- Nikky Lee
10 Questions with Janna Ruth
Once Janna studied the boundaries of this world, now she creates her own worlds. The Berlin-born author and translator lives in Wellington, where she writes fantasy and coming-of-age novels in both German and English. If she can tear herself away from the computer, you might find her in the kitchen decorating book cakes or hanging upside-down from the aerial silks.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
Hi everyone, I’m a German Kiwi. My hometown is Berlin, but I did my masters in Christchurch and am now living in Wellington with my family. I mostly write speculative fiction, especially but not exclusively urban fantasy and dark fantasy while maintaining a love affair with contemporary coming-of-age novels.
2. What drew you to that particular genre and/or age group?
I love speculative fiction because it is this giant sandbox. You can test limits, explore models of society and challenge your characters in ways contemporary can’t. And of course, there’s the worldbuilding. I’m a geologist by training, so I love fantasy maps and making my own, developing magic systems, and bringing different character concepts together.
As for coming-of-age, there’s just something magical about this age where people find out who they are and what they want from life for the first time.
3. What’s your best-known work?
In Germany, it’s Im Bann der zertanzten Schuhe, a contemporary fantasy retelling of one of my favourite fairy tales. In the anglophone world, it will hopefully soon be my Spirit Seeker series, which I just published on August 20. It’s a European urban fantasy that works on the premise, all natural disasters and extreme weather events are caused by natural spirits. To most people, they’re invisible, but not to Rika, who has lived the last eight years on the streets.
4. What inspired you to write it?
I was on panel at the urban fantasy panel in last year’s CoNZealand, and one of the questions we got asked was, what would we like to see in the future. My answer was more urban fantasy outside the USA and London—and by the end of the day, I had this idea of several books touring European capitals and the whole climate change/spirits theme.
5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, pantser or somewhere in between? How do you research?
I’m a plotter through and through. Next to editing, it is my favourite phase of the process. Writing is just the job, but plotting is where the plot is created and editing is where it’s brought together and turned into a book. As for research, that depends on the topic. For the Spirit Seekers, I watched a lot of YouTube videos from locals, read up on the history and technically did my own trips to 3 of the 5 locations (well, in hindsight, meaning, I’ve been in Berlin, Budapest, and Rome)
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
I’m afraid, I don’t really have this typical answer, where you should delete your browser history. It’s just all these small details. Like how to properly curse in Hungarian. (Spoiler: it’s very flowery) Or how to get from one place to the other, and then, of course, lots of mythology and folklore. I think the most interesting research I did was taking part in several Writing the Other courses, learning how to write about characters different from me in a respectful and inclusive way. I learnt a ton in those courses and would recommend them to every writer.
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
My most personal book is Time to Remember, which I published in early 2021. It’s about the ten-year anniversary of the Canterbury earthquake from the perspective of those that were children at the time. I was a student in Christchurch then and writing it brought up a lot of memories.
8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
Robin Hobb. She was the first one I read that focused strongly on her character rather than the plot. And I think that’s something I learnt from her. For me, the characters are the most important parts of the story and the human condition is the most fascinating to explore. When I opened the Fitz and the Fool series (third trilogy) and read the first pages, I felt like I was meeting an old friend. Somehow, we had both aged but were also the same. That was such a profound experience that I always wanted that for my own readers, that they could feel this attached to my characters.
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, a historical novel by German author Rebecca Gablé, and A Dagger in the Winds by Brendan Noble—yeah, I’m reading several at the same time or none at all. I actually wish, I would find more time to read.
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
You can find Time to Remember in New Zealand bookshops (just ask, some have them on stock, but they can order them in) or visit my website (www.janna-ruth.com) and look at the store there. All of my books are on Amazon.
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