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Interview with Jay S. Willis

An avid Dungeons & Dragons role-player, growing up in the 80’s obsessed with Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jay’s reading and writing interests have always skewed toward the fantasy and science-fiction genres.

Jay’s goal as an author is to create an engaging and fun body of work to sustain a generation through their life as readers of Fantasy: from intelligent chapter books to sprawling epics.

Jay S. Willis is a Capital University and Capital University Law School graduate. He is a former Judge and now works as an Assistant Prosecutor; he lives with his family in southern Ohio. When not writing, Jay enjoys playing board games and watching movies.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
In college I majored in History and Political Science and almost graduated with a third-degree in Religion. Upon obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree my path forked either to Law School or Graduate School in Medieval History. I chose Law School and have been an attorney for over 25 years I’ve worked in private practice, as a law clerk, as a Magistrate, as a Judge, and now as an Assistant Prosecutor. I’m sure there’s an alternate reality where I became a History Professor.

Putting my degrees to good use, I contributed three articles to a non-fiction title published by Writer’s Digest entitled Putting the Fact in Fantasy: Expert Advice to Bring Authenticity to Your Fantasy Writing. That book releases on May 3, 2022, and my articles include a glimpse at the history of real world magic and using magic in fiction, the history of The Spanish Inquisition, and a discussion of the use of prophecy and religious persecution in fantasy.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
I am outlining the second trilogy in my Sphere Saga and I have started writing the next book called Order of the Sphere. I hope to publish it by the end of the year. After I complete that book and send it to my editor I’ll switch gears to try to finish Excalibur Company which is the second book in my Arcana Chronicles Middle Grade/YA series. My goal is to publish both of those books this year.

Q.3 What inspired you to write The Sphere Saga?
The Sphere Saga began with a piece of digital artwork called Sunset Mood that featured a beautiful massive golden sphere in the middle of a city. It captivated me and I couldn’t stop pondering why the Sphere was there and what purpose it served. The story sprouted from there. The Sphere Saga is heavily influenced by The Wheel of Time, The Mistborn books, and far too many other stories that have impacted me throughout my life.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A lot of people would likely disagree but I don’t tend to find writing female characters an issue. People are people. We are all human. Sometimes we share backgrounds and characteristics regardless of sex but ultimately our lives and our stories are rooted in what we experience and how we perceive the world. The stories I enjoy telling aren’t usually dependent upon gender unless it is crucial to world-building in some way.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I outline on a broad level planning out events with an idea in mind about what direction the story will take. I wouldn’t say I have a set formula. I tend to discover, write, and allow my characters to show me the path between events. Then I adjust my outline accordingly. 

I develop plots around ideas considering what would be fun, exciting, and something I would enjoy reading. Magic almost always plays a central role in the story. Characters will sometimes drive the story but often my characters crawl out of the outline to push the story forward as needed.

Q.6 What three things a reader can expect from your book?
Magic in some form. Religion and extensive worldbuilding. And relatable characters.

Q.7 What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part of writing Dream of the Sphere was declaring it finished and writing The End. I spent so many years crafting that book it was difficult to let go and decide it was completed at long last. But the story continues throughout the series so at least I don’t need to let go of my characters or my world quite yet.

Q.8 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I’ve been an attorney for over 25 years and that hasn’t changed since I published my books. If I decided to no longer write I would most likely spend that time reading though I would likely go mad without some other creative outlet.

Q.9 If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
As an epic fantasy Dream of the Sphere has several points of view characters. While I haven’t sat down and compiled a complete casting wish list, I would love to have Christina Ricci play Morlas, James McAvoy as Vrom Krazstar, Sebastian Stan as Axamar Sulvastra, and Cate Blanchett as Lornai val’ Adoral.

Q.10 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I’ve published seven books to date along with a novella which is available for free to subscribers of my reader newsletter. I’ve written a few other books which shall never see the light of day. Dawn of the Sphere, Book Two of the Sphere Saga, is my current favorite.

That book explores the lives of the three most powerful mages in the history of the world. I adore Axamar, Lornai, and Vrom, and telling the stories of how they grew into their abilities and how their relationships amongst themselves developed was sheer joy. The Three, as they are labeled throughout history, are at the epicenter of the entire series.

Q.11 If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why?
If one considers intelligent Undead a fantasy race that would be my preference. I’m fascinated by necromancers and death magic throughout fantasy. My first character in World of Warcraft was one of the Forsaken. I find the power of immortality as a Lich appealing.

Q.12 What is one stereotype about fantasy writers is absolutely wrong? What one stereotype is dead on?
We aren’t all elderly white-haired men wearing blazers with leather patches on the elbows smoking pipes and drinking brandy. However, I would venture to guess most fantasy writers can easily get lost in museums, libraries, and bookstores for hours without a care in the world.

