Interview with Charlotte Henley Babb

Published 2018-07-18.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first one I remember was about a family of cardinals. I wrote it in second grade and drew a picture to illustrate it. I don't remember what happened, only that my teacher was very surprised that I wrote a story.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't really remember learning to read, and I do remember enjoying Dr. Seuss's Bartholomew Cubbins and the Oobleck. The first story that really had an impact on me was Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, where the character said something about not even trying to sign up to be a pilot, because girls were better pilots than boys. The rest of the book was about being in boot camp, and it was fascinating to me. I think I read it in third grade, circa 1960.

I was probably 8 or 9 at the time, and very much feeling that I got the short end of the stick as a girl--this would have been 1958-59. Girls were required to wear dresses, often the scratchy, crinoline kind. I hated dresses and rarely wear them except in the summer. I never really got into girls books except for Anne of Green Gables and Jo March of the Little Women series. I wanted to be a writer because of Jo March, even though we both ended up as teachers. Louisa Alcott managed to support herself by writing, however.
What is your writing process?
My process is very messy, just like my crafting and my housekeeping.

I vacillate between planning and pantzing. I do some planning, write some, plan some more, write some more, and try to write as much in sequence as I can. Having some idea what comes next helps me jump in, but some days I end up writing a character sketch, asking myself a lot of questions about motivations or moodling with some new idea that has popped into my head and what would happen if the characters did that. Other days I just write something completely unrelated, after putting a few ideas into the subconscious, and then seeing what comes up.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in North Carolina in the outskirts of a small mill village. Most of my kin worked for the mill, or at some other manufacturing work, and they were sons and daughters of farmers for the most part. When I was twelve, we moved to Charlotte, NC, which was something of culture shock to me, as my classmates in junior high were much more upper middle class than my working class family. My dad was a carpenter, and my mom worked in the offices of a large textile company.

I am redneck at the core, having played with the boys in the woods, since there were no girls my age whose moms would let them out of the yard. But I have always felt that just out of sight was another dimension, Faery, or some other place available by portal, and if I could just find the way--and the way back--I could have lots of adventures. I always felt like I was something of an alien, never quite fitting in, never really interested in the things girls liked and not really one of the boys either. The fact that I was large and well-developed for my age didn't help. I could wear my mom's size 6 shoes when I was six, and started wearing a bra at nine--34C. So I spent a lot of my childhood and youth reading science fiction and fantasy, anything that was set somewhere else than where I was.
Who are your favorite authors?
Sir Terry Pratchett set the standard for me for satirical fantasy, silliness with a bite and a heapin helpin of social commentary. I admire Shelly Adina and Gail Carriger's steampunk novels, and John Hartness's Bubba the Monster Hunter. My first love was Robert Heinlein's juveniles written for Boys Life, books that featured very few female characters, but then I discovered his adult works, and found out why the way to write for younger readers was to take the sex out of the story. Neil Gaiman rocks my world with his dark and elaborate fantasy. I like Jim Butcher's Dresden stories, and what I've read of his steampunk is very promising.

I read a lot of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, not so much for the mysteries but for the lifestyle of the upper classes of the 1920s in England. I read a lot of popular science articles on the internet and anything else that I run across as I fall down the rabbit hole.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I discovered steampunk a few years ago, and I wanted to write something like Shelly Adina's Magnificient Devices or Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. I wanted to set the stories in the Southeast of the US, but I didn't want to write about the Civil War or Reconstruction of that time period. So I started researching local history, learning that there was an industrial revolution in the county where I live in South Carolina before the American Revolution.

That's when I decided to explore what would have happened to keep the American Revolution from being successful. I found a number of turning points, and came up with an alternate history of many nations on the continent, with a confederation of First Nations holding the Appalachian mountains and the plains to the Mississippi, and a new nation along the southeastern coast of freed slaves and eastern Natives, split into two sections by the well-fortified Charles Town of South Carolina.

Add a madam of uncertain origin, her lesbian lover, her airship, a rogue detective, and international intrigue, and that's what I will release next: 20 Hours to Charles Town.
How do you approach cover design?
For my novels, I have found a great designer, C.K. Volnek, who did the covers for _Maven Fairy Godmother_ and _20 Hours to Charles Town_. I have done the covers for my story collections, as I am pretty good with Photoshop. I look for an image that works with one or more of the stories, that evokes the kind of mood I have in mind. Depending on the subject, i may use several layers of images, or I may use the image as it comes, either a free public domain image or an inexpensive one from a stock photo site.

What is most important is that the cover is attractive at full size, and the title and author line is visible in a postage stamp size thumbnail. The colors should match the theme of the stories, and the type should be readable. If the story is cutesy, then a cute typeface is good, but a plain typeface is better than one that can't be read. To get a good sense of good cover design, go to any bookselling website and look at the covers for the genre that you write. People do pick books by their covers, so which ones do you find that you want to read. How are they laid out? What typefaces do they use? What kinds of images?

That's what I do.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use a Kindle, my smartphone and my computer. The kindle is too heavy to carry in my pocket, and I avoid carrying a pocketbook as much as possible. I read on my computer to grade papers in my day job, so sometimes i will read a book on the desktop, especially if I am reading it for a review, and the writer sends me a PDF. My phone has several ereader apps, including Nook, Kindle and one or two others, so depending on where I am, I always have something to read.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I despaired of finding a publisher, and my agent did not seem to be on the same page as I was. I did finally sign a contract with a publisher that mostly published romance and mystery, but no fantasy or science fiction. It was not a bad contract, but it was not a good fit for my book. I was able to get the rights back to control what I wrote, the prices and everything else, since I did not get a lot of marketing help from the publisher--not at all uncommon with small presses.

