Conversations with authors and writers from the self-publishing world.
Meet Katina French
Best Known for: The Clockwork Republics Series
Dear Katina thank you very much for agreeing to participate in the Indie Author Spotlight.
Thanks for inviting me! I'm really excited. I'm a huge Firefly fan, so when I saw an email from someone named Saffron my first reaction was “how awesome is that?!”
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I've loved writing since I was very young. I remember asking my mom to help me write an alphabet book when I was maybe five. I took every creative writing class offered by my high school, and majored in English/Creative Writing in college. However, I also married my high school sweetheart at 18. He joined the military about two years into college, so we spent some time moving around the world. We had two kids, and life just sort of interrupted my writing for a really long time.
Then about two years ago, I felt the call of the pen again. I joined a writer's group at my local library. I got encouragement and tips from other published authors in my small hometown. So I started writing again. This year, I've been attempting to write and publish an eBook every month, just to cement the writing habit really firmly. I've missed two months, but I've also published 6 books! One as part of a small press anthology, and Mirrors and Magic, which is my first full length novel.
Your book Mirrors and Magic, sounds like an interesting take on an old tale, was this your first book? If not, what was your first published book and did it do well?
It was my first full length novel. It made it to #4 in the Kindle Store Top 100 Free eBooks for Steampunk.
My first published eBook was Big Teeth, set in the same alternate North America as Mirrors and Magic, which I call The Clockwork Republics. Big Teeth was a retelling of “Red Riding Hood.” It's gotten some nice five star reviews, and sells more consistently than my other books.
A year earlier, my novella “Bitter Cold” was accepted as part of Echelon Press' Once Upon a Clockwork Tale anthology. It was written a year before Big Teeth, and came out in paperback and eBook in June. It debuted in the Kindle Store Top 100 Bestsellers for steampunk.
“First book” is kind of complicated for me, since the first one I wrote wasn't the first one published, and the first one published wasn't a novel.
Tell us a little bit about Mirrors and Magic…
Mirrors and Magic is a steampunk retelling of “Snow White.” It's set in 1908 in a travelling circus. Neve is the daughter of the former star performer, a magician. In The Clockwork Republics, alchemy is very advanced, so stage magicians can sometimes pull off real magic. The circus has fallen into decline after her father's death. Everyone is intimidated by the new star, Bella Venezia, an acrobat, and the strongman who is basically her henchman. There's also a charming and dangerous knife thrower, Brendan the Prince of Blades, who has taken an interest in Neve, and a mysterious fortune teller who calls herself the Mirror of Destiny.
The main story is about whether Neve can rescue the circus, uncover the mystery of her father's death, and defeat the bad guys. But of course, since it's Snow White, there's also a romantic subplot. Brendan's keeping secrets, and Neve doesn't know if she can trust him. Also, there's a homicidal monkey who shows up sporadically to cause mayhem. It's quite exciting.
How does this book differ from other Sci-Fi novels?
As a Steampunk book, it straddles the line between Sci-Fi and fantasy. It's really more mad science than science fiction. At least one reviewer has pointed out that my version of alchemy is advanced to the point of being indistinguishable from magic. Which is sort of necessary when you're retelling fairy tales. The clockwork and steam-powered technology is really a background element. With so much going on in the main plot and subplot, it would have been really hard to make the technology more prominent, as it is in most Sci-Fi.
You’ve written and published a novel, congratulations! How do you define ‘success’ in terms of being an Indie author?
For me, success this year is all about starting and finishing stories, and overcoming my fear of putting my work out there. At this point, I've either sold or given away over 2000 copies of my books (over 1000 of just Mirrors and Magic!) And each new review from someone who says they enjoyed my work is a success. I'm confident that sales will come with time and effort. But for this year, success is about telling the stories I want to tell, getting more experienced in my craft, and becoming more confident in sharing those stories with others. I spent nearly 20 years avoiding writing. Right now, just being able to do this thing I love again is a success.
Do you have any special tips that you’d like to share with other authors, regarding writing, marketing or publishing?
Writing is about coming prepared, but being open to the unexpected. Mostly, it's about consistently showing up at the page, ready to work. Marketing is my day job, and mostly that's about being friendly, honest and winsome. Especially in social media, it's about being the best version of yourself, and trusting that you'll attract people who like the way you think, and thus like the stories you tell.
Publishing is a moving target, and trying to keep up with it can become a gossipy time sink. Or just lead to Kermit-flailing in panic with every shift in the wind for the industry or Amazon. So pick a few level-headed and trustworthy news sources, follow those, and focus on the work of writing.
Why did you choose to write in the sci-fi genre?
Because I love imagining a different world, and that's the essence of sci-fi. Some of my favorite comic books back when I collected were Marvel's “What If” and DC's “Elseworlds” books. Even in the made-up world of superheroes, I still love imagining different realities for characters and settings I already know and love. I can “what if” forever in sci-fi. “What if the American states never united?” “What if slavery ended during the Revolutionary War, and the former slaves were war heroes?” “What if there was no Civil War?” Those are all questions I've explored in the Clockwork Republics series, and probably my favorite element of writing it.
Do you also read? What sort of books?
I read a lot! Mostly speculative fiction, but I'll read the occasional literary fiction, romance or chick lit if it has a good hook. Right now I'm reading The Lies of Locke Lamora and I love the humor, although it's not really a book I can share with my kids. John Scalzi can pretty much just take my money whenever, because Old Man's War and Redshirts were wonderful. Love some of the newer independent fantasy that is a return to the more optimistic, light-hearted style of earlier years. Things like Michael J. Sullivan's Ryria books, and Marian Allen's SAGE trilogy. The one constant is that I look for humor. It can be gallows humor, but I rarely enjoy a book if I don't laugh at least a few times reading it.
How did you learn to write?
I was a grammar nerd in school, and grew up on Schoolhouse Rock, so I had good basic tools to start with. Loved reading and collecting new words, so that gave me a nice vocabulary. Beyond that, I just read a lot. You pick up things about style and technique, and sort of file it away to try later. Or to avoid later, in the case of something that doesn't work.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?
I am not a very patient person, and I believe in hard work and craftsmanship over luck and knowing the right people. So traditional publishing, in the “get an agent and pitch big publishers” sense, doesn't really appeal to me. It's slow, and way too much depends on things that are completely out of your hands. I like the simplicity and speed of self-publishing.
That said, I'm increasingly intrigued with the spectrum of options available to writers right now. Small presses and digital-first imprints of traditional publishers are really stepping into the gap between having to do absolutely everything, and having to deal with all the baggage of agents and commercial print publishing. Starting next year, I'm moving to a hybrid model, and trying to make smart partnerships with digital and small presses to handle the heavy lifting of editing, cover design and promotion so I can focus on writing more.
Do you have any more books being released soon?
Hopefully! I'm working on the second episode of my space adventure serial, Belle Starr. There should be three episodes total. I'm usually outlining one story, drafting one, and editing one all at the same time. Belle Starr 2 is in editing right now.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
THANK YOU!!! I've always loved telling stories, but knowing there are people who love reading them just as much is a double gift. And get in touch! I'm professionally easy to find on the internet. I love getting comments and emails from readers.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your books?
I think I've said an awful lot already! Thanks so much for hosting me!
Thank you, Katrina!