Author Interview: Kristen S. Walker
Posted by Will
To my ongoing amazement, we continue to lure aspiring authors to the Independent Bookworm for interviews. Even with the incontrovertible evidence of our perfidious cruelty right before their eyes, they come- driven by passion, by desperation or perhaps just a terminally short attention span. And who are we to complain?
Next up in the chair of interrogation is Kristen S. Walker, whose new novel “A Flight of Marewings” is debuting this month. Perhaps she believes her previous acquaintance with the eminent Ms. Gerlach will save her. Perhaps she is grievously, tragically mistaken… now where did I put that YA-sized strappado…
Q: All other questions must wait! What is Wyld about your world’s Magic, besides the spelling. And most important please, how soon can I start to use it?
A: Wyld Magic is actually the forces of Nature on steroids to fight back against the advancement of human civilization. It twists normal plants and animals into deadly monsters, from marewings to stranglevine, virtually all of which are hostile to humans and are actively trying to destroy farms and settlements. Humans in Seirenia have to band together in the safety of cities, or get the aid of priests to bless their fields and keep back the encroachment of the Wyld. As for humans harnessing that power for their own purposes, well, I will tell you that some of the characters in this book try to do just that. You’ll have to read the novel to find out what happens, but I don’t think you’d want to mess around with it lightly. The effects of Wyld Magic on human society will be an ongoing theme for the series.
Q: You describe the world of Seirenia and Marewings as epic fantasy. Does that mean it’s not YA? Can kids read epics?
A: Epic, high, or heroic fantasy are all terms used to describe a flavor of fantasy that focuses on magical quests or adventures with dangerous monsters. Some of it is written for the YA crowd (see Tamora Pierce’s Tortall novels for a bestselling example), but A Flight of Marewings has almost entirely adult characters, so it’s not aimed at that age group. However, many kids and teens (including me when I was younger and my own teen girls now) read above their age group as well, so I wouldn’t say that my novel could not be enjoyed by teens. After all, the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy is considered non-YA epic fantasy, but many people read it for the first time in middle or high school, and it’s often their introduction to the fantasy genre.
Q: What would you say is the biggest difference with trying to interest a younger reader- in any kind of story?
A: Well, the contrary thing about younger readers is that they often don’t want to read something that you’re “trying” to tell them to read. In general, YA, MG (middle grade) and children’s books are just those stories with younger characters who are also probably trying to deal with issues that kids of that age can relate to, from school bullies to first love. Otherwise, these books shouldn’t be written any differently than novels for adults, especially when you’re writing for teens—they can handle complex concepts and advanced vocabulary at that age, and they really don’t like to be talked down to. That means you can still tackle difficult issues and dark themes in YA, to some extent in MG, and delicately in children’s books. (I remember being seven years old and reading about one of the characters in the Babysitters’ Club when her grandmother had a stroke, and how that affected her family. This was two years after my own grandmother had passed away, so I was no stranger to those kinds of issues.)
In the end, every reader is different, and they’re going to be interested in different things. I would say that my approach has been to talk to a few teens and ask what they think of my ideas or what they want in a story. I’m lucky to live with two of them who are very vocal in their opinions, and teen readers are also easy to find online.
Q: I see that you, madam, not satisfied with owning an entire fantasy world, need to invade the ARW (Alleged Real World) as well. “Small Town Witch” sounds pretty close to magical realism, yes? Everything’s the same except we have, um, a few thousand spellcasting monstrous beings running around in Northern California. I wonder if anyone would even notice! Did you have more world-building to do with a small town in this world, or in describing an entirely new one?
A: What can I say? I love world-building and I never know when to stop! I think that I did more world-building for Seirenia for two reasons: I’ve been working on that world since I was thirteen (although it doesn’t resemble its original incarnation much at all by now), and I cheated with my small town because it’s actually mostly based on a place where I grew up—in Northern California. It prides itself on being weird, so there’s already plenty of strange things running around, but I do think people would notice if magic suddenly started to show up. (There would be photos up on the community blog, like the escaped parrot that roosts in neighborhood trees and sightings of the alleged “ghost” in a certain hotel.) I don’t know if magical realism applies, though, because the magic is front and center without too much of the realism. I call “Small Town Witch” alternately Urban or Contemporary or Modern Fantasy to emphasize that it’s in our time and our world. (As a joke, I once said that it was the opposite of Urban Fantasy because it’s not in a city, and wanted to coin the sub genre of Rural Fantasy, but I don’t know how many other books would join mine in that category!)
Q: Tell us more about the series (“The Fae of Calaveras County”) that you started with “Small Town Witch”, and particularly your decision to serialize the later volumes (available now on her Facebook page). Would you recommend that publication plan?
A: Well, I self-published “Small Town Witch” first on all of the traditional digital platforms like Amazon and Smashwords, but it’s been tough to get visibility with so many other books out there. I knew that my friend, Jimena Novaro, was releasing her novel “The Withering Sword” as a serial on both her website and on Wattpad—a website that lets writers share their stories for free. I learned from her and a few other writers that Wattpad is a good community to connect directly with readers, especially teens. So when I started to write the sequel to “Small Town Witch”, I decided to experiment with sharing the novel as I wrote it. Other than writing too fast for many readers to keep up with (I managed a rate of a chapter a day for the whole month of November), I think it was successful, and I’ve made some new friends and fans that way.
I know many authors wouldn’t like this approach, because it means giving away your work for free. I don’t personally plan on leaving up my entire story there indefinitely—in the next few weeks, I’ll remove it from Wattpad and start revising the story to publish it as an ebook later. But for getting visibility, one of the major hurdles of a self-published author that doesn’t have the backing of a big publishing company or a huge marketing budget, I do recommend sharing at least some work with readers for free, on Wattpad, your own site, or any of the other similar communities. You get direct feedback. If you share the first part of a longer series, you can get people interested in later books. And not just self-published authors use this to find new readers—Margaret Atwood and Brandon Sanderson both have entire books on the site. Every author has to find their own plan that fits their work and their goals, so I don’t think it’s ideal for everyone, but it’s worth looking at as one option among so many available today.
Q: Are you a disciplined writer, with a regular schedule and habits? Notes, much? How about a Muse, did you pick up one of those along the way? And how are the two people inside your head getting along- Kristen the author and Kristen the marketer? Any fistfights, and if so who won?
A:I do try to keep up the habit of working on something every day. Sometimes I write a story, sometimes I work on outlines or world-building, other days it’s revision—but I keep my momentum going better when I do some kind of writing and my stories stay fresh in my mind. I’m trying to cut back on my massive amount of notes that I do for each project, because I can spend too much time planning and never get to the actual story. My Muse is a hyperactive child who gets easily distracted by shiny things, but when she’s focused she hovers over my shoulder to demand everything from explosions to unicorns.
Kristen the writer has been a strong force since I was eight and started my first notebook (which was blue and had a unicorn on the front). It’s been much harder to learn how to be Kristen the marketer. I hate trying to talk about myself in job interviews or self-evaluations, and I’m very shy about asking for anything like “buy my book”. I try to approach it as I’m excited about my stories and I want to share them with other people, so I think about what I can say to explain why I think they are interesting. Marketing is still a very new skill for me, though, and Kristen the researcher has been hard at work to dig up virtually every article and book on the subject so I can learn more. But when it comes to any kind of decisions that I have to make, like what’s the best kind of cover art (something that follows bestselling trends versus something that I think represents my story), then Kristen the writer has been winning every time. As a result, I might not be making the best plans from a marketing perspective (I am giving away stories for free on Wattpad after all, and I don’t think the cover of “A Flight of Marewings” looks like any traditionally published fantasy book released in the last five years). That kind of stubbornness is probably not going to make me as much money.
Q: You seem quite open to sharing space on the web at your site and on your blog with other authors. Names, we must have the names for future interrogation purposes. What’s your theory about sharing interests with other authors- is it United We Stand, or I Am a Rock/Island? And BTW, is this strictly a Hear Women Roar deal, or is the Y chromosome set also welcome?
A: So far, I’ve hosted fantasy author Jimena Novaro, science fantasy author Nadine Ducca, superhero author Thomas Healy, and recently, fantasy romance author Juli D. Revezzo. It’s been a lot of fun to hear about their different stories and approaches to writing, and I hope to host many more in the future. (If you’re an author looking for a guest blog spot, please contact me!) Now, I think it’s much better for authors to work together instead of standing alone—we can all use the help and support, and readers benefit by finding more stories they love. After all, it’s not really a competition between us, where I have to fight Jimena or Nadine to sell more of my books. I know from personal experience that no single writer (even the crazy prolific ones that you hear about releasing a book every month) can keep up with the rate of an enthusiastic reader (I know people who read two or more books a week, and I myself read a four-book series in about two days when I was sick over Christmas break). Also, while I’ve only hosted one man on my site so far, this is simply because I know more women who write. When I offer to host someone, it’s because I like the kinds of stories that they write, not which chromosomes they have or any other physical differences.
Q: OK, before I work another 60s rock ballad into my questions, you may go for now- but don’t leave the, um, multiverse, we may wish to question you further. Let us know how we can get in touch with you and your work, and thanks again for your cooperation, Kristen. Sergeant, take off the cuffs.
A: Hey, I have no problems with 60s rock ballads! I love classic rock (along with a lot of other music). I have an eclectic music collection, and classic rock even features in my karaoke song rotation (when it fits into my soprano range). The best way to find me is through my website, kristenwalker.net, which links to my current books, has a blog for updates on future works, and also points to my Facebook, Twitter, and Wattpad accounts. You can even contact me directly through blog comments on a form. Thanks for the friendly interrogation, Will!
Korinna’s life gets turned upside down when the ghost of her father suddenly appears. Her father was duke of Kyratia City and he wanted Korinna to marry his warlord, the foreign mercenary Galenos, and inherit his title–but the city’s Council has other plans. When the Council denies Korinna’s right to rule, she decides to join Galenos’s mercenary company and tame a wild marewing in order to take the city by force. But people whisper that the late duke’s untimely death was murder, an induced madness that forced him to dance himself to death–and now that madness is spreading. Can Korinna become a marewing rider and conquer Kyratia in time to save everyone?
Fantasy author Kristen S. Walker dreams of being a princess with a flying horse, but she settles for writing stories for teens and adults. Her new epic fantasy novel, A Flight of Marewings, tells the adventure of a duke’s illegitimate daughter who must stop her father’s murderers–by taming a dangerous monster. A Flight of Marewings is now available in print from Amazon and digitally from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. To read a sample chapter or check out Kristen’s world-building references, please visit kristenwalker.net. You can talk Sherlock, horses, and crochet with Kristen any time on Twitter (@KristenSWalker) or Facebook.
About WillI'm the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales, available at all the major online retailers.
Posted on January 17, 2014, in about writing, Author Spotlight, Genre - Fantasy Stories and tagged fantasy, magic, world building, writers, writers journey, writing advice. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.