There are some books that couldn’t be written by any other author than the one that penned it. No one else has the same voice, the same experience, and the same history it would take to pull off that particular book. There’s something so singular about some books that it would read as insincere from any other voice.
When I read The Roots that Clutch, I got the feeling that I was reading one such book, and interviewing A.E. Bross, I could understand why. The book was a love letter to found family, a remembrance of strife and resilience, and I was captivated by its charm. I was thrilled to sit down with the author to learn more.
(You can read my review of The Roots That Clutch here.)
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Well, I’m a nonbinary, genderfluid individual who has a lot of passion. Of course, I have a lot of passion for writing, but I’m also a librarian and I’m heavily invested in the access to and sharing of information for everyone. I am married to a wonderful geek of a man, and we have ourselves a very smart, vibrant child, and one kitty who my kiddo insists is my grandchild.
Are there non-binary and/or genderfluid characters in your book?
Absolutely! In fact, my main character’s mentor is nonbinary. They were very much inspired (in looks, at least) by an Instagram individual I met. You can find them on Instagram: @jorjicowan and they’re a beautiful person. Tirzah’s mentor is also not the only nonbinary individual in the series. There are genderfluid characters and genderqueer characters and trans characters. Theia, as a world, is very open; gender and sexuality aren’t judged, so there is a lot of diversity when it comes to LGBTQIA+ representation within the world.
Tell us about your novel, The Roots That Clutch.
I’m so excited to finally be sharing this novel with the world. It follows a young girl, Tirzah, as she tries to find her way in a world that is aggressively antagonistic. The world itself, Theia, is a complete desert. It doesn’t rain and the only water comes from underground springs that are controlled by tyrannical rulers that some people view as deities. They call themselves the god-kings. They control the water, they control the people, and they control Theia’s magic, which is called thaûma. Thaumaturges—those who can use thaûma—are actually forced to enlist in the god-kings’ employ if they’re discovered. Well, Tirzah finds out she’s a thaumaturge, and much of the novel is her navigating this world and trying to learn and protect herself from the god-kings and from others who would use her to their own ends.
What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?
You’re making me pick JUST ONE? That’s just mean. I will pick ONE of my favorites (I have many). Persuasion by Jane Austen is probably one that inspires me the most because of its ability to portray flawed characters that make mistakes, mistakes that follow them their whole lives, and yet they can still recover from them. I like the concept that people need to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. There are still consequences to their actions, but they take those consequences and they learn from them. I like to include that in my own writing. My characters can be wrong, they can make mistakes. They might trust someone they shouldn’t or they’re in a relationship that doesn’t work out, and it can get messy. That’s just being human. Also, Austen’s portrayal of found family, how the main character, Anne, is an outcast in her own family but welcomed and loved by those around her, is another great aspect of the book that I love. Found family might be my favorite of the tropes, and it always inspires stories for me.
What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?
That blood family can be toxic. I think there’s a very strong misconception out there that family is family, no matter what, and you always have to be there for family, even when they treat a family member in a toxic manner. It isn’t true. I mean, yes, familial bonds can be the strongest bonds ever, but not all of them have to be biological. There’s my love of “found family” rearing its head again! Also, I’m really hoping they leave with an investment in Tirzah and her story. I do have 3-4 more books planned with her as the main character!
You mention ‘found family’ as one of your favorite tropes. This may be a personal question, so feel free not to answer, but is there something in your history that has made this such an important aspect in your fiction? And what advice do you have for your readers who may find themselves in similar situations?
I have a bad relationship with my father. When I was very young, he believed in the whole “spare the rod, spoil the child” idea of discipline. As more kids came into our family, though (I’m the oldest of 4), he stopped with physical and sort of switched to mental and emotional abuse. And when I would tell people about it, they wouldn’t believe me, because he was all shades of charismatic and friendly to other people. I went through my life with people telling me that I had to love my family no matter what, and that I was the one who was the problem because I was holding a grudge for something that wasn’t even that bad. It took me a really, really long time for me to realize that it wasn’t me, that it wasn’t my fault. That’s why I tend to gravitate towards the idea of found family. No one should be tied to people, especially toxic people, just because they happen to share a blood relation.
