Author Interview: Joanna Maciejewska

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You’ve entered into SPFBO this year, By the Pact, and you are still in the running as of the time I’m typing these questions for the interview.    Who would you say your target audience is, and what would be your elevator pitch? 

An epic fantasy adventure in which to save the world you have to free the great evil instead of destroying it.

My audience is people who want a lighter side of fantasy, with adventures and witty banter rather than grimdark plots, and who are drawn to adult characters that already know who they are, ones that have baggage of past experiences instead of youngsters embarking on their first adventure.

Have you read any other entries from the past few years of SPFBO, if so which did you enjoy? 

I actually had to check which books were entered to SPFBO. Once a book makes it to my TBR pile, I rarely remember what inspired me to pick it up in the first place. From the most recent reads, I enjoyed Lisa Street’s “Blood Bounty” which at the moment is a semifinalist in the Fantasy Hive’s batch. From the previous contests, I’ve read Celine Jeanjean, J.A. Andrews, and Rachel Ford (though in her case it was another book, not the SPFBO entry). I have quite a few more on my e-reader, waiting for their turn… with my digital TBR pile being probably the size of a medium city, it takes time to get through all of them, and I just can’t help adding more titles.

What are some of your favorite tropes or hooks that get you into a book?  What are some pet peeves? 

I like smart characters who already have a clue or two about the world around them (even if they aren’t aware of all the secrets and hidden truths), who are confident, and who don’t wander through the plot helplessly. I also enjoy witty banter, and any main character who is competent in their field, and somewhat self-made, is likely to draw my attention. On top of that, beautiful prose in a sample is almost guaranteed to make me click “buy”.

On the other hand, I’m tired of chosen ones, prophecies, and young princes and princesses being the main characters of the book. I don’t mind royalty being part of the story, but I’ve grown bored of the “young heir has to save their kingdom” trope. My biggest pet peeves, though, are characters acting stupid, especially for the sake of the plot and when they’re supposed to be competent in the given matters, and characters lying to each other or withholding information so that there can be more drama in the story. I have no problem with the main character lying to an untrustworthy stranger or a villain, but lying to a long-time friend gets the book DNF-ed immediately.

What do you think dragons taste like? 

My first thought was: I hope they taste like steak. My husband suggested that chicken was more likely. Then I thought that they might taste like an alligator, since they are both reptiles, which brings us back to “tastes like chicken” again, just fatter and chewier. Bummer, I was really hoping for a steak… or maybe some new, unique flavor, and if sea dragons tasted like crabs, I couldn’t ask for more.

Your twitter bio says you’re a gamer, which 3 games have you sunk the most time into? 

Only three? That sounds like an almost impossible task. I’ve been gaming for a good 25 years now, so there have been a lot of games. I’ll cheat a bit, and instead of single games, I’ll list series.

The Elder Scrolls – I started with Daggerfall, then there was Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, and Elder Scrolls Online. Between all of them, I likely have several thousand hours of gameplay logged. Between all the games, it’s almost 30 years of building lore and adding more details and events to a richly-imagined world, and the games inspired my own writing more than once.

Fallout – I actually started with the second installment of the series, and I’ve been fan of it ever since. The postapocalyptic setting is well-done, and I do like both the retro sci-fi feel of the game and its unapologetic and sometimes absurd humor, full of references to pop culture.

Civilization – this is a series I’ve been playing since the first game, and I always end up suffering from the “just one more turn” syndrome characteristic for these games. I also loved the franchise’s spinoffs, Alpha Centauri and Beyond Earth, which are basically Civilization, but in space. There’s something mesmerizing about building my own civilization, no matter how many times I play the game.

Honorable mention goes to Monster Hunter which I’ve been playing for “only” about ten or twelve years, after my husband introduced me to the series. There’s just something extremely satisfying in a successful wyvern hunt, and Monster Hunter allows me to share that experience with friends too with their co-op system.

It also says crafter — crafter of what, may I ask? 

I think I should update my bio, because I haven’t been crafting much recently. *laughs* I love everything creative, so I’ve tried a lot: in my youth I knitted and crocheted, later I made greeting cards, polymer clay sculptures, and had a go at sewing. I still want to do all the things, but having too many hobbies clashes with being a writer and freelancer, so I had to downsize, and nowadays I focus mostly on digital art which doesn’t take up physical space and is easy to set up unlike the sewing machine that is still waiting for its time.


How long does it take you to make these kinds of works?  What age did you start to explore your style and find it? 

I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but I never really set to “explore my style”. Back when I was growing up, in the 90s in Poland, art wasn’t something you would really go into unless you were really talented, because there was no money or future in art.

Decades later, I still don’t know what my style is, and I’m still exploring different art techniques, but I suppose I lean toward “simple” and “quirky” in general. Several years ago, I did a series of quirky dragonflies, starting for Inktober, which is a month-long drawing challenge, and then continuing it on and off for some time. People seemed to like them. Since art is still only a hobby to me, I enjoy that I can do whatever I want whenever I want without any pressure. I will be posting more art this October, as a part of an Instagram challenge, while I work on revisions of book 3 of my series.

As for the piece you’re asking about, it’s not really a style I do often. It started as filling the edges of my notebooks while listening to classes in high school and college. For this particular one, I actually started on a blank page. I think I was working on it for several months, but not full-time. It was something I’d do while watching tv: I don’t like my hands being idle, so it kept them occupied. The doodles grew and filled the page, and there it was. Nowadays, I just fire up my graphic software instead.

It says you’re a European (Poland/Ireland) living in Virginia — what’s been the most difficult thing to adjust to?  What’s the best part of living here, Poland, Ireland?

I don’t think there was a single difficult thing to adjust to. Rather, it was a collection of small things. Figuring out how to pay your taxes and fill out forms in a foreign language. Figuring out local customs and behaviors. Figuring out all the unfamiliar labels in the grocery store to find foods you might like… and so on.

I think the most discomfort probably comes from feeling like a stranger, from not being rooted, but eventually, it goes away. In my personal experience, it takes about 3 years for the roots to set in a new place. I know some people get homesick, but I haven’t really experience it much. Sure, when I visit Poland, I don’t want that time to end, but when it does, I’m not leaving home. I’m going home.

That reminds me of a funny story related to my writing. When I left Ireland for the US, I wrote an urban fantasy novel set in Dublin destroyed by magical war. To make it more fun and to draw from my own experiences, I made my main character, Kaja, a Polish immigrant. For that novel, I had beta readers based in Poland and in other countries, and those based in Poland (all except for one) were surprised that Kaja doesn’t miss home, while no one outside Poland even noticed it. It makes me think that the homesick long-term immigrant is more a perception of people who have never experienced it than a commonplace thing. On the other hand, people with large close-knit families are probably more likely to miss their home much more than an introvert like me.

As for the best parts of living in Poland, Ireland, and the US…

For Poland it’s the feeling of being rooted: everything feels familiar, even if you visit another city, you have a huge support net of family and friends, and many places around you are linked to meaningful memories. Plus, Poland is beautiful. I love its seaside, and the mountains, and my hometown, Poznań, though sometimes skipped in favor of more popular cities, is full of beautiful landmarks, historical places, parks, and charming cafes.

For Ireland, though I’m speaking of Dublin in particular, it was the multicultural feeling. While living there, I had friends who came from the UK, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Czech, France, and even Brazil. This meant broadening my perspectives and learning how other people perceive things.

For the US it’s the space and the ease of life. The apartments are bigger, the cities are more spread out, and the night sky over New Mexico’s desert feels like a portal into the whole universe. I’m sure it might not be the case for the biggest and old cities, but so far, I’ve been lucky to have lived in Flagstaff in Arizona and in Greater Richmond area in Virginia, and there’s a lot of green and space in both. As for the ease of life, a lot of things seem to be dedicated to make life less complicated. Sure, it might make some people lazy, but after experiencing various bureaucratic mazes, I appreciate it. And my personal “best part” is being in the same place as my husband after long years of long-distance relationship. It just makes America all that nicer.

What’s your favorite tea that you start your day off with? 

My two absolute favorites are jasmine green tea and Assam black tea, both without additions like sugar or milk (or lemon as Polish tradition would have it), and both hot. Iced tea is just not my thing, especially not with all the sugar added.

Sadly, in the past few months I didn’t get to enjoy them as I went caffeine-free

Is there something that prompted you to do it?  How’s it going?

If I didn’t have my tea or coffee in the morning, I’d suffer massive headaches which made the pleasant morning ritual of drinking tea into a chore. I don’t like not having control, and I dislike headaches even more, so with much regret, in May I decided to go caffeine-free. I suffered headaches for a several days while my body adapted to the new routine, and now I’m good. I miss Assam though, so at the moment I’m building my stockpile of decaf teas and coffees, trying to find new favorites. Decaf assam is an option, and I’m hopeful it will taste good enough.

You want to share the recipe for this? “Last weekend’s baking and a taste of childhood: paszteciki (Polish pasties), made with awesomely crunchy pastry dough and pierogi meat filling. A small batch, so I didn’t spend ages in the kitchen too. All gone now. (Yum!)”


I wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe, but it would take a lot of space. The dough itself isn’t complicated: it’s a mix of flour, sour cream, butter, yeast, and some salt and sugar, but getting the meat for pierogi filling right requires some explanation. And then there’s the whole process: cooking the meat, grinding it, mixing the dough, making the pasties, and baking them. If you’re starting from scratch, it’s pretty much a full day in the kitchen, especially if you’re making a larger batch. I cheated by having the filling done in bulk earlier and frozen, but forming the pasties still took a couple of hours. If you ever start a cooking blog to accompany your bookish one, let me know, and I’ll make a lengthy guest post with the full recipe!

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Thanks so much for being here and best of luck with all future endeavors!