Interview With YA Writer Jim Anotsu

We interviewed Jim Anotsu for his translation work, but did you know he’s also a YA writer? Read what he has to say about it here.

Tell me about yourself.

Hi, my name is Jim and I am from Brazil. I live in a city called Belo Horizonte and it is the capital of my State of Minas Gerais. I like to write genre fiction for teenagers and children —mostly fantasy, but I have also published realistic contemporary short stories and some poetry. I am also a screenwriter and a speaker. I do a lot of things all the time, I’m always on the move.

How did you start writing for YA?

I started writing fiction when I was 10 and I have been writing since then. I never planned to write YA or Middle Grade fiction exactly. Young Adult fiction just happened to be the kind of narratives I liked to write. When I published my first novel I didn’t know it was YA, it was just a story about twin girls who get lost in different universes. The next one was about the youngest daughter of Death doing an exchange program on planet Earth and meeting a very shy boy who loved his best friend. Then, eventually, people said: That’s YA, and I was like… cool, cool, cool. The weird thing is that right now people associate me mostly with Middle Grade, but I just write what is of my interest at the moment of writing. I might even write some of that “literary” fiction eventually, who knows.

Why did you choose to write for YA?

Young Adult literature was not very widespread in Brazil when I was growing up. Books aimed directly at teenagers were not common here. YA books were translated rarely and very few writers of the genre were published here. We read the books the adults were reading or children’s literature. We did not have many books of that kind and my family did not care much about literature, so I ended up reading what was available in the public library. I read a lot of classics, loads of Shakespeare, Jack Kerouac, French literature, Brazilian Classics.

What was your YA writing journey? How did you start writing?

My father died when I was 1 and my mother died when I was 10, after that I went on to live with some relatives who did not care much about me, so I had a lot of time on my hands. I loved TV and graphic novels, but the family did not allow me to watch TV in order not to waste their electric energy, so I turned myself to reading and after reading The Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, I started writing. I wanted to write just like Stevenson —I still do, but I will never be that incredible. I just started writing, it was something for me to do and I did. I still see writing as an action, just do it, and do not think too much about it.

What was your YA publishing journey?

It is sort of a fairy tale story, it is so crazy when I stop to think about it. I was 18 years old, living in a small town because of a soul-sucking job and then I quit that job. I had decided that I would go to college and study English literature. I had my last payment in hands and decided to pay another writer to copy desk my novel. The amount of money I had was about 400 dollars, it was all the money I had; and paying for that revision job put me through the wringer for months —I lived rent-free in the living room of some friends, ate out of trashcans at college and could not even buy the materials I needed for studying. What happened then was that the guy enjoyed my book so much he referred me to a publisher and I landed a deal shortly after. It was not much money at first, but it became the calling card for the future.

Tell me about your experience writing YA movies.

Movies are completely different from books, it is more of a team effort, you do not have much control and you trust other people who, in turn, trust you to do your part to the best of your capabilities. I have so much fun doing it and it makes me happy. I love to write in any form and any chance that I get to write makes me happy. I have written many things for TV and movies as of late. I wrote Barbie, Cave Club and Polly commercials and I have also written original screenplays and adaptations. Right now, for example, I am writing an original YA movie that I describe like a mix between Clueless and zombies, we go shooting later this year. I am so excited. This is interesting because I got to mix my literary sensibilities (I love the Brönte Sisters and Jane Austen, I love books about dramatic teens and very rich people —The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time) with my genre fan side (I’m a pop culture nerd who loves horror movies and 80’s action movies). It is so fun to do this and I feel blessed.

I also wrote other two movies that will be released soon (Alice no Mundo da Internet and Acampamento Intergaláctico), both sci-fi for kids, the trailers are already out and I am very pleased with them. Then, I will adapt O Sítio do Picapau Amarelo to the screens, the most famous children’s book series here in Brazil, think about it like the Harry Potter series of Brazil, or Alice in Wonderland. There are other projects I can not discuss, but it is interesting to keep my mind sharp, to give me new challenges and it makes me think out of the box, out of my “YA/MG novel writer” mentality.

Who are you trying to reach when you write?

Myself. I think of writing as a letter to myself. I am talking to myself and I am happy that other people may become interested in what interests me at that particular moment. When I got interested in Scouting, I wrote a book about it. I am interested in racing cars now, I will write about it. I’m an Autistic ADHD man, so I get super focused on stuff at different times and I go deep into it. I use my obsession to fuel my writing.

What’s your editing process?

My process is a complicated one and it may vary, but it is work. I usually describe my process as grueling, but it is not the right word, because it makes me happy, it is like meditating. (And also because I come from a low income family, so the notion of work for me is different, it is a 9-5 job on a hot day. I am writing stories for a living!)

But: I write longhand at first. I used to write on white paper and use a purple ballpoint pen, now I am writing on yellow paper and a fountain pen. I then proceed to copy it to Word. I print the Word file and edit with my pen and color markers. I copy it on Word again and repeat the process about four or five times if I do have time until my deadline. So, after this part is done, I print a PDF and read aloud, using my pen to mark the places I feel it sounds weird.

Are there any books that stand out to you that helped you as a writer?

Every book I read helps me, every book I read becomes a part of me. It is so difficult to mention one. I love David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon and Emily Bronte. I quote Emily Dickinson daily to deal with life, from the happy moments to my inherent disillusion with the human being. My love of irony comes from Machado de Assis, of the greatest ironist to ever put pen to paper. I have the face of Shakespeare tattooed on my arm and quotes of Wallace Stevens and some Maurice Sendak art as well. I understand myself better as a Black man because I read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and the writings of Frederik Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B Dubois, Toni Morrison, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and so many others. I strive for excellence because I read Emerson and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. I relate to pain and suffering because the Letters of Van Gogh are inside me, the same way I have a better understanding of patience and resilience because of The Book of Job.

Where do you find inspiration?

I don’t believe in inspiration. I, personally, believe in showing up. Writing for me is a job, you show up to do it, even if you are not in the mood, even if it is raining. Just show up. You can revise later and rewrite later. Right now you need to get to the chair and put in the work.

Are there any upcoming YA books you’re excited about?

Yes, the new LegendBorn book by Tracy Deonn is on the top of my list right now —I translated the first one. I also want to read the sequel to Black Sun by Rebeca Roanhorse, the first one was a very good readfor me in 2021.

What’s your name, books, and best ways to reach you?

You can find me on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok as @jimanotsu.

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