Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This month’s featured author is Denitta Ward, who writes historical fiction set in the 1920s Prohibition era. Each of her novels also comes with a short, easy-to-read companion nonfiction book that captures the actual history of the novel’s era. Her debut novel is Somewhere Still, and its companion book is Prohibition Cocktails: 21 Secrets & Recipes, which features the history of Prohibition and the history and recipe of each of the most popular cocktails served in speakeasies. It also includes a Roaring ’20s party planner to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Prohibition. You can contact Denitta through her website, on Facebook, TwitterInstagram or Pinterest, or follow her on BookBub.

 

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

I feel like a late-bloomer. I’m turning 55 and have just published my first two books! I’ve always been a writer, starting back in 3rd grade when Mrs. Mockerman didn’t quite know what to do with me and assigned me to write a class newspaper, which got me out of the classroom. I realized then that writing could open doors – literally. After law school I wrote more legal briefs and contracts than I can count – which is another form of storytelling. A very structured form.  It wasn’t until I was 50 that I had the inspiration for my first novel and I got started on that after a conversation with my mother about what it might have been like for her grandmother in the Roaring ’20s.  That simple question opened me to the whole story of Somewhere Still.

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

The best thing about being a writer is being able to stop time. When I write I really do feel like time stops. I can look up and hours have passed and I will not have realized it. The characters and stories take on a voice of their own and it’s a privilege to bring them forward into the written word.  I end up feeling very passionate about the characters; they become so vivid.

The worst thing about being an author is balancing the urge to write and market with a day job. I really and truly adore talking with book clubs, doing book signings and going to conventions.  The best thing ever is talking with a reader who shares how my books made her feel or remember things from her own family. I so appreciate the stories of the rules my readers grew up with and how those rules played out for them as they matured.  If I could do bookclub talks everyday I would.   I also love my full-time job at the University of Colorado, so I am always trying to juggle and balance.  It means that I tend to get up early and stay up late because my job always comes first.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

I love writing coming-of-age stories about young women in times of societal transition. The Roaring Twenties in the USA were a natural place to start. Social norms and rules were breaking and women were venturing out beyond traditional boundaries. That is an era rich for social, economic, gender, racial and social tension, and it’s that sense of tension that makes for a good story.

My next novel, Somewhere Else, is set in Havana in the weeks before Batista falls and Castro comes to power. It was another time in history where social norms were in flux. Traditional cultural and religious norms had changed Havana — it became a wild US tourist destination of gambling, drinking and dancing….and I started thinking…how would that have felt for a young Cuban woman coming to the city from the countryside? And what if a revolution were brewing?

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?

Old newspapers are rich with stories that lead to questions and more questions. One story that will always stick with me is the story of Vixen. It was woven into my first book, Somewhere Still, but ultimately didn’t make the final cut.  Poor Vixen!

Vixen was a dairy cow who, in 1921, was marched into the lobby of Kansas City’s most luxurious hotel, called the Baltimore hotel , and milked in front of journalists. The Dairy Wars were raging in the city and the women’s Consumer League had declared war on dirty dairies that were, in their view, spreading Typhoid fever and killing children. Some dairymen got together and hired a man, Dr. North, to dispel their concern. Dr. North thought he’d prove his meddle and cement his credibility by milking a cow for Kansas City newspaper reporters as a publicity stunt.  So he tried. In a hotel lobby.  And it was harder than he thought. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?

Truly, I would go back to when my two children were little and relive those days, and really, really cherish those moments. Time passed too quickly and I think as mothers we can be just so bone tired that it feels now that those years were over in a blink.  Then, I would journey back to my grandma’s house during one of our family dinners when my great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would all gather. And I would really listen and I would be grateful to have them all once again.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

When I’m unplugged from technology and well-rested, the stories just flow. Being away from technology is important to me which is why I write my books longhand in journals. After the bones of a chapter or two are written, I’ll go back and type it up – which is my first edit. Maybe someday I’ll learn how to compose on a keyboard or dictate the story, but so far this pen and paper thing is working for me.

What’s your favourite historical resource?

Newspapers first and foremost because you get the flavor of the issues and events of the day.  It’s always good to read a few different ones so you can see the bias each paper had.  The events reported on may be the same but how and what’s said can be very different. And, for the type of books I write -about young women coming of age- I go back to the Ladies Home Journal magazines of that year. You can learn so much about a mainstream society’s values by reading those magazines. Also the etiquette books and instruction materials of the time are rich with good content about what we try to teach our young women.

The best place in the world to write is…

Close to nature. When I get stuck, having written myself into a rabbit hole, or I need to crank through edits, I’ll take the RV and my dog and go up to a quiet little lake tucked into the mountains. It’s out of cell phone range and far, far, far away from email and my workaday world. I can edit during the morning, take an afternoon hike, and then sit by the campfire at night. Alone. It’s magical.

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

I have a wonderful job supporting the most brilliant researchers in the world. I’m Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Director of the Office of Contracts and Grants there. The University is a world-leader in aerospace, physics, environmental research, and more.  We are so fortunate in the U.S. to have public research universities. They tackle issues of monumental concern with great independence and care.

In between work and writing, I love to travel. Last year my husband and I returned to Vietnam, where we’d gotten engaged decades ago. This year we’re going to Ajijic, Mexico – a new adventure.

What are you currently working on?

I just published Prohibition Cocktails on March 24th, National Cocktail Day, so I’m doing a sweep of marketing. It’s a companion to my debut novel, Somewhere Still, which is set in the Roaring ’20s in a city known as Paris on the Plains. I’m deep into edits on my next novel, Somewhere Else, and this [northern] winter I started a novella, Somewhere Safe.

Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This month we’re talking to Canadian author Rebekah Lee Jenkins. Rebekah writes historical fiction set in early twentieth-century Canada. Her most recent book, Hope in Oakland, was released on 8 June. You can contact Rebekah through her website, or on Facebook or Instagram.

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

I have written as a hobby since I learned how. In 2011, I went through a very difficult year and  my doctor recommended that I start writing again as a form of therapy. The Night They Came For Til evolved from that therapy. I have put some strong themes in there for my niece about making good decisions in life and staying true to yourself.

