Houston Creatives 2015: J.L. Clark, Young Adult Book Author

J.L. Clark sells her books at Houston's 2015 Anime Matsuri Convention, cosplaying as Agent Melinda May from "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
J.L. Clark sells her books at Houston's 2015 Anime Matsuri Convention, cosplaying as Agent Melinda May from "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
Photo courtesy J.L. Clark

J.L. Clark grew up reading mysteries like the Nancy Drew series, but didn't connect that love of logic with psychiatry until later in her studies. "I went into medical school thinking I would do pediatrics," she recalled. "But I realized I enjoy piecing the puzzle pieces together in the field of psychiatry. No two patients' situations are ever alike, even if they have the same diagnosis."

That attention to detail and a person's unique attributes factors into her young adult novels, which she writes in the evenings after work. Two of the books in The Avalon Relics trilogy, Lilith Links and Lailan Crown, were published in 2014, and Clark is already establishing a devoted reader base: "I've spoken with readers as young as 10 and old as 60 who have all enjoyed the books," she said. "I love how Houstonians support each other, and support their artists."

The planned trilogy follows Sophia, an average recent high school graduate who discovers her vital role in a fantastical realm. But despite the fantasy setting, Clark's priority is to create complex characters that ring true to readers. "Readers are sophisticated; they can tell if you're not being genuine," she explained. Why, then, put these realistic characters in a fantasy setting? "There's always a part of us--myself included--that reads books or watches movies to escape from the mundane. I grew up loving fantasy and sci-fi for that exact reason."

What she does: J.L. Clark writes young adult fantasy novels in The Avalon Relics trilogy--when she isn't working full time as a doctor. Clark specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry and is an assistant professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Health Medical School, and clinical assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

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Why she does it: "I wrote these books to provide an entertaining story, but also to have characters that people can genuinely relate to. That's something I missed in a lot of the stories I grew up reading. I pull from my experience as a psychiatrist seeing young people all the time, so I can enhance my stories with characters that are relatable to readers of any age, making them remember what it's like to be there at that moment. Similarly, I can show the characters growing in a positive way.

"I grew up as a big sci-fi fantasy nerd, and I was lucky to have friends who supported that and liked the same things, but I know a lot of young women and men who don't have that experience and feel a lot of pressure to conform. Also, these genres have been more open-minded in regard to women's and girl's roles, so you have the ability to create very strong protagonists who happen to be female without the same boundaries as other types of writing.

What inspires her: "I write when I'm inspired by someone's personal story or experience. One thing that inspired me to write this particular book series was that after reading up on other young adult novels, I found them lacking in many ways. It was frustrating, the way characters were written and the way they were supposed to grow--the development was missing. I wanted to write a novel series with similarly appealing characteristics, but with my readers coming out feeling like they learned something--not in the structure of a school setting, but in a more entertaining way.

"My experience seeing teen patients injects that sense of realism in my books. I take from their mannerisms, phrasing, and the way they perceive the world. As adults, we have a different set of life experiences and years on earth, so we tend to see things differently. Being connected with my adolescent patients gives me a way to essentially turn back time and remember what it was like to be in their shoes.

If not this, then what: "If not these books, I think I would be writing more of a sci-fi or paranormal series, or even a murder mystery series. Anything that allows me to weave a fascinating and engaging story within the context the world I have the ability to create is the kind of thing I want to write. Other than that, I just enjoy being a nerd, going to sci-fi conventions and doing cosplay, interacting with other people who have similar interests."

If not here, then where? "One of my bucket list places is someplace in French Polynesia, like Bali. There is a certain amount of meditative calm in watching the waves crash. If I had to pick a non-vacation spot, maybe Japan--I am a quarter Japanese and have never been able to visit. The culture and history is so rich, but the country is also open-minded about new and different things."

What's next? "Book three is in the works, and will be called The Amulet of Morgana. I'm also collaborating with Artistic Justice Games, another Houston company. They do table-top games and are about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to launch their very first mobile app game. I will be providing the storyboard for the app game, and helping to author the book series that will accompany it. I will also be at two conventions next month--I'll be the moderator of the Dr. Who panel at the Comicpalooza here in Houston, and I'm going as a fan to the Dallas Comic Con. The actress who plays Agent Melinda May, Ming-Na Wen, will be there, so I will probably cosplay as her again."

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