Interview: Andrew Einspruch (The Light Bearer)

An Interview with Author Andrew Einspruch

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing author Andrew Einspruch (The Purple Haze), author of the wonderfully quirky fantasy series, The Western Lands and All That Really Matters.

Besides the humor he brings to fantasy—a rarity in a sometimes overly serious genre—Andrew Einspruch is an interesting interview subject for many reasons. One such reason is his other job: that of caretaker for animals in the A Place of Peace farm animal sanctuary.

Cover of The Light Bearer, Book 3 in the series by Andrew Einspruch
The Light Bearer is Book 3 in Einspruch's The Western Lands and All That Really Matters fantasy series.

You recently won an ACT Writing and Publishing Award for 2020 Fiction, for your fantasy novel The Light Bearer (Book 3 in The Western Lands and All That Really Matters series). What went through your mind when you heard you won?

Actually, I missed the email that told me I’d won. I got an email that said, “Come to our office to have a video made of you?” and I was like, “Huh?” 

But, of course I was totally thrilled. It is always lovely when someone likes your work, and it was my first writing prize. I was super chuffed. And then I told myself to get back to writing.

I describe your writing in The Western Lands and All That Really Matters as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for fantasy, but it also has a heart-warming side. Were there any particular books you’ve read that helped you develop your style?

I’ll take being compared to Douglas Adams any day. 😁

Developing my style probably comes down to everything I’ve read and enjoyed. I certainly loved the Hitchhiker’s books. But I’ve always been drawn to wordy, nerdy humour — I’m a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic and Tom Lehrer. Monty Python was a big influence when I was young. I’m a huge fan of William Gibson, and make a point of re-listening to his books every couple of years. But it all mushes together in my brain into a glob of influence rather than a single thing that I can point to.

To borrow a question from Seth Meyers, when did you first know you were funny? Was there an aha moment when you realized you had the ability to make people laugh and entertain them?

In high school, I was involved in my temple youth group’s production of the musical “Two By Two,” about Noah. I played Noah’s oldest son, Shem. I don’t think I was all that good, and I certainly had no idea what I was doing, but somehow — miraculously — on the evening of the performance, I relaxed into the role and brought some life to it. I delivered one of the lines (sorry, can’t remember which) using a funny, mocking voice I’d never used before. It got a big laugh, and the first hints of a light bulb went off over my head.

Eight years later, my good friend Robert Lowe brought improv comedy to Atlanta. We knew each other from our aikido training, and in 1984 he said, “I’m going to start teaching improvisation,” to which I said, “I’d do that.” So I went along to the first class he taught, and it was only a matter of weeks before that I went on stage for the first time. Audiences laughed and I became part of the troupe that evolved from those first classes.

You’re originally a Texan! What brought you to New South Wales, Australia, and how long have you lived there?

In 1986, I met the most wonderful woman in the world, an Aussie named Billie Dean (see: billiedean.com). Eleven months to the day later, we got married. I moved to Oz to be with her, and we’re still together today.

What’s the most Texas sentence you can think of?

“Hook’em horns!” (It’s the chant and finger symbol of the University of Texas at Austin, where I did my undergrad work.)

Having said that, when I meet someone who knows a language I don’t know, I try to get them to translate, “Get yer butt off my Cadillac.” I’m led to understand it is a difficult concept to translate into Swahili.

What’s the most NSW sentence you can think of?

I can’t find the actual quote online, but I once heard that the late NSW Premier Neville Wran once said of politics, “You can’t grow mushrooms in a mortuary in NSW without someone complaining.” Whether he said it or not, I love that quote.

Let’s talk about all those lovely, quirky characters you write. Your characters were specifically mentioned as a reason the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards chose The Light Bearer. What stands out to me is the humanity you give each of them (regardless of species!). Did that come naturally? Or did some characters challenge you a bit more?

Photo of Andrew Einspruch
A native of Texas, Andrew Einspruch helps his wife, Billie Dean, run the Deep Peace Trust, in New South Wales, Australia. The sanctuary faced challenges during and after the bushfires of 2019-2020.

The characters’ humanity emerged quite naturally. I live with hundreds of animals, and the philosophy I’ve adopted from Billie is that we treat them with respect, dignity, reverence, and a sense of equality. Bringing that to my fiction was not any kind of stretch, it was an extension of who I am.

Animals play a large role in the Western Lands and All That Really Matters series. They also play a role in your day-to-day life. Tell me about the Deep Peace Trust.

The Deep Peace Trust is our family-run charity that fosters deep peace and non-violence for all species who share our planet. Our compassionate action is running A Place of Peace, Australia’s largest farm animal and wild horse sanctuary (see deeppeacetrust.com). We have cows, horses, goats, sheep, cats, dogs, and geese, all of who faced a not-great future until they came here.

In February 2020, your newsletter about the bushfires appeared on this blog. How did the bushfires of 2019-2020 change the sanctuary and the landscape around you? Have you seen much recovery since that time?

The fires were devastating to our part of the world, both physically and emotionally, especially since they came at the end of three hard years of drought. We lost most of our bushland to it, around four kilometres of fencing, and our cattle yards. 

But we were lucky. The sanctuary animals were all OK, and while there were certainly wildlife losses, we were able to put out food for those who survived to help them keep going. Others, even neighbours, were hit much harder than we were, and it was a very scary time. Still, we’re here to tell the tale and the bush is showing its resilience in the year and a half since.

Humanity is living at the sharp edge of climate change. We all have to do what we can to address that problem in a serious way or things will only get worse.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing at the sanctuary right now?

The biggest challenge for us is always to make sure we have enough hay and feed to carry the animals through winter and other tricky times. So, fundraising is a constant need for our not-for-profit charity. The animals are our first and last priority, and making sure we have the means to provide for their sanctuary is issue #1.

After that, it’s making sure that everything we need for their care is in place, whether that’s fencing for the paddocks or supplements for challenged or special needs animals.

Wondering what brumbies are?

A brumby is a well-adapted feral Australian horse and a cultural symbol. Concerns about overpopulation and over-grazing mean brumbies face some of the same challenges as American Mustangs. Want to know more? This article from ihearthorses.com gives a summary.

Have the animals at the sanctuary inspired any of your characters?

Absolutely. The wombats here inspired the Wombanditos (the fiercest gang with bad eyesight in all the realms! Heeyahhhh!). Our geese inspired a character in the not-yet-released book five named Headlong Helda. And our brumbies have influenced my thinking about the horse characters, like Hector and the Nameless One.

You recently said you’re 87k into book five of Princess Eloise’s story, which for you is only three-quarters done. Coming from a middle-grade background, was learning to write longer works ever a challenge for you?

It wasn’t even middle grade. My kids books were for primary aged readers, mostly. And yes, writing longer was definitely a challenge. I had to learn that if the characters were here, and you wanted them over there, you had to write the bits to connect those dots. Plus, I had no idea how long these stories were going to be. When I started, I thought, “Oh, this’ll be a little 35,000 word YA book.” The Western Lands and All That Really Matters books are more like 125,000 words each.

When all’s said and done, how many books do you think will be in the Western Lands series?

There are three books that are out (The Purple Haze, The Star of Whatever, and The Light Bearer), plus the two standalone prequels (The Wombanditos and The Thorning Ceremony).

As I write, book four is just about to go to the editor. Book five is now 106,000 words into its draft, and I’ve written the first 2,000 words of book six. So, definitely those six. After that, I’ll have to see.

Do you have an idea for your next series?

The above books will likely keep me busy for a while. I have vague ideas for other stories to set in the Western Lands. But there are other books whispering to me, asking me to give them attention. I’ll use the time that it takes to finish book six to figure out what’s going to be written after that. 

The Purple Haze Book Cover
Cover of The Purple Haze (The Western Lands and All That Really Matters #1)

Thank you so much for joining me today. For your final question, I’d like to give you the same challenge I gave to the authors in my first interview. Please fill in the blank:

They lived happily ever after and were kind to all they met.

The next installment in The Western Lands and All That Really Matters will be released later in 2021.

Andrew Einspruch is the author of The Western Lands and All That Really Matters fantasy series and both fiction and non-fiction books for young readers. He lives in New South Wales, Australia. To learn more about this author, please visit https://andreweinspruch.com.

Want to help the Deep Peace Trust? Visit deeppeacetrust.com/donate or, for their current fundraiser, https://chuffed.org/project/winter-in-your-hands. To learn more, visit deeppeacetrust.com.

Indie Book Spotlight: The Purple Haze (Einspruch)

A little preface: These are tough times for all of us right now, and I hope all of you are staying well or recovering, and getting by. Recently, I found myself self-isolating in that special limbo of “is this flu or Covid-19?” It was too late for a non-healthcare worker or first responder to get tested for either, so my doctor’s office said I’d just have to let the virus run its course.  And that’s when I read today’s indie book spotlight:

(Note: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

The Purple Haze just happened to be next on my reading list, and I couldn’t have landed on a better book. I was stressed, sick and anxious, and chapter one made me smile.  Princess Eloise and Jerome Abernatheen de Chipmunk (an actual chipmunk, albeit an anthropomorphic one) became a staple of my nightly wind-down routine.

But this is more than a zany, hilarious book.  Like Einspruch’s shorter work, The Wombanditos, The Purple Haze starts out amusing and the plot picks up steam as it goes, in this case replacing its endearing characters as its number one asset (which is no easy feat with such a funny, quirky and loveable cast). By its midway point The Purple Haze was getting very interesting and proved to be well-thought out, with a clever, neatly foreshadowed twist driving the action. And after that?

We have ourselves a page-turner.

The story follows Eloise Hydra Gumball III, princess of the Western Lands and All That Really Matters. She’s a shy homebody, hampered by compulsive behaviors and germaphobia referred to as her “habits,” and she’ll one day be ruler of their queendom, no matter how she–or her contrary twin sister Johanna–feels about it.  When a reliable court seer’s visions reunites Eloise with Jerome, her childhood best friend, the jester-phobic, quick-witted chipmunk becomes a peculiar choice for Eloise’s champion. Which may not be a bad thing after all, as Eloise’s short trip to retrieve her traveling sister becomes a massive quest, and Eloise is about to need all the help she can get.

Talking (or singing) horses might distract from the strong world-building, but while you’re smiling, laughing or shaking your head, it’s there all along. References to the other kingdoms, some of which will be important, are never forced, thanks to the fact that they are humorous asides. In one, a long description of the history and bureaucraticly hampered build of the Adequate Wall of the Realms sets a scene but mostly provides amusement: “[Eloise’s] reaction was the same as everyone else who saw it for the first time: ‘Yeah, that’ll do, I guess.'” But an entire chapter earlier in the story (chapter 8) centers on the travels of a disgruntled king, describing his kingdom, the purple haze and his other options to better his lot in royal life:

“Had he been a little more personable, Doncaster might have found a wife (or husband, he wasn’t choosy) from the royalty of the other four realms…So, yes, the Western Lands were off the table in the making-his-kingdom-suck-less department.”

You never quite know what will stay as a funny aside and what will be important.

And that works, because by the time Eloise and her retinue end up somewhere major, the reader already has a memory and impression of the place, which can then be upended at any time.  It’s not by chance that this story comes together so well.

All of this makes for a funny, skillfully told story that never lacks heart.  Einspruch’s greatest trick, however, is crafting a book that becomes so much to the reader, yet leaves them wanting more–without being the slightest bit disappointed.

Like Jerome’s prognostication says, “you’ll be happy about it.”

Author Andrew Einspruch on the bushfires

We all know about the bushfires in Australia.  Like everyone, I’ve seen lots of footage, photos and articles and heard the awful statistics, but something about the following firsthand account of the people and animals who were “very, very lucky” and yet “could see flames in every direction” has changed my understanding of just what the bushfires mean.  If you feel about it the way that I did, maybe it will give you a little hope, too.

This account is from a newsletter sent by author Andrew Einspruch on his personal experience with the bushfires, and is re-posted with his kind permission:

Hello fellow human!

I hope this finds you well. It’s been a while. For some of you, this is your first email from me. (Hello! Welcome! This one isn’t typical!)

This newsletter doesn’t have my usual format. I just wanted to touch base and let you know what’s been going on. I’m hoping to resume my regular newsletters next week.

To be honest, my head hasn’t been in a writing space for the past couple of months. We had the bushfires come through the sanctuary at the end of November, and I’ve been exhausted and preoccupied ever since. The bad news is pretty much all of our bush burned. We lost our holding yards and had about 4.5 km of fencing damaged. The good news is that humans, sanctuary animals, house, and sheds were all OK. We were very, very lucky, and thank goodness, we’re here to tell the tale. Even so, for days after the fire came through, I could see flames in every direction. For weeks, it was the same with smoke plumes. As recently as last week, I wore a mask while outside due to smoke blanketing the land. We’ve had a flash flood which washed ash into the water sources. Yesterday, we had a dust storm.

It’s been full on.

My wife Billie wrote about what it was like at the beginning of December in a post called Living with the Fires. Pretty harrowing reading.

And there have been so many people and animals affected and so, so much suffering. Heartbreaking. That estimated 1 billion animal lives lost is simply staggering and saddens me incredibly. As I write, the burn area across the country is about the size of Kentucky. Mind boggling.

Still, we’re doing what we can do. I helped organise a group called BlazeAid to come to our district. Their volunteers go out to fire-affected properties and rebuild fences. As of yesterday, their list was up to 86 places asking for help. And that’s just in our district alone.

Closer to home, we have created a number of wildlife feeding stations on our place, and are putting out hay, feed pellets, and fresh fruit and veg every day. Billie reckons we’re supporting at least 100 roos, wallabies, and wombats. You can see some pics of them on the our Instagram.

Our charity, the Deep Peace Trust, has been running a fundraising campaign on Chuffed called Surviving Summer: Bushifre and Drought Appeal. It’s to help with the sanctuary’s drought and bushfire recovery. Perhaps you’ll do me the kindness of considering a donation, and even if you can’t, I’d be incredibly grateful if you could please share the campaign. We really do need support right now. Thanks for that.

So, that’s why it’s been quiet at my end.

Thanks for reading. Next time, it’ll be back to more writerly things.

Talk to you soon.

Cheers,

Andrew

New episode + a message about Australia

Update (2/5/20): The message from author Andrew Einspruch can now be found here.

It’s happened!  I’ve crowbarred another episode into January before it ends.  Episode 2.2 is here.

It’s been exceedingly hard to get work on Princess Disasterface done this month.  Like a lot of people, I get migraines when the weather is up and down like this.  And it has been a VERY odd January.  I find myself celebrating each time the ground freezes (very unlike me) because I don’t have to wipe mud off my four-legged friend’s paws for once.

Switching tacks to something more serious now:

One of the things I have been doing, besides trying to create new comic and website content (and editing, writing, and more editing…), is making another special episode of Princess Disasterface.  I was inspired by what I think is an extraordinary email from the mailing list of Australian author Andrew Einspruch, whose house survived the bushfires, but with some damage to the animal sanctuary he co-runs (the people and animals are all safe).  I hope to be able to share the email with you all with permission, but either way I’ll try to pass on the heart of his message and draw attention through Princess Disasterface-humor.  I do believe that humor is be a good way to help serious messages reach others, especially when so many problems and tragedies need our attention and can overwhelm us.  All I can do is try!

In the meantime, USAToday has an article from earlier this month with lots of places to donate that benefit humans (including the families of fallen firefighters), and animals (including places that have formed campaigns to replant affected areas).  As for Einspruch’s email, The Deep Peace Trust Sanctuary has a fundraising campaign here, and he also suggests BlazeAid.

The heart of Einspruch’s message, by the way, is that if you can’t donate, pass it on so that it may reach others who can.

Cheers to you all,

CKB