Q.13 Do you ever research real events, legends, or myths to get ideas?
As I alluded to in prior questions, the simple answer would be yes. I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to World War II and the Medieval period. I love conducting research. However, my own experiences always serve as a framework for the stories I create. I don’t think it’s possible to divorce my writing from my own perception of the world and my own experience.

My mythology growing up was and still remains Star Wars. Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces served as George Lucas’s framework for building a mythology for my generation.

I also grew up on comic books (Marvel Comics For the Win). The Avengers has always been my absolute favorite comic, way before the MCU and Marvel movies were a thing.

Q.14 Among all the supporting characters in your book, who is dear to you and why?
I cherish Genewa Smithson in my Sphere Saga books. She is a supporting point of view character who is a kind, caring, down-to-earth woman, with boundless common sense. I utilize her primarily as a world-building device offering her wise observations regarding the events unfolding around her and changes in her world. She hails from a simple rural agrarian background but she is intelligent, insightful, and a genuinely good person.

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How do you select him/her?
A. Christian Bentulan
designed all three of my Sphere Saga book covers as well as one for my prequel novella in that series. His company is and he’s also on Facebook. I did a lot of research looking at book covers across Fantasy in general then started narrowing subgenres and narrowed down styles of covers I personally found appealing. 

I found several covers created by Christian and examined his portfolio. I contacted him and looked into his pricing and availability then I contacted another author acquaintance who had worked with Christian and he highly recommended him. Working with him is a delight. His talent is boundless and he's a kind soul.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
I tend to make up a lot of names but I also do research into other languages. If I have a character trait in mind I’ll look into translations of the meaning in other languages sometimes to find name ideas. The sounds and rhythm of the language are important to me so I’ll keep in mind the types of names that are already in place within a story and create something that fits appropriately.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
I glance at my book reviews but try to take them for what they are. Reviews are crucial to authors in self-publishing regardless of whether they are good or bad but we’d obviously prefer good reviews. In the end, reviews are mere opinions and everybody has one.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Neil Peart, the drummer, and lyricist for the progressive Canadian rock band Rush. He passed away in January 2020 and left behind a legacy of diverse music with intelligent thought-provoking lyrics.

I fell in love with Rush when I first saw them perform live in the summer of 1990 and it changed my life. As I devoured their music and delved into the masterful use of language in Neil’s lyrics I always dreamed of someday having the chance to thank Neil Peart and get to know him.

Neil didn’t complete high school because he followed his dream and passion for music. Throughout his life, he never stopped educating himself and was relentless and uncompromising in living his life on his own terms fulfilling the dreams of both his heart and mind.

I would treasure the opportunity to share a drink with the man, express my gratitude for sharing his talent with the world, and simply have an intelligent conversation with him.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. The first book in the Wheel of Time series evolved Fantasy to a new level and set the bar for what constitutes Epic Fantasy for me.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
I’ve loved storytelling since I was very young. The first books I wrote in Grade School were drawings and badly scrawled stories I wrote in stapled-together packets of paper my Mom made for me. I always loved to read, and like most kids who grew up when Star Wars was first released, I made up all kinds of stories with my action figures.

I got hooked on comics in middle school and then discovered Dungeons & Dragons (The classic Basic Red Box). That was the next evolution toward becoming a writer for me. Roleplaying games opened up an entirely new unexplored territory of storytelling. The first actual attempt I made at writing fiction was on a typewriter my Mom got me for Christmas in 1987. I actually found those typed pages last week stuffed away in a bag with a ton of old gaming notebooks. Unfortunately, that shall never see the light of day.

As a History and Political Science major on the path to Law School, I wrote a LOT of academic papers throughout college. My favorite college professor even allowed me to do Independent Studies on the History of Magic and the History of the Spanish Inquisition. After my first year of Law School, I managed to take an entire summer off and spent most of it writing to save my brain from the ravages of that brutal First Year. Writing preserved and salvaged what was left of my sanity.

Writing took a backseat while establishing my career as an attorney, and I didn’t do much storytelling until my kids were born. Then, I wrote the original Blacktooth the Pirate stories for my kids because I got sick of Princess Stories. I even had those first two stories printed into a book form, so my wife and I could read them to the kids. Blacktooth’s Treasure Chest eventually became the first book I actually published.

As far as full-scale novels, I “won” National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) back in 2013 and completed an Epic Fantasy novel that will most likely never be publishable. However, I kept at it and “won” again in 2014 and 2015 with what were the original drafts of my first two Sphere Saga books.

After that, I took some online writing courses with Dave Farland and started working on my craft. However, with Dave’s help, I realized my writing skills weren’t quite where I needed them to be to pull off my Sphere Saga, so I left those behind for a while. 

At the 2015 Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con, I spent a few days with Dave Farland in classes in person and developed the story that became Blood is Thicker than Magic, a Middle Grade/Teen Urban Fantasy, which became my first full-scale published novel.

During the pandemic lockdown in 2020, I devoted most of my time to completing all three Sphere Saga books that I published in October, November, and December of 2021.

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