January Special: An Interview with Katelynn Koontz

Welcome to January’s Special Feature! Today I’m talking with one of my great writer friends about how she writes complex and compelling character arcs! Katie is an accomplished author who writes across several genres including Fanatsy, Sci-fi, Horror, Poetry, and Contemporary summer reads. She also does art, and drew the illustration of her OC, Bolte, for this post’s header/preview image. Katie is active in the writing community on tumblr and is one of the nicest people I’ve met there, so I’m happy to be able to share her fantastic personality and advice with you today!

Question 1: First, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?

Katie: Absolutely! I’ve been “writing” as a hobby since I was about ten – I got into writing Sailor Moon fanfiction for fun, and it went from there. I’ve been writing full time since I was about sixteen, when I opened my first fiverr account. I was using it to bring in extra income to go towards the horse that I owned at the time. I used to work at horse farms for a living – I trained hunter/jumper’s from the ground up and was on the way towards showing them full time when I started having health problem and switched gears fully into writing.

Katie: I like to write anything that has a found family base to it. Fantasy is where I thrive, but I also enjoy anything that has a “summer read” vibe to it. Road trip stories, and that sort of thing. Groundhog Day has been my main WIP for about three years and I’m hoping that it ends up being finished at some point this year!

Etta: Perfect! I know you used to work on horse farms but it’s cool to learn that you were writing too in order to make that happen. And I’ve loved following Groundhog Day so I’m super excited to hear that you’re hoping to finish it soon!

Question 2: When you start a WIP, are most of your characters built from the ground up, and then you let the story form around them? Or does the plot come first and you create characters to fit into the story you want to tell? Or is it a combination of both, depending on the WIP?

Katie: I usually make the characters first. The story itself might alter how those characters behave as I develop them, but I almost always have at least a general idea of the character when I start writing. I’ll decide that I want to write for a character that has a certain trope as their main trait, or a character that fits a certain role, and then I’ll start building up the story around that character.

Etta: That makes sense! I know you have a lot of WIPs and even more OCs, so it’s really neat to see how that development process works for you.

Katie: The one downside is I end up making OC’s…and then having to make new WIPs for them to go into! XD

Question 3: What are your favorite types of character arcs to write?

Katie: My favorite types of arcs are the ones that allow the character to under go a lot of growth. I want to see characters that heal; they start in a bad place, learn a lesson, and end up growing as a person by the end of the story. Arcs that can’t be solved with just one character interest me a lot, too. A character that thinks they need to face the world on their own…and must learn that they need to accept kindness and the help of others to proceed. I’m also a huge fan of the character arcs where the big “jump” so to speak is overcoming a tragic backstory, or learning to accept their past so they can move on and start building their future.

Etta: Growth and healing are two themes I’ve noticed a lot in your stories and part of why I really enjoy reading them! It’s so wholesome and inspiring to see those characters overcome the horrible situation they might be in and find their place among their friends and in the world at the end of it. And what a perfect lead in to the next question!

Katie: Yes! It’s my favorite thing to write about. I think that the world needs more stories about hope, recovery, and finding light in the dark. I promise happy endings to all of my stories for that exact reason!

Question 4: Before we started the interview, I asked you to pick an OC to talk about for the rest of the interview. Would you give us a quick overview of who they are and their story?

Katie: Bolte is one of the main characters in my WIP Groundhog Day. He’s the general of the Royal Army in Fara Falls – a fictional RPG video game based world, in which the kingdom has all but collapsed under the tyrannical rule of their current queen, Midnight. He specializes in fire and bone magic – often using his magic to form armor made out of bone, and fire as a main weapon in his fights. Bolte is a character who has been fighting from the time he was a kid, and who sees no end to that battle. The world he lives in – constant danger, where kindness is a weakness and weakness can get you killed – has taught him to use anger as both a weapon and a shield. He comes off as a mean, sharp tongued person with few redeeming qualities…but he cares a lot, and is constantly trying to keep his childhood friend – an injured paladin named Red – and his boss/only friend – Captain, head of the Royal Guard – alive. In his story, he’s tasked with keeping Blue, a traveler from another version of Fara, alive and locating his own paladin in the process, inadvertently getting tangled up in a war to save Blue’s home.

Etta: yesss! Bolte is one of my favorite OCs of yours and the parallel worlds of Fara are such a creative setting for this paticular conflict. He’s a great example of someone who starts out in a really bad place. Your description is perfect you’re already setting up some of the next questions I’m going to ask you about and that’s great

Question 5: What motivates your character?

Katie: Bolte’s character is very complicated, but his motivation is actually very simple and straight forward. Bolte wants to keep Red alive, and he’s willing to do absolutely anything to make that happen. He’s willing to give up any other comfort – food, health, his own wants, his own safety or interests – if it means making sure that Red has a relatively safe place to live. That’s his character motivation, and I’ve also used it as his main driving force through the story. Bolte is originally only willing to work with Blue because that’s the easiest way to ensure that he’s able to return Red to their own world and keep Red safe. While that does broaden as his character grows, it’s always the Core Focus of his character’s driving force.

Etta: Bolte’s devotion to Red is one of the things that originally caught my attention for this story and this character, especially because it’s such a pure goal compared to some of the messy difficult choices and actions, he has to go through to make it happen. And I love how he never loses that core even as he grows as a person and his motivations broaden

Katie: It’s what’s made him one of my favorite characters to write for too, honestly. His mindset is always a lot of fun to get into and work with.

Question 6: What do you think are [OC’s] greatest strengths and faults?

Katie: His greatest strength is his perseverance. I’ve always thought that you can’t have hope if you’re not determined, and the core element of determination is being able to persevere. To look at a world that doesn’t want you to live, to look at a situation that is bleak and dark and often even painful, and to make the decision that you’re going to find a way to keep fighting, you’re going to find a way to break through that darkness and into the other side. Bolte doesn’t want to save the world.

Katie: He doesn’t want to save the kingdom. He wants to keep himself and Red – and as the story grows, his small group of friends, his important people, Blue and Locke and Captain and Aba – alive and as safe as can possibly be. It doesn’t matter what happens. Bolte will face any danger or threat and keep going. He’ll get up any time that he’s knocked down, and find a way to make the situation livable.

Katie: But that’s his greatest fault, too. Because Bolte is from a world that has taught him “kindness is weakness” and has spent his entire life knowing that he would have to fight to survive, he doesn’t understand the concept of letting someone else help him. He keeps his pains – his HEARTsickness, his mental stress, his physical aches like his bad knee – to himself. Even when he’s put into Fields of Fara later on, where there is access to so much more in the way of kindness and health care, Bolte doesn’t know how to look at someone and just admit “I need help”. It does get him into some rough situations, and ones that might have been avoidable if he’d thought to tell someone else how bad off he was at the time.

Katie: I’m a fan of characters who’s greatest strengths end up playing into their greatest fault a lot, actually XD

Etta: Bolte’s selflessness and love make him such an endearing character to read, and it’s interesting to see how he can only extend it so far, and to the point that it becomes good-intentioned self-destruction. And I know that Intent plays into your magic system too, so it’s especially interesting to see how that makes his fighting – both in literal battles and also just to survive every day – so much more complex!

Katie: Yes, it does! Intent directly affects how strong someone’s magic is, and how that magic affects them on a physical level. Bolte’s strong will to survive has, at times, been the only thing to keep his HP (being a video game world, the characters do have a set Health Point rating, unique to each individual) from hitting zero. And describing him as having “good intentioned self-destruction” is incredibly fitting and accurate. It’s what I find so interesting about him; a determination to live and keep others alive that often causes himself more damage than might otherwise be necessary.

Etta: On one hand my first response to that is “Oh no! He’s that hurt!” and on the other hand it’s a radio announcer voice in my head going “Local Man Too Stubborn and Angry to Die” :’)

Katie: Honestly? That’s valid. I hear it being said specifically in John Mulaney’s voice, honestly! And it’s very accurate! Because Intent is powered by emotions, Bolte simply found a way to use his anger, and on a deeper level his fear of losing Red, to keep himself moving even when he shouldn’t still be able to move.

Question 7: What sort of circumstances prompt [OC’s] character arc to really get rolling? Do they have to make any big and character-defining decisions?

Katie: The moment that Bolte realizes he cares for Blue as a friend and not just a “means to finding Red” or a “means to an end” is what prompts his character arc. Bolte’s arc is heavily based around learning how to accept help, and changing how he deals with other people, accepting that their kindness is genuine, that people care about him and he cares about them. So realizing that he genuinely cares for Blue, it’s an absolute shock to him, and starts shaping Bolte’s mindset into something that goes beyond just “whatever it takes to keep Red” alive, sort of broadening his view of the world and of people.

Katie: He comes to realize this when Blue helps him at no gain to himself; Blue puts himself in harm’s way to save Bolte, despite it not helping Blue at all in the long run.

Katie: Bolte’s story is a series of character defining decisions that he just…doesn’t notice until later, when Blue quite literally points them out to him. There are two scenes in particular that stand out as examples – one where Bolte chooses to go against the Queen’s orders to locate Captain, who is injured and lost in The Wilds, and then opts to take on the temporary role as captain, something that puts him in a lot of danger and puts him in frequent close proximity to the queen but keeps Captain safe.

Katie: The other is when he chooses to involve himself in the war in Fields of Fara because he just…doesn’t want to see Blue face it alone!

Etta: Bolte’s devotion to Red is sweet, but the other big thing that first brought me into this story was how you wrote Blue and Bolte’s dynamic, because Blue is now unexpectedly stuck in a world where everything is a lot more scary and deadly than his home and Bolte’s missing the person he’s done everything for and so they don’t like each other very much at first. And seeing that clash grow into friendship was amazing to see through the story and your writing style as their conversations become less combative and more camaraderie.

Katie: And yes! Blue and Bolte’s developing friendship is one of my favorite parts of GHD. They have very conflicting personalities, and the story is set up in a way that they shouldn’t get along. And they don’t! Blue is sarcastic, and scared, and he doesn’t understand this world where people kill so quickly and easily, just like he doesn’t understand the mean, angry persona that Bolte has developed as a defense mechanism over the years.

Katie: And Bolte is terrified that he has finally messed up and lost Red, that he wasn’t there at the right moment, and it’s cost him Red. He’s also very bitter towards Blue, who is a constant reminder of all the things that Bolte wasn’t able to give Red; a healthy paladin who has never had to kill to survive, who has never gone hungry. It makes him so angry! They spend the first half of the story clashing heads, until they’re able to learn to look outside of their own immediate view point. They go from being antagonistic towards each other to willing to do most anything for each other. In fact, it’s Blue who Bolte ends up going too when his HEARTsickness gets to be too much. I greatly adore how they interact with each other, and how they have to grow into being friends.

Question 8: – Why does OC’s arc resonate so much with you? What do you hope other people get from the story and reading this character?

Katie: Honestly, I like the parts of his character that don’t give up. He’s the strength that I want to find in myself; that no matter what happens, he doesn’t quit trying. That he’ll face anything thrown his way and find out how to come out alive on the other side. Bolte is never whole. He’s broken long before the story actually starts. But that doesn’t stop him from surviving. No matter what the world throws at him – and it’s a lot, one thing after the other – Bolte manages to keep going. I think about that a lot and work on those scenes a lot when I’m feeling low or overwhelmed in my own life, honestly. Bolte is strong and determined, and I like that about him. When I think about people reading my story, and think about them following along with him, I hope that’s a lesson they take from him. That you can find strength, no matter what. But I also hope they look at his character, and his arc, on a broad level. Bolte cannot survive on his own. He needs help. And his character has to learn how to accept that help, how to let others help him through problems, how to accept that he needs to sit, to take a breath. Bolte is supposed to show people that they can ask others in their life for help, and that there’s no shame in needing to rest.

Etta: That’s such a wholesome message and I admire you so much for taking the care and time to write it into the story so well. I’ve seen some of the insane daily wordcounts you pull for your work writing, so I can absolutely believe you have his strength, and I hope you have the support of friends helping you keep going too

Katie: Thank you! It took me a long time to learn this message, and I’m excited to share it through Bolte’s character. And I do – I have you, for one! And other people that I’ve met through the writeblr community, who have just been an endless supply of support over the last few years. <33

Etta: The writeblr community is incredible! it’s always a joy to be able to interact with other creative people there 😀

Chapter 9: Do you have any advice for other writers on creating a compelling character arc?

Katie: For me, I’ve found that finding the character’s driving force and lead to an easier establishment of a compelling character arc. With Bolte, once I realized that protecting Red was his driving motivation, I was able to find the faults in his character. Once the faults are established – doesn’t ask for help, puts himself in danger often, ignores personal problems – you can figure out what those faults have caused. For Bolte, it causes poor ability to ask for help, and a lack of friendly or familial relations. That means his character arc has to be about over coming those things; learning to ask for help, getting friends, and understanding that it’s okay to rest. I use that same thought process for most of the character arcs that I make. Compelling character arcs show the highs and the lows of a character, I think, so learning what those points for your OC are can help you develop your arc.

Question 10: and last but not least, where can readers find you and your work?

Thank you! I post art, short stories and chapters to longer stories (Starboy most often, but also occasional chapters of GHD) on patreon.com/abalonetea.

I have three books published! These are Putrescent Poems (a horror poetry and art Collection), Dandelion Fluff (a fantasy summer read about friendship in the Land of Monsters), and We Come Undone (a found family in a post apocalypic world, set on the last farm in the country).

And of course, I post short stories and writing excerpts on my tumblr! This is where you can find updates on Groundhog Day, and other WIPs like Starboy, Just Keep Breathing, Swimming in Stars, NeonP!nk.

Thank you so much to Katie for agreeing to be a guest on today’s post! I learned a lot from her during this conversation and I love Groundhog Day and all the characters in it, so it was a special treat to be able to ask all of these questions and get the detailed thoughtful answers with So Much character background! If you liked reading about GHD, I highly reccomend going to check out the rest of her work and supporting her if that’s possible for you. The writing is beautiful and you won’t regret it. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next week 🙂

Starting an Author’s Platform: An Interview with Max Gray

Welcome to my first interview post! *celebration trumpet sounds*

I had the honor of working with Max Gray to talk about how he got started with his author’s platform and how he approaches engagment in the community. Max is a trans writer (using he/him pronouns) who writes contemporary works, almost always with some kind of queer romance involved. He is currently planning a surrealism novel called Plant Life, and is drafting a fanfiction called Superkids.

You can find him on his Website, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @maxgraybooks, and on his Youtube channel!

Question 1: Why did you first start posting your writing online – not just for your current WIP but where did you get your start? The first step is a big one, so I want to hear about how you came to take it.

Max: Well, I actually started out on Wattpad with my girlfriend at the time. I’ve been writing since I was in first grade, but it was always off and on, until my girlfriend at the time and I started writing together, and we posted all of our books on Wattpad. I think the main reason was probably just because we had fun with them, and wanted to talk to other people about the stories and characters. For both Plant Life and Superkids, I started posting about them pretty much as soon as I got the idea. If I didn’t have people actively waiting to read Superkids, and excited for it, I probably would have given up on the story a while ago.

Etta: It’s really cool that you were able to find your community so quickly, and that they’ve been so encouraging to your writing process!

Question 2: How long have you been writing? How long have you been posting about your writing?

Max: Well, I wouldn’t say that I didn’t have my struggles every now and then, but I’m pretty persistent about keeping other writers in my company lol.

I started writing seriously when I was 13 (so about 6 years now), and have been posting about it for the same amount of time (which is really weird to think about lol). I was watching Jenna Moreci’s channel for writing advice, and she said that if you wanted your book to be a success, you should be marketing yourself as a writer long before the release. I believe she suggested Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube, and Tumblr was just the one that resonated with me the most, so that’s the one I’ve been posting consistently on the last 6 years.

Etta: I started by watching Jenna Moreci’s channel too! She’s fantastic, and it’s been interesting to see how many people I know through writeblr also watch her videos. I really admire that you jumped straight into posting as soon as you began writing seriously because I know for me that was a much longer process, and six years of experience already is fantastic.

Max: Thank you! Yeah, I was one of the dumbasses who thought I’d publish a book before graduating high school lol. But I loved the community, so no harm done there.

Me: That’s an ambitious goal but I completely understand that impatience to be able to Officially share your stories with others because I was the same way – like trying to plan out how fast I can write and go through publishing and vastly underestimating my ability lol

Question 3: What platforms are you currently active on, and why did you choose them? What sort of content do you normally post?

Max: I’m currently on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Mostly Tumblr, because it’s just the one I enjoy the most. Twitter and Instagram simply because they’re popular with my target audience, but I’m still a little awkward and don’t post as much as I should because I honestly just never know what to post lol. And YouTube, extremely casually. I just recently posted the first video in two years, where I just ramble about a Minecraft book I really liked lol. Oh, I also have my blog on WordPress.

On Tumblr, I pretty much just yell about how much I love my WIPs, and occasionally, when I remember, I do writer tags. Twitter is honestly mostly retweets, but when I’m doing sprints I’ll usually live tweet, and sometimes I’ll update my progress there. On Instagram, it’s usually pictures of my word count, my workspace, myself, or just something I thought was pretty. On YouTube, I’m planning on doing some writing vlogs on top of the book ramblings! I’m really excited for those, I absolutely love ShaelinWrites’.

