An interview with Mandi Joshi of AllAuthor.com
So, Kat, where were you born?
They tell me I was born on Earth, which seems plausible.
Can you tell us about your journey as a writer? How did you first discover your passion for writing, and how did it lead you to become an author?
I was encouraged to write by several language arts teachers, but a college professor empowered me to consider writing as a career. With no warning, he read one of my essays to the class, then asked if I was a pro. I was mortified. I thought he was roasting me. I said I was not. He said I should be.
I joined a writer’s group shortly after, and the founder, Frank Green, took an interest in my work. He mentored me for years, and I wrote 23 manuscripts. But no amount of encouragement or prodding from him could convince me to submit. I had a grade A case of impostor syndrome.
Thinking it would help me overcome my fear, he landed me several gigs as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines, and even a local television station. The money was nice, but the bylines were my reason. Still, none of that was enough to convince me to submit works of fiction.
Then author Kevin Robinson recruited me to be his publicist for a Florida book campaign. I explained that I had no expertise. He admitted he already knew that and promised to train me. My contacts with local media and my expertise at pitching human interest stories: those were my qualifications. I loved the job, and he recommended me to other authors. I built up a small clientele and, for a decade, I got paid to brag about author friends. It was glorious.
Meanwhile, Frank never let up. Three years ago, he started piling on the guilt. He was in poor health, and he insisted that one of his few remaining lifegoals was to see me land a book deal. Sadly, he passed away three weeks before I signed a contract. I dedicated my first book to him, but I wish I had been braver. He deserved to bask in what was essentially his triumph.
Your involvement in various writers' clubs and associations is quite impressive. How have these communities contributed to your growth as an author?
Being involved with other writers is always helpful, but the two organizations that were key to my personal success were Frank Green’s Bard Society and a now defunct annual writer’s conference sponsored by Florida Community College at Jacksonville. Working shoulder to shoulder with published authors gave me the confidence to finally submit my own work. Moreover, I had an uncommon support system. Finding a good editor, getting help with my book summary and query letters… Those are things all would-be authors need, and I had a leg up. Conferences, critique groups… that’s where most writers find the support and community necessary to succeed. I highly recommend that aspiring writers make writers’ groups a part of the equation.
Are there any authors or books that have had a significant influence on your writing style or your approach to storytelling?
Most definitely. Neil Gaiman, Jess Kidd, and Suzanne Collins immediately come to mind. They‘re cross genre authors. Their tales are entertaining, but with a bit of a message. My stories are difficult to pigeonhole—SHADOW RUNNER is an unholy mix of historical fantasy, Steampunk, Coming of Age, and even a bit of Sci-Fi. All of my stories touch on some social issue in a subtle way. It’s inspiring to see that writing the true story, wherever it goes, is possible and mostly saleable.
Your short story, "Loyalty," is going to be archived on the Moon via the Lunar Codex project. That's incredibly unique! Could you share more about this project and how your story became a part of it?
I fell into the briar patch on that one, to be sure. “Loyalty” was my very first published work of fiction. I wrote it because I was invited to submit to an anthology produced by none other than Samuel Peralta, a brilliant poet, storyteller, filmmaker, publisher, and otherwise multitalented artist. He had the unique and very philanthropic idea of collecting short stories from well-known authors in his circle and letting some of us newbies ride along. His anthologies are always in the Amazon top 100 and these collections kickstarted countless new author’s careers. I was very lucky to be included.
Later, he and author Susan Kaye Quinn each started initiatives to create time capsules containing the work of authors they knew and archiving them on the Moon. Susan’s project, Writers on the Moon, and Sam’s Lunar Codex grew into much larger endeavors than originally conceptualized. As of the date of this article, the first mission is scheduled to launch in December with three more payloads going up in 2024.
Your novel, "Shadow Runner," is the first in a three-book Victorian Adventure series. What inspired you to write in this genre, and what can readers expect from this series?
The original short story was written for yet another Samuel Peralta anthology, this one set in a Steampunk world. Sadly, the project didn’t launch. But Sam was kind enough to give me back all rights and even encourage me to expand the story to novel length. Once on my own, with no canon to guide me, my main character emerged as the reason for everything. The world Ada required was Steampunk-ish, but with elements of other genres and even a bit Dickensian. I wrote the tale with no regard to which shelf it would sit on in the bookstore. To my surprise, readers seem to like that.
Victorian Adventure is a specific and evocative genre. What kind of research goes into creating an authentic and immersive historical setting for your novels?
I’ve been a Victorian Era nerd since high school. My main character’s name is a nod to Ada Lovelace. So much happened during that period: slavery was coming to an end in the British Empire; the social hierarchy was under scrutiny and workers were demanding a voice; child labor laws were coming into being and women were petitioning for equality. I was fascinated with the work of Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot (male pen name for poet/author Marian Cross), and Thomas Hardy. All wrote stories to entertain, but also to change minds and hearts about class struggles and subjugation.
So, the research for SHADOW RUNNER was of inherent interest and mostly already under my belt. The story is historically accurate almost to a fault. In fact, it won the HFC 5-star award with kudos for period accuracy. But sometimes people confuse Regency with Victorian literature and frankly Hollywood doesn’t help. Luckily, my publisher tagged the book as Historical Fantasy rather than Historical Fiction, mostly to appeal to my YA audience. The fantasy tag lets me claim poetic license if someone gets confused about details. That has only happened twice, but I’m not a history or literary professor nor do I want those jobs. I’m a fiction writer.