I still struggle with marketing, but I have the skills to do the book layout and cover design, so my primary expense is marketing, planning for it and getting paid help. I'm not making money at this point--about enough to go to starbucks a couple of times a month, but I am writing, and my work is out there. You start where you start.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
When the writing is good, I am just the first reader. It comes to me and flows through my brain and out the ends of my fingers. I find myself creating a world and characters that are as real to me as the people I meet for coffee in the mornings.

I love creating a new world and then seeing how people interact in it. I love taking fairy tales and fracturing them over the head of my favorite fairy godmother. I love doing the research and finding ways to use it to embroider my ideas and put texture into the work. I love it when a story comes together.

Then there are days when I slog along, and nothing seems to work, but I just keep typing. It takes about 300 words or so to get the pump primed, and some days the whole scene will just gel. Other days I write answers to questions on Quora to keep my fingers in practice and my brain thinking.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
It might not be inspiration, but I always have to get up to pee. Then I might as well get dressed and see what I can get done. I tend to wake up early, and unless I'm sick, I don't go back to bed. I've never found it comfortable to lounge in my nightgown, and my day clothing is comfortable. I don't see any point in not being comfortable even when I'm mostly presentable.

When I am teaching, there are papers to grade, and when I'm not, there's facebook. If I can get started writing early, it goes better than later in the day, even though sometimes it's later in the eveing when I am ready to let the words flow.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I use various sources, review swaps, email lists.Review swaps give me the widest range of books, especially historical an biographical work that helpws me with research.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
So far, I have sold the most books by going to science fiction and fan conventions. I'm still working on learning marketing online.
Describe your desk
My desk is a chaotic l-shape of glass and metal. My monitor sits on the left side under a high window, and the right side faces a picture window of my front yard and the neighborhood, which has a lot of trees.
At the moment, I am still putting things away from moving back into my house after a tree fell on it, so the desk is even more cluttered than usual, as I try to figure out where all this junk came from, what of it I will keep, and where to put the rest of it.
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Books by This Author

Adventures of Silicon Jones
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 20,820. Language: English. Published: August 2, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary, Fiction » Fantasy » Paranormal
(4.00 from 1 review)
Brewster "Silicon" jones is the ne'er-do-well your mother warned you about. Good hearted but lazy, Jones would rather lie than eat, and he manages to slide through his life and the four dimensions like grass through a goose. A spin off from the Maven Fairy Godmother universe, Jones tours the City of Gold, and meets 7 deadly dwarfs, 3 baby dragons, and his dead ex-girlfriend. Mature Audiences Only.
Just a Smidgen of Magic
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 7,270. Language: English. Published: July 19, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Urban, Fiction » Urban
Five flash fiction stories are told from the edge of the realm of magic--enchanted moments, bitter realizations, answering the call, and returning with the elixir. Even in the mundane world, magic is only a moment away from manifestation, as each of these characters learns, sometimes to their sorrow. Artifacts, The Croning, Not Even One Wish, Taffy's Tale, Zen of Cool
Walking Off Heaven's Shore
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 12,920. Language: English. Published: August 15, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Themes & motifs » Psychological, Fiction » Literature » Literary
A Ten-piece Bucket of Southern Fried Flash Fiction that explores relationships with a definite southern flavor--gothic, wistful and canny. Flash fiction and poetry set in the real world, with real people: mothers and daughters, men and women, self and soul, media and sanity in the style of Eudora Welty, Kate Chopin, and Flannery O'Connor for the 21st Century in the New South.
Walking Off Heaven's Shore
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 12,950. Language: English. Published: August 2, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Themes & motifs » Psychological, Fiction » Literature » Literary
A Ten-piece Bucket of Southern Fried Flash Fiction that explores relationships with a definite southern flavor--gothic, wistful and canny.
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 17,340. Language: American English. Published: July 3, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire
(4.00 from 1 review)
Three fractured fairy tales for grownups with the inimitable Maven Fairy Godmother: Kiss of the Kudzu, Beans, and PumpkinEater. The client is always right, even when she isn't, so Maven does her best to get the client the happily ever after that she wants, even when she makes a very unwise wish. Sometimes despite Maven's best efforts, the client gets what she deserves...what she asked for.
Maven's Fractured Fairy Tales
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 15,330. Language: American English. Published: July 11, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire
(4.00 from 1 review)
Funny retellings of Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, and Frog Prince featuring Maven Fairy Godmother, a middle-aged woman who fractures each fairy tale in trying to make her clients' wishes come true. Written for adults
Maven Fairy Godmother: Through the Veil
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 101,620. Language: American English. Published: March 5, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
A dead cellphone calls with a job offer and a promise of dragons. Giving up what's left of her self-esteem for coffee, her last chance to redeem her life comes as a job offer to be a fairy godmother. But Faery is shrinking, the other fairy godmothers have disappeared, and nothing she does turns out right. How can she put together the happily ever after each of her clients wants?
20 Hours to Charles Town
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 76,320. Language: American English. Published: April 30, 2019. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Steampunk & retropunk, Fiction » LGBTQ+ » Lesbian
An airship madam risks her business and the love of her life to expand her information network with new technology, but can she deliver the colonial ambassadors to Charles Town despite air pirates, a hoodoo and a rogue Mauverton detective?
In the Still Midwinter
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 9,190. Language: English. Published: November 28, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Holiday » Christmas, Fiction » Women's fiction » Feminist
(4.00 from 1 review)
Five short stories share Christmas redemption and revelation with family, friends, coworkers, strangers and the dear departed.