I've never featured an interview on this blog before, but it's something I plan to do regularly this year to help feature some of the other great middle-grade authors and series out there.
First out of the gate is fellow Canadian author and British Columbia resident Rae Knightly (although she's also lived in Mexico City, Brussels, Tucson, Edinburgh, and Cape Town), author of the Alien Skill Series. Below is a quick overview of the series, followed by my interview with her.
When UFOs crash into the fields next to his grandfather’s house, twelve-year-old Ben Archer becomes a cumbersome witness in the eyes of the government. Not only that, but Ben discovers he has been entrusted with an alien power, the significance of which could jeopardize human life on Earth.
Hi, Rae. What was your initial inspiration for the Alien Skill Series?
My aim was to create a story set in the real world where a young protagonist is faced with fantastical situations. I figured that idea alone would allow readers to be transported from their normal lives into a world of adventure and wonder.
Based on that, I either needed to enter the realm of fantasy or science-fiction, and since I have a soft spot for aliens (because I’m sure some form of alien life exists out there), I decided this fantastical element would come from an encounter with an alien being. My main character (Ben Archer) goes on the run from government agents with this alien (Mesmo), without knowing the extraterrestrial’s true intentions.
From there the story began to unfold as I wrote it, with Mesmo’s mission on Earth becoming ever clearer and linked to current events in the real world.
What I enjoy the most, though, is developing interactions between characters and finding out who they are, what their goals are and what it means to become a hero.
Who were some of your early inspirations as a writer?
As a single child, books were my companions, and I devoured all the Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys books. The Dark is Rising trilogy by Susan Cooper definitely topped my list. I also read and reread many books by Monica Hughes (such as Earthdark) and Lois Duncan (such as Stranger with my Face). I devoured Terry Brooks’ The Shannara Chronicles, The Ice People by Rene Barjavel, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell,and Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.
What draws you to write for middle-grade readers?
To be honest, I thought I was writing for young adults, but after consulting with more experienced authors and editors, I heard about middle-grade books. I was thrilled to fall in that category! After all, it’s at that age (around eleven or twelve) that I discovered a love for reading, so it seemed fitting to deliver magic and adventure to that same age group.
What made you decide to self-publish your series?
When you’ve never written or published anything before, it’s hard to know if your stories will strike a chord with readers. I figured that going the traditional route was a long shot, so I decided to self-publish instead and get some feedback. Things grew from there and I’m over the moon with the way things are going!
What are some of the biggest benefits of being a self-published author?
The biggest benefit is that I have total control over my work. Since writers are creative people, self-publishing allows us to express our creativity in any way we wish, not only in terms of writing but also in terms of marketing. For example, I love to post pictures of nature but don’t enjoy taking selfies. That means Instagram is a good platform for me, whereas I struggle with TikTok.
Fortunately, I discovered that I enjoy marketing just as much as I enjoy writing, which is a blessing because marketing books can take as much time as writing them! I am my own boss, I adjust my working hours according to my family’s needs, and I have learned to treat my writing as a business.
What are some of the biggest challenges of publishing independently?
The biggest challenge is that I have total control over my work. Yes! You read that right! Because I have total control over my work, it also means I have to do everything on my own: come up with story ideas, write them, find editors and book cover designers, find readers, figure out publishing platforms, such as Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark, study marketing strategies, figure out tax issues, maintain active social media platforms and a functional website . . . The tasks are endless! Sometimes I wish I could clone myself, so one person could write and the other could do all the administrative tasks.
How do you go about creating your book covers?
I found my book cover designer on the website 99designs. It turned out to be the best investment I ever made. I ran a contest on 99designs and received eighty book cover submissions from which to choose. I chose four covers and asked reader groups to vote for their favourite. In essence, I let the public pick the book cover, which is how you are going to capture readers; attention in the first place. Sometimes it’s not about what the author wants but what readers want, and nothing is truer than for a book cover.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently wrapping up book 6 in the Alien Skill Series. It’s been a wonderful, emotional adventure, but I must now tell a story of another hero in The Lost Space Treasure Series, which has its roots in the same universe as the Alien Skill Series. I plan to publish this new series in early 2022.
Brief thoughts and updates on writing, publishing, and life