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INTERVIEW: AUTHOR CAROL BETH ANDERSON

Carol Beth Anderson (goes by Beth) is an author of young adult fantasy, and she posts flash fiction on Twitter like her life depends on it. This flash fiction is usually dark in nature and almost always includes elements of magic, and it’s how I first became aware of her work.

She’s written several novels, including a complete series, called The Sun Blessed Trilogy, based on a world filled with magic. A collection of short stories called The Curio Cabinet, which is such a great title for a book of short stories and poems. And her latest creation, a post-apocalyptic novel with a bent towards fantasy, and of course it’s filled with magic, called The Frost Eater. Available now for pre-order.

After reading some of her trilogy, I thought it would be interesting to invite her to participate in the Creating Awesome project, and she kindly accepted.

The Creating Awesome Project is a collaboration with writers, artists, entrepreneurs and other creative personalities. Through insights and anecdotes, my guests share their personal journeys and struggles. 

The first part of this interview is designed to explore areas of interest, experiences and general background information, to determine what might contribute to one’s creativity. It also examines how people, places and events may influence their creative process.

In the second part of the interview, we dive into what they’re doing to remain relevant in their field and stay ahead of their competition. 

Ultimately, my goal is to understand more about the creative mind by examining the underlying motivation and inspiration of creative people.

Many thanks for accepting my invitation to collaborate and share your thoughts in this interview, Beth. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of your work and I’m really looking forward to learning more about you and your process of constructing stories.

Early Life Experiences

Where did you grow up? 

In the hot, dry desert. I was born in Phoenix, Arizona but spent much of my childhood in Yuma, Arizona, which is on the border of California and Mexico.

Please describe a favorite place from childhood and explain how it might have impacted your creativity? 

My house! We had a fairly small house, limited TV time, and three kids who were mostly “indoor kids.” We played make-believe games and did creative things like making a skating rink in our garage (with a disco ball…AKA a flashlight attached to a wound-up rubber band, hanging from the ceiling).

What era did you grow up? 

I was born in 1977, so I’m a child of the eighties and nineties.

What is your earliest memory? 

I remember playing Humpty Dumpty with my twin sister. She was Humpty. There was a low wall. I pushed her off.

Who or what event contributed most to your passion for storytelling? 

That’s hard to answer, since I’ve always loved writing! I think having the freedom to be creative (thanks, Mom, Dad, and teachers!) contributed greatly.

Have you had any jobs, that may have influenced your creativity? 

I’ve brought creativity into all my jobs, but I always tended to get mired in the jobs’ details, which meant I wasn’t as creative as I could have been. My big “aha” was realizing that creativity is work, rather than creativity just being the “fun stuff” you do as a hobby after work.

Interests and Influences

Favorite music or band? 

Right now, Christmas music. I’m a sucker for it. I’m also a huge Hamilton fan. And Christian worship music brings me peace.

Favorite movie?

The Princess Bride because it’s funny, quotable, romantic, and very, very smart.

Favorite book?

I love The Chronicles of Narnia. It introduced me to fantasy.

Favorite author? 

I can’t narrow it down to one! Currently, it’s a tie between Brent Weeks and Michael J. Sullivan (who’s an amazing fantasy author that way too many fantasy readers haven’t yet discovered).

Favorite character from a book or movie and how do you relate to that character? 

This one’s tough. I’ve always felt an affinity for Beth in Little Women. It was my favorite book for much of my childhood. I was named after my Aunt Carol Beth, who was named after Beth in Little Women. I always related to Beth’s gentle spirit in the book…though honestly I’m not as gentle as I was back then!

Worst fear? 

Failure. Because it’s hard for me to separate failing at something from being a failure. I’m working on it and probably always will be!

Are you a member of any literary groups? 

I’m a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Which modern day writers would you choose to have in your group? 

A whole bunch of Twitter writers, plus the “favorite authors” I listed above, and a couple of local author friends.

World Building – A Creative Process

Your books are heavily focused on magic, which is always exciting, but you present it as though it’s not always a good thing. The magic your characters possess is often as much a burden as it is a blessing, which certainly adds to the tension in your stories. 

I think magic is kind of like characterization. If a character–or a magical system–is entirely good or pleasant, the book gets boring!

Can you discuss your motivation for this approach in your stories? 

