Today I’m delighted to welcome Kirsten Arcadio to my blog. Kirsten has written three novels, each with a different speculative theme. Her first novel, Borderliners, was published in February of this year and the second in the series, Split Symmetry, has just been released. She’s also a part-time poet, digital communications nerd and frazzled head of an Anglo-Italian family.
After working for over fifteen years in digital communications, she returned to her twin first loves, literature and philosophy, in 2011. She’s passionate about the big questions in life and how these can be explored using speculative fiction.
When she’s not writing she’s obsessing about Sci Fi or Nordic noir. She loves all things Italian, including her husband, and she once taught English in the Italian senate.
Q: Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
I’ve been writing for a long time but only decided to get serious about it in 2011 after the birth of my third child. I’d had a good career, three children, a great marriage and many firm friends from all walks of life, but something was still missing.
Q: I’m interested in how reading habits inform the type of writers we become. Can you remember being read to by your parents as a child?
Yes, my dad read to my brother and I every night at bed time.
Q: And I know that’s a habit that you’ve carried into your adult life.
Q: So, a very broad range.
I get the majority of my book recommendations from browsing Amazon and Goodreads, but most from my friends and family. I don’t bother with best seller lists.
Q: Who is your favourite fictional character and why?
I quite like Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium Trilogy! I like her strangeness and her strength.
Q: Hilary Mantel says that a Catholic upbringing is the only qualification a writer requires. Do you have any writing qualifications?
Well, I definitely have the Catholic upbringing, and that background is what brought me to writing books with occult and supernatural undertones. Other than that I have completed a couple of creative writing courses, the first, in 2012, was Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel. Then, this year I completed Faber’s Genre fiction writing course. Both were suitably gruelling and eye-opening.
Q: You generally write in the genre of speculative thrillers. What can readers expect?
I have always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of dreams and reality: where does one begin and the other end, and if the lines are blurred, where does our free will to choose between what we perceive as right and wrong kick in? Why do powerful people sometimes decide this for others, often with disastrous consequences?
Readers of this genre would need to enjoy a wide range of genres, I suspect. They can expect page turners which, at the same time, have a layered feel to them. A touch of supernatural runs through all my stories, but readers can choose to interpret these threads as metaphysical too. So my novels straddle the intersection between supernatural and science fiction.
Q: The protagonist in your latest novel is Dr Elena Lewis. What can we expect from her?
Dr Elena Lewis is a layered character whose motivations are sometimes ambiguous. If you like complex characters thrown into challenging circumstances which often contain some element of illusion, she’s an ideal protagonist for you!
Q: Let’s talk about your writing process. Khaled Hosseini says that he feels he is discovering a story rather than creating it. Are you an avid plotter or do you start with a single idea and let the novel develop organically?
I’m a plotter but I don’t plot to the last detail. I do about twelve major plot points, divide those into four quarters, Act 1, 2 and 3 with Act 2 having two parts, and then put up the structure for my story using that structure to guide me. I won’t plot in any more detail than that as things come up as I go along, and I like that! After my initial draft I go back and layer up using the snowflake method. I see it as chiselling out a basic statue before going back to hew in the detail later.
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Q: Some authors have an imaginary ideal reader mind when they write. Do you have a muse?
No, but I need one. My ideal reader is me! My boys, both in their teens, make good beta readers, and if they don’t like something it’s usually a big red flag.
Q: Some writers need silence, others thrive with the buzz of a coffee shop, the rumble of a train or their favourite music. Which type are you?
I have to have music on to write and silence to edit. Without music, I am unable to write a single word.
Q: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
I prefer first, finding it disciplines me to describe everything through the eyes of the protagonist, thus discouraging lazy writing, especially where tone of voice is concerned. If the novel then lends itself to third person closed, I’ll transpose, but I always start off in first.
Q: How do you go about creating and constructing distinctly individual supporting characters?
I write every day, something which forces me to live in their world. This seems to make them come to life.
Q: With the number of self-published books increasing by 59% last year alone, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. I know that you were a digital marketing professional by trade, so how do you go about this?
I’m still working this all out, but I’d say it’s about content surfacing through collaboration with others. And it’s about building readership long term. I’ve always believed email is the killer app and this would appear to be as true of publishing as of any other industry, so collaboration and email are the two main avenues I’m working on in this respect.
Q: I find dividing my time between writing and marketing is one of the key challenges, especially now that I have five books out. What’s your strategy?
I’m still trying to get the balance right. Ideally I’d want to set a stop watch to around 30 minutes a day on marketing and the rest of the time (the time it takes to write or edit 1,500 words) on writing.
Q: That sounds incredibly disciplined. Do you work to a set word-count?
Not really, but when I’m getting a draft down for the first time I’m disappointed if I can’t get to about 1,500 words a day.
Q: And do you find it useful to use writing software such as Scrivener, ByWord or Mars Edit?
I use Scrivener religiously and I wouldn’t be without it!
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Q: At the beginning of 2013, Smashword’s Mark Coker predicted that ‘Global’ would be the year’s biggest story. Have you found a readership in a country other than your own?
I have some readers in Pakistan due to a personal connection there promoting my books. Other than that, my main market is in the UK. I would like to promote my books in Italy as I have many friends and family there, but they need to be translated into Italian in order to do so.
Q: One of the key stories of 2013 was the revelation that The Cuckoo’s Calling had been penned by J K Rowling. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
No, I don’t, but I may use a pseudonym for my next series, which will be aimed at young adults, simply to differentiate it from the books I’ve written to date and to give me more freedom to write in that genre. I also like the idea of writing as a man.
Interestingly, I discussed Robert Gailbraith with some Waterstones staff in my local store before the news broke of the author’s real identity! They urged me to read The Cuckoo’s Calling, saying it was surprisingly accomplished for a debut with a strong female character – something they didn’t think was typical of male authors!
Q: Is there a phrase or quote about writing that you particularly like?
Yes. Milan Kundera, ‘The reader’s imagination completes the writer’s vision.’
Q: I’m very superstitious when talking about works in progress, so I hope it’s not too intrusive to ask what you’re working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on the third book in my series of speculative thrillers The Borderliners Trilogy, ‘WorldCult’, which I hope to release jsut before Christmas.
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