter' and a 'Darker Alice in Wonderland.'
Finding time can be difficult in today’s hypermodern world. Making time, however, can be magick.
In 2038, in the SOLARPUNK futuristic city of Chongqing, a dangerous story gets told that threatens our entire multiverse. The world’s spiciest ice cream, a trip to Chongqing’s rural countryside, & a strange collection of curious belongings begin this unforgettable tale that mixes Solar Punk science fiction and high fantasy for a thrilling modern fairytale about a boy who risks his soul to chase a 9-tail fox into the dreamlands for the adventure of a lifetime and the chance to save his family.
"A fun YA coming-of-age solarpunk fantasy that's oozing with creativity and imagination." - Marie Sinadjan, ‘Humans Media’
"I absolutely adore Amos. Like Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings." @book_st_gram
"My favorite book of the year." - Brooke Auckerman @BrookLovesBooks23
"Full of excitement, adventure, and magic" - @lisabookishlife
"Once it got me turning the pages, I simply couldn't stop. For me, that was the theme of Taoist thought, which gets me every time I encounter it in the wild. It is so beautiful -- and here it is, like finding grass growing from glass. For other readers, the element that snags and pulls the imagination into this story might be one of a hundred others. That's kind of this book's magic…" - @Donasbooks
"The end left me gasping for the next installment," - Richard Devall, Vine Voice
Amos, a puckish 12-year-old boy who hides his insecurities behind a mask of mischief, dons strange artifacts he uncovers from his father’s childhood bedroom. A peculiar power pulses through his body as he slips into a world of magic and monsters, where the dangerous-amber-eyed huli jing—a nine-tailed fox spirit—draws him out, steals his soul, and poisons his grandpa.
Against all odds, Amos chases the fox into the dreamland, where he meets friends and foes along the way on a perilous and fantastic journey to recover his soul before all is lost. A spine-tingling adventure full of imaginative characters and dazzling creatures, Amos the Amazing will delight adults, teens, and anyone who dares peer beyond the shadows.