My first series is fantasy, yes, but it’s really a coming-of-age novel. When we come of age, we deal with identity. We try to figure out who we are. It made sense that if a teenage girl had incredibly powerful magic, she’d struggle with the ramifications of that (the extra attention, the expectations of others, her fear of becoming too powerful, etc.)

As many good writers do, you explore some pretty serious themes throughout your books. What kind of research did you do to prepare for this story? 

I drew heavily from my own life for the Sun-Blessed Trilogy. I have a passion for childbirth and had some pretty incredible birth experiences. That wove its way into the book. A lot of the main character’s struggles are tied to things I’ve personally gone through. I did research for technological issues, etc. (as the book is set in an era roughly analogous to the mid-1800s), but when it came to themes, a lot of that was tied to my own life, rather than research.

What compelled you to examine these issues in your book? 

I think most teenage girls deal with insecurity in some form or another. I’m passionate about confronting insecurities and difficulties head on, so I wanted to do that through my writing. I wanted to show a character struggling in the way most of us do, then overcoming. Later in the series, the main character deals with the death of someone close to her. I felt she needed this “valley of the shadow of death” experience to challenge her and move the plot and her own characterization forward.

Locations are always an important element for a good story. How do you come up with locations for your stories? 

In my first series, I didn’t do a ton of pre-planning when it came to locations. For my next series (the one I’m about to start releasing), I did a lot more worldbuilding in advance. I chose a city on Earth and based the climate of my fantasy location on that city. In both series, I seem to be drawn to the idea of exploring both rural and urban locations, and what happens when characters travel between those different “worlds.”

Many artists and writers integrate pieces of their own life into their work, relying on personal experiences and connections to establish a sense of reality in their conceptual vision.

How much real life do you put into your work? 

A whole lot in my first series! Not as much in my second. My first series felt really personal. In some ways, it was therapeutic writing it. Once I finished it, I felt the need to just tell a great story. The second series isn’t as tied to my personal life, but I’m passionate about the story!

How do you research characters for your stories? 

In the past year, I’ve learned about the Enneagram, a personality typing system. For my current series, I’ve given my main characters Enneagram numbers (types), and I’ve researched those numbers to help me build the characters. It’s been so helpful in establishing character motivations, strengths, and weaknesses!

Which characters in your stories do you associate with most? 

I relate to Tavi’s weaknesses and insecurities. (She’s the main character in the Sun-Blessed Trilogy.) I relate to the perfectionism and drive of Ellin, one of the main characters in a book I probably won’t release until 2021. (It’s the prequel to my next series. It’s written, but I’m releasing it last.)

What draws you to the Fantasy genre? 

I love the escape of it, the excitement of building a world where things can happen that would never happen in reality. To me, fantasy is compelling and fun.

Are there any other genres you would like to work in? 

I’ve always loved sci-fi too. My next series has a bit of a sci-fi bent, especially the prequel.

Professional vs Personal Projects

Which part of the creative process do you enjoy most? 

I love when I’m drafting and I hit that “flow” mode where ideas, words, pages, just come. When I can’t stop thinking about the book, and it feels like the greatest thing I’ve ever worked on. It’s such a fun phase! I used to do theater, and that’s how being onstage made me feel. It’s been incredibly fun to rediscover that passion and excitement on the page instead of the stage.

As an Indie writer, what challenges do you encounter throughout the creative process, and how difficult is it to manage those? 

Time management is tough, especially with a family. It can also be really tough to wear so many hats. I’m drafting and working with early readers and marketing and keeping records and advertising and…the list goes on.

Most writers have a day job and do their writing on the side. You seem to be extremely prolific in your writing endeavors. Are you a full time writer, or do you balance a day job / family time with your writing schedule? 

For the first year I was seriously writing, I had a part-time job. Now, writing is my job, in addition to running our household, which is a big job too. I have a husband, two kids, an exchange student who’s living with our family this school year, and a dog. It’s definitely a lot to juggle.

How do you transition from your daily activities to writing and channeling your creative energy? 

I try to use most of the time when the kids are in school to focus on my books. 

What helps you make that transition? 

Just sitting down (or standing) at my desk. It’s that simple. And that difficult, sometimes! I love what I do, so I don’t have trouble working consistently. But there are plenty of days when I don’t start as early as I expected.

What motivates you to continue creating art day after day, and what do you consider the greatest reward for your efforts? 

I love it. The reward is finding readers and hearing that people love my stuff. Back to the Enneagram…I’m a 3. That means I’m achievement oriented. A lot of writers say they write for themselves. And that’s totally cool. But I write to share it and get readers. That’s rewarding to me.