And for WordPress, every other week I do an intensive post, sometimes breaking down a specific story to get the best advice for a topic (Learning How To Write Redemption Arcs from Avatar: The Last Airbender), and some other writing related topics (also some zombie related topics). I also have a series where I go over a specific story and how well they did their queer representation (The Walking Dead and Queer Representation). In the days between, I do a progress update on my goals and productivity.

Etta: That’s all really interesting! I’m looking forward to seeing the writing vlogs, those sound really fun! I’ve taken a look around your blog and the articles are all really informational and well done! (in case you missed it, links to all of the above are at the top of this post)

Max: Awww, thank you so much!! I work really hard on them lol.

Question 4: For the more themed content, like on your wordpress blog and youtube channel, how did you decide on what to focus on when there’s so many writing topics to cover?

Max: Honestly? Based on what I enjoy, and what I’d be good at. I can’t give just straight up writing advice like Jenna does, because I’m still a baby and still too into the learning process to be a teacher. That’s why I break down other people’s stories, who do know what they’re doing, so we can all learn together. It also gives me an excuse to binge things like Avatar and call it research.

Me: That is an extremely valid answer, and I’ve also found that if the writer/blogger enjoys what they’re covering, it makes reading the article a lot more enjoyable, and I can tell you’ve put a lot of care into your work. It’s really cool to know that you’re pursuing what you enjoy more than what you think might be popular

Max: Thanks 🙂 That’s really nice to hear, actually.

Question 5: What’s your honest opinion on online writing communities? What’s your favorite part of being in online writing communities? You least favorite part?

Max: I think they’re extremely important and I don’t know how writers survived without a surplus of them before the internet lol. My favourite part is definitely the convenience of it, and that there’s endless people to meet, so even if it takes some work, you will find the people and projects you vibe with.

My least favorite part is a bit of a personal problem, but it frustrates me more than it should that it’s so hard to gain traction. In my six years being on writeblr, I would think I’d have some active followers, but most of my followers are inactive and most people don’t see my posts. The close friends I made when I was thirteen aren’t on Tumblr anymore, and connecting with people is difficult. So I guess in an ironic way, the communication is both my favourite and least favourite part lmao. It’s both super accessible, and so goddamn tiring.

Me: That’s a really relatable way of summarizing the problem of navigating the internet as a creator, but the community is wonderful when you can find a few good people who will be vocal! I know for me at least, it’s easy to fall into a hypocritical trap of “I want more people to see my things” but then when life gets in the way I won’t respond to anyone else’s things, so I’ve been really working on staying more active because contributing to the community is just as important as getting support from it.

Max: Yes!! I totally agree. It gets to be a tricky balance, what with spoons and what not, but the effort is important.

Question 6: Where do you want to take your platform from here? Do you keep writing or platforming goals, and if so, what are they?

Max: I currently don’t keep concrete goals (except to post once a week on my WordPress blog), but I’m hoping to use it as a way to promote myself as a writer and engage in the community. That’s what I want the most, honestly, people to talk to and a community to engage in.

Me: Posting once a week is a good goal and a great way to engage with the community! Because that involves researching/writing/editing an article and that’s a lot of time, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable goal.

Question 7: Do you have any advice for writers who are thinking about starting their author’s platform?

Max: I would say just getting started, especially as a young/new creator, to not take yourself too seriously. Give yourself time to explore and find out what you like to do, what you’re good at doing, experiment. Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but I wouldn’t suggest having a schedule when you first start out.

Etta: That’s an interesting opinion! This is an unofficial question, but how did schedules work for you when you first started and how did you come to that conclusion?

Max: They didn’t work out for me. Lol, they just stressed me out and made whatever I did post, very bad. To be fair, I was like, 15, but still. Schedules are for people who have their footing.

Etta: aahh that makes a lot of sense. Thank you for answering!

I had a lot of fun working with Max and I hope you found this as interesting and informational as I did! I also did an interview over on his blog about outlining a story, which you can find here, so be sure to go check that out as well! If you have a topic you want to talk about, feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to host you as well! As Max said, engagement is the most important part of maintaining a writing community, so feel free to comment and tell me what else you want to see on this blog. 🙂

Happy writing!