What is different about your novel?
The fact that I wrote it. And I don’t mean that in a pretentious way. I just mean that, when I write something, I bring myself to the table and put myself into it. You can see my passions, my biases, my fears. Not that I literally write myself into it, but it comes from my imagination, which means it’s going to be different from something that maybe my spouse or a friend could write.
What are your plans for future novels?
Oh, do I have plans! The Roots that Clutch is actually the first book in a four or five-book series, The Sands of Theia. So, there is plenty more to Tirzah’s story. I also have at least two more fantasy series planned for the world of Theia. I plan on taking it from this sort of high fantasy world all the way up to a steampunk/urban fantasy/Victorian era inspired setting, and the different series will take place at a few different points in history. I also have plans for two standalone sci-fi novels, but those are in the early planning stages. I’ll be spending most of my writing time in the coming years working in Theia and sharing all the stories that take place there, with some possible shorter novellas or short stories to fill in some of the gaps. I’m really looking forward to delving into the world.
What inspires you to write?
Honestly, I’m not sure. I know that there’s this feeling in my brain that if I don’t get everything out and on paper, I’m going to explode with the sheer amount of it. So, I write, in the hopes of not exploding. As for what inspires the actual stories, that could be so many things. A particular song. A long walk. Sitting in traffic on my commute. The muse is fickle and adventurous.
What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?
Honestly, I’ve both loved and struggled with almost every step of the self-publishing process. I love learning new things and having the creative control that I do, but part of that is also being really conscious that if I make a big mistake, there’s no way to diffuse it. It all falls back on me. And that’s been a bit nerve-wracking. I’m a perfectionist in general (and I do not say that as a positive trait) so I tend to go over things over and over and over to try and make sure I’ve missed nothing. It is/was really challenging to step back and finally say, “All right, it’s done. I cannot make it any better.” I’m still not sure if I agree with that even now, but I’m committing to not letting myself fall down into the doubt again.
What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?
My greatest struggle in writing is also my greatest struggle in general. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my early twenties, though I struggled with them regularly. Because of that, it’s hard a lot of the time to find the energy to be creative. At the end of a workday (yes, I work a full-time job) my brain is so tired that getting the motivation to actually write is almost impossible. Most of the time, I wind up working on my writing during my lunch break at work, because it’s the one time I can really sit and concentrate.
I’m not sure if I’m really inspiring other writers. I just try to support the ones I can. Writing is hard, and the way it’s perceived (often as not being “work”) makes it more open to harsh blows against confidence. So I try to be available (mostly on Twitter), because I know how rough those patches can be.
You’re actually not the first author I’ve interviewed that has struggled with major depression. In fact, I often struggle with mental illness myself. Let me ask you what I asked Jaimie Shock as well: What advice do you have for writers in similar circumstances?
My number one advice to writers also struggling with depression is just to be kind to yourself. Be kind, be kind, be kind. Put it on a post-it note on your computer, write it on a notebook, get someone to remind you, but be kind to yourself. It’s so easy to just push ourselves. To judge ourselves if we didn’t get as far as we meant to or wanted, but that pushing can do more harm than good. So, my number one advice is to try and be kind. My second is to reach out. I’ve made some great connections in the writing community on Twitter, and we are right there to support each other. Sometimes you need support, and sometimes you can give it to others, and together, everyone sort of creates a safety net. It might not keep you from falling, but it definitely softens the landing.
How can we purchase your book?
Right now, the ebook is available for preorder on Amazon. The paperback and ebook will both be available on August 4, 2020, on Amazon and the ebook will be a part of the Kindle Unlimited program.