Welcome to Lavender Lass Books, Kristen. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!
The Reluctant Witch: Year One is the first book in the Santa Cruz Witch Academy series. Here’s the blurb:
A young witch who just wants to be invisible. A beautiful mermaid who doesn’t belong. A secret relationship that threatens the entire academy.
Brie only agreed to try the witch academy to make her mother happy. She assumed she would learn Water magic. But when the students were assigned to their Elemental classes, she ended up in Earth. The list of reasons for her to leave the school keeps growing—her roommate is a bully, she doesn’t understand her classes, and everyone judges her for her infamous family name.
Then a beautiful mermaid named Gabriella catches her eye at the beach. Merfolk aren’t allowed in Santa Cruz because they’re dangerous killers, but Gabriella is friendly and kind. She agrees to show Water magic to Brie as long as she keeps their meetings a secret.
Brie lies to everyone about Gabriella, even when her Fae mentor asks her to investigate merfolk. But when the secret relationship strains her friendships, tanks her grades, and threatens her position at the academy, Brie learns that love comes at a high price.
She must choose between her first love and her magical school—or lose everything.
The Reluctant Witch is the first book in an upper YA urban fantasy academy series. It features the daughter of Rosa from the Fae of Calaveras trilogy, but it takes place twenty years after the original series and does not require prior reading. If you like teen witches, magical schools, and introverts who have to overcome their wish to be left alone, you’ll enjoy Kristen S. Walker’s latest novel.
Rated PG-13 for mild profanity and sexual references.
And now to the interview:
1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
This is my third time entering the SPFBO competition and I’ve enjoyed the experience every time, so I wanted to participate again. I decided to enter this book because it’s my most recent release and I’m proud of it. As the tenth book I’ve written, I’ve tried to improve my writing with each book I complete, and I feel like this is my strongest book yet. On the other hand, I know that YA urban fantasy isn’t a favorite subgenre for most judges, so I don’t have high expectations for winning. I am mainly entering to join the community of authors and to have fun!
2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
Fantasy has always been my favorite genre since I was a child. I love magic and all the possibilities it holds. Although I read in other genres, fantasy is the majority of what I read and write. And I love that it can include everything from dragon-slaying quests in medieval times to modern-day witches. It feels like there are an endless number of stories that can take places in these fantastical worlds.
3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
I chose to self-publish because I wanted to be an author on my own terms. When I was younger, I didn’t see the types of stories that I really wanted in bookstores. Stories with diverse characters like people of color, LGBTQ+ characters, disabled or neurodiverse characters. It felt like book characters didn’t match the people that I saw in the real world. When I learned about self-publishing, I realized that everyone could tell their stories how they wanted without gatekeepers forcing them into the mainstream. Now I write and self-publish the stories that I want and I can support other indie authors who are stepping outside the boundaries of traditional publishing.
4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
The advantages of self-publishing are mainly about authors having the final control over their work and the freedom to do what they want. There is also a wonderful community of indie authors who support each other and offer advice. There are challenges because of the amount of work that goes into the business side of self-publishing without a traditional publishing house to handle the technical aspects, but I’ve found those get easier with time as I’ve gotten more experienced and there are more resources available to help authors. I think most people can learn to overcome the challenges or find someone to help them.
5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
I think that self-published fantasy has broadened over the years. When I first started reading self-published fantasy ten years ago, it felt like there were two camps: urban fantasy and high fantasy. Authors would usually publish one or the other and didn’t really talk to or collaborate with people from the other camp, and readers had a strong preference for one over the other. But now, there are so many types of stories out there with new subgenres popping up every year. Things like gamelit/LitRPG, magical academies, and Wuxia/martial arts are growing. And authors are experimenting with different types of stories, which means the community is also blending and become more open.
6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I feel like there are still so many fantasy stories that I want to tell, so I don’t really have time to explore other genres.
7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
I look for character development and world building most of all. I like to see detailed fantasy worlds that aren’t just carbon-copies of the real world. When authors think about how the use of magic will affect all aspects of a society, it’s far more interesting to me. And characters who are well-rounded with faults who have to grow and change over time. Also, it’s a bonus when there are diverse characters and relationships like BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled or neurodiverse characters.
8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I just released the sequel to my SPFBO entry, called The Salty Witch. It was fun to mix up the elements of the original story when the main character goes to summer school and some of the campus dynamics change. Also, I really enjoyed writing about “normal” summer activities that we can’t do right now like going to the beach and having a picnic on the Fourth of July. I hope it’s a nice escape for people to live vicariously through the story since real life is so different this year.
9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
My advice would be to read current books in the genre to see what readers like now. I see so many writers who want to write a book like their favorite author but the books they’re referencing are 20+ years old and the publishing trends have moved on. If you release a book now in an older style, you might find a niche audience (probably with readers your own age who are nostalgic for the same things you like), but it’s not going to appeal to most modern fantasy readers. Maybe there are some new trends in fantasy that you could enjoy if you explore recent books, which you would then find a wider audience for your writing.
You can read Kristen S. Walker’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Witch-Year-Santa-Academy-ebook/dp/B07YL5ZYV9