Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Andi C. Buchanan lives among streams and faultlines just north of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Their forthcoming novel Sanctuary is about found family and haunted houses. Winner of a Sir Julius Vogel Award, their genre-blending novella “From a Shadow Grave” explores a historical murder, the legends surrounding it, and what might have been.
Andi’s short fiction has previously been published in Fireside, Cossmass Infinities, Apex, and more. When not writing they enjoy cheese, knitting, and winning disputes with the neighbour’s cat.
Thanks so much, Andi, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Andi C. Buchanan: As soon as I could, long before my writing was legible. Most of it what I’d now describe as fanfiction or derivative fiction, without really understanding the concepts. The first time I got (non-family) affirmation was as a very small child winning second place in a local bookshop competition. Since then… well how do you know you’re good at it? It’s certainly been an up and down journey since then, and you get a lot of negative feedback among the good, but I’ve been solidly writing for most of it.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
ACB: Oh that varies hugely based on the complexity and length of the book. I tend to write relatively quick exploratory or discovery drafts – I struggle to plan a full plot in advance, so my first draft is very rough and primarily for me to work out the story. That usually takes 1 to 2 months. From there to final edited manuscript could be as little as 6 months for a pretty straightforward novella through to several years and counting for something twisty and experimental.
JSC: What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
ACB: Something to write with. That’s it. I think so many people get caught up in the idea that to be a real writer you have to do x, when in truth there are so many ways of doing things.
But if a new writer asked what I recommended to get started I’d suggest word processing software like Word or LibreOffice (even if you don’t use it for your first draft), a system of making backups (I mostly use Dropbox), and a way of tracking submissions, queries, and publication, which might be a spreadsheet or a specialist tool like QueryTracker or Duotrope. And if possible a comfy place to sit and a good pair of headphones.
One tool I love, but is definitely not for everyone, is 4thewords, which gamifies writing – you can defeat monsters with your words!
JSC: How do you combine all the different worlds of your life in your works?
ACB: Most of my writing is urban and contemporary fantasy, so real world plus magic, which means most of what I write about could exist alongside each other. Does it, in my head, outside of a series? Sometimes. If it does I like to put little easter eggs or cameos in them sometimes, but they’re never necessary to understand the story, just bonuses for readers who are more familiar with my work. Sometimes I add hints of other writers’ work, especially that by my friends and members of my closer writing groups.
JSC: What’s the funniest or creepiest thing you’ve come across while researching for one of your stories?
My writing groups are really into weird sea creatures (and evil plants, and sometimes bears – direct quote from one of my crit partners “I was going to say talking of bears but I realised we weren’t I’m just always thinking about them”). It means we amass vast amounts of ocean facts, some cute like the sea urchins with hats, some a little less so like sharks being covered in teeth. The one I am not sure I’ll ever get over however is the fact that
JSC: What book is currently on your bedside table?
ACB: Hahahaha. Book. You say book, singular. I actually counted them yesterday and there were exactly 50. We will not talk about the fact I live in an earthquake risk area and how this may not be a good idea.
So I’m going to pick one: The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz. I really enjoyed Newitz’s first novel, Autonomous, and I love weird time travel stories, so I’m looking forward to that one.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
ACB: I think there were two really difficult parts. One was writing some of the trauma that some characters had experienced, and just how deeply and personally affected them. I generally like my characters, and while I’m always okay putting them in mortal peril, this was something else.
The second one is that I had characters from a range of marginalised backgrounds and identities, many of which I didn’t share, or sort of shared but in different ways, and there was a lot of responsibility in how I told their stories. I did a lot of research and got some excellent advice, and hopefully I got it right most of the time.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about them.
ACB: Sanctuary is a stand alone, but if I was to write a sequel it would be Holly’s story. She’s the teenager of the found family and has escaped an abusive background – she’s been through a lot and I think she’s quite fragile, but she’s also young and smart and caring, and I think she’s just on the verge of going exciting places. It would be easy to typecast her as just booksmart – which is true to an extent – but she’s also deeply practical in a quiet way.
I don’t quite know what the world has in store for Holly, but I expect in a few years she’ll be at one of the older universities, one that’s filled with ghosts.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
ACB: Oddly, I think it would be Theo. He’s a very energetic ten year old, and probably the character least like me, but every time I wrote about him I found myself smiling. He’s chaotic, but well loved and protected, and I think his presence adds a lot to the story as well as to his family.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
ACB: I’ve got a few things in the works, but the work I’m most excited about right now is the first of my new Charley Deacon series, Tides of Magic, which will be out in January. It’s an urban fantasy with less of the urban but all of the magic, set in a tiny coastal community on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s the first in a five book series (under a slightly different name, Andi R. Christopher) and it’s going to be filled with mythical sea creatures, spells, friendship, mysteries, and romance.
And now for Andi’s latest book: Sanctuary:
Morgan’s home is a sanctuary for ghosts.
The once-grand, now dilapidated old house they live in has become a refuge for their found family—Morgan’s partner Araminta, an artist with excellent dress sense; Theo, a ten-year-old with an excess of energy; quiet telekinesthetic pensioner Denny—as well as the ghosts who live alongside them. All people who once needed sanctuary for their queer, neurodivergent selves.
Now they offer that safety to the dead as well as the living.
When a collection of ghosts trapped in old bottles are delivered to their door, something from the past is unleashed. A man who once collected ghosts – a man who should have died centuries before – suddenly has the house under his control. Morgan must trust their own abilities, and their hard-won sense of self, to save their home, their family, and the woman they love.
Vinnie and I move the crate of ghosts into the centre of one of the unused downstairs rooms, and, together with Saeed, examine the bottles. They all seem to be the same design, though they are filled with imperfections and irregularities. They are old; how old I can’t say, but definitely older than the Victorian bottles Dad would occasionally dig up in the garden and keep on a shelf in the porch. Hand blown, I’m guessing. They’re a greenish brown colour and near-spherical with a long neck extending upwards, with a glass stopper wedged in tightly with a red substance that I think must be wax.
All of them are covered in dust. I wonder how long they’ve been left untouched, in an attic or an under-stairs cupboard. But mostly, I’m thinking about how much knowledge of their situation the ghosts might have, captured in their bottles, whether it feels like decades, even centuries, trapped in those tiny glass prisons. It makes me uncomfortable just being around them. Rationally, I know that our plan to release them slowly and carefully is best for all concerned. But there’s a slow-burning rage inside of me that wants to smash every bottle, to kick and stomp on them with my boots, to free every ghost from their suffocating imprisonment.
“I wish he’d given us some documentation,” Saeed sighs, flicking a fidget spinner between his fingers. “All he said was that they’d been in his family a long time, but we’ve no idea how long that means, where they lived, why they’d be interested in keeping ghosts in bottles at all…”
That’s typical Saeed. We have potentially eighteen ghosts that have not been seen for maybe hundreds of years, and his focus is on some old documents.
“My guess is that whoever captured them was like the ghost hunters,” says Vinnie. “They don’t mean any harm. They just don’t see ghosts as having rights or autonomy; their own interest comes before everything else.” Vinnie pauses, turns to me. “What do you think, Morgan? Still keen to go ahead with the one a day plan?”
I nod and give them a thumbs up.
“The only question is,” Saeed says, “which one we’re going to open first.”
It’s mid-morning. The low winter sun is finding its way through the windows, and there’s a sharp frost still lingering on the grass. Vinnie has taken Theo to school and dropped Holly at her 6th form college as well, allowing her to avoid either the noisy bus journey or the long walk in the cold. Araminta is at work at the Co-op where Holly also has a part-time job. It seems strangely quiet, here in this large house, and the ghosts have been quiet too.
I look at the bottles in the old wooden crate. There are no labels, nothing to distinguish one from the other. I hold my hand out to them tentatively, see if I can feel anything in the surrounding air.
If there’s a name for my ability, I don’t know it. I didn’t even know it was unusual until my teens. Simply put, I can detect lingering sensations attached mostly to places, sometimes to objects. Most of the time, it’s nothing more than that. I can walk into a house and know with utter certainty that something bad has happened there. I can be buoyed by the remnants of a celebration weeks later, one I never even knew happened. Ironically, given what people say about autistic people like me, it’s probably a form of hyper-empathy, but sometimes there’s a bit more to it. Perhaps a dozen times over my life, I’ve caught flashes of someone else’s memory, a brief image lost as suddenly as it’s seen, just slipping from my understanding like a half-remembered dream.
I don’t talk or think about it much. It’s not strong enough to have a significant effect on my life, and outside of this house – where I’m not the only one with an ability not yet explained by science – not that many people would believe me anyway.
I can’t even tell for sure if I’m using it now; it’s not a strong sense I’m picking up on, in any case. But I’m unmistakeably drawn to a bottle to my right. It feels warm, safe. Something I’m comfortable with. I pick it up. Even if my choice is no better than a random one, no-one else will be able to do better. I turn the glass slowly, thinking I see a wisp of something inside. The glass is misty, as if condensation has formed on the interior.
I don’t feel like a saviour. I feel like a captor every minute I hold the stoppered bottle.
It shouldn’t affect me so much, but things like this always have. Other people’s injuries. Animals in pain. And yes, ghosts trapped behind glass. It’s like their suffering ends up wrapped around some part of my brain and I can’t dislodge the knowledge of what they’re going through.
When I was a kid, people didn’t believe I felt anything much because I didn’t change my facial expressions as they expected. I can’t imagine prioritising choosing the apparently correct facial expression when I’m faced with such pain.
I look at the bottle and nod my head.
“Got it,” says Vinnie. “Let’s free a ghost.”