By the grace of Instagram, we connected with steampunk and fantasy author Dana Fraedrich several years ago. And recently we had the good fortune of meeting up with her in real life at the Printer's Row Lit Fest in Chicago. Dana is the real deal. She is a kind, intelligent, passionate, and hilarious human being; not to mention a dedicated and talented writer. We had such a great time hanging out with her at the lit fest - watching her work her magic, drawing readers of all walks of life into the steampunk genre - it was inspiring!
We're honored that Dana agreed to answer 10 questions for our author interview series. And guess what? She even went the extra mile and humored us by taking on a bonus question!
Read on, get to know Dana, and then fast track it to her social media channels and website to learn about her Broken Gears series, what she's writing now, books she's reading, and all the good stuff she's learning throughout her journey as a writer.
The Celestial Thread: What drew you to the Steampunk genre? Did a particular author influence you?
Dana Fraedrich: I always grew up seeing and hearing how things were put together. My mum is a seamstress and my dad is an engineer - readers can definitely see those influences in my books, lol. I've read a lot of classic literature, so I was aware of HG Wells and Jules Verne, but I don't think I really realized steampunk was a thing until my twenties. I was reading the Ketty Jay series by Chris Wooding while on vacation with my family when things clicked, and I immediately wanted to write in this genre. There's so much opportunity! But steampunk also requires such specific components to be steampunk, it also provides some really great structure.
TCT: How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time writer?
DF: About five years. I published my first and second books, Skateboards, Magic, and Shamrocks in 2012 and Heroes, Legends, and Villains in 2015 and did next to nothing regarding promotion. Those two books provided a massive learning opportunity for me as a writer and a business owner. We all just want to write and our books to sell themselves, but that's not how it works. Eventually, I realized I needed to give my promotion fears the middle finger and jump into the marketing world. I read, I tested, I learned, I tried new ideas. When the release of my first steampunk fantasy book, Out of the Shadows, came round I actually started posting pictures and working to get reviews and, you know, talking about it regularly. The hubs and I talked about me quitting my job and making a full-time go of this author thing for two years before I actually took the leap. In January of 2017, I did that thing. About 50% of my time goes into growing my business. I cannot recommend researching and planning and educating oneself before undertaking an endeavor like this. If you do, you'll probably avoid making a lot of the mistakes I did. You can check out my blog post about quitting my job here and the two-year review from this past January here.
TCT: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
DF: I think my parents reading to me and my sisters as children was a really impactful experience. My parents read to us every night before bed, and my older sister would come into our room and listen, which I think really shows how powerful stories are. And of course that introduced us all to new worlds and ideas.
TCT: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
DF: I don't think it was so much publishing that changed my writing. Rather, I think it was being immersed in the writerly world. As I've gotten deeper into it, I've signed up for more newsletters (I highly recommend Reedsy, for instance, and the podcast Writing Excuses) and attended more writing workshops. I've heard some people say they don't bother reading articles on writing or going to classes for one reason or another. To be honest, I think that's a mistake. As writers, we should always be striving to improve. All professionals*, no matter what their field, should. If you're not filling at least some of your time with education, then I question what you are filling it with and how that's affecting your progression as a writer. If you don't have time to sit down and read, Audiobooks, Siri Speak, whatever the Cortana version of Siri Speak is, podcasts are all services that allow you to listen to educational content on the go.
*I realise some people may read the bit about professionals and think it doesn't apply to them because they're just publishing books as a hobby. Please don't do this. Indie/self-publishing has long had a reputation for not being serious, not being as good as traditionally published works, etc. It's come a long way and lots of people now view it as a legitimate avenue, but not taking the time and resources to do your books professionally hurts the rest of us. It's like Stephen King said in his book, On Writing: "But if you don't want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well—settle back into competency and be grateful you have even that much to fall back on."
TCT: How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
DF: This is always really tricky. I lead a critique group for YA and MG writers, and every reader is different. Some are really good at inferring things from context and others like things spelled out more explicitly. I think this is where you really need to lean on your alpha readers, editor, and beta readers. If a majority of them are telling you the same thing, then you need to fix that bit. If it's about 50/50, though, consider the weight of that part. Is it just a little joke that only landed with some of your readers but not with others? Or is it a major plot piece that people really, really need to get? If the latter, then maybe you should provide your readers a bit more help.
TCT: How do you select the names for your characters?
DF: I use BabyNames.com for a lot of them. There's usually some trait about them I want to be represented in their name. I also use it to choose names of a certain origin. For instance, in between big projects I'm working on a collection of urban fantasy short stories, so the ifrit characters have Persian or other Middle Eastern names since ifrits are from Middle Eastern culture. Others are just random, though. Felicia and Lowell's names, for instance, are just some I plucked out of the ether.
TCT: In all the books you’ve written thus far, is there one scene that stands out that was the most difficult to write?
DF: I have a weirdness about timeslips. I think it's because I've read some books with timeslips that were so hard to follow, it really turned me off of them. Granted, I've read one or two that handled them well, but the rest have really tainted the whole concept for me. So imagine the tantrum I threw when my editor for Raven's Cry said, "I really think you need to move this bit at the beginning of Part 3 and make it a time slip." It was a whole thing. Emails back and forth, me verbally barfing on the people around me about how much I didn't want to it. Lots of wine was involved. And huffing. So much huffing. He was right, though. In the end I did it, and the book really is better for it.
TCT: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
DF: I used to read them all, good and bad. I recommend doing this in small bites. Bad reviews can really send you into a downward spiral. Even if you have ninety-nine great reviews out of a hundred, that one will dig onto the front of your brain like a sticker burr. I think things can be learned from criticism, especially if there are points that consistently pop up. Total honesty here, pacing was an issue with Out of the Shadows. I saw that come up in the reviews time and time again, so I made sure to work on that when writing Into the Fire and my other books.
TCT: You do most (if not all) of your own marketing, what do you find most enjoyable about that part of the job?
DF: Marketing is really difficult for me, mostly because I know so little about what I'm doing. I hate feeling lost and I especially hate pouring time and money into something that might be a total waste. So learning might be my favorite part of that. For instance, I just took Bryan Cohen's class, Amazon Ads Made Easy. It was ridiculously helpful! I now feel way more confident about both those and online ads in general. Feeling like I have a handle on this slippery invisible beast that is promotion takes away so much stress, which saves me both time and energy. That's a feeling not much else can match.
TCT: Outside of writing, how do you feed the creative beast?
DF: I feel like creativity is an ouroboros. Consuming it also feeds it. So I listen to a lot of fiction podcasts - Wooden Overcoats, Welcome to Nightvale, King Falls AM, The Bright Sessions - and, of course, reading. Some TV shows feed that too, but it's kind of like eating junk food. There's a lot of stuff on TV that's entertaining, but it doesn't really nourish my creative side. Some exceptions include Final Space, iZombie, and The Dragon Prince. I also make candles themed around my characters and books. There's something about blendning a scent and getting that color just right that's really satisfying for me. If you ever catch me at a live event, you can buy those candles from me too.
Bonus: What other authors are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?
Beverley Lee - her settings are so atmospheric. Her characters are amazing. And her pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat!
Sarina Langer - reading her books is like playing one of my favorite video games, like Dragon Age. There's humor, there's heart, there's adventure. Love!
Our fantastic hosts, Andrea and Denise - :D These two are incredible. So encouraging and helpful and funny. I highly recommend following and connecting with them because your life will be better for it. Support systems are life!
James Fahy - his IG feed is so random and fun, and his books, whether his middle grade Changeling series or his grown up Phoebe Harkness series, are super enjoyable.
KJ Chapman - Snarky, sassy, and quick. Her books are like watching a really good movie.
KN Salustro - Amazing artist and excellent sci-fi writer. If you like space operas and adventure, her stuff is perfect for you.
Vickie Lee - she writes and illustrates a weekly webcomic called Dungeons and Doggos. It's adorable and super fun and I highly recommend it.
Dana Fraedrich is a dog lover, self-professed geek, and author of the steampunk fantasy series Broken Gears, which includes the Amazon bestseller, Out of the Shadows. Dana's books are full of secrets and colorful characters that examine the many shades of grey that paint the world. When she isn't busy writing or attending book shows and author conferences, she can be found playing video games and frolicking among the Bookstagram community (the bookish corner of Instagram).