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.

Musings & Bookish Things, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

What Writers Can Learn from Mad Max: Fury Road

road warriorThis weekend, Daniel, my parents, and I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that we are pretty big Mad Max fans. Okay, let me clarify that: my mom enjoys them, Daniel and I really enjoy them, and my dad ranks Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior as the best movie ever (Joe Dirt and Mad Max are #2 and #3, in case you were wondering).

Anyway, the purpose of this article is not to gush about the films. Likewise, I do not intend to review Mad Max: Fury Road (5/5 popcorn bags!), nor will I bestow upon you any major spoilers. Instead, I want to discuss what I appreciated about the film on a storytelling level and share some takeaways for writers like myself.

1. Create the fictional world the “real” world needs

I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not going to hurt my brain trying to describe exactly why society loves the apocalypse so much — especially in the 2010s. Maybe it’s that some of us are feeling the effects of The Great Recession. Maybe it’s the pressures that go along with rising credentialism and changing gender structures. Maybe it’s how overstimulated, over-connected, over-shared social media has made us. Whatever the reason, and whatever the apocalypse — zombie, nuclear, economic, or pandemic — we eat it up.

We need the escape the apocalypse offers. We needed it in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I know I love the romanticism of it — the freedom from modern worries, the lack of rules, the return-to-basics survivalism. Mad Max: Fury Road gives us the batshit insane apocalypse we need to release some of that tension and feel just a little bit better about what’s going on in the real world.

2. Include relevant themes

My favorite aspect of Fury Road is that it stayed true to the original trilogy, especially thematically. Several themes from the originals carried over into Fury Road; including, the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots,” putting the good of the community before your own needs, and perseverance for the sake of perseverance (and maybe the hope of something better).

furiosaHowever, Fury Road also introduced a few new themes that are particularly relevant to 2015. First, as many critics have espoused, the film contains a strong, feminist message. On an obvious level, it condemns sexual violence against women and the treatment of women as objects. On a more subtle level, the film showcases women as men’s (mainly Max’s) equals, capable of saving themselves with Max in more of a supporting role than “hero” role. The film’s feminist message is particularly relevant today — throw a virtual rock on Buzzfeed and you’ll hit an article on gender. By tapping into this theme, Fury Road is conveying a necessary, relevant message in its totally wacked-out world and opening itself up to a whole new demographic.

Second, in Fury Road, Max has visions of people he could not save, which ring of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In a time when a war on terror continues and society is growing more aware of and educated about psychological conditions, I think Max’s PTSD is well-placed. Not only does it function as character development, but it incorporates a relevant theme from the real world and helps its audience explore it in a new way.

3. Push boundaries within the world

This tip is short and sweet. Like any other fictional world, the Mad Max apocalypse has rules. It’s in the Australia desert, resources like water, food, and fuel (aka “juice”) are scarce, creativity (in outfit and car design) is crucial, and pretty much everyone is crazy. Just when you think you’ve seen it all with this world, it gives you an electric guitar player strapped to a war machine in the middle of battle. If you have yet to see the movie, trust me, it looks ridiculous — AND YET, it works. And you know what? Fans of the series love it.

The point is: create a world that the “real” world needs, make it relevant, and then push the boundaries to the point that it becomes insane, but epic.

4. Give the audience what it wants

fury roadAlong these same lines, as a writer, you need to know who your audience is and give it what it wants. Fury Road is full of car chases and crashes, nail-biting fight scenes, and punchy one-liners. There’s more action than speaking, and you barely get a minute to breathe. But that is exactly what the audience wants. Whether you write apocalyptic fiction or romance, the best thing you can do is give your readers what they want (and a little bit of what they need from points 1, 2 and 3).

Honestly, I don’t care whether or not you like any of the Mad Max movies. Regardless of your opinion, there is storytelling wisdom to glean from them. The original trilogy became cult classics, and even three decades later, the world and themes within them are still engrossing viewers. The Mad Max series has created a vibrant world and episodic stories that hook its target audience and keep it coming back for more. If you can do the same in your own writing — delivering your audience, whoever they may be, what they need and what they want — you just may have a hit on your hands.

