Redding resident S.J. Armato spent 35 years at a publishing house before heading back to school to work as an occupational therapy assistant, providing services to special needs school children. Once he retired from his second profession, he was looking for something new.
That’s when he got the idea to try his hand at writing, and wrote a young-adult (YA) fantasy novel called “The If Bridge” in 2011. It was a success and he followed that up with “Mr. Oddley’s Toy Shop” and “The Miracle Child” in the ensuing two years.
His newest work, “Rayna Spark and Lightning in a Bottle” follows a 9-year-old witchlet who wakes up one morning determined to capture lightning and the result is something never expected.
Keith Loria: Where did you come up with the idea for this story?
S. J. Armato: Strangely enough, it started with me thinking about shadows and how they can change size in relation to an object or a person. I thought it might be interesting for the reverse to happen, and that idea helped create one of the characters in my book. The other characters, including the main character, Rayna Spark, followed rather naturally.
KL: What is it about the fantasy genre that appeals to you as a writer?
SA: Well, first of all, as far as I can remember I’ve been a huge fan of fantasy and sci-fi. What appeals to me is that they have no boundaries. They offer endless possibilities. In these make-believe worlds, anything is possible. They can also serve as a vehicle for social commentary, social injustice, good versus evil and honor and loyalty versus deceit.
KL: What have you found to be the secret formula in writing for younger readers?
SA: Except for trying to fill the pages with lots of humor and action, I don’t have a secret formula and I don’t think you really need one. Just don’t talk or write down to young people. Kids can understand a lot more than many adults realize.
KL: What do you feel your readers will enjoy about this latest project?
SA: Lots of stuff happens. Rayna Spark is a young witch who wants to capture lightning in a bottle, and she does, but not in the way she expected. She and her friends then share a magical adventure that takes them to several bizarre worlds where they meet many unique beings, some nice, some not so, and where they sometimes find themselves fighting for their lives.
KL: Having worked in a publishing company for much of your career, was becoming a writer always in the cards for you? Where did that desire stem from?
SA: I started writing songs when I was 13 and I still do. It wasn’t until I turned 50 that I thought to write a novel. Honestly, writing that first book was a lot more demanding than I thought it would be, but it was also very fulfilling. That book was called “The If Bridge” and it took me over two years to write.
KL: What inspires you to write?
SA: Nothing and everything. Some people need to play sports, some need to cook, collect stamps, travel … I need to write. It is a part of who I am. I’m always working on something, either a new book or a new song. I can’t explain it any better than that.
KL: What’s next for you? Have you started to think about the next book?
SA: I’m more than halfway through my second Rayna Spark book. I also have several other projects I have put aside temporarily because right now Rayna is my main focus. I love the characters and in a funny way, I feel I need to keep them alive by continuing to write about them.