Today's indie author interviewee is Bethany Wangler, author of fantasy novel Child of the Kaites, which will be available tomorrow!! This is an amazing story full of rich worldbuilding, so be sure to pre-order your copy.
Welcome, Bethany! Tell us how you got started as a writer. What set you on the path of telling stories?
I have loved stories since birth. Before I knew how to read, I had memorized my favorite book so I could “read” it to my mom. I had a voracious appetite for books and never stopped myself in the process of reading.
Well, one day when I was around third or fourth grade, I distinctly remember laying on my bedroom floor reading when I suddenly paused of my own accord. The epiphany hit me that I could add stories to the world, not just consume them. I’ve been writing ever since.
I really got serious about writing in 2013. I took a creative writing class at a local college and shared the first couple chapters of Child of the Katies with my classmates–and they liked them! My professor told us at the end of class that, from his experience, those who make it as authors aren’t always the most naturally talented; they’re those who stick with it no matter what. I decided I was going to be one of those who sticks with it.
Pretend my readers and I are Hollywood producers and pitch Child of the Kaites to us. What's the concept in a nutshell, and what sets it apart?
Rai, an exile and runaway slave, wrestles with fear as she faces both the leader of the most powerful empire in the world and evil spirits bent on annihilating any opposition. She must decide if she’s destined to be a great leader, freeing her people from slavery, or an historian–or maybe those are the same thing. Set in a desert land, Child of the Kaites features magic swords, epic battles against animated nature, and unique cultures.
How did the premise of Child of the Kaites come to you? What inspired the plot, as well as the rich and engaging storyworld?
The short answer: other books, dreams, Bible stories, and history.
The long answer: The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings left me intrigued with the idea of fantasy and allegory. Around the time I first read them, I had a dream that inspired a fantasy novel, and by the time I finished the draft, a whole series had been born. This series would become The Firstborn’s Legacy, and that first book is now going to be book five.
I’ve always loved the stories in the Bible, and I’m a history nerd. All of the novels in TFL are inspired by historical/Biblical events that fascinate me. Child of the Kaites in particular was inspired by the story of Moses and the Exodus, and two of the characters’ relationship came straight from another dream I had.
As far as worldbuilding, I try to mix and augment aspects of real cultures and political systems, particularly from ancient civilizations. I based a lot of the desert setting in this novel on what I’ve seen in my native California. An author and geologist friend, Ashley Hansen, has helped make sure the geology of Child of the Kaites is realistic, so that’s good for any of our fellow rock lovers.
What are some of the predominant themes you explore in Child of the Kaites? What do you hope your readers will take away from it?
To me, Child of the Kaites is a story about fear and courage, life in a broken world, and reclaiming your identity when circumstances have stripped it away. I hope that my readers will leave feeling braver to be who they were made to be, with greater wonder at this beautiful, broken world we’re living in, and curious about the stories that inspired Child of the Kaites.
Tell us about your writing process. How do you develop your ideas, and what's your balance between plotting and “trailblazing”?
I guess I’m half-way between trailblazer and plotter. I start with a strong, basic mental guide for where the story is going, though I never write it down. I write the first draft. As the end of the book approaches, probably around ⅔ into the story, I block out very specifically the remaining events, mostly so that I don’t forget anything and so that I can have the satisfaction of crossing things out to motivate me through the growing despair that the book I thought was incredible is actually going to need a lot more work.
Then I type it all, because usually my first drafts are handwritten. I first fight self-loathing, but as I type more, I get better, concrete ideas of ways to improve the story. Typing is kind of my second draft, as a lot of changes happen between the page and screen.
A couple close friends will read it then and give me feedback and encouragement. Then I take their advice and my own plans and do heavy revisions. I write out a lot of this beforehand, so I don’t forget. After that’s finished, I have a couple more people read it, revise some more, then edit (which is basically “proofreading” to me).
It’s a long process. My goal is to streamline it more as I dive back into the next couple books in the series. Your advice on your podcast about accepting your original vision for a story has actually been very helpful.
How do you cope with creative blocks as you write?
I subscribe to Hannah Heath’s theory that writer’s block isn’t a real thing; it’s a sign something else is off, like something not working with the plot or characters. Regularly taking days off from writing, getting enough sleep, and doing other creative things have tremendously helped me stay healthy and productive as a writer.
You published Child of the Kaites chapter by chapter on your blog first. What tips would you give authors who would like to try serializing their own work?
My biggest piece of advice is this: Have a complete and revised manuscript before you start sharing. Otherwise, you may be left scrambling to rewrite and revise chapters by your deadline. Try to have it so that you only have minor edits to make. The exception is if you work better under pressure and have a pretty flexible schedule, I imagine.
Other advice: Have a schedule. Being regular and frequent in posting will show your readers that you’re serious about this and it’s worth their time to invest in your story. No one wants to start reading a great story, only to have it trickle off half-way through. That’s another reason to have the whole thing written beforehand. You don’t want to disappoint your readers; you want them hooked forever.
Also, focus on building tension. In a serial story especially, it’s important to end chapters on a cliffhanger or with unresolved questions to keep people coming back.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting Child of the Kaites written and published, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was the revision process. Drafting is my favorite part of writing, and when it’s finished, I want to just be on to the next story. Publishing CotK chapter by chapter on my blog helped with accountability. Finding critique partners helped a ton with learning how to revise. Discovering writing sprints was also crucial. E.B. Dawson and J.E. Purrazzi would spend hour chunks of time working on their stories at the same time as I worked on mine, and that extra accountability was key.
What's your favorite music to listen to while writing?
The background noise of the tea shop where I often work or the quiet sounds of the house when everyone else is gone or asleep are my favorite. Sadly, listening to my own music distracts me. Other people’s music is fine, though.
Who are your three favorite fiction writers?
I’m notoriously bad at picking favorites, so I’ve decided to create categories. My three favorite classic fiction writers (aside from C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who are too obvious) are Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens. My three favorite traditionally-published authors from the past century are Elizabeth George Speare, Ally Carter, and Rick Riordan. My three favorite indie authors (aah, this was so hard–why did you make me choose?) are Hannah Heath, E.B. Dawson, and you.
Aw, thank you! What are a few of your favorite writing craft resources?
Elements of Style by Strunk and White changed my life. I read it annually. Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth is fascinating. He talks about figures of rhetoric, which are cool ways to make your words more memorable and increase their impact. It’s things like alliteration and hyperbole, but most of the terms are completely new to me.
Hannah Heath’s website is full of amazing posts about everything from characters to plots to settings to writers’ life advice. The Phoenix Fiction Writers’s website and podcast are fantastic. Kyle’s podcast is also great, and helpful while also being very reassuring. [Note from Kyle: The podcast is currently on indefinite hiatus, but it will be returning in the form of a non-fiction book in the not-too-distant future!]
I also like the Just Write and Nando v Movies Youtube channels. They focus on exploring key elements of films that worked well or could have been improved with a small change, but I find that much of their thoughts also apply to novels.
What are your writing plans following the release of Child of the Kaites? Any teasers?
Oh, there are so many plans. I’m working on a piece for an anthology that’ll be out sometime this year. Child of the Kaites is only book one of a nine-novel series, so I’ll be working on that for the foreseeable future. My dream is to have book two, The Stewards’ Apprentice, out within a year of CotK’s release. In the meantime, I’m publishing a series of short stories every other month on my blog. These short stories will span the gap between Child of the Kaites and The Steward’s Apprentice.
Thanks so much for sharing with us about Child of the Kaites, Beth! Readers, don't forget to pre-order it. And right now, you can get the prequel novella, The Lake of Living Water, for just $0.99!
Here are some links to where you can find Beth on the internet: