Author Lee French is a prolific writer, with more than twenty books to her credit. Her work is featured in many anthologies, and she is a driving force in the Pacific Northwest Indie author community. She is a strong proponent of NaNoWrimo, and works with me as Co-Municipal Liaison for the Olympia region. Her insights and commentary regularly crack me up, but more than that I really enjoy her work. Two of her series, The Greatest Sin and Ilauris, have become favorites of mine. Her YA series, Spirit Knights, is an excellent adventure series, completely appropriate for teens and readers of all ages.
CJJ: Your new book, Ghost is the New Normal, is the fourth installment in the Spirit Knights series. This series is set in Portland, Oregon, and features an unusual cast of characters. Claire is sixteen and is in foster care. Her new family has connections to her deceased parents, and this unusual connection is the core of the story. Claire’s father was a Spirit Knight, a member of a group dedicated to hunting ghosts in Portland. Tell us about the Spirit Knights and the story so far.
LF: At its heart, the Spirit Knight series is about the same thing all my books center on—family. The people in your family, whether it’s the family you were born with or not, are the people who affect you the most throughout your life. All three of the primary characters, Claire, Drew, and Justin, have lost their parents, and all three are affected differently by that. It’s how they deal with those issues, feelings of betrayal, survivor’s guilt, abuse, and loneliness that makes their stories worth telling.
CJJ: Claire is a unique girl. She is fun and feisty, a girl who makes mistakes along with her successes. But even when she has stumbled big-time, she picks herself up and keeps going. When did you have the idea to write her story in the first place?
LF: Claire began life as a Werewolf: the Apocalypse character. That’s one of White Wolf’s role-playing games. Her humble beginnings as a relatively dumb, brute-force werewolf provided a foundation for someone who solves problems by punching them in the face. At her core, she’s an exaggeration of the “strong” female character, softened into realism by adding layers of humanity over that.
CJJ: You write in several different genres. As an Indie trying to carve a niche for your work, has that presented a challenge for you?
LF: With work in five different subgenres now, it’s challenging to find readers who like all of it, which means I have to approach each subgenre’s books as a separate entity. I can get crossover between epic and sword & sorcery fantasy, and between superheroes and urban fantasy, but never the twain shall meet, and nothing else intersects with cyberpunk. As a result, my fans are in three disparate groupings. Marketing to one grouping is time consuming and often expensive. Marketing to three is more than I can handle, so I try to take turns with each thing.
TL;DR: Yes, and I don’t recommend it. Stick with your genre until you achieve success in it.
CJJ: You have an eye for graphic design and have done covers for several books. You have also worked with several professional designers. What should the cash-strapped Indie consider when looking and budgeting for a cover designer?
LF: Pre-made covers are economical, and you can see the quality before you buy. If you don’t personally have design skills and software, it’s a good route to take for your first few books. If you do have the skills and materials, it’s important to understand the specific market of book covers in your subgenre. There are expectations about covers, and there are techniques specific to covers that should only be subverted once you understand them. Just like with writing. Research your subgenre and fit into it.
CJJ: If you could go back to your first books and do anything differently what would that be?
LF: At this point, I look back at that first year of publishing and wish I’d known someone who could’ve given me good advice on what to do with those first 5 books. I read lots of advice, but have come to appreciate that some of it wasn’t good. Most specifically, I think I would’ve dumped a lot more money into the first few books, for editing, covers, and initial roll-out. I’ve since gone back and had the editing and covers redone.
CJJ: What has been the greatest hurdle for you to overcome in your career?
LF: Meeting people. I’m horrible at remembering names, I have a hard time digesting information I only get aurally, and I have anxieties that kick in around large groups. Attending parties where the purpose is meeting people in the biz is a special form of torture. As my own sense of personal success builds, I’m getting better at it, but the socializing will always be my least favorite part of this job. After writing blurbs. Blurbs suck more.
CJJ: What has been the biggest happy-dance moment for you as an author?
LF: Joining SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, was always a sort of pie-in-the-sky thing for me, up until I did it as an indie last December. The moments that allowed it to happen—hitting #1 on Amazon in multiple high-level subcategories—were pretty good too. Those kinds of moments help create a sense of legitimacy in my own mind, which helps me convince others I deserve a seat at the table.
CJJ: You and Indie author, Jeffrey Cook, wrote Working the Table, the Bible for Indies who intend to have tables and sell their books at conventions. Tell us a little about that book and how it came about.
LF: Jeff and I worked 32 shows in 2016, plus another dozen or more in 2015. Between the two of us, we climbed the learning curve pretty fast. Watching others work and settling into what we found both comfortable and successful has given us a reputation in the Pacific Northwest among a fair-sized swath of indie authors. A few people suggested we should write a book with all our tips and tricks, which we brushed off because neither of us felt especially wise or learned in the subject. At one show, a friend issued the ultimatum that if we didn’t write it, she would. I did some research and discovered Amazon had no such books, so we wrote it. That book took about 3 months to produce and was probably the least stressful authorial experience I’ve ever had.
CJJ: Where will readers be able to find you this spring and summer?
LF: This is my current schedule through August, but more shows may be added:
- Wen-Con—Wenatchee, WA
- Norwescon—Seatac, WA
- CapitalIndieBookCon—Olympia, WA
- Miscon—Missoula, MT
- GEARCon—Portland, OR
- MALCon—Denver, CO
- GenCon—Indianapolis, IN
Lee French can be found blogging on all aspects of her writing life at Scripturience, www.authorleefrench.com
Follow Lee on Twitter: @authorleefrench
Lee’s Facebook page can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLeeFrench
Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She is an avid gamer and member of the Myth-Weavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending too much time there, she also trains year-round for the one-week of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.
She is an active member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the Olympia Area Writers Coop, as well as being one of two Municipal Liaisons for the NaNoWriMo Olympia region and a founding member of Clockwork Dragon Books.