Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!
This is a distinct honour and pleasure, in that I have the fabulous dark fantasy author and SPFBO7 finalist, and incredible illustrator, Kerstin Espinosa Rosero joining me!
Kerstin’s published works include the first two installments of the ”Burn Red Skies” Series, being ”Burn Red Skies”, and “Rise Red Kingdom”!
P.L.: Kerstin, thanks again for joining Six Elementals Interviews! First of all, massive congratulations on your SPFBO7 finals berth! So happy for you!
Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO has become this…well, frankly this MASSIVE thing in the writing community. The hype surrounding this competition builds incrementally each year, to a fever pitch. Social media is abuzz with every stage in the contest, the excitement is palpable. There are so many emotions to be experienced with the SPFBO, the thrill of the competition for bloggers, contestants, and observers alike, the disappointment of the cut, the hope for a positive review irrespective of what your book’s fate is, the glory of a semi-final, final, or even winning the coveted Selfie Stick, and so many more highs and lows!
What’s it been like to be part of SPFBO, to be one of the 10 out of approximately 300 writers for that year’s competition to reach the glory of the finals, and experience this kind of success with your debut novel?
KERSTIN: First of all, thanks so much for having me! I’ve loved and learned a lot from past interviews in this series, and I’m excited to be part of this creative energy. Very on point question, considering SPFBO9 has just kicked off (good luck to those participating this year!).
Well, imagine it being like you and nine of your friends (in SPFBO7’s case, eleven) on the same roller coaster with no seat belt. Instead, Mark hands you a bunch of branches, Scotch tape, a few nails, and maybe one hammer among all of you. During the entire ascent, you’re frantically trying to create makeshift security bars for everyone, but by the time you actually plunge, you find just holding onto each other for dear life is the way to go.
So yeah, it was like being on a roller coaster, but one that shot out flames, arrows, and ancient curses. In the end you’re happy you survived, like that sad Hobbits-in-a-pub scene at the end of “Return of the King”. But one’s missing a finger, a couple might or might not have developed trust issues, and I’m pretty sure a few of us diminished to the West.
But all that aside, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. My fellow finalists were my ride-or-die crew, and I had the pleasure of meeting a few authors and reviewers in person at BristolCon (and online on the Twitt’). I think that was really helpful for me, personally: I’d assumed people who hated my book hated me as a writer, but sometimes, your book just won’t click with people, and it’s nothing personal. It’s imperative to keep this in mind!
There are two things I would love to pass on as humble nuggets of advice, for anyone taking part in SPFBO—not just finalists. The first thing is, keep an open mind, especially to critique. If you’ve built a good following, or if you made it to the semi-finalist or finalist stage, you’ve probably written a solid book that readers generally like. But there is always, always something to learn and improve, whether it be from constructive criticism (even my most scathing reviews from SPFBO7 gave me a lot to think about), or from how other authors do their thing.
The second thing is, stay cool, stay humble. While being a finalist is a huge honor, it wreaks havoc on your imposter syndrome! I fully acknowledge that if my book had landed on another blog, or even if it had been assigned to a different judge within the same blog, it might not have reached the finalist stage. My SPFBO7 homies feel the same, and I don’t mean it in a self-deprecating way. No book was exempt from a negative review from another blog. Had we landed with our greatest critics, we definitely wouldn’t have advanced to that stage.
Oh, man. I just launched a full-blown tirade, didn’t I? If only I could channel this writing flow into my WIP, haha.
Good luck to everyone participating this year!
P.L.: Keeping an open mind is great advice! Can you speak a little bit about your writing journey please? How long have you been writing, what inspired you to write, and what made you elect to publish via self-publishing rather than seeking an agent and a book deal with a “Big Five” traditional house?
KERSTIN: “Burn Red Skies” is my debut novel, and it was actually the first thing I ever wrote. I wrote it because I loved to draw, and because I’d never considered myself good at words. I always had trouble expressing myself verbally, especially in school, so “Burn Red Skies” was a good exercise for me to give my drawings a story. I guess it was such a low-stakes project, more for myself than for anyone else, that I didn’t think about getting it out there until a friend read it and encouraged me to fling my book baby out the window and hope for it to take flight.
So that’s what I did! It actually crashed to the ground at first. I had no idea where the indie fantasy community was, and I didn’t know where I could learn the tricks of the trade. But another friend of mine actually mentioned SPFBO and encouraged me to join!
I was vastly, vastly ignorant of what it was. I thought it was a contest where you just submit your book and hear back when you lose. So uhm, I submitted it, and… just… disappeared. It was only when I became a finalist that I found out there was this whole gladiatorial, “Hunger Games” smackdown going on behind the scenes. People can follow the competition on social media, especially on Facebook and Twitter, and there’s just this massive SPFBO community of awesome authors, readers, reviewers, and artists that I was completely and utterly unaware of.
So that was how I got here, and SPFBO—both the contest and the community—paved the bulk of my journey as a fantasy author.
P.L.: It’s amazing how as Indies we just eventually find our tribe! And what an awesome tribe it is! What, for you, has been the most challenging part about being a self-published author that you have experienced so far?
KERSTIN: I think it’s the stigma, to be honest. Everything else has been a blast. I got to meet and work with a fantastic cover designer, Franziska Stern, who is now one of my ride-or-die book besties. I draw my own illustrations and have more say in how the final product will look. The indie/self-published fantasy community is a wonderful breath of resources and support.
But then you have folks who are hellbent on hating self-pubbed books. I think there’s this image of self-pubbed authors writing their books in crayon and selling photocopies they taped together themselves, haha. But if you look at the covers now, at the quality that’s only getting stronger the more we learn about the process, the divide is getting smaller and smaller. Some of the best covers I’ve seen in recent years have been in the indie & self-pubbed scene, and the stories themselves have been fire.
P.L.: I completely agree! For those who have not had the pleasure of reading your work, can you tell us a bit about your published works, and what would appeal to fantasy lovers about your books, a bit of an elevator pitch please?
KERSTIN: Inspired by “Final Fantasy IX” and “Suikoden II”, “Burn Red Skies” is a story about a girl who survives a massacre, undergoes elemental training, and goes off to slay an undead dragon. Check it out if you want to read about dragons, airship smugglers, elemental magic, sword lesbians, and shenaniganry.
P.L.: I can attest, it’s amazing! Can you tell us a bit please, if possible, about what projects you are currently working on, and a bit about what’s in store for the remainder of the “Burn Red Skies” Series?
KERSTIN: I took a bit of a break from writing after SPFBO 7, but I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things. I’m currently pouring my heart and soul into the third (and final) book in the “Burn Red Skies” series. I feel like my experience writing this series has been like a round of Muay Thai. You build up momentum and try not to die the first two minutes, and then give it your all in the third, no mercy, no holding back. It’s the make-or-break stretch. If “Burn Red Skies” and ”Rise Red Kingdom” were a bit of a slow burn, the third book is where the explosions happen. All characters go off the deep end, in one form or another. It’s the third minute for them, too, and the things that happen in this book determine whether they survive or not.
That said, while the pieces are all in place from the first two books, this book has been so devastating to write. I want to make sure I do the characters justice. In a way, it’s their send off. And they’re not going down without a fight.
P.L.: Appreciate you taking your time to perfect the craft! Very much looking forward to your next book! You are not only an amazing author, but also a fabulous illustrator! Your fantastic work is on display in the heralded anthology, ”The Alchemy of Sorrow”. Can you tell us a bit about how you became the illustrator for that collection of stories, how long you have been drawing / painting, and how you find that artistry different from writing?
KERSTIN: Aahhh, thank you! As I mentioned, I actually started writing because of art. It was the only way I could express myself for a while, because I didn’t really talk much as a kid. The funny thing is, I wasn’t that great as a kid. You hear a lot about how artists always had that gift, even in early childhood, but I was stuck on stick figures and smileys for a while. I had no sense of color. Skies were purple to me. My kindergarten teacher opened my art book and went “Uhh… uh huh. Those are… nice shoes.” (Readers, I had drawn a chair.)
But I just kept at it, you know. I sort of realized at some point that skies were blue, that grass was green, that chairs did not have shoes. I was maybe twelve when I started getting the hang of it. I joined DeviantArt at the time (there was no YouTube back then!) and just learned by making friends with other artists. It was the supportive community I needed, like at school we would get graded—art was my lowest grade, by the way—and my folks always focused on what was wrong with a drawing, so DeviantArt was a breath of fresh air, and that was how I started taking it more seriously.
Writing is a different kind of art. More precise, in a way. In my experience, which of course isn’t universal, an author has more control over what a reader receives, which makes it both easier and harder. Easier because, at least in theory, you can greatly control where a reader is situated in your story, but also harder, because there are more things to keep in mind. For example, I think one of the most common critiques Burn Red Skies received is that it doesn’t hold your hand, that there isn’t a lot of information about why things are the way they are.
Which I completely understand, and now laugh at myself for, because as an artist, I often design and illustrate a piece and invite the viewer to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. But sometimes that doesn’t quite work out in writing. Don’t get me wrong, it works for some readers, but definitely not for others.
As for my involvement in “The Alchemy of Sorrow”, there was a Krystle involved! We met through SPFBO7 (seriously, read “Legacy of the Brightwash”, I recommend it), and she sort of grabbed me from one Discord and threw me into the “Alchemy” Discord, where I got to meet Virginia for the first time. And through the project, I met everyone else! It was an exciting project for me, and I learned a lot.
P.L.: Kerstin, I have truly enjoyed our chat and I really appreciate you joining me on Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!
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Burn Red Skies: https://mybook.to/BurnRedSkies
Rise Red Kingdom: https://mybook.to/RiseRedKingdom