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

The best thing about being an author is my readers. I love them. I love engaging with them on social media and hearing how my book (soon to be books) about strong women inspire them. One mom had her daughter read the book because the message is to be true to yourself and hold your ground –  you determine your own worth. That was a highlight in my life, that someone felt a message I had for my niece could be so helpful for other girls.

I love writing about women from the past who were inspiring. Til Stone is based on Margaret Sanger ( she was behind the birth control movement ) and Cora Rood is based on Clara Brett Martin (Canada’s first female lawyer) As I mentioned, I write for my nieces so the messages in these books are strong. When readers pick up on them and love it, I love that!

Worst thing? I spent 22 years as a hairstylist, so my technical skills (computer and grammar/punctuation) are very poor. I struggle with marketing because my computer skills are limited. I am improving but slowly. I have to pay people to do things I can’t do myself. I find that frustrating because I am the world’s biggest control freak with almost no patience so I have to sit on my hands because I love the whole process of putting a book together and I have to outsource it. After my third book, I am going to take some courses and brush up on some skills. My readers are pretty impatient so I will have to put that on the back burner.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

I love turn of the twentieth century. I think because we were just on the cusp of so many huge changes. I write about the women’s rights movement from that time so it is easy to outrage my readers with what I find in archives. My fear of being considered uneducated drives me to be sure that every line, every statement in my book is very accurate, so I spend a lot of time in archives, reading old newspapers and medical journals, trial transcripts. I would never write a time period that I didn’t have access to accurate information. Hope in Oakland took two research trips to Winnipeg. It took five days of solid research to put that book together.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?

Birth control – at what point was it available, and the Canadian, English and American laws surrounding it. Also, how to use chloroform in childbirth.

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?

My home town in 1904, to be sure how I write about it is accurate! I live in Souris, Manitoba and I write it as Oakland, Manitoba.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

In archives. I am a nerd. Old files and old newspapers thrill me to my fingertips. If I am ever stuck, I walk. I find nature in any season very inspirational. Also, music. I have certain soundtracks for certain books.

What’s your favourite historical resource?

Manitoba archives and the reading room at the legislative assembly. To have access to all that information is crucial to my work.

The best place in the world to write is…

I just did the character sketches for my third book and wrote out the plot for another book in the airport last weekend. It was great. No distractions. I love my writing room though at the front of the house looking out a window.

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

I am a hairstylist so I work three days a week in that field. I love my 5 km walks. I don’t get to read as much as I used to, so on a day where my manuscript is caught up and my editor is working on it, I love to read novels.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I’m working on the third book in this series: Taking Til.

 

Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This month’s featured author is Tammy Lash. Tammy writes inspirational historical fiction, and  her most recent book is White Wolf and the Ash Princess. You can contact Tammy through her website, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

 

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

My husband and I have been children’s church teachers for over twenty years. I’ve always considered myself a storyteller, not a writer. I have only been writing for five years or so. I began writing when my pastor encouraged me to write my stories down and try to share them outside the church. I started where my love for story began. The Children’s Bible Hour was my favourite radio show as a little girl. I submitted a devotional to Keys for Kids (the new name for this ministry) and one of my three short stories was accepted!

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

I love creating different scenarios for my characters in my head! It’s so fun to be able to choose a path for them to follow and see how they handle the situations I give them. The worst thing about being an author is the frustration that comes when the words don’t flow and I’m stuck on a chapter for weeks—sometimes months.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

I like sixteenth /seventeenth century early America because things here were new. America was a wild, blank slate. I wish I could hop in a time machine and visit. I wouldn’t want to live there forever, though. I love my hot showers and coffee maker! But, then again, my character Jonathan Gudwyne is an inventor. He and my husband would come up with some pretty clever inventions to make life comfortable, I’m sure!

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?

The weirdest thing would be dentures. I wanted to know if real teeth were ever used.  It grossed me out to find out that, yep, human teeth were indeed used, as well as animal teeth. Ick! This information was pretty valuable to my story. It’s a small mention in White Wolf and the Ash Princess, but it will make a bigger statement in the coming Letters from the Dragon’s Son.

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?

Totally my early America sixteenth/seventeenth centuries!

Where do you find creative inspiration?

Something happens when I run. I don’t know what it is about it that does it, but I always solve all my story problems during a jog. Music provides a big portion of inspiration, so that may be part of it. Nature provides another big avenue of inspiration. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is my go-to place for any wild aspects of my writings.

What’s your favourite historical resource?

I have a Native American natural medicine handbook that I got from my dentist friend who is also an outdoor enthusiast. I also use several Ojibwe dictionaries for the language that I sprinkle though out my books.

The best place in the world to write is…

In the fall and winter: in my bed with my electric blanket! In the summer: on my porch swing. My hope is that someday soon my family and I will be living in the best place on the planet—Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—where inspiration flows like an endless pot of coffee! Fingers crossed!

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

I love to bake so I can lick the bowl and beaters and get sick on the dough and batter! I also have one of our kids left to homeschool, so even though his work is mostly self-guiding, he still needs the occasional mom help.

What are you currently working on?

Currently I’m working on Letters from the Dragon’s Son. It’s the sequel to White Wolf and the Ash Princess. White Wolf is the story of Izzy’s journey to the New World where she uncovers painful secrets while discovering a new culture. White Wolf is an adventure and it’s a story of forgiveness, learning to love, and allowing oneself to be pushed beyond where they are comfortable. Letters focuses on Jonathan’s journey towards the same elements as Izzy, except this story is the flip side of White Wolf. How does a traveller who has lived the life of adventure learn these same lessons? By stripping everything away. Jonathan’s story is a painful one, but an important piece of the puzzle for readers to learn ALL aspects of forgiveness. Monsters (or dragons) need our forgiveness, too.

Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This month’s featured author is Shauna E. Black. Shauna writes historical fantasy (Western), epic fantasy and dystopian.  Her most recent book is Rebel Bound, and she’s working on a new edition of her first novel, Fury of the Storm Wizard, which will be re-released under the new title Thunderstruck. You can find her through her website or Facebook page, and she also occasionally hangs out on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Shauna is also offering a special free short story to blog readers, which you can read more about below, and download here.

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I’ve always loved books and reading, so I guess it was natural to start creating my own stories. I used to inhale Nancy Drew, and some of my earliest manuscripts were imitations of those books. I called my teen sleuth Julie Jones, and she had two best friends that were twins. I still have one of my original manuscripts, written in pencil on half-sheets of paper. I even drew the illustrations!

Probably the best thing that happened to me when I was young was my seventh-grade English teacher. She announced in class that she’d give extra credit for anyone who turned in original short stories. I went hog-wild and started handing her story after story. Never mind that I already had an A in her class. Ha ha! But she was very patient with me and diligently read each one. She gently corrected my errors and wrote encouraging things in the margins. One thing she said that’s stuck with me all these years was: “You are a writer!” I was over the moon when she told me that! The first book in my Soul in Ashes series is dedicated to her.

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

I like to end on upbeat notes, so let’s start with the worst things:

Marketing. (Ugh!) That’s it in a nutshell, for me. Actually, I do enjoy creating marketing materials, like newsletters and graphics for ads and so forth. I just struggle with the delivery part. Like a lot of authors, I’m a hopelessly-incurable introvert, but I like connecting one-on-one with folks once I get over that shyness hurdle. Then there’s the whole issue of drowning in an ocean of books and making my books visible to more than a handful of people. That’s been incredibly hard.

The best thing about writing is getting to make up stories in my head that make my heart sing. I love to exercise my creativity and dream up magic systems, twists on the world we know, and interesting characters that struggle and overcome big problems. It’s icing on the cake when I get positive feedback from readers who actually seem to enjoy my little imagination as much as I do.

I also like the entire process of publishing, which was a surprise for me when I first became an indie author. (Well, I love everything but formatting. Formatting should go in the paragraph with marketing. Ugh.)

I worked for years as a graphics designer in television and on the web, so I really love designing covers too, though I consider myself still a newbie in this arena, trying to learn what makes a good book cover.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

I think it would be the Victorian era, encompassing Westerns. That’s where my first published book ended up, and I had a lot of fun researching the era. I set the novel in the town where my ancestors mined the Colorado Rockies, and I learned a lot about the mining industry. But my favorite aspect of it was learning about what a school day was like, and the games kids played—especially marbles.

The other reason I like Victorian is because I have a steampunk that’s been kicking around in my head for awhile, full of airships and piracy. One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing that one. 😉

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?

Hair jewelry. It’s just so deliciously enchanting and creepy at the same time. Ha ha! That’s another reason to love Victorian! A few years ago, I was visiting my brother in Indiana and went into a little antique jewelry shop. The owner was really knowledgeable and had some hair jewelry pieces on display. She told me a little about them, and I became fascinated. I started developing an idea for either a fantasy or a ghost story that hinged on hair jewelry. (That’s another one I need to finish. So many ideas, so little time!)

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?

That’s a tough question—not because I can’t think of anything, but because I can think of too many things! I love to travel, anyway, and to be able to add time to that would just be incredible!

Well, if it’s anywhere, then that includes fictional settings in books, right? I’ve always wanted to visit The Citadel of Wizards in Barbara Hambly’s book Dog Wizard. It sits on a hill overrun with plants and has all sorts of secret passages and lovely little nooks and crannies.

But if I must be grounded in reality, then I’d love to visit the British Isles during the dark ages— visit being the keyword, since I wouldn’t actually want to live during that time without indoor plumbing. 😉

Where do you find creative inspiration?

A lot of my inspiration comes from the area where I live. I’m in the US Southwest, and there are Ancient Puebloan ruins everywhere. In the spring is the best time to visit them, since it isn’t too hot then. Most of the ruins are a little hard to reach, with moderate to difficult hiking. I’ve been visiting these ruins since I was a kid, and I’ve always found it fascinating to imagine what life was like for the people that lived back then. I guess that’s the most interesting facet of history for me: making up stories about the real people that came before—what they were like, the challenges they faced, what they did every day, etc. My Soul in Ashes setting borrowed a lot from the southwest (Aztec and Ancient Puebloan) mixed in with the Celts. Kind of an odd combination, I know, but I had a lot of fun juxtaposing those cultures against each other.

What’s your favourite historical resource?

I don’t know that I have any one main source for my research. I do a lot on the Internet, just word searches in Google. I remember the days before Internet was a thing (I’m dating myself here). Research was a lot harder. I would go to the library and drag home whatever books they had on the subject, but it was severely limited compared to what I can find out now. The whole world really is at our fingertips, and the hardest part nowadays is picking and choosing from the incredible amount of information out there. But, writing in the fantasy subgenre helps because I can bend the truth to suit the story, so the source doesn’t have to necessarily be accurate. Ha ha!

The best place in the world to write is…

At home by myself. To really write well, I’ve found I need a certain level of concentration that I simply don’t get when other people are in the house.  So, I like to do my writing while my four kids are at school and my husband is at work. After they get home, it’s all over as far as writing goes.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my bedroom by myself, reading or writing or drawing. I overheard my parents talking once about it. My mom was concerned because she didn’t think it was normal for a kid to be so solitary. My dad said, that’s just how writers are!

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

My husband is a CPA, so during the US tax season I’m his secretary. That means I don’t get much writing done in the spring, but I think it’s important to support him just as he supports me in my endeavors.

Other than that, I keep busy being a mom to four beautiful girls between the ages of seventeen and nine. There’s always something they need, whether it’s rides to piano lessons or play practices, help with homework, or dinner. (Oh yeah. Guess I have too cook every so often, too.)

What are you currently working on?

I’m in between projects at the moment. I just finished a YA dystopian, which was a complete about-face for me, as far as genre is concerned. But I really enjoyed writing it, and I have fans clamoring for a second instalment, so I’m planning to get going on that as soon as tax season eases up enough to give me some wiggle room.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I’ve really enjoyed chatting about writing! I would like to offer your readers a fun little story for free, as a thank you. It’s called A Mess of Magic and is a spin-off from my Thunderstruck novel. They can download it here.

Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This month’s featured author is fantasy and steampunk writer M.K. Wiseman. She’s about to release Kithseeker, the second book in her Bookminder trilogy. You can find her through her website, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, where she goes by the handle @FaublesFables.

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

My writing journey started in earnest in the [northern] summer of 2004. I was recovering from a rather serious surgery and had a lot of time of my hands plus some very vivid post-hospital dreams. One, in particular, stuck with me for reasons unknown. I spent the rest of my summer break figuring out the story behind it. That became the crux of my first novel, The Bookminder. However, the manuscript sat in a drawer, only partially finished, until a number of years later when I knocked together a short story for fun, simply because I had heard about a publisher accepting submissions for an anthology. Three short stories in, three anthologies later, I’d unearthed my old half-cooked novel and started to write full-time.

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

The misery of it all. (Mostly kidding there. Mostly.) Truthfully, writing is a rather solitary pursuit. Or, really, it’s a very private pursuit. I run, leap, shout, scream, do magic spells, and go travelling for hours a day—and all inside my head. It’s exhausting. And then I emerge from this imaginary space and try to cook dinner or iron a few shirts. It’s a little like wilfully choosing to be a bit mad.

*Note, I did answer the question . . . The best and the worst, for me, are all rolled up into this same, ever-curious experience of truly believing your imaginary friends are real, and then making them so, and then going out amongst people at the grocery store and pretending you’re absolutely normal on the inside and that you did not just murder a man in the Old West a half an hour ago.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

Late 1800s. For the simple reason that there is ever so much more information available on that time period than, say, the 1600s. (Information of the flavor I use, that is. For example, I adore historical map overlays. Also, I love the idea that a building I am writing about is still standing and might be visited by the intrepid.) Additionally, English is much closer to our modern use when you hit the end of the 19th century. e.g. If I want a character to simply say “Hello” I can, actually, do so.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?

I once had to determine whether there was a train route in Nebraska, in 1890, that crossed over a trestle at the exact point of a ley line.

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?

This is a terrible thing to ask a Whovian! 😉 😉

Though the thought terrifies me, I think I should like to go somewhere into the far future and see how far we all travelled out into the stars, if world peace was ever found . . . and, essentially, whether we humans “make it” or not in the end.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I think the heart of everything I write stems from “things I love.” I don’t sit on a bench and people-watch, or collect interesting dialogue overheard at a coffee shop. I don’t put enemies into my books and give them gruesome deaths, as the old threat goes.

Each story is a love letter of sorts, me “geeking out” and sharing a place, a concept, an interest that I hold dear . . . and then taking it out of the personal so that I can deny up, down, left, right that my characters have any of me in them. 😉

What’s your favourite historical resource?

I absolutely adore the National Library of Scotland’s map overlays. I love, love, love this resource and am dropping a link here so that folks can go explore it. Historical maps + Bing overlay for easy modern reference? Amazing. Thank you, National Library of Scotland. Thank you.

The best place in the world to write is…

I think my favorite spot for writing is the Memorial Union Terrace at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Good light, good movement and sound—a perfect hum of distant distraction and productivity. A lake to look at when my eyes need a break. Access to good foods and drinks.  . . . And there’s always a chance I might run across an old sailing buddy who needs an extra hand on a keelboat for the afternoon. Being on a campus, the place is simply steeped in ambition, the air heavy with endless, lovely potential.

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

Reading, of course. But I also play with a Croatian folk orchestra (I play brač) and so have to keep those skills sharp. I juggle a bit; unicycle for fun; am trying to learn a couple languages via phone apps (I figure that with such a marvelous technology, I ought use it to better myself); I am a big fan of anime; I have a love/hate relationship with running; and, this year, am learning to play my dad’s accordion. You know, hobbies. 😉

What are you currently working on?

Looking to finish the Bookminder trilogy. Which is a huge project, really, and ought to be filling my time. But I also have several back-burner projects, one of which I am actively shopping, one which I pick at/edit from time to time, and a third—my current favorite—which will require endless research and, potentially, a trip to finish.

Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This month’s featured author is Nix Whittaker. Nix writes steampunk/alternative history, sci-fi romance, and is working on her first mystery. Her most recent novel is The Jade Dragon, the third instalment of her Wyvern Chronicles trilogy, and she has also just released a Christmas novella, Ruby Beyond Compare. You can get in touch with her via her website or Facebook page.

How long have you been writing, and what got you started?

I started writing when I was a little girl as I ran out of books to read. I’m dyslexic and my teacher recommended that I read more books, but at that stage I was reading about 100 books a year, and I quickly read out my library. So I started writing my own. It took a really long time to actually finish any of my stories. Once I decided I’d publish, I finished a book in a month. That was three years ago, though some days feels like a lifetime.

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

The best – well, that is being able to live in different worlds in your head. I love being able to create new friends for myself. The worst is the imposter syndrome. Always thinking that no matter how many books you have that you are never good enough to be classed as an author.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

At the moment I’m enjoying the 1830s as there was so little technology back then that you have to double-check everything. Little things like photos in newspapers. I like the challenge.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

The question should be where don’t I find inspiration. I can get inspiration from a throwaway comment from friends. A character from a movie or a documentary. Inspiration is everywhere.

The best place in the world to write is…

Last year I had writer’s block, so to get over it I headed to the mountains. Took the ski lift right up to the top of the mountain and watched ski bunnies go down the slopes while I sat in the nice cosy restaurant and wrote. The glistening white snow and the view down the slopes was great inspiration. I would recommend cold to write as it’s much easier to see the screen. I find summer terrible for glare off your screen if you try to write outside.

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

I’m a cliché when it comes to being an author. I’m an English teacher with cats. So when I’m not writing I’m teaching English, fostering kittens for the SPCA and reading. I read a lot. Though this year I didn’t reach my reading goal on Goodreads. Very disappointing. This year I’m being more conservative and I’ll only read 150 books.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I’m working on my first mystery. All my other books are epic in scope as they deal with civil war and empires. This time I’m going small to a single murder and the only thing really at risk is my character’s career and possibly life. I’m enjoying the red herrings though. You don’t have many of those when you are dealing with a moustache-twirling villain. Ironically I got the idea for this story from a book cover I was making for my other side job. It was too good to put in as just a pre-made, so I decided to keep it except I didn’t have a story to go with it. That was when my Lady Golden Hand was born.

Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

This month’s featured author is Guy Worthey. Guy writes young adult adventure, specifically 1920s noir with steampunk elements. His most recent book is Ace Carroway and the Great War. You can get in touch with him via his website or Facebook page, or on Twitter (@guyworthey).

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

I’ve only been seriously writing fiction-for-publication for a couple of years. However, my first publication was in second grade, when the teacher collected poems from the class. She retyped them, mimeographed them (yep, before photocopiers!), and made books held together with brass brads. Each kid made their own covers by gluing the letters P-O-E-T-R-Y onto construction paper. I was enthralled by the experience. The poem was, in its entirety, “Once, when flowers popped, they exploded.”

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

Best: writing.

Worst: editing.

I bet all the authors say that.

On the interface with the outside world, however, I’m really torn by the childish need to seek approval and the introvert’s instinct to just hide. So, on that axis, the best thing is the good review and the worst thing is the bad review.

Finally, on the axis of coffee:

Best: coffee.

Worst: coffee runs out.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

I can’t pick just one! I love the noir period, of course. I really want to write a steampunk story some time. I grew up on a steady diet of medieval fantasy, so I’m always drawn to a swords-and-sorcery yarn. Personally, I avoid contemporary, post-apocalyptic, and anything where people have elongated canines.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?

Underwear, maybe. Specifically, the problem of having a 1920s woman who does athletic things.

The thermodynamics of jet engines, maybe. Or, how the Hindenburg’s crew actually handled that huge thing.

Then there is the tool called a breast drill. I euphemistically called it a chest drill to avoid teens snickering about it. It’s a heavy-duty drill that you lean into to apply pressure, and that’s how it gets its name. It’s got a long handle for extra leverage that the operator spins with their right hand while guiding their aim with their left hand.

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?

Definitely the future. As much as I love various past times and places, I really really really want to jump a couple hundred years forward and see how the moon base is coming along and check on the Mars colony and see if we have found life around some other star.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I get inspiration from almost everything. Music, chance remarks overheard, reading, dreaming, or simply listening to other people talk about what is important to them.

What’s your favourite historical resource?

A good, dusty, overstuffed secondhand bookstore! Digging around in such a place is where I have found some of my best references. You find crazy, quirky stuff lurking in the corners of such shops. My most fervent hope is that internet doesn’t kill off these shops.

The best place in the world to write is…

By a window overlooking the storm-lashed Scottish seaside cliffs.

I imagine. Never done that, actually. I do have a window, though, and I try to sit by it. I actually enjoy typing on a keyboard to write, though I prefer to read in the traditional manner of ink on paper pages.

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

I have a day job, but also plenty of hobbies. Foremost among them is probably jazz bass. I never get tired of playing in a hot combo. In general, I allow myself to get distracted. The occasional wild goose chase is good for a body.

What are you currently working on?

I’m finishing #2 in my Ace Carroway series, called Ace Carroway Around the World. This means I’m editing. Sigh. As I edit, I try to not get seduced by the dark side, such as writing a spinoff or going back to my half-drafted fantasy trilogy. Anyway, Ace #2 should be ready for release by March or April.

 

I’m very excited to reveal that The Iron Line is now in its final stages. I’ve been agonising a lot this year about how I wanted to publish it – whether I was going to pitch it to agents and publishers, or take a different route. Last week I wrote an article for online news and culture magazine Inside Story about that journey and the decision I’ve finally made to go indie. The full article is republished here with permission.

Mike Licht/Flickr

Publishing’s Parallel Universe

April 2015 was a good month for me. In the space of a week I signed not only a marriage contract, but also something I’d been pursuing for much longer: a book deal.

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, but it was only in 2014 — after two decades of practice — that I finally finished my first novel, Greythorne, a Gothic mystery set in Victorian England. The writing process itself had been relatively short, just twelve months from the idea to a manuscript I was comfortable submitting to publishers. In November 2014 I took it to an Australian Society of Authors Literary Speed Dating event in Sydney, where I pitched to various agents and editors, and five months later one of those contacts bore fruit.

My contract was with a digital-first imprint of one of the Big Five (the five biggest book publishers in the United States: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Pan Macmillan and Simon & Schuster). Digital-first meant it would be available only in ebook and print-on-demand formats, so there’d be no big print runs or distribution to bookshops unless it happened to do very well. At the time I didn’t care; it was a foot in the door.

What followed was a stripping away of any illusions I might have had about the traditional publishing industry. I thought publishers were in the business of marketing books — because they presumably want them to sell. Once upon a time they were, but those days are long gone. These days, a new release has to fend for itself, and if it doesn’t strike paydirt within the first month, then it’s done its dash. But getting lucky is far more likely to happen in some genres than in others — romance and crime, for instance, have hugely dedicated readerships. It certainly doesn’t happen in Gothic mystery.

Of course, I was lucky to have been offered a contract at all. The market for my kind of book is relatively small, and Greythorne is short as novels go, at only 55,000 words, or a bit over 200 standard paperback pages (most publishers prefer them to be around the 80,000-word mark). The development of digital-first imprints — which several major publishers have started in an attempt to tap into the ebook market — means that publishers will sometimes take chances on books like mine, whereas they wouldn’t necessarily consider them for a traditional print run. But these imprints are also often tiny, run by a dedicated but small team of people within a very big company, without the resources to properly market their wares. Essentially, they’re often set up to fail, and this failure then reinforces everything the publishers think they know about the ebook market, namely that it’s impossible to make a go of. (It’s not — trade publishers just don’t do it very well — but more on that later.)

In mid 2016, the imprint I’d been contracted by closed down unexpectedly, or at least it was unexpected for those of us on the outside. A number of authors, me included, were left stranded. On the one hand, our contracts were with the parent company, so they were still valid as long as our books continued to be made available for sale. They were, but what little marketing support there’d been had disappeared. On the other hand, the publisher offered to give us back our rights, but then we’d have to decide what to do with them. I queried an agent about the possibility of pitching the book to another publisher and was basically told not to bother — it’s extremely difficult to resell an already published novel unless it’s a bestseller. I decided to leave Greythorne where it was for the time being, because at least people could still buy it. Then I started looking at options.

In the meantime, I’d begun working on another novel, The Iron Line. This was another Gothic mystery, this time set in Australia in the 1880s. The imprint’s collapse had taken away any temptation to take the path of least resistance by pitching it to them, but it also meant I was essentially back to square one in terms of finding a publisher and/or an agent. It was a demoralising thought.

Around the same time, an author friend introduced me to a Facebook group for “indie” authors. Indie, or independent, authors are what used to be known as self-publishers — people who produce and publish books themselves, in this case using ebook and print-on-demand technology. Indie publishing is very different from vanity publishing, where unscrupulous companies charge inexperienced authors to publish through them, often to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, for little or no meaningful return. Indie authors subcontract services like editing and design themselves, and retain full control of all their intellectual property.

The indie scene underwent a renaissance in the late 2000s, spurred on by Amazon’s release of Kindle Direct Publishing, which allows authors to publish directly to Amazon’s Kindle ebook platform rather than having to go through a third party. In the ten years or so since then, indie publishing has developed into a thriving industry, with an array of services blossoming out of nowhere to support it. Self-publishers are no longer stereotypical narcissists with thousands of badly printed books in their basement; these days they’re businesspeople, and often quite successful ones at that.

Discovering just how many options are available to the modern author — far beyond the “contract or bust” model of yesteryear — was a revelation. But at the same time I baulked at the thought of going indie; deep down, it still felt like the easy way out, or second best to endorsement by a traditional publisher. So I left Greythorne languishing there in limbo, but nevertheless decided to find out exactly what this indie publishing thing was all about.

Entering the indie publishing world is a little bit like entering a parallel universe. Up in the firmament are a whole host of superstars you’ve probably never heard of — Hugh Howey, Joanna Penn, David Gaughran, K.M. Weiland, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, James Scott Bell — many of whom are making five-, six- or occasionally seven-figure incomes from their writing. Further down are the mid-list — people who aren’t quite indie superstars but who are making perfectly respectable money through savvy marketing. Of course, there are still traces of the old self-publishing problem evident in those books that lack decent design and/or editing, but that’s what happens in a democratic marketplace. You could sit the best-quality indie books next to traditionally published books and most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

One characteristic of the most successful indie authors that I noticed early on is that they’re not just authors — they’re businesspeople. Many of them run mini-empires, built around not just their fiction work but also non-fiction, speaking gigs, workshops and other services. To succeed, indie books need to harness a whole marketing ecosystem — an email list, free giveaways, a spot in the coveted BookBub newsletter (which sends free or discounted deals to its subscribers every day and can add thousands to a book’s sales), and so on — and the most successful authors have learned how to make this work for them.

Strangely enough, though, techniques that would be a closely guarded secret in other industries are willingly shared in the indie world. Whether it’s through free sources such as Facebook groups and podcasts, or through non-fiction books, webinars and other media, indie authors are almost always ready to help each other out. In the indie Facebook group I’m part of, members regularly (and constructively) critique each other’s covers and blurbs, offer feedback on drafts, and answer questions about platforms and marketing strategies, even sharing the results of particular promotions they’ve launched and offering lessons learned. You might think that an industry in which members are competing to get their own work noticed would be incredibly vicious, but in fact indies across the board are really nice.

Even those who’ve had enormous success seem to see value in giving back to the community. Hugh Howey became famous as the first indie author to sign a print-only deal (retaining ebook rights because he’d done so well with them on his own) after his dystopian science-fiction trilogy, Silo, was picked up by Simon & Schuster for a six-figure sum. But he’s also known in the indie community as the brains behind the Author Earnings website, which is one of the few sources of sales statistics that don’t come from the major publishers (which don’t usually include ebooks or indie books). It aims to crunch the data across the entire marketplace and give a more accurate snapshot of exactly which types of books are selling and who’s producing them.

The traditional publishers hate this kind of thing because sales figures have always been a tightly held secret, but Author Earnings is in keeping with the openness of the indie community, which is all about sharing information to help authors make informed decisions. Likewise, one of the longest-running podcasts on indie publishing, The Creative Penn, run by British author Joanna Penn, regularly hosts guests from all over the world who share information on all aspects of indie publishing, from writing techniques to exploiting audio rights to getting the most out of Amazon ads. The amount of information available, often for free, is simply extraordinary.

All the same, indie publishing is a huge learning curve, and it’s not for everyone. Some writers just want to write, and that’s fine. As an indie author you have to do it all, and that means being comfortable with marketing. Once upon a time, highly introverted authors were able to hide behind their publisher’s marketing department, but not any more. Even in trade publishing, authors have to do the lion’s share of the work when it comes to getting their book out there, and in indie publishing this is magnified. If that’s not your thing, or if you’re not technologically savvy, you’re going to struggle as an indie author.

The other thing to bear in mind is that some types of books sell better than others. Romance readers, for example, are voracious and loyal, so romance is the perfect genre for indies because the market is huge. Likewise, crime tends to do well, especially “cosy crime” (think Agatha Christie) and thrillers. Speculative fiction — science fiction, fantasy, horror and all their various sub-genres — also has a pretty strong market, especially because the ebook retailers’ categories go into quite some detail, so readers can browse very specific varieties of the genre according to their taste. Steampunk, for example — a speculative fiction subset that has fantasy or sci-fi elements set in an alternative Victorian-era world — is a growing market, but not big enough for many traditional publishers to touch it.

On the other hand, middle-grade fiction (chapter books for children aged eight to twelve) is generally accepted as difficult to publish independently. Kids’ books in general are hard to sell this way because you have to market to the parents as well as the child, and these works tend not to be so popular in ebook form anyway. Likewise, if you write literary fiction then indie publishing is a bad idea, because it won’t sell — but then, literary fiction tends not to sell very well in any format, which is why traditional publishers use the earnings from genre fiction bestsellers to cross-subsidise it. Literary fiction authors also depend disproportionately on literary reviews and prizes, neither of which are particularly accepting of indie-published books. But for genre fiction authors like me, there are far more opportunities than ever before.

In early 2017, I decided to dip my toe in the indie publishing waters with a non-fiction book, Communications for Volunteers: Low-cost Strategies for Community Groups, which I’d written as an asset for my consultancy business (because, like most writers, I also have a day job). In this case, there was never any question of finding a traditional publisher; I deliberately decided to go indie because I wanted to retain full control over the intellectual property rights. I knew I’d be using material from the book in other aspects of my business, such as training courses, and I didn’t want to have to go running to a publisher for permission every time I wanted to do that. So indie it was.

As an entree to the industry I probably couldn’t have picked a more difficult book. It was full-colour with lots of lists and diagrams, so was a lot more complicated and expensive to format and print than a traditional black-and-white novel. Marketing non-fiction is also quite different from marketing fiction, and there are fewer resources available. But I got there in the end, and it made me realise just how much freedom and control you have over the entire process, from what you write, to design, release dates, sales and giveaways

By this point I’d finished the first draft of The Iron Line and was getting started on rewriting. It had taken longer than Greythorne (it turns out that starting a new business and finishing a novel aren’t always compatible) but it was rapidly reaching the point where I needed to decide what to do with it. I’d been toying with the idea of indie publishing from early on in the process, but had come up against the stigma that still exists around self-publishing. A successful author friend epitomised this when she said, on hearing that I was thinking of going indie, “Oh no, don’t do that — your writing is far too good and it’d be a waste of your talent.”

So I continued to weigh up my options — agent, major publisher, small press — and in July this year I again went to a Literary Speed Dating event. I had some muted interest, but also “we can’t sell Gothic” and some concerns about the length of The Iron Line, which, although slightly longer than Greythorne, is still on the short side. Even the fact that I already had one book published (and so was slightly less of a risk than a debut author) seemed to make little difference.

In the meantime, I watched Greythorne’s sales ranking slide without being able to do anything about it. If you can’t control the price then you can’t run sales, give books away for free, or implement any of the marketing mechanisms that will actually help it to sell. I knew that the dismal sales figures weren’t because it was a bad book — it had got good reviews, and I’d actually made some pretty decent money, albeit by buying print-on-demand copies and on-selling them myself, which is ultimately an unsustainable way of doing things. Finally, I decided that I wasn’t getting anything from the publisher that I couldn’t get myself, so I got my rights back and have recently re-released Greythorne under my own imprint. Suddenly a whole world of possibility has opened up, and I’m cursing having waited so long to do it.

I started thinking about The Iron Line systematically. What could a traditional publisher give me that I couldn’t get for myself? These days, publishers tend to outsource design and editing to freelancers, so these can be obtained at the same quality you’d get if you went through the trade press. Indies obviously have to finance these themselves, but then the potential returns are also far higher.

The one thing traditional publishers can provide is print distribution into bookshops. But the reality is that most books only stay on the shelves for a month or two, unless they happen to take off. Certainly books in niche genres, like mine, won’t hang around for long. And in any case, bookshops (much as I love them as a reader) only give access to the Australian market, which in global terms is minuscule, whereas indies have access to the entire English-speaking world — and beyond just the usual Western suspects. Some of the places I’ve gained the most traction have, oddly enough, been India, Malaysia and South Africa, and one of my longer-term projects for Greythorne is a Hindi translation.

Another important consideration, and the main reason why the indie mid-list is thriving while it’s all but disappeared from the traditional industry, is royalty distribution. On Amazon, which is still far and away the biggest ebook retailer, any books priced between US$2.99 and US$9.99 yield a 70 per cent royalty (for books outside those parameters it’s 35 per cent). This means that for every US$4.99 copy of Greythorne sold, I make US$3.50. I can’t divulge the royalty rate from my original contract, but I can tell you it was a lot less than that. If you choose to publish exclusively with Amazon, you can also enrol in their subscription program, Kindle Unlimited, which gives readers access to an unlimited number of books in exchange for a monthly subscription, with authors paid by the number of pages read as well as for normal sales.

Other retailers, such as Kobo, give authors a 70 per cent royalty regardless of price. Plenty of research has shown the sweet spot for ebooks — the point where the author will move the most copies but still get a decent return — to be around the three-to-five-dollar mark, which is why indie authors who are savvy with their pricing and marketing are often able to make a decent living. In contrast, most trade publishers still use ebook pricing primarily to drive sales to paperbacks (which is where they make their money), ignoring the many reasons why readers might choose to read ebooks instead. This is why you often see ebooks from traditional publishers priced at anywhere between $10 and $25, which means, of course, that they don’t sell anywhere near as well as their more reasonably priced cousins.

Even though most indie authors still make the majority of their income from ebooks, developments in print-on-demand technology have made indie paperbacks a huge industry. Gone are the days when a minimum print run was 1000 books, which you then had to store until you could sell them. These days, you just upload a file and it gets printed as people order copies. Amazon has its own print production company, CreateSpace, while one of the world’s largest producers of traditionally published books, Ingram Content Group, also runs a print-on-demand arm, IngramSpark, designed for indie publishers. IngramSpark also markets indie books directly to retailers and libraries in the same way that Ingram sells its traditionally published books, meaning that it’s easier than ever for indies to get their work out there.

The other exciting area where indies are leading the way is audio. In the last five years, the audiobook market has taken off, driven in large part by the ubiquity of the smartphone and the resultant podcast revolution, which changed people’s listening habits. Most traditional publishers, realising just how valuable audio rights are, will now force authors to sign them over (whereas previously you could choose to retain these and nobody cared), even if they have no intention of exploiting them, which deprives authors of a valuable asset. In addition, unlike with print books, it’s not possible for authors to pitch directly to audiobook publishers such as Bolinda. They deal directly with print publishers, so even if you retain your audio rights, there’s no way you can get an independent deal with them.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon is leading the way in indie audiobook production, like it did with ebooks, through its own platform, Audiobook Creation Exchange. ACX pairs authors with narrators, through either a fee-for-service or royalty-sharing arrangement, and then publishes the audiobook to Amazon’s massive Audible platform, as well as to iTunes. Books published on Audible are also made available for sale on Amazon alongside the ebook and paperback versions, and it’s becoming increasingly common for customers to buy both the ebook and the audiobook, especially as they sync on a smartphone or tablet to allow seamless transitions between the two formats. (You can read up to a certain point in the ebook, and the audiobook will pick up where you left off, and vice versa.)

But ACX isn’t available everywhere — Australia, as you might expect, is one of the places yet to receive it — and other companies such as Findaway Voices are rapidly filling the gaps. The growth of in-home voice-activated services such as Google Home and Amazon Echo is also likely to bolster the audiobook market, and indies are in a prime position to take advantage of it.

Looking at it this way, in cold, unemotional business terms, it was clear to me what the best option was. But if this sounds like an easy decision, it wasn’t. Indie publishing is hard work. It also, strangely, felt a bit like admitting defeat. I hadn’t realised how deeply I’d internalised the idea that the only people who self-publish are those who can’t get a traditional contract.

Thankfully, this perception is gradually changing, especially as more and more well-known authors start choosing the hybrid model — some books published traditionally, some indie. In December 2016, bestselling Australian author John Birmingham (He Died with a Felafel in His Hand) announced that, although he still had some trade contracts, he was going to be indie publishing a lot of his work from now on, after a falling-out with his publisher. Such high-profile defections help give legitimacy to indie publishing, as does the fact that many publishing awards are now increasingly open to indies. In fact, the annual ACT Publishing Awards are open only to books published either independently or by small presses, in recognition of the fact that high-quality work exists outside the publishing mainstream.

For me, ultimately, it came down to freedom. I certainly don’t expect to make my fortune overnight — indie publishing is a long game — but I have control over my own destiny, and that’s hugely important to me. Indie publishing gives me freedom not just in the business sense of deciding release dates, pricing and when to run sales, but also creatively. The accepted wisdom in traditional publishing is that once you publish your first novel you need to keep writing more of the same in order not to confuse readers, but in indie publishing, you can write whatever you want. It’s true that deviating hugely from your normal genre may not be the best business decision, at least under the same name, but if I want to jump from Gothic mystery to steampunk, for instance, that’s not such a huge leap. Realising I have the freedom to experiment creatively and to take risks (some of which may not pay off, but some of which I’m hoping will) is incredibly liberating. And even if I lose the respect of many in the traditional publishing industry, I can connect directly with my readers, which is one of the things I love most about being an author.

For many writers, a traditional publishing contract will still be the pinnacle of success, and others just want to write without the pressure of running their career like a business. And I haven’t ruled it out entirely; if the right trade contract came along, I’d happily be a hybrid author. Considering that just a decade ago everyone seemed to be decrying the death of the book industry, it’s incredibly exciting to realise that it’s not just surviving but thriving. It may not look exactly like it used to, but as both an author and a reader I feel there’s great cause for optimism.

A few weeks ago I watched the 1990s Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks classic rom-com You’ve Got Mail. The basic premise, for those who’ve never seen it, is love in the age of the internet. This is how IMDb succinctly describes it: “Two business rivals who despise each other in real life unwittingly fall in love over the internet.” The most notable thing about the film, especially watching it almost 20 years after it was made, is its depictions of technology and the social response to it – dial-up modems, brick-like laptops, electric typewriters, and an obvious lack of mobile phones in general, let alone smartphones (a scene where Tom Hanks’ character stands up Meg Ryan’s for a date, for example, wouldn’t really have been feasible in the age of widespread mobile phone use). It was also a time when online dating was still considered a bit shameful or desperate, a tactic reserved for those who weren’t capable of getting a date in real life.

I’ve seen this film a number of times and noticed all this before, but what really struck me this time was the way the movie depicts the book industry. When IMDb says the two characters are “business rivals”, what it fails to mention is that the business they’re in is books. Tom Hanks’ character, Joe Fox, is the multimillionaire owner of mega-chain Fox Books (clearly modelled on Borders), while Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, owns a small independent children’s book store, The Shop Around the Corner. Spoilers – a Fox Books outlet opens up across the street and eventually puts The Shop Around the Corner out of business, which is depicted as basically inevitable from the start.

I found it really interesting to reflect on this 20 years on, in light of all the massive disruptions to the publishing and bookselling industries that have occurred in the interim. In 1998, when the film was made, chains like Borders and Angus & Robertson were in their heyday. It was only logical that the small indies didn’t have a hope of survival against the huge multinational conglomerates and their ability to buy in huge amounts and offer steep discounts (as well as add-on businesses like in-store cafes). This was how the American capitalist model had worked for decades and, as far as anyone could see, this was how it was likely to continue.

Then two major things happened: Amazon and the iPhone.

It’s not overstating it to say that these two products revolutionised the way we consume media in general – not just books, of course, but they both played a major role in reshaping the book industry. When the Kindle came along it made reading digital books feasible and comfortable for the first time, and spawned a host of other e-readers and online stores in competition. The iPhone (and the iPad) gave us instant access to enormous amounts of media in our pockets. Why carry around a single hardback book when you could now have hundreds on a device far thinner and lighter than a paperback?

Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail was caught at a particularly unfortunate time in history. If she’d managed to hold on for just a few more years, Fox Books would have been the one going under (Borders finally folded in 2010 after several years of struggle) and she would have been able to be part of the indie renaissance. The development of ebooks, as well as the advent cheap hard copies from the likes of Amazon and The Book Depository, meant that the superstores were suddenly uncompetitive due to their higher running costs – but indie stores that specialise and offer premium products, as well as support for authors and other services to readers such as niche events, have managed not only to survive but thrive. A speciality children’s store like The Shop Around the Corner would probably do very well in today’s climate, with the resurgence of interest in artisan products and unique experiences.

We get so used to the small day-to-day changes in technology that it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in just such a short time. When the ebook disruption first occurred, people were decrying the death of the book industry; now you regularly see reports on the resurgence of print and how the ebook was a fad – all of which, to my mind, are greatly exaggerated. As far as I’m concerned, now is an incredibly exciting time to be a reader, with all the various formats available (not just print and ebook, but audiobooks and graphic novels too, both of which are growing very fast). It’s just as exciting a time to be a writer, with the growth in accessibility and professionalisation of indie publishing and small presses meaning that we now have more options than ever beyond the traditional publishing deal. Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly could never have imagined it.