Fiction Blog

Ask Me Anything: March 2018

Welcome to my March 2018 Ask Me Anything video!

Earlier this month, I asked readers from my Reader List and social media whether they had any questions about my books, writing and publishing, or anything else. As a reader, I love it when authors share more about their books and themselves, so I want to do the same for you!

You can watch the video right here. Or if you prefer to read my answers, I’ve summarized them below.

What are you working on for Camp NaNoWriMo?

Camp NaNoWriMo is a twice-yearly challenge in which writers set a custom goal and meet in virtual cabins (chat rooms) to support each other. It’s a spin off of National Novel Writing Month, the November challenge in which writers attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. For this Camp session, my goal is to spend 60 hours working on Desertera #4 (though I might cheat and play with some other ideas too). I’ve made my goal in hours instead of word count because I need to focus on putting in the time and establishing a better routine.

How did you come up with the steampunk desert setting for the Desertera novels?

When considering a setting for Desertera, I went through a few different ideas. As I said in a previous AMA video, my original inspiration for the story itself was The Arabian Nights, and I liked how the desert setting created a feeling of desire and isolation. I also considered a historical fantasy based on King Henry VIII, but I knew the research would overwhelm me. My husband suggested steampunk, which had that Victorian “royal” flair, but again, I didn’t want to set the story in England or a real place. Therefore, I combined desert and steampunk to create Desertera — a place of desperation and isolation with people clinging onto antiquity, religion, and a romantic vision of a past that may or may not have ever existed.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Honestly, I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. As a child, I loved reading stories with my mom, and I soon started to write my own. I completed my first story, that I can remember, when I was eight years old. My teacher encouraged me to keep writing, so I did. When I was around 11, another teacher informed me that I could major in Creative Writing in college and write for a career. That pretty much sealed the deal.

How did you find your editing company?

Great question! Finding editors, cover designers, literary agents, and other professionals can be intimidating when you’re starting out as a writer. My best advice, and how I found the editing company I use, Red Adept Editing, is to ask published authors you know for referrals. Most will be happy to share their contacts, especially as it might give them a referral discount. Another great tip is to check the copyright and acknowledgments pages of books that impress you — most writers will include their editors, designers, etc. and you can look them up from there. And of course, there are marketplace websites like Reedsy or lists on industry sites like the Alliance of Independent Authors that link to reputable professionals.

Your husband tags you in a lot of movies on Twitter (@KateMColby). What’s your favorite movie you’ve seen this month?

Haha, yes he does! We’re big movie buffs, Daniel especially. The best movie we saw this month was Thoroughbreds, which is about two teenage girls who plot to kill one girl’s stepdad. It had a dark sense of humor, complex characters, and great suspense. However, my favorite movie was probably Tomb Raider. Growing up, I would “backseat game” the PlayStation games with my dad, so I had a lot of fun watching the new Lara Croft on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong — the movie had its problems, but it also had good action, surprising emotional depth, and a strong lead actress.


That’s all for this video! Thanks to everyone who asked a question. I’ll be back in April with another round of Ask Me Anything, so feel free to submit your questions in the comments or through my contact page.

Advertisements
Author Interviews, Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Ask Me Anything: February 2018

Welcome to my February 2018 Ask Me Anything video!

Earlier this month, I asked readers from my Reader List and social media whether they had any questions about my books, writing and publishing, or anything else. As a reader, I love it when authors share more about their books and themselves, so I want to do the same for you!

You can watch the video right here. Or if you prefer to read my answers, I’ve summarized them below.

Will the fourth Desertera novel have a new main character? And if so, will you say who?

Yes! Sybil Tanner, who readers will remember as Dellwyn’s roommate and Zedara’s new maid, will be our leading lady. Originally, I planned for the fourth book to be written from Zedara’s point of view, but you’ll see why that wouldn’t work when you read it. I’m really enjoying Sybil’s perspective – she’s got a contagious vibrancy and energy, but she still struggles with trauma from her childhood and The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2). I hope you’ll find her as complex and charming as I do!

If you could only pay for editing or cover design, which would you choose?

As an independent author, you should always pay for BOTH editing and cover design whenever possible. When it comes to fiction novels, if I couldn’t afford one of those services, I would save money and wait to publish rather than put out an unfinished or unprofessional product. Even if you are a professional editor or cover designer, I would still recommend outsourcing that work to save time and get a second, unbiased opinion on your book.

That being said, I have skipped editing or cover design for other projects. The Desertera short story that I give to my Reader List subscribers is professionally edited, but since I don’t sell it at online retailers, I didn’t commission a cover. Instead, I made a simple cover in Canva (a free online design tool) to put on the landing page and give my readers an image for their e-readers.

For my nonfiction creative writing prompts booklets, I edited myself using online software and had the covers made by a friend, who is a professional graphic designer. Because I’m not publishing these booklets in print and they are just $0.99 each, I’m okay with them being slightly less professional and providing “pure” profit. However, I do intend to update them with professional editing and cover designs when my business allows.

What advice do you have for young or aspiring writers?

My best advice for young or aspiring writers is to read critically. I know that sounds like annoying school terminology, but it’s one of the most effective ways to learn about story and writing craft. As you read, ask yourself questions about the story. Does it flow well? Do the characters’ actions make sense? How would you change the plot to make it more powerful? This practice will help you think like a writer and nurture your creative instincts.

Another tip is to take advantage of any and all resources you have at your disposal. Borrow novels or writing craft books from your school or public library. Read writing blogs and listen to writing podcasts on the internet. If your school offers a creative writing elective, fit the class in your schedule. Ask your English teacher and/or librarians about local authors, writing groups, and other community resources. YOU are the best advocate for your writing, so do everything you can to learn and grow that passion.

What is your favorite wine?

My passion for wine began with Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, and even though I’ve tasted hundreds of different wines through the wine marketing company I work for, Aussie Cab is still my favorite style. It’s rich and full-bodied, with delicious, chocolatey, black-fruit flavors and just a hint of mint. It doesn’t get much yummier than mint chocolate in a glass.

What other books would you recommend if I like the Desertera series?

If you’re a fan of Desertera’s steampunk stylings, I strongly suggest Kara Jorgensen’s Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. The first book is The Earl of Brass. Her series is more classic steampunk, in that it takes place in Victorian-era London with a stronger emphasis on mechanical devices. However, it also has lots of fun fantasy and dark magic elements too and offers great character diversity in gender and sexuality.

I’d also recommend the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray. The first book is A Great and Terrible Beauty. After her parents’ deaths, Gemma is sent to a boarding school in London, where she discovers that she has the power to transport her and her friends to a magical dimension. It’s full of strong, complex young women and social drama, with a swoon-worthy love story and a gorgeous Victorian-inspired backdrop. I picked it up in high school purely for the covers, and it’s still one of my favorite series.


That’s all for this video! Thanks to everyone who asked a question. I’ll be back in March with another round of Ask Me Anything, so feel free to submit your questions in the comments or through my contact page.

Author Interviews, Fiction Blog

New Interview + Send Me YOUR Questions

rayaan writer

A few months ago, new author Rayaan reached out to me on Instagram to say that he’d enjoyed my creative writing prompts booklets and ask for an interview. Obviously, I said yes!

He asked some fantastic questions about my thoughts on writer’s block, advice for aspiring authors, and who I would cast if Desertera became a movie. It’s one of most fun interviews I’ve had in a while, and I hope my responses are helpful to anyone looking to write.

Click here to read the interview on Rayaan’s website.

And while we’re on the topic of interviews…

ask me anything

If YOU have ever wanted to ask me anything (literally), your chance has arrived! Each month in 2018, I’m recording Ask Me Anything videos, in which I’ll answer your questions on Desertera, writing, the Parallel Magic Podcast, and (almost) anything else you like.

To see how it works, check out my January Ask Me Anything video.

I’ll be recording the February video this coming weekend, so submit your questions in the comments below, via the Contact page, or on your favorite social media site.

As always, thanks for reading, and I look forward to chatting with you soon!

Author Interviews, Fiction Blog, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

#SciFi Women Interview

Author and scholar Natacha Guyot recently interviewed me for her #SciFi Women Interview series. As the name suggests, Natacha’s interviews focus on female creators (authors, artists, designers, etc.) in the science fiction genre. In the interview, I talk about some of my early sci-fi influences (including Resident Evil and Sliders), as well as the versatility of the genre. You can read the full interview on NatachaGuyot.org.

science-fiction-pulpWhile I have done several fantastic interviews in my short time as an independent author, the #SciFi Women Interview was definitely one of my favorites. Because my current series, Desertera, belongs on the “soft” side of science fiction (steampunk/dystopian) and some of my future projects land firmly in fantasy, I often feel uncomfortable identifying with science fiction alone. However, answering Natacha’s questions reminded me of two important things: 1) how much I love science fiction and 2) that I actually have some street cred in the genre, both in nerdy passions and Desertera, however “soft” it might be.

For me, science fiction is the genre that allows the most “truth” in fiction. By pushing the boundaries of reality into an altered state or a potential future, authors can provide a critique of humanity and/or a cautionary tale about society that doesn’t deter readers. If you hold a mirror up to someone’s face directly, they’re unable to separate themselves from the reflection. But if you place a mask over their features, they can be more objective, while still aware of the truth beneath the façade.

Despite its criticisms and pessimistic exterior, as a whole, science fiction remains remarkably optimistic. A central theme that runs through the genre is the triumph of humanity over evils (be they aliens, technology, or other people) and the inherent goodness of humankind (or at least the protagonist). I’ve always understood the message of the genre to be: humans make mistakes and bad things happen, but they don’t have to stay that way.

Even if my desert dystopian land flirts with historical stylings and a feels like a fantasy kingdom, I hope that central theme still resonates.

But I do know one thing: I definitely need to write a straight science fiction (or maybe fantasy …) story next time around. I owe it to my favorite genres (and myself) to explore their creative playgrounds properly. And who knows? Maybe I’ll take you along for the ride in 2017 …

Author Interviews, Fiction Blog

An Interview with Author Margarita Morris

Today, I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with historical fiction, mystery and thriller author Margarita Morris. We talk about the inspiration behind her novels, her unique approach of mixing historical and present-day timelines in her narratives, and her plans for 2017. If you like the sound of her novels, be sure to check out Scarborough Fair and its sequel, Scarborough Ball (which releases today!). At the time of writing, both are on sale for $0.99 and £0.99!

margarita-morris1. Tell us a little about yourself and your fiction!

I grew up in the Victorian spa town of Harrogate, and then went to Oxford to study Modern Languages. For years I was a voracious reader whilst secretly harbouring a desire to write my own books, finally making a start in 2008. Many unfinished manuscripts later, I published Oranges for Christmas, a novel about a family escaping from East Berlin, in 2013. I have now published four novels and the main thing they have in common is that I write about what interests me whether that’s Berlin, Highgate Cemetery, Victorian fairs etc. I also try to make my books page turners because I don’t want to be bored writing them and I don’t want my readers to be bored reading them. My books are suitable for a young adult audience, but adults seem to really enjoy them too.

When I’m not writing I enjoy singing in a chamber choir in Oxford, swimming and yoga. I’m married with two teenage boys.

2. Your new novel, Scarborough Ball, releases today. What can you share about it and the Scarborough Fair series?

The inspiration for the first novel in the series, Scarborough Fair, grew from the idea that Scarborough (a seaside town on the north east coast of England) is a place where layers of history are all visible. You can stand on the beach and see the medieval castle, the Victorian hotels and esplanade, the old fishing village and the 20th-century amusement arcades. So it seemed like the perfect setting for a split-time novel encompassing the Victorian period and the present day.

Scarborough Fair is a mystery-thriller with characters from the town’s Victorian heyday and contemporary characters who find themselves caught up in the town’s grittier modern world. There’s a family connection between Rose in the contemporary setting and her great-great-grandmother, Mary, in the Victorian setting.

Moving on to Scarborough Ball, I decided to stick with the same contemporary characters, introducing a few new ones, but move the historical setting forward a generation. So the historical story in Scarborough Ball is set in 1923 to 1924 and the protagonist is Rose’s great-grandmother, Lilian.

scarborough-fair-300-width3. What inspired you to mix historical and present-day action in your fiction?

I like the way the historical and contemporary time settings play off each other. The contemporary setting stops the novel from becoming pure pastiche and the historical setting hopefully provides more depth and resonance than would be possible with a straight contemporary setting. History is all around us, particularly in the UK. The Victorians left us a huge legacy in their buildings and railways and cemeteries, but we also have many older buildings, some dating back to medieval times. It’s fun to imagine characters from different time periods exploring the same locations. The locations themselves might have fallen into disrepair or changed in other ways. Scarborough Fair and Scarborough Ball both feature Scarborough’s Grand Hotel. In the Victorian period it was a posh hotel, and it was easy to imagine it as the venue for a ball in the 1920s. Nowadays it targets the mass market, the management have installed slot machines in the elegant lounge, and Bingo sessions are held in the ballroom.

4. What other themes feature in your novels?

The central theme of Scarborough Fair is fortune or luck. I liked the way it tied in with the idea of going to a fair and Dan’s family runs an amusement arcade on the sea-front. The conclusion from the novel is that you have to make your own luck in this world. Scarborough Ball explores ideas of justice, revenge and redemption.

In The Sleeping Angel I wanted to look at Victorian ideas of death, burial and spiritualism, hence the Highgate Cemetery setting. Highgate Cemetery is an inspirational place, with its Gothic and Egyptian-influenced architecture and hundreds of Pre-Raphaelite-inspired angels, set amongst a forest of trees and overgrown ivy. Highgate Cemetery was the scene of the exhumation of Lizzie Siddal (wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti) and also the scene, in 1970, of a vampire hunt (seriously!) so I found a way of weaving those particular gems into the novel.

Oranges for Christmas is, quite simply, a story about the dangers in a communist dictatorship and the quest for freedom from oppression. In 1961 Berlin was a real-life dystopia. The communists built a wall around West Berlin, effectively cutting off the route that so many East Germans had been using to escape to the West. They then implemented a shoot-to-kill policy on anyone attempting to escape from East Berlin. This was perfect material for a novel.

scarborough-ball-300-width5. Do you take most of your inspiration from history and travel? What else inspires you?

Yes, a lot of my inspiration comes from history and travel. I’ve visited Berlin quite a few times, initially when the Berlin Wall was still standing. I also made a point of taking a tour of Highgate Cemetery in the early stages of writing The Sleeping Angel. Scarborough is a place that I know very well from family holidays.

I find research is a good way to get ideas. I had to do a lot of research about Berlin to get my facts right, but it also gave me concrete ideas for the story. The same was true of my reading about Victorian cemeteries and spiritualism when researching for The Sleeping Angel.

My other main source of inspiration is the literary world itself. Books inspire books. I’ve been greatly influenced by Dickens, the historical novels of Sarah Waters and the split-time novels of Kate Mosse. I also love Helen Grant’s young adult thrillers which feature contemporary characters but are also full of historical resonance.

6. Of your four novels, which is your personal favorite and why?

Scarborough Fair and Scarborough Ball were probably the most fun to write and I hope that there’s a joy in reading them.

The Sleeping Angel was definitely the most complicated because of having to intertwine the present day, the Victorian period and the 1970s, but I love its dark, haunting atmosphere.

Oranges for Christmas is the one that came from my own experience of visiting Berlin in 1987 and seeing the wall for myself. I also went to East Berlin for one day and saw the stark contrast in living standards between the East and the West. I feel very strongly that the story of the Berlin wall is one that should not be forgotten.

the-sleeping-angel-300-width7. On your author website, you mention that you spent 11 years in computer programming and project management. How did that experience influence your writing?

It was during those years that I learned project management and time management, two skills that are invaluable for an indie author. Writing and publishing a novel is a long-haul process, akin to developing and installing a large computer project. You have to manage your time and plan your tasks. Progress on a day-to-day basis can seem agonisingly slow but you have to keep plodding onwards, even if it’s only a few hundred words a day. It soon starts to add up.

8. Do you have any particular writing habits or special rituals?

I don’t have any special rituals, but I’m disciplined about my time. I have two boys, now aged 17 and 13, so my working day revolves around the school day. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I drive the boys to school, go swimming and then go home and start work at ten o’clock. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my husband takes the boys to school so on those days I can be at my desk by nine. I work till twelve thirty when we stop for lunch (my husband works from home too.) Then I continue working in the afternoon, either till three o’clock if it’s my turn to collect the boys, or until about four or five. Evenings are for reading and watching good drama on television. During the school holidays I try to make sure I get my work done in the mornings.

I divide my time between writing (which can mean researching, planning, writing or editing) and other tasks, such as writing blog posts, running The Good Writer website and marketing activities.

I find it very helpful to record my progress at the end of each week in a writing diary – just an excel spreadsheet where I fill in my word count and make a note of how things have gone that week. When I’m stuck with a project, it’s very useful to look back and see that I was having similar problems around the same time on a previous book.

oranges-for-christmas-300-width9. On your business website, thegoodwriter.com, you share writing and self-publishing advice. What are your three top tips for aspiring independent authors?

Hah, this is a good question for me! After three years of writing unusual, standalone novels aimed mainly at young adults I am now going to attempt something slightly different. So this advice is for me as much as anyone else. These are my new goals for 2017 (you heard it here first folks):

1) Write for adults.
Most indie sales come from ebooks. This means the buyer needs to be shopping online. This means the buyer needs to have a credit card. Teenagers do not have credit cards, therefore it’s very difficult to sell to them as an indie author.

2) Write in a popular genre.
Genre is key when it comes to marketing. You have to be able to position your book comfortably inside one of Amazon’s categories. If you can’t do that then you’re hampering your marketing efforts from the get go. It might also help with getting reviews from bloggers because you can be specific about what sort of book you’re offering them.

3) Write a series.
Standalone novels are a tough sell. I’ve had most success with Oranges for Christmas which is arguably the easiest of my novels to define. Nevertheless, series seem to work well. And making the first in series free is a popular marketing strategy.

In addition to the above, I would add that you should put in a lot of time learning about the business. I do household chores listening to podcasts like The Creative Penn and the Self-Publishing Podcast. Also, make sure you get a professional cover, editing and have a budget, no matter how small, for some advertising and promotion.

10. What do you hope readers take away from your books?

Most importantly, I want people to enjoy reading them. I try to explore themes of freedom, fortune, revenge etc. but that makes the books sound rather philosophical. I think literary fiction greatly underrates the value of a good plot – something that will keep the readers turning the pages. I hope my readers will always want to keep turning the pages.


Read the books

Oranges for Christmas

The Sleeping Angel – one of Kate’s favorite indie novels! (read review, featuring the original cover)

Scarborough Fair – currently on sale for $0.99 and £0.99!

Scarborough Ball – currently on sale for $0.99 and £0.99!