- The importance of regular writing and blogging to build an audience.
- Great resources for book covers and other art design.
- Writing is just as much about asking questions as it is telling the truth.
I love the freedom of creating my own personal worlds, languages, rituals and cultures.
Welcome to the forty-third episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with science fiction writer Kayelle Allen.
Arthur: Tell me about your writing journey. How did you develop your prose and craft? What were your early influences? Why did you decide to start writing?
Kayelle: I credit my mother’s love of words and writing as the beginnings of my own interest. She encouraged me to read widely. She and my father were both avid readers and always had books around. As a child, I picked up a love of science fiction and fantasy. As a teen, I read Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance and more. I often wrote short stories at Christmas as a gift for friends. For years, I heard “you have a way with words” and “you should write a book.” Although I had dabbled with the idea since I was eighteen (and actually wrote a 400 page monster that will never see the light of day), I did not seriously try to be published until I was fifty. Once I joined a critique group and began getting constructive feedback about my work — and praise — I was hooked. Less than six months after joining the group, I had published a book on small press. It’s been an upward journey since.
Arthur: How have you built your audience? Over your writing career, have your techniques for interacting with your readers changed? How?
Kayelle: I began with a Yahoo group, branched out to a Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media. Since the beginning, I have had a website and I continue to update it frequently. I began blogging in 2009 and today have both my personal blog and a book blog for guest authors. I guest blog with The Romance Studio and Marketing for Romance Writers on a monthly basis. I try to have a guest spot on another blog or website at least once a month. If new readers see you, and like what you have to say, they are likely to check out your other work. It’s one of the best ways I’ve found to “get discovered” by readers.
World building is a favorite pastime and I spend a great deal of time doing that when I write.
Arthur: In a previous interview, writer Katherine Karch and I discuss engaging our readers. Do you have any specific techniques for engaging your readers through your prose or otherwise?
Kayelle: Aside from blogging, I am also active on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. On each, I have a slightly different audience. Twitter is nearly all book related, although I am a serious Thranduil groupie and take part in #ThranduilThursday, a weekly hashtag event. You might recall Thranduil as the tall, blond immortal elf king from the Hobbit movies, played by Lee Pace. The character was so much like my own immortal king, Pietas, that I was drawn to him. I’ve since become a fan of Lee Pace and try to catch all his movies. I follow Jaynae Marie Miller, author of The Saga of Thranduil, a massive collection of Thranduil stories in the style of JRR Tolkein. In addition, Twitter is where I share my fascination with #cosplay and #cosplayers, my favorite being Nik Nitsvetov. Nik has cosplayed my immortal king live on Instagram and I have hundreds of images of him as the king. https://www.instagram.com/nitsvetov/
Arthur: Science fiction is a fascinating genre. What draws you to the genre?
Kayelle: What’s not to love? I seek out new worlds and new civilizations… oh, wait. That’s the opening of Star Trek! I love the freedom of creating my own worlds, languages, rituals, and cultures. World building is a favorite pastime and I spend a great deal of time doing that when I write. In fact, I wrote a non-fiction book about it. The Tarthian Empire Companion describes how to build a story bible and create worlds.
It’s not so much asking questions as it is telling truths.
Arthur: Terry Brooks give a TED Talk about why he writes fantasy. He says he writes about fantasy because he is seeking the answer to a particular question. Did you have a similar reason for writing science fiction? What are the questions you’re seeking answers to?
Kayelle: For me, it’s not so much asking questions as it is telling truths. The universe has many versions. The way we treat others, the way we treat our environment, and the way we treat ourselves–those things fascinate me. I use my writing to bring out truths we tend to ignore in daily life. For example, I have a race of people who are enhanced, and normal humans fear them. They are shunned, isolated, punished, restricted, and even imprisoned because they are different. They are forced to veil and hide their faces in public. Sound familiar? By telling a riveting story with characters in these situations, I can help people see how the same things are happening all around us in daily life.
Arthur: I’m curious about your covers. Do you have a process for each of your books when it comes to designing a great cover? Do you have any resources you could share?
