Interview with Jacques Antoine

As an introduction, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
When I’m not writing, I’m a college professor, a husband and the father of a 14 year old daughter. As a young man, I studied three different martial arts: judo, aikido and kempo. I ended up incorporating martial arts into my current series mainly because of my daughter’s interest in shotokan karate. The books aren’t about her, but you could say that they were inspired by her experiences in a few different dojos. And I consulted her on all the fight scenes.
What are your books about?
The series I've been working on recently is called The Emily Kane Adventures. These are primarily about the struggles of a high school student to make sense of her life when extraordinary events overtake her family. She's a loner, one of those kids who doesn't open up to others readily. She studies martial arts after school, and she's gotten to be proficient. When disaster strikes, she discovers that her hobby maybe the only thing that can save her, or it may be the very thing that will destroy her.

The first book in the series, Girl Fights Back, came out the summer before last. The second book, entitled Girl Punches Out, came out last summer. The third book, Girl Takes Up Her Sword, came out last spring, along with a longish short story that follows Emily Kane on a spiritual journey to Kathmandu. That one’s called Girl Spins a Blade.

I've also begun work on a new trilogy about the aftermath of an alien invasion of the earth. They come, they conquer--eventually, the human race rallies to defeat them. But at what cost? The novels follow the efforts of a sister and brother as they try to rebuild a life for themselves, bereft of family or friends, beset by dangerous predators, and not always certain who they can trust. What sense can they make of the new race that the human species had to become to prevail? The series is tentatively titled Taking Back Earth, and the first book will be called Atavism.
Why do you tend to focus on the experiences of teenagers?
The short answer is, because I have a teenager in my house, and people always say, write what you know. The long answer: everyone is looking for an answer to who they are. Sometimes the question becomes more muted, less urgent, mainly as we get older and perhaps more complacent. It’s an especially intense question for teenagers. In a literary form, it’s even more interesting when the characters are placed in extreme circumstances. In the first series, Emily Kane’s family is shattered by an accidental encounter with covert intelligence agencies. Her family goes into hiding, but she refuses because she doesn’t want to trade in her name for a fictional identity. She has to figure out who she is, just like any other kid, but now she has to do it on her own and on the run from dangerous enemies who may know her better than she realizes.

In the second series, Taking Back Earth, Maya and Nero shrink from the people they encounter, hiding whenever they can, unable to trust these unspeakably violent creatures. The challenge for them isn't just to figure out who they themselves are, but also who or what the human species might become.
When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing most of my life. But I only began to take it seriously after college. Initially, I tried to write children’s books—the large format, picture books. My grandfather was a successful children’s book author and I guess I was trying to emulate him. I haven’t published any of those manuscripts, mainly because I haven’t come up with satisfactory artwork for them yet. I am also a college professor, and I have to write “professionally” as part of my academic work. Academic prose is very different—dry and expository—but it does train you to use words efficiently. Narrative literature requires a great deal more from a writer, but efficiency is still a necessary virtue there too.
What genre do you prefer to write in?
I don’t really have a favorite genre. I don’t tend to think in those terms. I like to tell stories. As it happens, The Emily Kane Adventures are Young Adult Action Thrillers. But that’s probably just a result of who the main character is. I was mainly drawn to Emily Kane because of my daughter’s experience in a few different dojos. Young girls who practice karate often find it frustrating that young boys don’t work on focus and control. As a result, they are sloppy in sparring and often hit each other harder than they’re supposed to. My daughter didn’t mind getting hit so much (she’s a pretty tough kid, and she hits back!), but she resented the boys’ carelessness, and her Sensei’s failure to enforce the rules. I was inspired by her experience and tried to imagine a heroine who would find a way to overcome this obstacle. It was sort of inevitable that I would end up with an action novel.

In hindsight, I guess it's fair to say that the Emily Kane stories are also examples of what in China is called wuxia fiction. In wuxia stories, the hero is typically a martial arts expert who uses his fighting skills to correct a social injustice, finding love and meditative peace along the way. The main difference from wuxia fiction, I suppose, is that I pay more attention to the emotional consequences of violence. Also, in the action sequences, I often try to show the bewilderment someone experiences when they lose a fight, to describe the action from the loser's perspective. In that respect, the Emily Kane books are about martial arts--after all, Emily gets in a lot of fights--but also about living with the aftermath of violence. Her challenge is to find herself through the very thing that seems to provoke the violence she must engage in. This leads her to seek new insights about herself from the meditative side of karate.
Who is your favorite author?
That would have to be Jane Austen. I am fascinated by her heroines. These are young women who have to find a way to assert themselves in a society in which female self-assertion is frowned upon. Her stories always culminate in a moral insight, and it never ceases to amaze me that the moment when you “tear up” in her stories is not the moment of romantic resolution, but this moment of moral awakening. Her genius is to get you to sympathize with the heroine in moments of acute moral distress. I suppose I’m a pretty lachrymose fellow for a writer of action thrillers.
What are you reading right now, and would you recommend it?
I’m reading two books just now: Mark Twain's Puddin'head Wilson (for school) and Ben Goshko’s The Navigator (for pleasure). I let my students choose our first project for my Senior Lit class and they chose Twain. Goshko is a new author I stumbled upon last year. His first book, a novella entitled The Book of the Nine Ides, caught my attention. It’s one of those books you really can’t put down. I just started his second, The Navigator, a full length novel, a few days ago. It looks to be just as good—if only schoolwork didn't keep getting in the way! Actually, I would heartily recommend both authors, Twain and Goshko.
Describe your desk
I don't use a desk. I like to sit on my couch in the den in the evenings with my family. They interrupt me all the time, but that actually seems to stimulate my imagination. Sometimes, I sit at the kitchen counter, or outside on the patio. Occasionally, when I have spare time, I sit in my office at school where, coincidentally, I also don't have a desk. I suppose I must have some sort of complex about desks.
How do you approach cover design?
Originally, I had different covers for the first two book in the Emily Kane series, Girl Fights Back and Girl Punches Out, but I wasn't quite satisfied with them. With the advice and assistance of a few author-friends, Molly Pendleton, Suzie O'Connell and Traci Tyne Hilton, I was able to imagine a more coherent sequence of covers for the series. Since then, I've turned the whole process over to Suzie O'Connell, who is a genius at cover design and a pleasure to work with. I would heartily recommend her services to authors in any genre. Find her at http://www.wellmancreek.com

I suppose it’s ironic, but the cover turns out to be quite important, even though we all say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s just that, as an author, the cover is your first opportunity to shape the way your reader experiences your book. And a really good cover can continue to shape that experience all the way through, if the reader refers back to it along the way.
Do you have any favorite lines from your books you can share with us?
Here's a short passage from Girl Fights Back:

A thin, small warmth stole into her heart. She lost her father just the day before. But she had found her mother, or at least recognized her for who she really was. She wept with sorrow and joy at the same time. She was loved. She had lost. The great absence of her heart, the mother who had abandoned her, had been cast out by the infinite affections of the mother who had always been there, watching over her. This revelation had cost her her father. It was a heady mix of emotions, and she felt almost overwhelmed by it.

And here's one from Girl Punches Out:

“C’mon, Em. Let’s go back. They’re getting impatient.”
Reluctantly, she rolled over and swam lazily toward the shore. Their friends had already toweled off and mostly changed back into street clothes. Danny found the bottom with his toes before she did. When he straightened up to stand, she noticed and pulled herself in front of him. With her arms draped loosely around his neck, she looked into his eyes. He put his arms around her waist, his heart thumping against his ribs. She let him hold her for a moment, enjoying the warmth of his embrace in the cold water. She kissed him.
“Thanks for not pressing me about the prom.”
She pushed out of his arms and swam the last few yards until she could walk on to the beach. Danny just stood there in water up to his chest gazing at her as she stood on the beach with his friends. At last he found the will to move his legs and join them.

And here's one from Girl Takes Up Her Sword:

“I know you can do better than that. What exactly do they teach you in the Marines?”
He put on his game face, raised his guard and circled to his right before unleashing a sharp combination: left jab, overhand right followed by a sneaky left hook. These were serious punches. Anyone of them could have laid her out on the grass. But he hoped she would only get a glancing blow from the left hook, his money punch. To his surprise, none made contact. Once again, she leaned out of the way of the jab, ducked under the right and slapped the hook harmlessly across his chest. Before he could untangle himself, she nailed him with a reverse punch to the soft spot beneath the center of his chest, just below the ribs. Staggering backwards, he struggled to catch his breath, and watched helplessly—it felt almost like he was outside his own body—as a crossover side kick struck the same spot. The force of the blow practically lifted him off his feet. Laid out on his back a few feet away, he tried to pull himself together. Her outstretched hand came into focus and he looked up into her eyes.
“You okay, Jerry? I hope I didn’t hit you too hard.” A little dazed, his breathing eased up as he listened to her voice. “You done? Or you wanna try again?” At those words, he picked himself up and stood across the ring from her. “Good. Can we play for reals now?”
He laughed.
“Fair enough. I deserved that.”

And here's one from Girl Spins a Blade:

“There is no deva for her,” Rinpoche said, using the Sanskrit term for god or demon.
The monks looked stunned by this pronouncement. If there is no istadeva for her…
“Rinpoche-la, are you saying…,” Pasang began.
“Yes, she is herself a deva.”
It took a moment for this thought to fully sink in. Norbu and Pasang knew the holy books spoke of such things, that devas walk the earth, like bodhisattvas only much more powerful, and perhaps even dangerous. But those stories always seemed like allegories, or infinitely distant possibilities. Neither of them ever thought to encounter one in person. Can Rinpoche be serious? Can this girl really be a deva?
Do you have any advice for other self-published authors? Or for anyone at all?
I guess I could say something... to other writers:

As always, practice patience. Don't publish too quickly. And if you do get feedback from friends or strangers, don’t kill the messenger if you don’t like the message.

And for everyone else:

Keep reading. It’s the most human, most powerful thing anyone can do. Even if you're not reading my books ;-)
Published 2014-05-28.
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Books by This Author

Girl Takes The Oath
By
Series: The Emily Kane Adventures, Book 5. Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 90,160. Language: English. Published: August 4, 2014. Category: Fiction » Adventure » Action
Emily Kane goes to the US Naval Academy, where she makes new friends... and new enemies.
End of the Road
By
Price: Free! Words: 92,760. Language: English. Published: July 20, 2013. Category: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - multi-author
Roads end. They begin somewhere, too. In between, all manner of things happen: friendship, betrayal, horror and maybe even joy. For some, the End of the Road brings love and happiness, for others agony and suffering, and for a precious few, sorrow may lead to something revelatory. The potholes and pitfalls found in this anthology are many, but for every character, there is an end of the road.
Girl Takes Up Her Sword
By
Series: The Emily Kane Adventures, Book 3. Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 91,770. Language: English. Published: May 31, 2013. Category: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Thriller and Suspense
Defending herself against foreign agents is one thing... but when it's family, the violence rises to a new level. A mysterious "uncle," her father's cousin, shows an interest in Emily and her friends, and it has her family worried. But for Emily, he may be the only way to connect with the memory of her father. The cost of trusting him may be more than she can afford to pay.
Girl Spins a Blade
By
Series: The Emily Kane Adventures, Book 4. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 13,960. Language: English. Published: April 12, 2013. Category: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
Her "Granny" helped Emily Kane find the strength to fight off the black-ops teams hunting her. But now Emily needs to find some relief from Granny, and to reconcile herself to the violence she had to unleash. She hopes to find spiritual renewal in the crowded pantheon of the Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal. But the spirit of violence is not far behind her. Old title: High Road to the Mountain Gods.
Girl Punches Out
By
Series: The Emily Kane Adventures, Book 2. Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 85,850. Language: English. Published: October 7, 2012. Category: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Thriller and Suspense
Emily Kane desperately wants to lead the normal life of a teenager. But events are conspiring against her. When foreign agents force her to fight it may not be possible to enjoy the innocent pleasures of childhood anymore. "The angel of death can hardly have friends. And the prom, what about Danny? He can hardly have a Valkyrie for his date."
Girl Fights Back
By
Series: The Emily Kane Adventures, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 87,970. Language: English. Published: July 17, 2011. Category: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
Emily Kane studies martial arts, but she never thought she'd have to use them... until her home is destroyed in a night time attack. When her family goes into hiding she stays behind, even if it means fighting off the black-ops team who attacked her home. She's determined to finish high school, but also to find out what her family isn't telling her about why dangerous people are hunting her.