Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An interview with author, Zachary Katz-Stein!

Good evening!

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

How are you this evening?

 K Nycole Lee

I'm doing very well. And yourself?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

Also quite well, thanks!

 K Nycole Lee

Great! Ready to get started?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

Absolutely, fire away.

 K Nycole Lee

Thanks for joining us this evening on Write Like A Wizard. Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? What do you do for a living?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

Thanks for having me and sure! I grew up in the small hippy town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where my mother began my love of fantasy with the simple childhood rule: you're allowed toy swords but not toy guns. I am currently somewhat nomadic. After graduating from Kenyon College in December I lived with my family in Berkeley California. I spent my summer working odd jobs in Columbus, and I'm about to move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin!

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

I am a certified yoga instructor, English major, and art enthusiast.

 K Nycole Lee

Wow. That's great! So when did you start writing?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

I always enjoyed storytelling, but I started writing more seriously my senior year of high school. I took all of the AP classes my school offered and would still have had two study halls my senior year, so I arranged an independent study in creative writing with my English teacher. Basically, I had to turn in 8-12 finished pieces each quarter and in exchange I was given 50 minutes per day to write. I wrote mostly (bad) poetry, but by the end of the year I wrote the prologue and the first chapter of The Grey Heir, a book I just published June 2nd.

 K Nycole Lee

That is incredible. Tell us about The Grey Heir. What is it about? What inspired you to write it?

Zachary David Katz-Stein

The Grey Heir is a boy-based, young adult, fantasy adventure. Essentially, the main character, Rayne Drehmer, is pulled into a massive power struggle between a religious order, The Order of Trel, and a group of aristocratic mages. 

The problem is: it's really hard to tell who the "good guys" are at first and, even at the end, no side is purely "good." That was one of my major goals for the book - to create a fantasy world where all the factions were, if not entirely justifiable, at least understandable. 

My other major inspiration was the desire to write a boy-based fantasy series. You see, I grew up in a world of female heroes (as unlikely as that might sound to some readers). My favorite series was The Protector of the Small Quartet by Tamora Pierce, in which young Keladry of Mindelan struggled to become Tortalls first acknowledged female knight. My second favorite was the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nyx, for which two of the three books had amazing female protagonists. 

 Overall, until I read Eragon, I was left thinking, "Where are all the boy heroes?"

K Nycole Lee
I love that. What a great premise! Can you share an excerpt with us?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

 A rough canvas bag was thrown over his head and he felt a sharp point touch his back. 

Rayne stiffened. Growing up the son of one of the wealthiest merchants in Kresain, he had been mugged before, though since Keegan, one of the ally rats that Rayne had grown up with, had taken over the city’s sewer gangs the attempts on Rayne’s belt pouch had stopped. 

 Clearly, Rayne thought, this poor sap didn’t recognize me. Probably just saw decent clothes and made assumptions about the contents of my pockets. Rayne raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. The dagger nicked his back and his captor whispered, 

"Don’t move your hands, just walk the way I point you." 

Jumpy, Rayne thought dryly, though if he really doesn’t know who he has...He allowed his captor to lead him around the corner of Fredrick’s shop and into a presumably unoccupied alley, which Rayne recognized by both the smell of garbage and the small amount of light the that got through the canvas sack. 

Casually falling forward, Rayne caught himself on his hands and, twining his legs around his would be captor's ankles, wrenched left. Rayne smiled at the satisfyingly loud sound of the boy falling into what he assumed was a pile of garbage. 

Rolling backwards onto his feet, Rayne tore off the canvas sack and was reaching for the throwing knife he always kept up his sleeve when he heard an odd huffing sound from the boy he had dumped in the trash. 

Was he crying? No, Rayne realized, he was laughing and he was not alone. Rayne spun around to see two other dirty adolescents almost doubled over in their attempts to smother their laughter. At the sight of these two, Rayne relaxed. He recognized them. 

"Andreth," Rayne said reprovingly, though the two teens’ laughter was infectious and he felt his mouth twitch upward. 

"Does Keegan know about this?" 

 "He does," an amused, confident, voice said. Rayne’s eyes flicked left to the tall young man leaning against the stone wall of the alley. 

Keegan was dressed in a battered brown leather jacket, loose fitting black paints, black boots, and an aura of power that Rayne had always found impressive. 

"I see you haven't gotten too rusty," Keegan commented, his mouth quirking upward. 

Rayne returned his friend’s smile, though he was still a little annoyed. "Don’t you have something better to do than have your friends jump me? I could have hurt the poor boy!" 

A quiet rustle from behind tipped him off, allowing Rayne to side step as the boy rushed at him, tapping the youngster as he rushed past to make him stumble. 

Keegan shrugged unconcernedly as his young accomplice fell to his knees, "We don’t have money, Rayne, we don’t have errands or work or really anything to pass the weary time away." His eyes met Rayne’s for the first time and he was positively grinning now. "We were bored. Besides," he added gesturing toward to youngster, "the next generation needs you, Rayne. Who else will teach them to throw knives and all those sneaky moves you know?" 

 "You," Rayne said bluntly, though he was smiling now as well. "You taught me to throw and tumble. Besides," he added, imitating his friend’s airy way of talking, "weren’t you just saying how bored you are?" 

Keegan laughed shortly, "Oh, I have been teaching them," he said, nodding to the two younger teens and the preteen struggling to his feet. "I even told them exactly what you were going to do to get away and he still messed it up." 

The older boys laughed outrageously at this until Keegan silenced them with a look. 

"Not that I blame him. You were always good, Rayne." He sighed, 

"If only you hadn’t turned legitimate." Rayne smiled; it was a common source of banter between them. 

"I was never crooked," he reminded Keegan. "Whenever I went out with you we always returned anything we took." 

"Anything really valuable, yes," Keegan agreed. "Although I do remember some strawberry pastries that never made it back to their shelf." 

Rayne smiled and put his fists on his hips. "And I remember some coins that happened to appear in a certain pastry chef’s till before we left." 

Keegan laughed. "I had forgotten about that," he admitted. "Still, everything was more fun when you ran with us." 

Rayne’s smile wilted a little in regret. "It was," he agreed. "Though maybe it just seems that way because you have people to do the running these days. You’re wasted as an administrator." 

"That’s true enough," Keegan said with another quick grin. Stretching his back, he added, "This is the first time I’ve left the nest this week." 

 "Well that’s the problem," Rayne said. "You need to get out more. " An idea suddenly occurred to him. "Say, " he added, eyes shining, "Do you want to do a city run to stretch your legs?" 

 Keegan pushed himself off the wall. The motion was fluid, catlike. "Now we’re getting into my area of expertise. You could never beat me before, but hey," he said, rolling his shoulders and shaking out his legs, "if you are eager for a beating, who am I to disappoint?" 

Rayne cracked his neck. "So confident? You’ve been sitting in a dark hole in the ground running your little kingdom while I have still been out and about in the city. Roof tops only?" he asked. 

Keegan nodded. "Some things you don’t forget." He bent forward and touched his toes. "To the monastic gate?" When Rayne nodded, Keegan straightened and, turning to his younger companions, said, "You lot go ahead of us so you can be at the gates to judge who gets there first." 

The three youngsters scrambled away, whooping in delight. A few seconds later, Rayne heard a distant crash and then shouting. He assumed one of them had tripped into a merchant’s wagon or knocked a pole out of an awning. 

"Nice crew you got there," Rayne said, smiling over at his friend. 

Keegan grinned. "They’re fun. One…" He raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Two… " 

Rayne walked over to stand back to back with Keegan, mentally preparing for the run ahead. 

"Three!" they said together, each jumping onto an alley wall and starting to climb."

 K Nycole Lee

Thank you for sharing that with us! It sounds like a great story. I cannot wait to read more! How did you go about publishing The Grey Heir?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

I started by starting a blog,, and a twitter account while doing the final edit of the book. Those were enormously helpful to have already set up when I launched The Grey Heir, though I think I could have done even more with them. They're both works in progress.

I published with Book Tango because I wanted to be able to publish on Amazon, Nook, and iBooks. Full disclosure, however, I have not been very satisfied with them. My book still isn't available on Nook or iBooks (though I understand that getting on iBooks can take months). The other thing I'm not entirely happy about is their sales reporting. Although they say they compile reports for distributor sites (basically any site that's not the Book Tango store) at the end of every month, I JUST got my first sales report for June about a week ago and the only reason they gave me that was because June was a quarter end and they pay quarterly (with a two month time delay). 

At this point I'm a little frustrated with everyone but Amazon (who posted my book two days after I submitted it to them) and I'm seriously considering taking my book and making it Kindle Select.

 K Nycole Lee

Very interesting. I've never heard of Book Tango. Thanks for sharing that experience with us. Amazon is pretty good about sales reporting and publishing quite quickly. Kindle Select would be great for your book. Everyone loves the free days and that means more books in reader's hands and a greater chance for reviews!

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

Exactly what I was thinking, I'm just still trying to figure out the logistics of switching over.

 K Nycole Lee

Yes, that does sound tricky. Good luck!
Have you ever been to a writing conference or anything like that before?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

I have not, though it's definitely something I'm interested in! The closest I've come is the Nanowrimo Website, which is pretty much what I imagine a conference to be like (except quieter). Do you have any to recommend?

 K Nycole Lee

There is one coming up in California! The Writer's Digest writing conference. I'd definitely recommend looking for local writing conventions/conferences as well. I'm going to the World Fantasy Convention this October. You should come! It's in Brighton, United Kingdom.

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

Unfortunately, being a recently impoverished college student (and only getting rid of one of those adjectives), I don't think I'll be able to make it to the UK this year. However, I will definitely look up local conferences and see what I can do about The Writer's Digest conference!

 K Nycole Lee

Excellent! I can relate to the impoverished part as well. I actually used to raise money for my trip! Give it a shot!

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

Conventional wisdom says, "write every day," and that's absolutely fantastic advice. I would, however, like to add a little nuance: write what you love everyday. People often say "writing is writing," implying that any kind of writing will make you better.

 This is true.

However, only writing what you love will nourish your soul.

 K Nycole Lee

Oh my. That was profound. Thank you, Zachary!
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about The Grey Heir? Are you working on any new projects or books?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

The Grey Heir is the first in a series called The Edge Walker Chronicles, and I'm already working on the second one! Its working title is: The Exile.

I am also editing a book I wrote for Nanowrimo that I'm planning on sending to agents in the near future. I figured, why not pursue both paths? I'll publish The Edge Walker Chronicles myself while shopping my other work around to agents and publishers!

 K Nycole Lee

That is a great idea. You should totally try both paths. I'm doing the same thing right now with my fantasy trilogy, Rise of the Flame. Time to work on that query letter!
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

Zachary David Katz-Stein

For a while at least I would love to live in New Zealand - preferably on the remains of The Lord of the Rings set. Really though, I'm not sure. There's still so much of the United States that I haven't explored (let alone the world!) that I don't have a clear idea of where I might eventually end up.

 K Nycole Lee

Oh yes! I must see The Lord of the Rings set as well. Good choice.
If you could have any super power, what would you choose?

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

My classic answer to this question is a little bit of a cheat. I would choose to be Force Sensitive. For those readers who have never seen Star Wars (or better yet played the Knights of the Old Republic games), being Force Sensitive allows some telekinesis, amazing reflexes, visions into the future, and (if your evil) the ability to shoot lightning out of your fingers.

 It's a cheating answer because I get multiple powers.

 K Nycole Lee

Yes! I love it!
Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Zachary. This was fun. Good luck with everything!

 Zachary David Katz-Stein

Thanks again for having me! Good luck to you as well!

For more on Zachary Katz-Stein and his debut novel, The Grey Heir: