Hello and welcome back again to another Between the Lines interview!
I'm sure you're wondering where I've been and unfortunately the flu got the best of me so I'd been abed recovering, and reading, which my neglected TBR pile is certainly happy about. While it's been nice to have a bit of downtime and fill the creative well, I am excited to dive in with none other than . . . (insert drum roll please) . . .
Katarina E. Tonks: an award-winning author who began her career on the Wattpad platform. Since then, she has amassed nearly half a million followers—or “Cupcakes and Reapers” as she calls them—who she loves to interact with in forums where “Death” will sometimes jump in and respond himself. She has over 100 million reads collectively on the early drafts of her Death Chronicles and the Vendetta series and is considered one of Wattpad’s most influential writers.
Kat has been creating stories since she was old enough to hold a crayon. Never one to color between the lines, her books are often dark romances with morally gray love interests. She will soon graduate from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and is pursuing her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Kat is a Jersey Girl and lives with her family and many pets.
Hi Kat –
First, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I'm so excited to reconnect and chat about your Debut: DEATH IS MY BFF
When Faith Williams almost loses her life during a robbery, Death is there. While he spares her soul, he makes a promise to return when she’s eighteen and collect it.
Now it’s the eve of that special birthday, and Faith has no recollection of that fateful day. But echoes of Death appear in her art—his intense eyes, his intriguing demeanor—and she can’t get him out of her head. When he arrives in person, Faith is drawn into an epic supernatural battle where her very existence is questioned at every turn.
To add angst to agony, she meets the infamous David Star at a Halloween party, and he begins to show an interest in her. He’s handsome, rich, ambitious, and every girl’s dream, but Faith doesn’t know if she can trust him.
As Faith learns more about who David really is, and as Death pushes harder for her soul, an ancient prophecy emerges. When she discovers the secrets that bind all three together
. . . all hell breaks loose.
What a wild ride it’s been from kickstarting on Wattpad to being an official debut author!
For those who don’t already know about your journey – how did that all begin? What brought you to writing? Was it always part of your childhood or something that you fell into later in life?
Kat: I started writing on Wattpad when I was just fourteen years old! I’ve always had a very hyperactive imagination, whether it be playing Sims and making detailed storylines there, or art, or journaling. I would always picture these elaborate scenes during car rides with my family too I’d blast my music so loud with my extra bass headphones (extra bass is important in these epic visualizations), and I’d imagine these vivid scenes and characters I made up.
I actually cried to my mom that I thought something was wrong with me for doing this, and being that she is a psychologist, she immediately assured me that I was fine and to find an online platform to write on.
So, that day, at fourteen, I started writing full-length books!
Fallon: Awwww, given I had such an active imagination very young, as well, I can totally commiserate with how overwhelming it can all get, but it's so wonderful that your mom was there to guide and encourage you on your path. And look at you now!
How did you get the idea to write DIMBFF?
Kat: I’ve always been attracted to bad-boy characters in books, and I’ve always loved fictional villains. There is so much you can do with the villain that you just can’t do with other characters. They’re dynamic and complex, and the right morally gray character is absolutely deserving of love. So, I created Death to get this bad boy character villain love interest that I wanted. He’s the epitome of something we all fear, but he is also a man who was once half-mortal. He is a person who has experienced his own grief, so much so that he becomes it.
I wanted to create a love interest who you love to hate, and you can’t help but root for, and a badass, clever, courageous protagonist who can meet a powerful entity like Death halfway. Faith is a character I would look up to as a teen and she’s grown with me as I’ve matured into an adult. She’s intelligent, funny, and tough as nails. She gets through any obstacle put in her path. I think I created her because as a child I struggled with severe bullying and anxiety.
Up until college, I didn’t really know where I fit in either. Faith was my beacon of light (pun intended) to give me hope that, like her, my fears would one day make me stronger and more resilient. And they have.
My hope is to give this gift of courage to others through Faith.
Fallon: Not going to lie, as I've matured, I'm definitely more drawn to the villain love interest. There's just something so compelling about the villain who would burn the world to save you vs the hero that would sacrifice you to save the world.
Now that we know how you started, tell us about the road to publication. How did you get there, and did you hit any speed bumps along the way? Because we all know querying trenches can be hell, but it often pales in comparison to going out on submission. Was it Fast? Or years of querying and hundreds of rejections?
Kat: Oh, I’ve been rejected plenty of times and it was not a fast process. For many authors, from what I’ve gathered at least, publishing a book traditionally is extremely difficult. I wish I had known going into this industry how tough-skinned you have to be! Chances are that you will be rejected over and over again.
And that’s OKAY!
It’s part of being an artist and something you learn to embrace. The important thing is to have faith in your art, your work, and yourself, no matter who rejects you.
Remember this: All you need is ONE “yes”!
Fallon: You're so right and such an important thing to remember--one yes is all it takes! Now, as far as inspiration goes, I’ve generally noticed writers are one of three types.
They are inspired by a location/setting, two—they’re inspired by an actual concept, piece or music, or artwork, or three—which is the bucket I fall into—and they’re character-driven, hearing voices in their head and having full on conversations with them or each other.
Which one are you and what is your writing style as a result?
Kat: I’m totally the third as well, but music also helps me tremendously with painting elaborate scenes I am writing. I think I mostly do dialogue like the 3rd though! If you were to see me editing, a lot of times I’m listening to epic trailer music or one of my writing playlists.
However, when I’m ACTUALLY writing, funnily enough, I usually write in complete silence! Fallon: Oh that's so interesting!! I love epic soundtrack/trailer music too but writing in silence is def harder for me to tune out distractions. When it comes to writing: what’s your favorite and least favorite part?
