Interview with Catherine Jones Payne

How would you describe your spiritual and/or religious beliefs, and how would you say they influence your writing?

I’m an Anglican Christian, and I take that faith very seriously. Anglicanism is a tradition rich in liturgy, beauty, and symbolism. My books don’t usually have an explicit Christian angle, but you’ll find that I often wrestle with intrinsically spiritual questions in them. Breakwater, for example, examines questions of justice and violence. I try to approach those deeper themes with humility (I don’t have all the answers, and my characters certainly don’t) and honesty, because I believe that genuine faith doesn’t have to shut itself away from hard issues or fear the light of truth.

Why do you think you became a writer, and why speculative fiction?

I’ve been writing since I was small. In one of my earliest memories, I’m writing a story on my parents’ old DOS computer, wearing a tiara and probably my Cinderella “glass slippers.” And fantasy has always had a special place in my heart.

What can you tell us about your Broken Tides series of novels?

They’re all about mermaids, murder, and mayhem! Most mermaid novels seem to be about romance (though some recent high-profile books are trending away from that), but in Broken Tides, the romance is secondary to the political intrigue, the personal journey of the protagonist (sort of coming-of-age because it’s YA), and the life-threatening stakes.

Did you consider pursuing traditional publication for the novels, or were you always planning to publish them independently? What are some of the considerations that led to your decision?

I’m a huge proponent of indie publishing and never seriously considered querying agents or editors on the Broken Tides series. Part of that was about wanting to take the book to market quickly; I was able to release Breakwater just ten months after I began seriously drafting it. I’m also concerned about creative control. That doesn’t mean I’ll never try to take a book traditional—I decided to sign with an agent this summer, and there’s a project in the works that we’re going to pitch. But traditional wouldn’t have been the right choice for my first series.

Are there any particular themes or issues that you find yourself especially drawn to writing about?

I really love writing about women. In my mermaid books, the society is strictly egalitarian (along gender lines, at least), and it was really fun to write books where the women were truly equal to men socially. There’s no angst about glass ceilings or pay gaps or particular fear of sexual assault. In my next indie series, the society is quite sexist, and my female protagonist is going to have to navigate obstacles related to that.

Do you see yourself as a “Christian” author? How helpful is that term, anyway?

I don’t like “Christian” as an adjective very much. I am a Christian and an author, and unapologetically so. But if I use phrases like “Christian author,” many people will make certain assumptions about me, from my politics, to the way I engage with pop culture, to the content of my books. And often those assumptions will be incorrect. So I think the phrase “Christian author” muddies the water more than it helps.

You're also the owner and managing editor of Quill Pen Editorial. Do you find that being a professional editor makes it easier or more difficult to write your own fiction?

Definitely easier, on average. To be an effective editor, I have to know writing craft, and it helps to connect with other people in the field. This made it easier to find my team and my support system when I decided to indie publish my own books. The flip side is burnout, though. If I have a heavy editing load, it can be hard to find the energy to write.

Do you tend to plot out your stories first, or just start writing and see where they go?

I have to plot, or I don’t finish! There’s nothing worse than looking at a blank page and not knowing where I’m going.

Do you have any stories you want to write someday, but aren't yet ready to?

Oh, yes. Someone close to me took their life a few years ago. Someday I’ll write about that aftermath. But not yet.

What are you working on now?

The last book in my mermaid series is zipping back and forth between the editors and me, and when I’m not revising that, I’m drafting a YA historical fantasy or outlining a trilogy about a fire dancer.

What advice would you give to authors who are considering independent publication for their own novels?

Spend some time figuring out your core values first, and how they relate to your publishing goals. Really dig deep, and be honest with yourself. You don’t have to show this to anyone else. Then pursue a smart publishing strategy based on those goals. If you want to sell a lot of copies, make sure you have a really good cover that fits what’s currently selling in your genre. If you want to say something specific with your book, make sure your editor is aware of that core kernel at the center of the story. If you want a long-term career in publishing, persevere. It’s a hard road. But a good one.

Catherine Jones Payne is a Seattle native who loves the written word, international travel, crashing waves, and good coffee. Her earliest memory involves pulling up a rolling chair to her parents’ old DOS computer—while wearing a tiara, naturally—and tapping out a story of kidnapped princesses. By day she’s the executive editor of Quill Pen Editorial and the author of the Broken Tides series. She lives in Greenville, SC with her historian husband, Brendan, and their cats, Mildred and Minerva.

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