Finding your Path and the Doing Your Research: Kate Khavari
The road not taken. Is it one you want?
Do you dare veer down its windy path?
To trek into the unknown, the unfamiliar?
Or do you stick the beaten one? The one walked down time and time again?
The choice is hard: stick to what you know or wade in the waters of the new?
Ultimately, it's up to you.
Just be fearless in all you choose to do.
Read on to learn of the road taken for author Kate Khavari's publication journey!
1. Welp, the first question is the one all in the writing community love to know! What’s the story of your publication journey?
I wrote A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons when I was still teaching fifth grade. I wrote the book in about a month, then immediately started on the next. Four months later, I had three and a half books written. I didn’t plan to do anything with them at that point, but revised the first and sent it off to my friends and family. Then A Botanist’s Guide and the other books sat on my Google Drive for about a year.
When I decided to be a stay-at-home mom to my son, I knew I wanted to use whatever spare time I would have to work on my writing. I researched the process, revised A Botanist’s Guide a few times, and started querying it. I mistakenly burned through most of my list of agents within the first month, sending 10-15 queries a week without waiting for feedback. I had a few partial and full requests but never made it past that. I didn’t get much helpful feedback except one agent said the pacing was too slow for her.
I changed the beginning, taking out three chapters, then kept querying. Then I met Christi Barth, a romance author, on Instagram. She commented on one of my posts and the next thing I knew, I was sending her the first few chapters of my book. I don’t know what made Christi decide to keep reading my book, but her insights into writing and her no-holds editing kicked my butt and brought my writing to a whole new level. That new version of the book got me three full requests, but none panned out.
By that point, I’d been querying nearly a year and a half. I figured I would shelf the manuscript for a while, focus on my other projects since I had written four other books by then, but something told me to keep thinking about Saffron and her story. I had received enough interest from agents to suggest I had something good— you don’t get that many partial and full requests without your story at least sort of working— so I figured I would try to do a big revision and make this story irresistible.
Then Karin Nordin shared her pub story on Instagram and I realized something— I didn’t have to have an agent to be published traditionally. It had always been my goal, to go the traditional route, but now there was a new world of possibilities— pitching directly to publishers. That night, I researched mystery publishers that accepted non-agented submissions. Within a week, I’d sent my full to my editor, Melissa, at Crooked Lane Books, and two months later, I’d signed my contract with them for A Botanist’s Guide and a second Saffron Everleigh mystery.
2. I’m addition to traditional publishing, you have also self-published books. Can you give readers a little more insight on what it means to be a hybrid author? Does the approach to each method differ? What are things people should keep in mind when pursuing this path?
I’m afraid I don’t have much experience being a hybrid author yet, but I can say that they are very different and yet so similar. When I’m thinking about Blood Print, I’m considering numbers all the time. How to increase them, what they mean. With A Botanist’s Guide, I’m thinking of networking, how to find other mystery writers. I found my online community on Instagram, where there are a ton of other fantasy writers and they are so easy to find. Mystery writers are, appropriately, a more elusive breed. You need friends in your genre, and finding them has been hard. Both methods, though, mean a lot of attention to your actual writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re indie or trad, the most important thing is the story itself.
It is freeing to have the ability to share a new story whenever I want, in whatever format, as an indie author, the trade-off being I’m doing all the work and/or paying for it. But I also love the support I receive as a traditional author, the resources at my disposal and the fantastic people I get to work with. I feel fortunate to have a foot in both camps, so I can see what it’s like and see which I might prefer moving forward.
3. Your debut, A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Potions is a delightful mystery set for release in Spring 2022! Can you tell us a little more about the story and its conception?
Thank you! I didn’t ever plan to write a book, but after binge-reading all the historical mysteries I could get my hands on, I guess my mind was filled to the brim with ideas. I was monitoring my students as they took their state testing and found myself so bored I was reading a dictionary. I came across the name Eris, then Ermine, and decided Eris Ermine was a perfect name for a character at a Poirot-style murder mystery dinner. By the time I got home from work that day, I’d decided that my mystery would take place at a university in 1920’s London, a time period I love and a city I’m familiar with, and I’d come up with the main cast of characters and Saffron, who I decided had to be a botanist. I wanted her to work at the university and she needed an expertise that worked for a mystery novel. It had to be something I could commit to researching for hours on end. I love plants and gardening, so botany was a natural fit.
4. Sometimes, thrillers, mysteries, and crime novels are lumped together. Do you agree with this grouping? If not, how does each differ in terms of style and plot? Is your novel firmly in the mystery or a blend of the three?
I feel like crime and thrillers definitely go together, and mysteries make sense to be included since they’re all about solving some sort of puzzle. There is a huge range of types of mysteries though- cozies being the most divergent from thrillers and crime books. I don’t think A Botanist’s Guide is at all crime or thriller, definitely firmly in mystery. There’s drama, to be sure, but there’s humor and romance, too. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I want my readers to have a lot of fun reading it!
5. Historical lovers will be in for a treat as your novel is an expedition mystery set in the 1920’s. What research went into this? And just how authentic do you think authors should strive to be when writing historical novels? When is there room for “creative freedom”?
Researching for this book was… eye-opening. I didn’t realize that my inclination toward perfectionism meant hours and hours of researching. Even now, in the midst of copy editing the manuscript, I’m still diving down rabbit holes to chase down elusive historical details! But yeah, easily half of my time drafting was spent researching. I actually loved the process though, because a deep dive into history usually meant I would find cool extras that could blossom into plot points. Details like clothing and wording were easy enough to flesh out (I could literally turn on season 3 of Downton Abbey and see and hear what I needed); it was the science and setting that required the most research.
Figuring out what my characters would or wouldn’t know, what technology they had access to, how they would have gone about solving some problems— that’s what took me forever. Saffron’s mentor needed a topic of research, so I had to figure out what botanical mysteries were being solved in the 1920’s. Alexander Ashton is a biologist as well as a microbiologist, so I had to see if microbiology was even a thing at that time.
As for the setting, the University College London is a real place with a real history. Luckily, they have a ton of references online that I used to piece together what the campus looked like in 1923, what departments were in what building, even what art was on display in the gallery outside the library. I contacted their campus history department several times and they were really accommodating and helpful!
I guess you can tell from my response that I believe in research and historical accuracy. I’m the person who throws down their Kindle when a regency romance is being historically inaccurate, much to the amusement of my husband who doesn’t know a chemise from a hansom. Does it totally ruin the book? No, but it takes me out of the moment. Creative freedom has a place, especially when the information is really hard to come by, but I think it’s better to avoid details you can’t confirm if possible.
6. What top tips would you give to authors when self-editing (the moment when you must reflect before sending it out for another set of eyes)?
My number one tip would be to read craft books. Really, you should do that no matter what stage in the writing process you’re at. My favorites are Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (points out everything you never noticed about excellent writing), Save the Cat (though you don’t necessarily need the book, working with the beat sheet you can find online works, too), and Story Genius (amazing for crafting better emotional arcs).
Also, get a great CP or two and a lot of awesome beta readers. There is nothing that will whip your writing into shape like other people’s feedback. They don’t have your story in their head so they only know what you wrote on the page, just like your future readers. You need people like that, and honest people like that.
7. How do you keep a balance between motherhood, writing, and personal life? Do you think it’s important for writers to set boundaries between writing life and other parts of their life?
Hate to say it, but the pandemic has made it pretty easy to balance my personal life with my writing endeavors since my personal life has been my husband, son, and only a handful of others for a long time. Motherhood on the other hand… I have a hard time turning off my writer brain, and I have a harder time quieting my mom brain (because I don’t think that’ll ever turn off completely). Nap times have been almost exclusively for writing for the last year, so not a lot of cooking, cleaning, and laundry gets done without interruptions from my son. Having a supportive partner makes all the difference. If I need time to finish a paragraph or a chapter, my husband gives me that time. When I don’t know how to solve a problem, he talks it out with me.
But there are just some days that are hard as a writer and harder as a mom. Telling my kid I’m working is hard. Telling myself to put away my work and focus exclusively on him is hard. I don’t know if any parent who doesn’t feel this way, writer or not, but at least writing gives me the flexibility to be a stay-at-home mom and still chase my dreams. That and my son provides so much inspiration! I wrote an entire book based on the feelings I had as a new mother. My writing now includes a lot more families and children, which is something I think my genres (mystery and fantasy) could use more of.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
8. Saffron’s next expedition would take place in...
Definitely Hell’s Gate! Saffron has a great affection for local species, but I don’t think any botanist would be able to resist traveling to such an exotic location to explore.
The California Redwoods
Hell’s Gate National Park, Kenya
Keuekenhof Garden, Netherlands
9. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
I’m not sure it counts, but I have a hard time relating to all the self-doubt in the writing community. I know that a lot of people really struggle with it, but there is so much talk about it that I sometimes wonder if it's becoming engrained in the culture.
10. Top 3 twists in mystery/thriller novels and/or tv shows/movies?
Can I even answer this question? I don’t want to be a ruiner! I’ll stick to some classics: the Sherlock Holmes stories The Red-Headed League and The Man with the Twisted Lip are so clever! Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia is also gold.
Kate Khavari is the author of historical mysteries, urban fantasy, and high-fantasy epics. She spent the majority of her childhood immersed in Sherlock Holmes and Poirot adaptations and Harry Potter. A former teacher, Kate has a deep appreciation for research and creativity, not to mention the multitasking ability she now relies on as an author and stay-at-home mother to her toddler son. She recently released urban fantasy Blood Print on Kindle Vella, where it is the top rated vampire story. She lives in the Dallas–Fort Worth area of Texas with her husband and son.
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