Author Interview: Kate Akhtar-Khavari
JMR- Hello Kate and welcome to the Books Delight. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?
JMR- Kate tell us how you got into writing. You’re fairly young, in the great scheme of things, and have taught school. Why write? And why write historical fiction? What surprised you most about the writing process.
KAK- I got into writing because I love reading. I began writing my Saffron Evereigh series because I had just found Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, the books and the TV show, and loved them so fiercely that I had to read more mysteries from the era. I grew up watching Poirot, so I was already familiar with the general time period. I binge read for about a year, reading Miss Fisher, Daisy Dalrymple, Lady Emily, and Maggie Hope. But none of them had exactly what I wanted, so I decided to write my own. Since I had been reading all these historical mysteries, it was clear to me that that would be what I wrote.
I've never been a finisher- I hopped around from hobby to hobby for years, so I thought writing would be the same. I was shocked when I finished my first draft in a month, and even more surprised when I continued Saffron's story with another, then another. I guess you could say I was inspired! I was surprised by the ease of drafting, and felt almost defeated by the process of editing. Self editing is hard, and finding critique partners and betas is even more difficult. I’ll talk about querying later, but that is it's whole own kind of challenge.
JMR- You say you come from a ‘Family of writers’. What influence did this have on your desire/decision to write? Do you get encouragement from them? Do you feel pressured to achieve?
KAK- All of my family is excessively creative- my parents are both theatre majors (who ultimately did not act professionally but used a great deal of creativity in their careers) who raised me and my brothers on BBC and Acorn costume dramas and mysteries. Even now, our family dinners usually devolve into us sitting around the TV with a Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episode playing. My poor husband and sister-in-law!
My two brothers and I all loved writing as kids, but it wasn't until the last six or seven years or so that any of us were doing anything about it. My older brother has done NaNoWriMo a few times. My younger brother, Jack, has a degree in writing and has published poetry and prose. His work is of a far more literary bent. I was really nervous to show him my stuff at first because it's so much lighter than his! But he has been so supportive and encouraging. The same goes for my sister-in-law, Aleah, who writes literary nonfiction and works as an editor. I've received nothing but support from them.
Soon after I started writing, my mom picked up her pen (or keyboard) and wrote her own book, a beachy thriller. I can't tell you how much fun it has been to work through beat sheets and talk character arcs with her. My husband writes children’s stories, sometimes for fun and sometimes to publish. I don't feel pressure to achieve, as we are all in the beginning stages of literary careers.
JMR- I have to bring up the ‘lake scene’ in P and P. Are you an Austen fan or influenced by her writing? I have to say, that scene nailed it. Do you have a favorite Austen novel?
KAK- Excuse me while I swoon! I'm a huge fan of Austen. I'll admit, it's more because of the movie and TV adaptations of her work, but if I need a comfort read, I'll sit down and read a few chapters of Pride and Prejudice. How can that not be my favorite? It may be because I have it memorized thanks to the 1996 BBC adaptation, which is the best and I will fight anyone about, but I think it's also because it's just a damn good story. It has the world's best enemies-to-lovers slow burn! It has obnoxious and smarmy villains! It has a dark, broody man who turns out is just shy?! A bad-ass heroine who grows into an even better woman? Not to mention it has inspired hundreds of versions, all of which are amazing. My favorite is the Bennett Brothers romances by Staci Hart. They are, you could say, just a little spicier than the original.
Austen for me is a lesson in writing the absolute least necessary in order to convey a vastness of setting, character, and plot, which is not my natural inclination as a writer. Her dialogue is flawless and I would like to think that the quickness of pacing and wit is something I emulate on occasion. The chemistry she created in just a few exchanges is wonderful and definitely the element of her writing I enjoy the most.
JMR- You have written multiple books, and the genres range from historical fiction murder mystery, to a contemporary vampire story. These are two very different genres with perhaps two distinct audiences, most new writers stick to one. Why branch out?
KAK- I took a break from writing the year I was pregnant- I guess all my creative energies were redirected towards my son!- and when I came back to it, I just wanted to write something different. I hadn't started editing any of my Saffron stories, so I had been away from them for a while. I was spending all my late night nursing sessions reading urban fantasy, so those tropes were in my head. I knew I was going to be querying Saffron at some point, but I also know that fantasy is hugely popular. I love to read it, and I ended up loving to write it, too.
While the two genres have a sea of differences between them, just like all writing, they're both talking about the same thing. What it means to be human- whether it's a human a hundred years ago, or a human that has been affected by magic. Plus, if there was ever a benefit to being unagented, it's the freedom to explore! Why not try something new before I’m committed to a particular story?