What is your dream job? 

What I’m doing now…but with a lot more readers!

What’s the one piece of advice you would give writers, to help them stand out from the masses, when submitting a work for publishing? 

Get a kickass cover for your book from a cover designer who knows your genre. Trust that designer, and give them enough leeway to let them be creative.

The Future of Storytelling

I’ve found that many creative people that I interview have a vivid imagination, with a desire to impact the future. Even if their work is historical in nature, many artists feel a need to create a legacy that will impact future audiences and leave the world better off then they found it. Would you say that’s true about you? 

I’m more concerned about improving the world through my life, not my writing. I want to write fun books, and it’s okay if they don’t change the world. But I want to be kind and generous and loving and wise. I want to share God’s love with the world. That doesn’t need to be through my writing.

Do you feel that your stories afford you an opportunity to address religious / political / social issues? Or do you prefer to just tell good stories and let someone else worry about the problems in our world? 

Absolutely! I think telling good stories has to be the top priority (or else people won’t read them), but I love exploring deeper issues. Some issues I have in mind from the beginning; others crop up as I write.

Without getting political, of the many issues our society is faced with today, what do you consider to be the greatest threat to human life on Earth and Why? 

Climate change. I fear we’re reaching a tipping point we can’t come back from. And we certainly don’t seem close to figuring out interstellar travel so we can find other planets to settle on.

Do you think this could end the world as we know it, or will humanity pull back from the brink before it’s too late? 

I absolutely think it could end the world as we know it. I tend to think that some will survive, but I fear it won’t be a large percentage. I don’t follow climate science all that closely, but I’ve read enough headlines and articles to scare me.

If you could create a character to deal with that issue, what would that character look like? 

I’m intrigued with the thought of creating a character who’s trying to speak out against climate change and is seen as crazy. The “lone prophet” archetype.

Have you tried to integrate emerging technologies into any of your projects? 

A little bit, in the deep history of my current series. I’ve considered doing a spin-off series that’s more sci-fi in nature, involving space travel, but that’s nothing more than an idea at this point.

How do you think these technologies will eventually impact society? 

I fear we won’t have long enough to fully develop space technology in a way that could save our race. Man, I’m the one sounding like a doomsday prophet tonight!

What other projects, if any, are you working on and when can we find out more about that? 

I tend to want to work on one large project at a time. I work on two at a time when I need to. I’m preparing to launch The Frost Eater, a post-apocalyptic YA fantasy novel. I’ve also drafted about half of the second book. It’s on the back burner, but I’ll return to it soon. And when it comes to smaller projects…I absolutely love my daily flash-fiction-writing habit on Twitter.

Connecting With Your Audience

Please talk about your methods of building your audience. 

Start with people you know. Are most of them your ideal audience? No, but they can give you a boost at the start. Just don’t expect them to become your main audience in the long run. Twitter has been surprisingly good for building my audience. I’ve also used a freebie novella to build my newsletter, and I have a street team on Facebook.

How do you use social media? 

I find I can only really focus on one social media platform at a time. That’s Twitter. I connect with writers there, and we support each other. I also do some on Facebook and Instagram. But in general, I’m not on those platforms as often as I’m on Twitter.. (The big exception is my alpha reader group Facebook. It’s a small, trusted group, and they read a book as I write it. We discuss their feedback within the group. They’re incredibly helpful as I draft.)

Have you contributed to any other platforms as guest writer for websites, publications etc? 

I used to be a mommy blogger, and I did some guest posting then. But these days, I’ve realized as an indie, I can only do so many things. I’d rather focus on books (and my Twitter flash fiction) than on trying to get short stories or articles published elsewhere.

How do you engage with your audience? 

I started engaging with friends, mostly through Facebook, as I drafted my first book. I shared snippets of what I was writing. These days, I often share my flash fiction with my readers on Facebook. It helps me stay connected with them. I engage a ton on Twitter, especially with other authors and flash-fiction writers. I have a newsletter that I use to keep in touch with people too.

Do you collaborate with other writers? 

No, but I’d be interested, one of these days. I prefer drafting over outlining, and it would be cool to find someone who fits me perfectly but prefers outlining!

How can people find out more about you, and if they’re interested how can they connect with you? 

I’m on Twitter entirely too often @CBethAnderson. I’m also on Facebook (Carol Beth Anderson), and my website is carolbethanderson.com.