Hello Readers and Writers!
Today we would like to introduce you to an author who wanted to add positive representation of her community to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genre and help change the landscape of what a SFF book can be. With a masters degree in Book Publishing, she is full of wisdom for her personal career and works with Desert Palm Press to share that wisdom with others!
Introducing Kellie Doherty!
When did you start writing as a career?
I started being really serious about my writing when I sold my first book, Finding Hekate. That contract officially sealed the deal of me being an author. It was a strawberry-moon-on-the-summer-solstice kind of dream; something I wanted since I was a kid but knew was really rare. From the moment I signed the contract, that’s when I switched my mentality of writing as a hobby to writing as a career. Both are valid and fun and totally worth the time spent on writing….but writing as a career adds another layer of pressure. One I didn’t feel when I was writing for me and my friends. Now I have a wider audience and it’s great! But it’s also sometimes terrifying, ha! And the world of publishing is a rollercoaster just on the edge of teetering forward so it’s a lot to get used to.
What's your current work in progress?
My current work in progress (sometimes shortened to WIP on social media) is an adult fantasy that’s centered on a wandering scribe named Adaris who captures stories of the everyday heroes she comes across. She jots down their adventures, too, but she really wants an adventure all her own. When she find a sun goddess worshipper’s hideout and learns dangerous secrets about the brimming war, she stays too long and gets captured. They transport to the Sunglade in a flash of white light, and Adaris is faced with a decision: remain in captivity for the rest of her life or join their side. The third option—death—isn’t an option at all. The pull to the light is strong in the Sunglade, especially with the new types of crafting she encounters and the promise to completely heal her lame leg. But a young woman is also in captivity, and Adaris has always wanted to be the hero in her story.
You write Sci-Fi and Fantasy. What led you to write in those genres?
I’ve always adored the science fiction and fantasy genres, ever since I was a little kid and didn’t really know what those genres even really meant. I watched Digimon and Pokemon, read the Animorphs series, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings, played Zelda. And we watched so many sci-fi TV shows as family when I was growing up—Star Trek, Stargate, Star Wars, Andromeda, Firefly! So it was inevitable I’d become the science fiction and fantasy nerd I am today! I also noticed that there weren’t many women main characters in the SFF genre and even less queer main characters, so I wanted to add positive representation of my community and help change the landscape of what a SFF book can be. It’s such a huge movement now—so many awesome and badass queer ladies in fiction—but there could, and should, be more! And I’m helping.
Tell us about your latest release, Curling Vines and Crimson Trades, and the series it's included in.
Curling Vines & Crimson Trades is an adult fantasy story focused on a rare-goods trader named Orenda Silverstone. Her wife gets kidnapped and she has to do all these nearly impossible trades and tasks just to get her wife back. The problem is, her best friend also has a task a list and the final one is to kill Orenda. It’s book two of the Broken Chronicles, but it’s a standalone novel. I have four main characters in the series—Misti, Orenda, Adaris, and Zayla—and each character gets their own book with their individual triumphs and failures, their own arc to go through basically. Each of the first four characters will meet the other character on their adventures but I won’t bring them all together officially until the fifth book. That fifth book will have all four characters and they’ll journey together to the finish. The first book is Misti’s story—Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties—came out in 2019 and won a 2019 Rainbow Award and Orenda’s story—Curling Vines & Crimson Trades—came out in 2020. I’m working on Adaris’ story now, third book of the series!
How do your books rebel against the status quo?
Three words. Queer female characters! So many queer female characters. So many queer characters in general. And in my worlds, being queer isn’t shamed or looked down upon or teased about. It’s normal and I love that for my characters. I also have female main characters who kick ass and save themselves and their loved ones, who shine in their own right and fail spectacularly, too. I also write characters who are broken in some way and who aren’t normally the ones who get a light shined on them—they aren’t the best in their chosen field, they can’t do what should come naturally to them, and that makes for a wonderful story.
Talk to me about the path you choose in publishing.
While I have the utmost respect for self-published authors and I know a few fabulous authors who have done this route and have been super successful, I’ve always wanted to go the traditional route. I queried a lot of agents and pitched my book to many smaller un-agented publishers. I sent out so many emails, literally over a hundred queries and pitches. Seriously, you should see my old spreadsheet; it’s color coded but it’s also quite intense. It was a fun process though; each email was a new and exciting opportunity and I received some lovely responses from agents and publishers. About six months of this went by and while I got some full manuscript requests, I didn’t get any hits so one of my friends suggested the publishing company they went through—Desert Palm Press.
