Author Interview: Kathrese McKee ~ Mardan’s Mark

A1072web[1]I’m excited to welcome author Kathrese McKee to my blog today. Kathrese popped on my reader radar in 2014 when she won the Young Adult category for Novel Rocket’s Launch Pad Contest. When I read her winning entry I was hooked and curious to read the rest of her debut, Mardan’s Mark.

Well, Kathrese gave me an early Christmas present when the epic adventure fantasy story released on December 25th. I flew through Mardan’s Mark on Christmas Day and the day after, when we visited family and my hubby was driving and I could just read!

It was a lovely treat and the story, quite thrilling. If you’re a fan of fantasy adventure with a side of romance and political intrigue, Mardan’s Mark is for you!

 

What’s the story about?

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In this coming of age fantasy, seventeen-year-old Princess Srilani is prepared to die for her country, but she has to live long enough to make sure the heir survives.

After pirates abduct Srilani and her brother and sisters, they are stranded across the Great Gulf and far behind enemy lines. She convinces Aldan, the pirate captain’s slave, and his two brother slaves to share their perilous journey home.

These unlikely allies set out on a quest of heroes — against cutthroat pirates, merciless priests, and countless soldiers — to return the heir to his kingdom, but will coming home mean the end of happiness for Srilani?

Meet the author:

Kathrese McKee writes epic adventures for young adults and anyone else who enjoys pirates and princesses combined with life’s difficult questions.  She is committed to exciting stories, appropriate content, and quality craftsmanship.

Mardan’s Mark, the first book in the Mardan’s Mark series, has won a couple of awards: 2014 Novel Rocket Launch Pad Contest, MG/YA Category; and Finalist in the 2014 Phoenix Rattler writing contest, Christian Writers of the West (CWOW) – Arizona’s ACFW (American Christian Fictions Writers) affiliate.

The sequel, Mardan’s Anointed, is in process along with a related novella.

Mardans-Mark-3-D[1]My Review of Mardan’s Mark:

One of the reasons I love the holidays is for the lazy time to read; once presents are opened and meals are finished, I love digging into a good book.

This year was no exception, and the focus of my mental attention was Kathrese McKee’s debut novel, Mardan’s Mark. Talk about an absorbing, exciting book! I’m not a big Kindle reader (very much prefer real books), but I tapped away at those electronic pages until my pointer finger was calloused and my eyes blurry (around 2 am).

Mardan’s Mark features a multitude of quirky, memorable characters, page-turning action, and political intrigue — there are pirates, princesses, slaves, kings and queens, royal guards and even a surprise hurricane. Add to that an air of mystery that unfolds as the story does, and Mardan’s Mark provides the makings of a book you’ll want to devour in one sitting.

Even my romantic sap needs were met. The relationship between main characters Aldan and Srilani twisted together in a believable, sweet way that strengthened the plot even more.

Kathrese’s strengths as an author are multi-fold, but the two that stood out to me are her ability to build and sustain an exciting, non-stop plot and her meticulous detail creating multi-faceted, maturing characters. Aldan and Srilani were life-like on the page as they struggled with danger, their surroundings, their friends and family, and feelings for each other.

Secondary characters were just as strong; Sam, Linus, and Srilani’s siblings each brought unique personalities to the story, adding depth and often, humor.

Mardan’s Mark is a tough book to peg into one category, and that’s another strength. Its appeal crosses genre, with all the ingredients of a great read. I highly recommend this debut and look impatiently forward to the second installment of the series, Mardan’s Anointed (write fast, Kathrese!).

***

Kerry: Welcome to my blog, Kathrese! I’m so glad to have you here. How’s life as a published author?

Kathrese: The days are completely stuffed with things that must be done, like answering interview questions. *laughs nervously* Now that the ebook is on Amazon, my next goal is to get the print version out. And that requires coordinating several professionals to make sure the book is the best it can be.

I’ve really had to prioritize my time so that writing the next book comes first, before all the other activities that seem so important.

Kerry: Do you have a favorite story? Maybe a book that’s stayed with you for a long time, or inspired you to want to write?

Kathrese: So many books! As far as fairy tales go, I loved Beauty and the Beast when I was a girl, and I still love it. To Kill a Mockingbird took hold and never let go. I think A Wrinkle in Time may have sparked my interest in speculative fiction. There was never a time that I didn’t love to write, but I didn’t dare to dream of writing novels until I became a Reading teacher.

I became acutely aware of the books that were available to my students (and my children) on the school library shelves.  I was disappointed, not in the quality of the writing, but in the content. Parents really need to take an interest in what their children read, especially in middle school, when a student’s comprehension levels often outrun his or her maturity level.