Kat: My favorite part is when everything comes together. FINALLY, my big off-the-cuff chaos baby is becoming a coherent book! Lol.
My least favorite part is working with the first draft and knowing nearly the entire thing needed to be rewritten because of said off-the-cuff writing.
But it’s not so bad when you have a wonderful team behind you that has your back, and I’ve totally felt that way with Wattpad Books!
Fallon: Honestly! Strong team at your back makes all the difference in the world. Now, you've touched on this a little but let's dig into editing – love it or hate it: what does it look like for you, and what would you say your approach is to tackling the dreaded revisions?
Has it changed at all once you entered the road to publication?
Kat: Editing is a love-hate relationship for me. I NEED it in my life because it takes my writing to another level, but also, I dread it because, again, it’s #PAIN. I feel like people who don’t write books have no idea how much work publishing a book and getting it into a bookstore really is. I didn’t at least!
Fallon: Omg FACTS!
Kat: After the submission and editorial process that often happens before the book is even picked up by a publisher, you are welcomed by an entire team of people at the publisher who will work with you to get your book on the shelf!
Editing-wise with a publisher, it’s certainly a rollercoaster of emotions! I had no idea there were so many stages to editing. If I’m being totally honest, I’m still figuring out my own editing approach.
I think right now, first and foremost, it would be to cut back as much as you can because I tend to overwrite my first drafts. I’m currently cutting a 200k manuscript down to 100k for my editor to review (yikes!). Then I have to figure out what the skeleton of the book is and start rewriting. I can keep things along the way from the previous drafts that still work within this new skeleton, but the book needs a new clean slate.
Writing is rewriting. I understand that now and I appreciate it so much. “Death is My BFF” has been rewritten so many times since I first wrote it in 2011. It’s developed into a story I am so proud of because of my edits. Had I not overhauled the story from scratch, I would have never created all the new scenes that I love in the published version!
Fallon: I think that's where I learned to appreciate editing, too. Seeing how much a story can evolve and improve--as painful as it is--is so rewarding! What author has most inspired your creative writing journey?
Kat: Probably Ilona Andrews. Their Kate Daniels series is just awesome, and I grew up reading it. Kate is a badass fighter who doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and the love interest Curran is everything I love in a lead love interest. This author has a great balance of fantasy and romance in their series that is so rare to find. I will also add that Ilona Andrews is a husband-and-wife author duo, which is just TOO iconic to put into words…
Fallon: Awww husband and wife author duo . . . I'm melting. I'll have to look that series up because I def adore a female baddie MC, especially if she's wielding a sword (shout out to my childhood binging Xena Warrior Princess hahaa!)
What’s the best writing advice you’d give to someone who wants to get started but doesn’t know where to begin?
Kat: Start journaling! Set a timer for 25 minutes (The Pomodoro Method!) and start brainstorming story ideas in a notebook. Run with it. Write, and write, and KEEP WRITING UNTIL YOU GET TO THE END! Getting to the end is so important.
Even if you write the end before the middle and you work your way to the end. Publishers and agents like to see finished manuscripts, plus it’s important to close one chapter and start a new project. I really need to take my own advice on Wattpad LOL, but it’s so important to finish the story you are writing and move on to the next project.
Fallon: I couldn't agree more! Finishing a book is so crucial to really understanding all the stages of writing a story and developing a plot. A skill we must hone if we're going to make a career from writing books.
Looking back on your journey, is there anything you wish you did differently?
Kat: Write more and setting goals in my early twenties. I had a gap of time where I didn’t feel I was working hard enough, and I felt a little aimless as to what my goals were. Now that I have a publisher and deadlines, I feel much more focused.
However, it’s important to find balance without outside pressures as well, so you are disciplined in other aspects of your life as well, but also live your life and experience life.
You can’t write books unless you experience life!
Fallon: 'Can't write unless you experience life' OMG so TRUE! Especially when you feel that creative well inside of you running dry!
If you could look into a crystal ball and see your future, where do you imagine you’ll be five years from now?
Kat: Creating lots of morally gray character goodness and expanding the cupcake family! I’d LOVE to get one of my titles that isn’t on Wattpad out in the world, too!
MY SECRET PROJECTS, if you will. ;) Fallon: Oooo secret projects (insert googly eyes) Can you give us a hint of what you’re working on next? (wink, wink)
Kat: I have so many projects that I want to pursue. Incubus, vampires, pirates and fae to name a few. Rom-coms and an assassin love. You name it, I probably have it on my computer…half-written. HAHA.
The goal is to get them all published, and I will!!
Fallon: Haha no book baby left behind! Love it!
Now, let's wrap with a bonus question for a bit of fun: Name one book you’re madly in love with and can’t get off your mind?
Kat: I don’t know if I have one at the moment. However, I refuse to leave this interview without a book recommendation!! I’m a sucker for adult historical romance and off the top of my head, “The Duchess Deal,” by Tessa Dare is a story I love and always remember! :)
Fallon: Amazing! I actually met Tessa Dare at my very first writing conference in 2015. She wrote a note that I still have on my fridge to this day: Doubt not! Someone believes in you! Everytime I have a low point, I look at that note and I hitch my chin up, and get back to the grind.
Kat, thank you for taking the time to share this with me. I can't wait to get grabby hands on DIMBFF. And for those of you excited but this upcoming debut -- Death's release date is September 5, 2023! Available for purchase from Indigo, Amazon
And stay tuned for our next Between the Lines Author Interview featuring the incredibly talented Tina Chan for a refreshing perspective from someone still in the trenches and fighting hard for her dream!