As someone who engages with readers through platforms like YouTube and blogging, how do you find the balance between writing and connecting with your audience in these different formats?
That’s a tough one. My passion is still PR and Writer 2 Writer (my author spotlight channel on YouTube) is my true love. I created the program to help author friends spotlight their books, and I ask nothing in return for interviews. I also provide each guest with three mini-clips to share on social media. But, to your question, if my husband wasn’t doing all the editing and promotion, I’d have to choose between that and writing. Luckily, he’s having a blast. He has always dabbled in graphic arts but never found a way to make a living at it. Now he calls himself my one-man production crew. I couldn’t do it without him.
Could you share a little about your creative process? How do you come up with your story ideas, and how do you develop them into full-fledged narratives?
I’ve been telling myself stories since I was a child, so I have no clue where the ideas originate. I just assumed everyone does that. Development happens in my head as I play the mental movie over and over, seeing a bit more with each installment. Eventually, the tale blooms, and it becomes difficult to keep it all in my mind. At that point, I start writing, almost like I’m taking dictation. So, I have a first draft but it needs editing: to find the plot holes and inconsistencies.
I’m always tickled at what beta readers or members of my critique groups highlight that totally escaped me. For example, in the next SHADOW RUNNER book (which I am hoping to release in 2024) the main character is essentially living in a graveyard—underground, with a faux headstone as a front door. The first detail readers drilled down on was, where did all the dirt go when this dwelling was dug? It’s a very famous public cemetery and piles of dirt would be a giveaway. Happily, readers had a slew of ideas about how the character covertly disposed of the soil—and I have a new list of people to thank in the acknowledgement.
Writing a novel, especially a series, can be a challenging endeavor. How do you approach the task of crafting intricate plots and developing engaging characters throughout multiple books?
I began my fiction career with short stories, written to already established worlds. So, my view of storytelling was always, how does this chapter fits into a larger tale? I think this caused me to think of plot lines as continuing chronicles of the characters who inhabit a book. Like any tale, there will come a time in the SHADOW RUNNER line when the interesting part of Ada’s life has been told. At that point, the series will end. As it turns out, that’s in book three. But spin offs are inevitable. There’s a backstory on most minor characters which sometimes begs for limelight.
Can you describe your typical writing routine? Do you have any specific rituals or habits that help you get into the writing zone?
In the past, I treated writing as a job. I showed up in my office at a specific time every day and kept my butt in the chair until my shift was over. This probably came from my time as a stringer when deadlines were set and quick turn-around on edits was a must. Travel complicated that routine. Sometimes we’re in Yosemite or at the Grand Canyon and I’d much rather see the sites than hang out with my characters. I’m still finding my footing in that regard.
In the meantime, I have a new job: PR. Before I had a published work, I thought you wrote a book, handed it off to the publisher, and moved on to the next. Nope. Once you have a book in print, you’re at least a partner in selling the work. So now I segment my week into PR, new story development, and Writer 2 Writer. I treat each of those as the task of the day. And I signed up for two co-writing sessions wherein a group of us get together at a specified time each week and write. We don’t interact, we just sit and work on our own manuscripts. But, if someone leaves the room, we all shout at that person. It’s hilarious and very effective.
Traveling with your husband and blogging from various national parks sounds like a thrilling and inspiring experience. How does this nomadic lifestyle influence your writing process and the themes in your works?
On the one hand, travel is a lot of fun, especially when you have your home along with you. On the other, you must be flexible, and you need a high a tolerance for dealing with the unknown. If there is a negative, it’s the endless distractions. There are so many opportunities for procrastination: trails to hike, animals to watch, vistas to enjoy. But I can procrastinate with the best, right in my living room. So, I had to get tough about workdays. I do set a schedule and I stick to it. If a real unicorn wandered through camp, I wouldn’t look on a workday. Okay, I would look but I’d snap a photo and get right back to work. Discipline is a must.
As for influence, my top themes are what constitutes true freedom and the concept of found family, both of which are a very real concepts when you’re on the road. Strangers have helped us more times than I can count, and we’ve assisted our share of travelers, too. People are reduced to being just people when they’re in the wild, or at least deprived of the trappings of class. We’re all looking for the same things: a level campsite, water, power, and safety. Travel continually restores my faith in humanity.
Being a part of the Amelia Island Book Festival must have exposed you to a diverse range of readers and fellow authors. How has participating in such events shaped your perspective on writing and the literary world?
There’s a real sense of community at events like the Amelia Island Book Festival. Readers and authors get the chance to interact, which is priceless. In fact, for most authors I know, book events are less about selling copies and more about meeting and hearing from readers. Usually, authors only get feedback when someone is kind enough to leave a review, which by the way, we all live for. Meeting people in person, hanging out with other authors, meeting industry professionals… it’s exciting and always a learning experience.
Can you give us a sneak peek into your future projects or any upcoming works that your readers can look forward to?
There are three works that I can’t talk about because they’re collaborations, but I can share a bit about the next book in the SHADOW RUNNER series. No spoilers, but Ada’s in love. Readers won’t be surprised about that, but they will be shocked at how it plays out. Also, Dieb is back, with her usual skewed sense of morality. Happily Ever After takes many forms, especially when what makes you happy isn’t always mainstream.
When did you first join AllAuthor and did you join as a free or pro-member first? What are your thoughts on this website?
I joined as a free member but in short order I upgraded to pro. The monthly banners alone are well worth the investment. I’d been trying to create or hire someone to create graphics for social media and was very impressed with the quality of AllAuthor offerings. I pointed two more authors at the site and they both joined as pro. It’s excellent value.