JMR-Kate tell us about both your books.
KAK- Saffron Everleigh and the Lightning Vine follows the story of Saffron, a botany research assistant at the University College London in 1923. She’s struggling to find her place in the very male biology department and is helping prepare for the departure of a large expedition team to the Amazonian jungle. Her mentor is accused of poisoning the expedition leader’s wife with a mysterious toxin, and Saffron is determined to prove his innocence. Think a lot of dusty old books, steamy greenhouses, and dark gardens. Saffron is by no means a flapper, which I felt was important given the time period. I wanted to share more about the scientific boons happening at the time and the more real, everyday existence of a working woman in the 1920’s instead of the glamor and jazz everyone associates with the era (though there is some of that in the other Saffron stories).
Blood Print, the vampire book (which makes me cringe to write because everyone's minds will jump to Twilight. Branch out, people! Go read Chloe Neil or J. R. Ward!), is about Ali, who grew up a servant to a vampire. She almost managed to escape that life, but was drawn back in when her master suddenly died, leaving his Dallas property and his servants to an agent of the vampiric government, Smith. Smith is intrigued by Ali, which endangers her secrets. He blackmails her into helping him break into a biometrics company which has developed a new technology Smith has been tasked with sabotaging to protect vampire secrecy. It's magical realism with some bite (sorry, I had to), and urban fantasy without all the blood and gore.
Both are series, and both have a lot to do with women finding their places in the world and the after-effects of losing a close family member.
JMR-How is the querying process going? Most writers, myself included, find it to be a painful tortuous process. Any thoughts on self-publishing?
KAK- I’m sure you can hear my groaning through the computer. There are some incredible people who enjoy querying and love getting their story out there. That is so not me. I love sharing my story, but trying to sell it is hard. I know what I love about my characters and my writing, but who knows if that is what other people want? I have a lot of confidence in the value and quality of my stories, but the second I go to write a query, it all drains away! That is precisely why I’m seeking representation rather than aiming to self publish. I want someone with more business acumen than me to help me through that process. That’s not to say self publishing is an absolute no- it just means I’m hoping I can find a partnership with someone with whom I can collaborate with on the business side of things so I can focus more time and energy on creating new stories.
JMR-Who is your favorite historical female? Why?
KAK- I am absolutely intrigued by Hedy Lamarr. A gorgeous movie star who also co-invented technology we use every day in the form of bluetooth and WiFi?! When I first heard her story, I was floored. She was so many things in a time when it was hard for a beautiful woman to be seen as anything else- a scientist, an inventor, a producer and actress, a wife and mother. I find so much inspiration in that idea- that women can be more than one thing, no matter what they are doing at any one time.
JMR- What is your favorite historical time period? Why?
KAK- While I have a fondness for
Georgian and Regency, for obvious reasons as an Austen fan and a romance
reader, if I had to choose a period to study, it would be interwar Europe
(which is when Saffron is set). I was not a history fan growing up, but when I
taught fifth grade American history, the story of how America developed felt
like a story instead of a bunch of
names and dates in a book. Writing about the ‘20’s feels the same- so many
things were happening as a result of World War One that influenced everyday
life. Technology and science were exploding with new discoveries, women were
finding their new place in the world, millions were adjusting to horrible new
realities of destroyed countries, bodies, and minds, and politics were
ever-changing and charged with fear and hope. It’s a fascinating time to write
about. Plus there are a lot of familiar elements, like telephones and taxis and
tea shops, that make writing a little easier. That’s not to say there isn’t a
ton of research that goes into it, but I found it a relief that Saffron and her
partner in crime-solving, Alexander, could just call each other up when they
wanted to discuss a new clue instead of having to arrive in time for tea to
JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on the web and social media.
KAK- I’m very active on Instagram (@authorkateakhtarkhavari), where there is an incredibly welcoming and supportive writing community where I have found a ton of amazing writerly friends. If you’re an author, I highly suggest using #findmywritingcommunity to see who writes in your same genre. My website is https://kathrynakhtarkhava.wixsite.com/kateakhtarkhavari, and I am occasionally found on twitter, @kakhtarkhavari.
JMR-What questions were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?
KAK- Well, I just typed ‘the end’ on my latest project last night, so I would love to share about that! Staying on the theme of literary exploration, I just finished a high fantasy court romance drama set in a jungle. It was a pet project that I decided to make into a real project, and I can’t believe I actually finished it. Now it gets tucked away to let me focus on querying, at least until I get revved up about my next story.
JMR-Wonderful Kate. You must come back and let us know how you are getting on. We'd love to follow your writing career. Let us know when we can buy your books!