Just because a student has a college reading level in seventh grade doesn’t mean she has the life experience to question or make mature judgments about the topics and values presented in many of the books labeled Young Adult. Frankly, many of these books seem to have an agenda that is troubling, sensationalizing sexuality and minimizing natural consequences of high risk behavior in the name of entertainment.

One night, I was reading a really great adventure novel with my son, my youngest child, when this idea crossed my mind. I bet I could write something like this. Let me tell you, writing is a lot harder than most people would expect! Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

Kerry: I’d love to know some background on Mardan’s Mark. Did the idea for Marst, the Land of the Twin Kingdoms, come first, or was it a particular character who popped into your imagination and wouldn’t take no for an answer?

Kathrese: So when I started writing, I chose to honor my children with one character apiece, not people just like them, but characters created in their honor. Definitely, the characters came first. And once the story began, more characters walked on stage. At the beginning, I was a “pantser.” I just wrote whatever occurred to me. But that didn’t last long because I had to keep the story straight, and it had to make sense.

Kerry: Mardan’s Mark has quite a large cast of characters. Yet you wrote it in such a way that each character was very distinct, their personalities and quirks unique. Was it easy for you to keep track of characters as you wrote, or did you need a list?

Kathrese: I forgot what’s-his-name on page forty-three and so-and-so got a new name on page one hundred thirteen. That got so frustrating that I was forced to make lists. Then I found Pinterest and started pinning pictures. Some of those characters have morphed, but pictures definitely help. Once I have “lived” with a character for a while, they are very real to me, and it gets easier to keep them straight. Oh, and they start doing things on their own and making up their own lines. That’s how it feels. I’m sure other authors will back me up on this.

Kerry: While I enjoyed Aldan and Srilani, I think Sam and Linus tie as my favorite character. They were each unique, frustrating at times, and yet loveable in their own way. So real. Is creating characters one of your favorite parts about storytelling?

Kathrese: Yes, characters are my favorite part of storytelling. The plot is just as important, but often, it springs from the question: What would a person like ______ do if _________ happened?

Kerry: I read in another interview that you wrote this story for your own children, who are teenagers. Did you share a little at a time, or wait until you were finished to let them read it. How’d it go? Kids can be so brutally honest.

Kathrese: I was very shy about sharing my story with anyone. Many times, I felt like Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, hiding in the barn while he worked on his invention in secret. My kids knew I was writing a story – a very, very long story – but they had little idea what it was about until I was done with the first book.

Kerry: I was ecstatic to learn Mardan’s Mark is first in a series, and can’t wait to get my hands on Mardan’s Anointed. No pressure, but do you have an ETP? Estimated time for Publication? Please? And how is the writing going, second time around?

Kathrese: I hope and pray to publish Mardan’s Anointed by the end of 2015 at the latest, but I’m committed to quality first. I won’t publish until it’s been through all the steps to make it the best it can be. My first draft is at about fifty percent of full length. For reference, Mardan’s Mark is right at 120,000 words, give or take a thousand, and I expect the second book to about the same length.

The hardest part of writing a second book is keeping the details straight, weaving the sub-plots in and out, and keeping the tension “on.” In the first book, I found my voice, but I want the second book to be even better. The other difficult thing about writing the second book is that my characters are in separate settings – for a time – while they fight related, but distinctly different, battles.

Kerry: The publishing world is a crazy, upside down place right now. Certain books are getting published that contain pretty awful writing and stories (and are made into movies), while quality fiction (like Mardan’s Mark) quietly gain five-star reviews and garner loyal followings from readers. It’s a tough world to maneuver. What have you learned about writing and publishing?

Kathrese: I think my expectations of what it means to be an indie author were pretty realistic going in:

  • A debut author needs to expect a slow, organic build of readership. Word-of-mouth, the most effective form of marketing, is earned. You can’t buy it.
  • A soft launch, for an indie author with an ebook and print on demand (POD), is all that is necessary. There’s no mad rush to “make it big” in the first thirty, sixty, or ninety days because the indie author has time on her side. I’m in this for the long haul. So I expect my readership to grow with each new book, if I’ve earned a reader’s loyalty with a wonderful reading experience.
  • Relationships are the richest part of the author experience. I’ve already met so many wonderful people through writing and publishing Mardan’s Mark.
  • If you commit to being an author and you ever expect to earn a living, you have to discipline yourself to write, especially when you don’t feel like writing. I’ve had more ah-hah moments when I just showed up to write, regardless of how I felt, than I’ve had when I was “in the mood.” It’s sort of like going to church when you’d rather stay in bed; that’s the morning when you hear the sermon that speaks to your soul and changes your life.

~ Quick Questions ~ 

Any pets? A Plott Hound (google it). I didn’t misspell the breed. I joke around that he’s the perfect dog for an author.

Favorite Holiday? Cinco de Mayo. Any excuse to eat Tex-Mex food will do.

A color we’ll never see you wear? Puce. With a name like that, no wonder.

Night owl or mourning dove? Mourning dove for sure. I’m the first one out of bed nearly every morning.

A book you’ll never part with? The impossible question! There are a few books I’ve read many times over: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, Time Enough for Drums by Ann Rinaldi, Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian, and Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester.

In the first three, I particularly admire the strong female protagonists. In the last two, I love the naval hero. Hmm. Well, I guess we can see where I got the inspiration for Mardan’s Mark.

Favorite way to spend a lazy day? Reclining in a hammock on the upper balcony of a bed and breakfast in Roatan that overlooks the water, eating popcorn and sipping soda, while reading a book. (I’ve done this once, but it’s my favorite.)

Favorite Bible verse? Again, so many choices. However, this is the one I chose for my devotions blog at christsreflections.wordpress.com:

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” –Proverbs 27:19 (NIV)

***

Kathrese, thank you so much for stopping by my blog! I truly enjoyed Mardan’s Mark, the characters, and the vivid story world of Marst. Readers can order your book HERE and learn more about you HERE.

Thanks, Kerry, for allowing me to be here and letting me talk about writing, life, and my books.

The Wrong Cup

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One of my favorite ways to spend sixty minutes is browsing a store with my sister. Target works well.

Mindy and I leave our boys to play board games galore with Grandma and Grandpa. We grab a hot drink at Starbucks and peruse aisles we normally steer clear of when kids trail behind or we’re in a hurry — candles, clothes, jewelry, makeup.

This particular evening we grabbed a hot peppermint tea (for me) and a decaf coffee (for her). Our shopping excursion was pure leisure; sunglasses for my younger son and black flip-flops for my older were the only items on my blissfully short list.

While we meandered purses, jewelry, and sunglasses, my sister reached into the cart for a sip of her decaf Americano sweetened with sugar-free syrup of some-kind-or-another. Instead she grabbed my identical cup, a steaming peppermint tea sweetened with a-little-too-much agave.

I whipped around to my sister leaned over the cart, her lean cheeks rounded with peppermint tea. A smile broke my face, then a giggle.

“Grabbed the wrong drink?” I asked the obvious.

She answered with a wild-eyed look, her cheeks still puffed with hot liquid, and it hit me like a shopping cart against my Achilles.

She can’t drink it. My tea was sweetened with sugar.

“You can’t just swallow it?” I tried. “Just one quick gulp?”

She shook her head decisively. We were fifty yards from the ladies’ room. How would she rid herself of that mouthful of unwanted liquid in a sea of scarves?

Let me explain a little about my older sister.

The past two and a half years brought about a marked change in Mindy’s life — she joined a support group for food addiction and over a period of many months, lost an astounding 160 pounds.

Let me type that out and make it bold and all that font jazz.

One hundred and sixty pounds. (!!!!!)

To say I’m proud of her and grateful for her improved health and energy is a vast understatement.

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Part of her strict weight loss regime was eliminating all sugar from her diet. The only sugar Mindy consumes comes from plain yogurt and fruit; nothing else is allowed in her daily food intake, and I’m in awe of her dedication and self-control.

But during that peaceful evening in Target, browsing chunky necklaces and clearance wallets, Mindy reached for the wrong cup, almost swallowing a mouthful of sweetener that was a big No-No.

Just in time, she located an empty garbage can, ridding herself of the sugared-up drink she couldn’t allow in her body. We giggled our way out of jewelry into the clearance clothing aisle, but the moment stayed with me.

The wrong cup.

The cup Jesus grasped during the twilight of His thirty-three years on Earth was boiling with rancid liquid. My sin swirled inside. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked His Father to take that cup from Him. But it was a cup only He could take, for us, to eliminate toxic sin from mankind.

Only He could do this thing. This Cross.

And He did.

“And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.’ He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.'” (Mark 14:33-36).

Charles Spurgeon said that, “the most important daily habit we can possess is to remind ourselves of the gospel.”

May we never forget that Jesus took a cup we couldn’t, in our place, handing back instead a trenta-sized offering of grace and mercy filled with living water.

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