What themes emerge in your own writing? Why do you think the apocalypse appeals to so many viewers and readers? Share your thoughts below!

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

May the Fourth Be With You: A Musing on Star Wars and Hipsters

As regular readers know, I have a Kansas Bucket List consisting of things I want to do before Daniel and I move to Connecticut. The first item I have crossed off this list is to have a Star Wars marathon with two of our friends. Why? Well, at 23 years of age, I had never seen Star Wars.

I’ll wait while you gasp and mutter your preferred expressions of horror.

may the 4thDone? Okay. Anyway, thanks to Daniel’s insistence, Caleb’s grilling skills, and Devin’s resourcefulness, we had a wonderful food- and wine-filled evening, and I have now seen the original Star Wars movies (Episodes 4, 5, and 6 for other noobs). I still have not seen the prequels, but my friends tell me viewing them will require significantly more wine than we had during the first marathon. So that task is for another day.

To be honest, I was not overwhelmed with passionate enthusiasm for Star Wars. I’m told that this is because I did not see them as a child, when the true magic happens. That said, I really enjoyed the movies, and I see why they are beloved. They have everything audiences want: action, love, creative costumes, a dash of dystopia, revenge, betrayal, jaw-dropping reveals (again, if you’re a sheltered kid and haven’t had parodies ruin all the surprises), and kick ass special effects (you know, for their time).

In the post-movie discussion analysis with Daniel (who is a huge movie buff), he dipped into my brain and tried to figure out exactly what I liked about the movie. We concluded that, for me, Star Wars’s crowning glory is the characters. At first, I was disappointed with how few female characters were featured, but Leia’s strength, intelligence, and sass (as well as the minor female characters in leadership roles) made up for the lack of lady representation. Leia was my favorite. However, I appreciated the whole motley crew. Luke’s growth and journey was commendable, Han’s attitude and good-guy/bad-guy balance was refreshing, and the non-human characters were funny, expressive, and lovable. You guys know (better than me, I’m sure).

We also concluded I’m a “Han girl” — which Daniel says is the right answer.

Beyond the movie, the cultural aspect of Star Wars has fascinated me. Obviously, it’s one of the (if not the) largest cinematic phenomena in history. And your having seen or not seen the movies, as well as your opinions on them, matter to those in the culture.

grootWhen I had not seen Star Wars, I was a bit of a “hipster.” I had avoided the mainstream, made myself rare and exotic. Others wanted to take me in, share the experience with me, initiate me. Now that I have seen the movies (and not elevated to fan level), I am just one of the educated, yet un-impassioned, masses. As far as Star Wars is concerned, my hipster, counter-culture status is revoked. To be honest, I liked my hipster status. I mean, don’t all hipsters like fancying themselves special and unique by being exactly as counter-culture and different as all the other hipsters?

In contrast, Daniel remains a bit of a Star Wars hipster. Of course, he is a fan boy. However, much of his appreciation for Star Wars comes from the inspiration it drew from 2001: Space Odyssey. This love of predecessors (ie: everything sounds better on vinyl — which it does, for the record), is one of the hallmark signs of a hipster. I’m sure Daniel could think of a better example. However, by making that connection and noticing those nods to the past, Daniel stays a teensy bit special in his Star Wars culture status and is the slightest bit hipster still.

The point is — sometimes, with these near-galactic phenomena, it’s just as fun to be excluded from the culture as it is to be included. There is a certain status that both sides offer. Today, we have the hipsters. Ten years ago we had emo kids. There will always be a version.

My years as a Star Wars hipster have come to a close. Now what will I do with myself? I guess I’ll keep ranting about how Taylor Swift’s and Katy Perry’s first albums are their only good ones and mooning over the 1964 barely-working record player in our study.

Until next time,

May the fourth be with you

(just because I can say that now)

What is your Star Wars status? Are you a “hipster” about anything in particular? Share your fandoms, pet peeves, and abstentions below!