Kayelle: Thank you, Arthur. I created most of my covers but I also commission work from other artists. My oldest son, Jamin, is a graphic designer and taught me most of what I know. Nano-Core designs weapons, vehicles, and other material for me. I use Depositphotos.com as a major resource, but also Pixabay.com (for free, public domain material). My favorite software is Photoshop. But I must give a shout out to the designer of my Antonello Brothers series, GermanCreative on Fiverr. I love her work. She’ll be doing more covers for me soon. And of course, there’s Nik Nitsvetov, my personal choice for Pietas, and Zack Black, the voiceover artist who helps bring him to life.
I use my writing to bring out truths we tend to ignore in daily life.
Arthur: What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers?
Kayelle: As a writer, I promise to give readers a complex plot that immerses them in an exciting tale and provides plenty of unexpected action, in settings so real they’ll swear they’ve been there. I give them a great roller coaster ride of a story that brings excitement, fun, and takes them in directions they didn’t expect. I want readers to look for the next book and begin reading as soon as possible.
Arthur: Cal Newport wrote a book called SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU, where he talks about making our work – whatever it may be, writing, music or artwork – “remarkable,” as in it is able to be remarked or talked about. With millions of writers out there writing books, what are you doing with your writing to set your stories apart (to be “remarkable”)?
Kayelle: Remarkable writing starts with remarkable reading. I believe writers should read within the genres they write, as well as outside it. How will you know what the market is doing if you never pick up a book? I also read and study books on my craft. I have a book about writing going all the time. I just finished Creating Character Arcs by KM Weiland, and Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. In the last six months, I read Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque, and three by Chris Fox; Write to Market, Launch to Market and Plot Gardening. One of the most useful to me as an author was Become a Successful Indie Author by Craig Martelle. I can’t recommend it enough. One thing I picked up from that book (and there were many) is that you must write more and release more frequently. That was good to hear. I have a zillion stories I want to tell.
When I write, I strive for a strong emotional impact with my words. Here’s an example. I could have said, “He hated this forest. When would they get through it?” Instead, I wrote “Would this incessant nightmare of darkness never end? The steaming, lightless rainforest stank of alien spores and enough flowers to choke the dead. Let the rescue party inhale, but this cloying scent left a sickening taste in his mouth.” I don’t have to tell you how he feels about this place. The descriptive words themselves reveal that.
I give them a great roller coaster ride of a story that brings excitement, fun, and takes them in directions they didn’t expect.
Arthur: In recent years, it has been said that the traditional social media tools – such as Facebook and Twitter – are becoming less effective for marketing. What creative methods are you utilizing to market your work? If Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets suddenly became obsolete, how would you market your stories?
Kayelle: Social media is great, but sites like Facebook and Twitter could go belly up (not likely, but…) and if you only focus there, where would you be? I keep my website and blog active and updated and on a domain I own. Those are my real estate. No one can take that away from me. I use newsletter type reading groups to reach readers who are interested in my work. I interact with them on a personal level. And on social media itself, I use a variety of media to showcase my work. I am a graphic designer as a hobby so I make the most of those skills in creating banners, memes, and videos. I’m always open to new ideas. In 2006, I founded Marketing for Romance Writers, which is a great source for promo opportunities and asking questions. There are 7k members on our Facebook page and we have 4k followers on Twitter. The Yahoo group is where all the advice and opportunities take place.
Arthur: What is your editing process? When one of your works is completed, what is the process you go through to bring it to the market? Are there any editing resources you could share? What do you look for in an editor?
Kayelle: I have my work looked at by beta readers and a critique group. When they approve, I send it to a developmental editor (website in progress), then a story editor, and lastly, a final editor. I don’t release work that hasn’t been seen by professionals and polished to as high a sheen as I can give it. Is that a lot of work? You bet. And it’s worth every second.
Remarkable writing starts with remarkable reading.
Arthur: Christopher Ryan, in my interview with him, talks about our writing living forever. What does it mean for us as writers to leave behind a legacy? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind not just in your writing, but in your life?
Kayelle: I’ve been married forty-five years this month. I have three grown children and five grandchildren. I served in the US Navy. I’ve written multiple books, created a group for authors to learn how to market and a blog to help authors tell people about their books. Those are all external things and while I’m proud of each, I want people to remember me as someone who helped others succeed. I want to be remembered as an encourager who told others, “You can do this. Don’t quit. Never give up your dream.”
Kayelle, thank you so much. Your last answer will stick with me forever, as I’m sure it will with the readers of STRANGE WORLD.