I did know about this publishing company as I was a freelance editor for them—and still am! I really loved their books and their authors and the publisher, Lee, was always a joy to work with. So I took the leap and pitched my book to Desert Palm Press—and they accepted my first sci-fi book, Finding Hekate! That was a success so they also picked up the second book in the duology, Losing Hold, and then in 2019 they accepted my five-book fantasy series: the Broken Chronicles! It was a long road to publication but it was totally worth it. I really like working with Desert Palm Press, they’re a smaller independent publishing house that’s been steadily growing over the years, and that intimacy is really great. I particularly like working with my cover designer—Rachel George, of Rachel George Illustrations—as she knows the design business and what’ll sell but she lets me have quite a bit of input too. It’s such a fun process!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to write Sci-fi and Fantasy?
Read current works in your genre! See what’s being published this year or what was published last year and get your hands on those books. Read and dissect. Learn from them and ask yourself what made them fit in that genre? Do the same for TV shows and movies. Absorb! And then let your imagination run wild—have fun with creating new technology for sci-fi and new magical creatures for fantasy. Build new worlds and new cultures and new ships. Figure out the rules of your world while you build it and make sure you follow those rules. Figure out if you’re writing “hard” or “soft” sci-fi and fantasy—and follow those rules as well.
You write fanfiction too. How did you get into that?
I loved watching Digimon when I was kid and I wanted to experience that world and those characters even more than the show allowed so my first stab at writing was actually Digimon fanfiction. Over the years, I also wrote Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Teen Titans, Frozen, and How to Train Your Dragon fanfiction—and still do! I actually started on FanFiction.net and then transitioned to Archive of Our Own later on. It was a lovely way to learn how to write, how to make characters interact, play with the settings. Fanfiction was an open world to play in—one that already made sense to me. I love the fluffiness it allows me. It’s a chill area of my writing life, something that’s not a heavy lift, and something I’ll probably keep doing for years to come.
You're also a publishing professional with an MS in Writing: Book Publishing. Tell us about your experiences in publishing.
Yes! I got my master’s degree in book publishing from Portland State University, where I got to work in Ooligan Press, the student-run publishing house to get truly hands-on experience. The book publishing program was amazing; I can’t gush enough about it. It was a two-year program where each student took the core classes on the different facets of publishing—business, design, editing, marketing, etc.—and then got to do specialized studies if they wanted to—dive deeper into marketing or go into more advanced editing classes, that kind of thing. Everyone also had to take Lab, which was the Ooligan Press part of the program, where the students could put that learning to good use.
During the first year the students were separated into teams to help publish a book or organize a major fundraising event. The second year students could apply to be a project manager. My first year I was placed on the Write to Publish 2015 team to help organize the event, and the following year I was the co-project manager on Write to Publish 2016! At the tail end of my second year, I was also the co-manager of a book—Coming In Over the Rock—as well. Throughout the years, I also helped on other book-ish projects—editing, designing covers, marketing pushes, that kind of thing. It was seriously an amazing program and I am so thankful I got to attend. I learned so much about publishing and event planning, the ins and outs of the publishing business. That program made me a better freelance editor and helped me market my books as an author. I hope to get a full time job in book publishing in the future!
As an editor, what is your take on the idea of an author publishing without using a professional editor?
It’s a bad idea. Sounds harsh, I know, but professional editors catch things that your eye won’t. There are so many rounds of editing a book should go through before being published—developmental editing, line editing, proofreading—and they all play a crucial part in getting the book right. Editors don’t just catch typos or grammatical errors, after all; we watch for plot holes, blocking mistakes, pacing issues, shifts in tone within the manuscript, character inconsistencies, and a whole host of other things. You can get some of that by using beta readers or critique groups—or ideally, both—but having a professional editor look over your work is ideal. If you’re going through a publisher, they’ll provide the staff editor, but if you’re self-publishing you’ll have to pay for that editor yourself. I do know that editing is a heavy lift for some people, payment wise, but if you know of an editor you’d like to work with, ask if you two can negotiate prices to better suit your needs (but also not underpaying the editor).
What are you reading currently?
I just started reading Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. I’m late to the bandwagon, I know, but I’ve heard so many things about her work that when I got it for Christmas, I immediately started reading. It’s a fresh take on necromancers and sci-fi. I like the blending of magic and tech! It’s taken me some time to get used to the snarkiness of the characters but the banter sure is interesting.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
As always, readers can expect queer characters in all of my upcoming work. Readers can expect me to finish the five book fantasy series over the next few years—book three, book four, and book five. I’m writing some more flash fiction pieces, short stories, and poetry as well, so hopefully some magazines and journals will pick them up. I’d like to try my hand at fantasy sci-fi and steampunk fantasy too. I’ll be sure to shout about any new publications on social media and on my website, so be sure to follow and favorite them!