Been a while since the last one, aye? Lot happening right now, so these might be slower. I’m also running low on them 😉
Today I bring you an interview with Kristen Walker, bringing her really cool book Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts. Go check it out!
Check out my ongoing interviews for SPFBO5 down below:
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
Hi, I’m Kristen S. Walker and I’m a self-published fantasy author. I’m also a huge geek who loves anime/manga, video/board/card games, cosplay, and cats. Always looking for new things to try, like LARPing, rock climbing, SCUBA diving, learning Reiki, and getting lost in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. Every day is a new adventure!
I write fantasy of many flavors for teen and adult audiences. Currently, I have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and steampunk/gaslamp fantasy series. I also enjoy diverse casts including LGBTQ+ characters.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I grab ideas from all over the place, taking obsessive notes. Then I mash them up into a ball, give it to the cat to play with for a while, consult some Tarot cards, and toss out two-thirds of it. Seriously, I’m a chronic over-thinker and planner, so I have to get out of my own way. So I try to forget most of what I thought I wanted to say ahead of time and let the writing flow in the moment.
Tell us about your current project.
Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts is the book I’ve wanted to write since I was 13. It’s been kicked around in several different versions over the years. The idea that finally stuck was “Steampunk Sailor Moon, but gayer.” I’ve got magical girls in a steampunk setting plus a complicated mythology involving over 500 gods and goddesses (and nonbinary deities). It’s light-hearted and fun at times, with book stores and pop concerts, but there’s a darker theme running underneath with the dystopian society and a technomagical conflict.
Is this your first entry into SPFBO? If not, how many times have you entered?
I entered once before in 2016 with my epic fantasy novel, A Flight of Marewings. Ironically, I chose to submit that novel over my YA urban fantasy because it was rumored that epic fantasy appealed to the judges more than YA novels, and the novel that became a finalist in my group was actually YA. So I didn’t get very far, but it was a fun experience. Just didn’t have the time to join again until this year.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Riwenne is the main character (her name is even in the title). She’s a fifteen-year-old girl who is clumsy, reads too many romance novels, and eats a lot of sweets. She relies on her best friend to help her through school. But she really wants to be a priestess and meet the sea goddess. Doesn’t care if she’s got the best grades, she’s going to shoot for the stars anyway. And despite all the things that happen to her in the book, she never loses that optimism. She believes in herself (and her friends) so she never stops trying.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Write whatever you want to read. Don’t worry if you have an original idea or the perfect twist ending. There’s a million people asking on writer forums and social media, “Has anyone ever done X” and then getting discouraged when they hear all these comparisons. But it’s hard to say if any book’s idea is totally original. There were magical wizard schools and British boarding school stories long before JK Rowling came along. I see so many writers stop trying and complain “My story sounds too much like Harry Potter!” or “Someone else just stole my idea!” But it’s not the idea that makes the story fun, it’s how you tell it. And if you’re not copying someone else’s voice, if you find the way to tell your story that’s uniquely yours, that’s what makes it original.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
So with the steampunk technology, I didn’t want to go for the classic Victorian England. I researched the Industrial Revolution and the circumstances that helped England achieve so much technological advancement, and something that stuck with me was, England’s sort of isolated. They’re near Europe which helped trade but they’re also limited for space on that little island, which forced them to build up. Another culture that was isolated historically, and then leaped ahead technologically to conquer their neighbors, was the Incan Empire in the Andes. So I imagined what it would look like if the Incas had been able to start their own Industrial Revolution. I call them the Arqan Empire because it’s not exactly the same.
Incan society was very stratified, with the highest social ranks literally living above the lower classes on the mountains. I wanted to exaggerate that (and also have the excuse to have cool steampunk airships), so I decided that the ruling caste of Arkia had gone above even the mountains by inventing floating cities in the sky. They’re forced to do this because their factories have created so much pollution, it’s hard to breathe by the ground. Floating in the sky gives the ruling priestesses and ministers fresh air, while everyone else suffers on the ground.
I’ve got other real world inspirations, like the pantheon of deities borrows from Incan and other cultures including Hinduism, Celtic, Greek, and Shinto. And I tend to reference locations I know in all my worlds, so there’s a little Northern California in it, too. (Lyndamon City is like San Francisco, which I’ve heard called The Floating City. That’s why I added cable cars.)
What inspires you to write?
I’ve always loved to tell stories. I first decided to be a writer (a journalist) when I was eight years old, because I read Harriet the Spy. I started carrying a notebook and writing everything down. But a lot of what I wrote down was about dragons and unicorns and witches, not real-world stories like a journalist. I went to the small public library in my small town and read every book in the children’s section (more or less). Then I found that some of the authors from the children’s section, like Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. Le Guin, also had books in this other section called Sci-Fi & Fantasy. When I read fantasy novels, I felt like I was home. I keep reading and I keep writing and I keep dreaming up these stories even when I don’t mean to, so that momentum has carried me through my whole life.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Re-writing it for twenty-one years. Also, getting the villain right. He’s still a bit of a dastardly mustache-twirling evil genius type. It doesn’t help that I chose first person POV, so you only see him through the main character’s perspective, and she’s black-and-white in her judgment. Hopefully I’ve hinted at some nuance beyond what the hero can see herself.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
It’s changed a lot over the years. Right now, I start in the mornings with reading because it takes a while for my brain to wake up. (I’m not a morning person.) I putter around with chores, exercise, blogs, social media, whatever in the first hours of the day. After lunch, I sit down to write. Sometimes I work in sprints with a pomodoro timer (20 minutes of writing, followed by a five minute break), other times I go at an easier pace, but I do have to make sure I take breaks to stretch and rest so I don’t aggravate my carpal tunnel syndrome. Then I stop in the early evening for the last exercise/stretch session and dinner. I can’t write in the wee hours like I could when I was in college. My focus is on sustainable progress, a little every day, without hurting myself or burning out.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I had a lot of fun writing “Amena’s Concert” (chapter 15), when the heroes get a break from the fight to go see a pop concert. I love going to see musicians perform live and the special connection you get to the music. I wrote the lyrics for Amena to sing, described the excitement and how sometimes you feel the music is speaking right to you, and even included a little Easter Egg to make my husband smile (I won’t spoil it, but his favorite band is The Scorpions).
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Since this was the first novel I ever started writing, I used it as my testing ground for all my writing skills over the years. Just from building the world, I learned more about map-making, linguistics and creating my own language (conlang), ecology, anthropology, mythology, plate tectonics, how technology adapts over time, history, and more. I learned how to develop characters and their relationships, how to give them flaws so they could grow, how to shape the plot so it challenged each character’s weaknesses. I learned how to plot and develop story structure. I’ve learned how to let go of ideas when they no longer work and change them into something better. In short, everything I’ve learned from writing started with this book. I’ve pushed myself as a writer so I could do it justice and sometimes I thought I’d never be good enough. But I’ve also learned that nothing will ever be perfect, and there’s a point when you have to end it one way or another and move on. I’ve given up on it multiple times but I’m so happy now that I finally finished it.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
This was a story that I started writing by the seat of my pants, then overdeveloped with plot details and world-building for twenty years, and finally forced myself to trim it down to a reasonable plan. I’m definitely a plotter now, but I’ve tried to learn to back off and not get so hung up on minute details now. I’ve become more of a gardener. I create the basic structure for the story in advance but then I let it grow and adapt as I write.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
Character sheets. I start with their hopes, strengths, weaknesses, fears, and a little about their voice. I give them time to live in my head and chat with me about who they are. Later, I add physical details, secrets and incidents from their past, and relationships with other characters as they’re revealed to me. I have to be careful so they don’t take over and run things too much.
What are your future project(s)?
I’ve already finished the sequel, Riwenne & the Bionic Witches, releasing on July 22. Now I’m starting work on the third book in the series, Riwenne & the Airship Gambit. I’ve got a lot more trouble planned for these characters in future books after that!
What is your favorite book ever written? Who are your favorite authors?
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, because the main character’s way of narrating makes me feel like we’re having a friendly chat and she thinks about things in a similar way to me. My favorite book since I first read it at age 13. McKinley is one of my favorite authors. I also love Ursula K. Le Guin, Naomi Novik, James S. A. Corey, H. L. Burke, Jimena I. Novaro, Joan Slonczewski, Jane Yolen, Tamora Pierce, and Elizabeth Moon.
What makes a good villain?
Fabulous hair! And a good motivation for their actions. Everyone thinks they’re the hero of the story, including the villain.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I play video/board/card games, read (mostly fantasy and manga, sometimes sci-fi and contemporary YA), crochet/craft, dress up in cosplay, obsess over Disney, photograph toys, watch TV and anime, and cook for my family.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
A pirate mermaid shark-wrangler. Or realistically, a marine biologist.
You can travel to any planet or moon in the Solar System. Where would you go, why and what would you do there?
I want to go to the Moon and look back at Earth.
Pick any three characters from a fiction novel. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Do they have to be from the same novel? I’d love to travel with Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit because he’ll bring plenty of snacks and handkerchiefs, Chrysoberyl from Brain Plague because she can draw the sights better than any Instagram photo, and Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables because she’d keep the conversation going with her wild imaginings. I don’t know if they’d all get along, but that’s part of the fun, right? Then I’d drive up the West Coast to visit Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. There’s so much beautiful scenery along the way, and you never know what adventure you might find in weird little towns in the woods.
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
Top 3 by my favorite order: