SPFBO Finalist interview: Jacquelyn Hagen, the Author of The Wickwire Watch
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jackie has never had enough of stories. This was perhaps foreseeable, considering that a good deal of her childhood was spent face-deep in books, writing short stories, and putting on goofy and/or dramatic theatrical productions. Then came a growing love for movies, folk music, and classic literature. She graduated college with a degree in Film and Television Production, which led to a brief stint in the entertainment industry. Finding this business incompatible with her super-introverted personality, she looked instead to what stories were being told in the wider world and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
Still, the stories never left her alone. In early 2009, in the confines of a small barracks room, a curious boy with a brash attitude and an oversized top hat came to announce that he had a fascinating tale of his own, and he wasn’t going away until she agreed to tell it. She was hesitant at first, but when other intriguing characters began to follow, she realized she had no choice but to welcome the unexpected commission. Their story is told in The Riverfall Chronicles.
She resides wherever the Air Force needs her to be. In her free time, she continues to devour stories in every form (usually while hanging out with her two big fluffy dogs), but has also been known to play in folk bands, raise chickens, and try to improve her bread-baking skills. She is pleased and excited to finally release her stories into the wild. Above all else, she hopes her readers will be blessed by them.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.
Thank you for inviting me! I am a fantasy author, mandolin player, amateur baker, film nerd, and super introvert who is often accompanied by my faithful and adorable shepherd-mix dogs.
Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?
I am currently serving in the U.S. Air Force.
Who are some of your favorite writers, and why is their work important to you?
C.S. Lewis, for his style, boldness, and humor. Ursula Le Guin, for her world-building and inventiveness. Charles Dickens, for his colorful characters and rich prose that runs the gamut from terrifying to heart-breaking to mischievous.
What do you think characterizes your writing style?
I would say that its general tone is “whimsically mysterious”. I’m all in favor of drama and intrigue, but I always try to keep things somewhat balanced with the occasional humorous observation or line of dialogue.
What made you decide to self-publish The Wickwire Watch as opposed to traditional publishing?
I did make an attempt many years ago to land myself a literary agent. I sent out about two dozen queries, got a few bites in the form of three manuscript requests, but things never really progressed from there. For a long time after that I contented myself with the idea of writing solely for myself, and for interested family and friends. Thirteen years and four books later, a good friend suggested I look into self-publishing. I turned my nose up at the idea at first, with the same prejudices that often linger around the subject (for example, that self-publishing means you’re not a “real” writer). But then I began to do some serious research into the prospect, and I quickly discovered that indie publishing was now at the point where a serious writer could turn out a book with a level of quality every bit as high as traditional publishers. I was also horrified by the notion that a traditional publisher could option the first book of your series, decide to discontinue it, and then keep the rights. I was not going to risk that happening to my work. I took the indie publishing route in 2022 and haven’t looked back since.
What’s your favorite and least favorite parts of self-publishing?
My favorite part is having the final say over all aspects, and being able to work so closely with my editor, cover designer, and narrator in making the books the best they can be.
My least favorite part is trying to figure out what to say on social media. I’m a super introvert even on the internet.
Contrary to many self-published authors, you went wide instead of being kindle exclusive. Why? Did it pay off?
I did a lot of research before making this decision, listened to several authors who had gone the indie publishing route, and the message I kept getting was “don’t put your writing career in the hands of one company”. I also went into this venture with the aim of getting my books into the greatest number of hands possible—not to make the most money possible. If for no other reason than this, I knew wide was the best path for me.
Your book is available in audiobook format. Can you share your experience producing it and a reflection if it was worth it?
I decided to have an audiobook produced through Findaway Voices. Being totally new to the process, they were a big help in getting me started and finding the best narrator. When I sent out a call for auditions for The Wickwire Watch, I had about 10 voice actors respond and send me samples. They were all very talented, but as soon as I heard Wayne Farrell, the contest was over. Wayne and I are now about to embark on our third audiobook recording, and he has been an absolute joy to work with every step of the way. To have it done by a professional voice actor (which I very much recommend) can be quite costly, but I have personally found it to be a very good move. Audiobooks account for about 20% of my sales at the moment, and that number will only rise as more are produced. There are some hardcore audiobook fans out there as well. Whenever I’ve released a new book I always get asked when the audiobook version will be released. Plus, everyone loves Wayne’s performances, so that doesn’t hurt either.
Why did you enter SPFBO?
When I was researching the best ways for indie authors to market their books, a suggestion was made to enter competitions. A bit more research led me to SPFBO, the biggest and best for indie fantasy authors. As soon as I saw this, I made sure to be at my desk the second the contest was open for submissions. Really, I was simply hoping for the chance to give my book a little more exposure, especially as I was (and still am) brand-new to the indie publishing scene. That decision has paid off in spades, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
What would you do if you won the SPFBO?
Eat some really good ice cream, and then continue working on the next book in the series. Honestly, I would do the same if I didn’t win.
How would you describe the plot of The Wickwire Watch if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?
It’s about a boy who discovers he’s being hunted by dark spirits he never knew existed, and the only people who can keep him safe are a group of wanted fugitives on the run.
What was your initial inspiration for the book? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?
Back in 2009, I had two very vivid dreams a few nights apart from each other. They were only a few seconds long, and only images, but they were so striking I couldn’t help but keep thinking about them. Soon I began to wonder if the people in the visions could be connected, and what their stories might be. They ended up becoming two of my main characters; Ink and Seherene. I didn’t actually publish The Wickwire Watch until 2022, so there were a good thirteen years of working on it, along with three of its sequels. It hasn’t evolved in any major way since its inception, just tweaks here and there along the way.
If you had to describe it in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?
Mysterious, adventurous, unpredictable.
Is it part of the series or a standalone? If series, how many books have you planned for it?
It is the first book of The Riverfall Chronicles. The first three books have already been published. I have planned for seven books total.
Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to The Wickwire Watch’s protagonists/antagonists?
Inkwell Featherfield is a boy on a mission who finds himself the target of terrifying dark spirits. He is bold and curious, and a very able pickpocket. He trusts no one.
Isaac Caradoc is a leading member of the fugitive group who offers to keep Ink safe. He is deeply mysterious, wildly unpredictable, and has a mark on his left hand that gives him power over the spirits.
Lady Seherene is leading the hunt for the fugitives. She is prudent and clever, and growing frustrated by the political games she must play simply to make any progress in her search. She is also an Entrian, which means she is capable of performing enchantments.
Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?
The Entrian people have the ability to perform enchantments. This is largely a faith and emotion-based magic system, which many people in their world consider akin to prayer. There are also several enchanted items that come into play, which several of the non-magical characters are able to make use of.
Have you written The Wickwire Watch with a particular audience in mind?
Not at all. It’s for anyone and everyone to enjoy.
What was your proofreading/editing process?
The Wickwire Watch went through about 10 major drafts, to include many minor ones that were done after receiving feedback from beta readers—of which there were many over the course of thirteen years. When I finally decided to get serious about publishing, I knew I wanted a professional editor who had a good amount of experience. I found my wonderful editor, Liz Ward, through Reedsy, and she has been such a great help to me and my books. So now, beta readers are usually sent the second draft of my book, followed by a copy edit and then a separate proofread done by Liz. In between those steps, I am reading through the entire story again and doing another draft—to include a final “clean-up” revision once the book has been formatted.
Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of The Wickwire Watch and the artist?
A book’s cover is absolutely crucial. Once again, I wanted the very best cover designer in order to give my book the best chance possible to pique interest and attention. I was very fortunate to get Stuart Bache to take my projects on. He is a very well-known cover designer, not only in indie publishing but in the traditional world as well. He has also begun branching out into book trailers, which I also commissioned from him. He does beautiful work. And I have been told that the simple image of a pocket watch has attracted many readers to it. It’s not the most colorful or flashy of covers, but it does its job well in evoking a heavy sense of mystery and intrigue in the same way the story itself does.
Which question about the book do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: Would you please sign this contract for the film and television rights?
A: Why yes, I will. But I want the final say on casting.
What’s your publishing Schedule for 2023/2024?
I am currently at work on the latest draft of Book 4 of The Riverfall Chronicles. I am aiming for a release date somewhere in Spring of 2024. My narrator is also about to start production on the audiobook of The Blue Flames (Book 3), which should be available to listeners in December of this year.
Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
I would only caution readers not to make the same mistake I did in thinking that indie publishing means lower-quality stories. That is not the case at all, and there are plenty of great resources to help you find the ones which might interest you the most. Check them out! Before you know it, your TBR will be wildly out of control, but that’s a great problem to have.