Kristen James has written over twenty books and ranked in the top 100 Bestsellers in Kindle US, UK and Canada, #1 in ten different categories, #1 in Movers & Shakers, and #1 free rankings.
And now, the fun stuff– I was born in a tiny town in western Oregon and lived there until after my high school graduation. (I guess that’s where I get my love of small town settings!) I discovered writing in the 4th grade. My school published one of my short stories, and I realized other people might like to read what I wrote. I saved up and bought my own typewriter, and soon I was tapping out books over summer break. I wrote several “practice” novels and I continued writing though the next ten years. I got married, started a family, moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, back to Portland, Oregon and several other towns before landing in the country by Roseburg, Oregon, almost where I started out.
When did you first discover a love of writing? Is there a particular book that made you want to become a writer?
I actually had a rough start in school and was behind in reading. I usually picked short, easy books to read, but I ordered a book based on its cover from our book order pamphlet. A big novel arrived. It took me four times reading it to understand the story in The Secret Garden, but it changed my life. I loved reading and spending time in the library after that, searching through back corners.
My fourth grade teacher, introduced me to writing. My class wrote short stories, and she chose mine for a publication and I read it at a school assembly. I was hooked! I decided to be an author, and within a couple of years I had my own typewriter so I could write novels during summer vacation.
Where do you get your story ideas?
I love to explore and experience new things, and then ideas will slam into my head and bug me until I start writing. After watching snowboarding in the 2014 Winter Olympics, I suddenly wondered what would happen if the voice of one of those snowboarders popped into a normal girl’s head. And what if he didn’t remember where he came from? Many of my novels are different from the rest, and a bit off beat. I could try to plan out my novels to fall into the same sub-genre of romance, but I just can’t ignore a great idea.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
Start with conflict and build from there.
As a very young writer, I focused on the adventure and the trouble that started the story. It’s easy to lose sight of that as an adult, because you’re thinking about so many craft things like story arc, chapters, and different characters. We can learn so much that we ignore our naturally ingrained storytelling ability.
Sometimes I hear newer authors talk about a story idea, and it’s convoluted and layered with unrelated things. There isn’t a clear central problem driving the story. If you start with a clear idea that causes havoc and forces change, then you have a story base to build from.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
If I actually feel blocked, that means I need to go for a bike ride, hike or take a day to have fun and get a different perspective. I think “writer’s block” might be our own self telling us the story is not exciting enough or plotted out correctly, or has some other issue. I’ve fiddled with ideas for a while only to realize it’s not the idea for me to write. It could be a great idea, but it’s just not going to happen. So I consider it practice, where I get to work on something in my head but know I’m not quite the right writer for it.
If there was one writer (alive or deceased) that you would love to meet, who would it be?
I absolutely love meeting other authors and discussing writing! I learn something from each one I talk to. If I could meet anyone, the first two would be Jojo Moyes and Catherine Ryan Hyde because they write very memorable characters and moving stories, with quite a few point of view characters so we can experience the story from many angles.
What made you decide to self-publish?
I was first published in a short story journal in 2006, and when I received my author copy and looked it over, I realized I could do it too. I researched online and began publishing paperbacks and my own quarterly journal, and then eBooks came along. I love the entire process of creating a book, from idea, writing, polishing, formatting and then producing a finished product to share.
Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you’d like to share? What rules of craft or promotion do you live by?
I try to connect instead of promote. Connecting with a reader makes my day, but chasing numbers can be frustrating and feel me feeling empty.
My “rules of craft” are: always learn, grow with each book, and to push myself to offer something new and different with each story.
How would you classify your writing, and what do you want to write in the future?
Many of my earlier stories fall into romance while my more recent work is romantic women’s fiction. I especially love to take something that doesn’t seem like a romance and make it into one, such as married romance, or falling for a voice in your head. I’m always striving to make my writing deeper and stronger. I want to grow so that my books are more general fiction with romance in them, which is what I read. There are so many genre elements that I want to explore and play with, and I love how self-publishing gives me the freedom to do write my unique kind of story. I know when I’m excited about a story that shows through to readers.
You can also find Kristen:
On her website: http://writerkristenjames.com/
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/writerkristenj
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterKristenJames
I agree with Kristen about staying in touch with readers. I try to use my mailing list and especially Facebook to do that. I use polls on my blog too. If I ask for cover feedback, or for their opinions about a new chapter segment, I can be sure that I’m on the right track with something.
I do “suffer” from writer’s block. I know there are writers who don’t believe in it, but it’s real to me. It’s usually a problem of too many ideas, not too few. By that I mean, I haven’t narrowed down the focus of a chapter well enough. As Kristen said, a block means I know subconsciously that I’m doing something wrong, or the story is heading down a dead end, but on the surface it’s rocking along fine.
I find going outside and working in the garden a good way to get unblocked. While working out there, often listening to an audiobook or music for background on my old iPod, my mind is sifting the story, or coming up with new ones. When I come back inside and get on my treadmill desk, refreshed and ready to write, the block is usually gone. If not, it’s time for more gardening! I find mowing the lawn a good fix 🙂
Mark E. Cooper
Good thoughts, Mark! Getting outside is great for freeing the mind to be creative. I haven’t tried a treadmill desk, but I wonder if it helps because taking a walk brings up lots of ideas for me. I’m sure it’s beneficial for your health too.
Great interview. I especially enjoyed what Kristen said about connecting with readers. Good idea.
Now I know I wasn’t the only kid in school who saved up money for a typewriter. 🙂
How cool to hear someone else did too! Before the typewriter, I asked my parents for a “type right” toy so I could learn to type. I was ecstatic when I got it.
After 9 months of wasted effort I’ve given up on marketing and promotion of my ebooks through social media. I admire how Kristen strikes a balance between writing and promotion. Her advice on staying in touch with readers is far better than promoting by churning and scaling your site’s SEO’s numbers. That’s soul-destroying. I get the impression most ebook authors now spend more than 50% of their working time doing blog posts, blog tours, podcasts, guest blogging, schmoozing on writers’ sites, site optimizing, conferences, re-purposing their popular ebooks for re-release in multiple spin-off titles … it’s just endless distraction from the truth of story creation. Maybe this works for others, but it’s been a 100% waste of effort & time & money for me. I’ve drifted further away from writing, in the process it’s losing its thrill quality. So I’m very consciously & deliberately setting aside 90% of my promotion effort and just getting back into writing and to hell with boosting sales. Period.
Stephen, I’m with you 100%. When I first started getting back into writing (and still am, sadly), all I heard about (among many other things) was platform, platform, platform. I see the importance of it, but it doesn’t get more work written, especially if you already have a full time day job. I think ass in chair time is better spent writing, too.
I’m with both of you on promoting. I love to interact with readers but it can be exhausting if your goal is to sell more books. The people who connect with me on my Facebook page or blog are usually current readers, so I try to post about new releases and specials when it’s relevant while focusing on fun book related things. This last year, I spent my marketing budget on an intensive week-long writing retreat. It was worth every penny! The best promotion for your books is more books. It takes a while to build up a list of books, but that’s what attracts readers.
Thanks, Kristen. Great interview and I like the part of starting with conflict and having a central problem driving the story. I’m always afraid to write a boring story so that is a good reminder.