Interview: Natalie Bartley
Natalie Bartley sat down with us this week and we got to talk about the voices in her head, writer’s block, how one of her characters led her to write for a popular online magazine, and what her writing process looks like.
CJ: Let’s start with you just telling us a little about yourself.
Natalie: Well, for starters, I am a lifelong student. I have spent 12 of the last 15 years in post-secondary education, which has given me a 3-year Advanced Diploma in Music, a Bachelor of Arts in Classics with a minor in Anthropology, and a 2-year Diploma in Small Business – Entrepreneurship. I guess I just like to learn. I have been writing since I was in high school, starting with poetry and then moving to stories when I got to college. Initially, I didn’t want anyone to read what I wrote since most of it lay unfinished.
CJ: That’s a lot of education. Have you used any of it as a writer?
Natalie: Absolutely. Especially my Classics degree. I am a fanatic about Greek mythology, about world mythos, seeing their creation stories, and how that shaped individual civilizations. I use that knowledge in my stories as most of them involve other religions, the various deities within those religions, and how those deities may affect the world in which my characters live.
CJ: I’ve started reading your book, Love and Pain in Zion, and am about halfway done. It seems to be a different type of story than the others you’ve written. Would you say that’s the case and what inspired you to write it?
Natalie: Love and Pain in Zion started off as a fantasy of mine. That first chapter was always meant to be short. But once I wrote it out, that last paragraph inspired more. I saw the rest of the novel in my head, the characters I’d introduced, the hardship that I would put them all through, everything… except for the ending. I knew I couldn’t just leave it as a short; I had to write out the entire thing. If only to see where everyone ended up.
CJ: I completely understand that. I have it happen to me when I write something from a prompt. Once I get started, the characters take over and don’t shut up until their stories are told. Now, I haven’t had the opportunity to read your other books, but how would you say they differ from Love and Pain in Zion?
Natalie: The Iridescent Kitchen Sylph is a little novella, really the first one I’ve ever written. I set it at the end of the world, humanity is living entirely on ships and subs, and one of the aircraft carriers, the Iridescent, has a special crew member, Sylphia. She is the daughter of the sea. The crew found her many years before and the captain raised her. The story was a chance for me to exercise my skills at writing novellas; the story is only 8700 words long, and I found it enjoyable. It ended where I felt it was right. I didn’t need to force the story, and it sparked ideas for more novellas to come after it. Apotheosis, on the other hand… is my baby. I have put more effort, lost more sleep, and just all around devoted my soul to that story than any other. It’s me, my world, my secret desires. Which when you look at the content makes for very interesting thoughts. People, places, names, all come from some aspect of my life that I have lived, or dreamt and desired. It makes me selfish and greedy, but they are my stories, my characters… even if I had to borrow from the Greek Pantheon. And no, only the last 10-ish chapters or so were written after I’d discovered and joined the In The Pantheon server/blog.
CJ: Let’s talk about The Pantheon for a moment. How did you come to hear about it?
Natalie: On Twitter. I don’t even remember exactly. I think someone I follow retweeted a post, and I started looking. Hekate hooked me. As a witch myself, I knew she would. And it was the night of the live party event, 1001 nights, so I just had to join, to see this world that had been created around my favorite pantheon. And well… addicted would probably be the best word for it. I’m coming up on almost 3 months on the server and reading the website, and I am loving every minute of it!
CJ: With your background and the stories you’ve already written, it seems like The Pantheon is just a natural extension of what you already do. Do you find that being a part of the Pantheon makes it easier or harder to write your own stories?
Natalie: I think it makes it harder. Which is great, because it makes the challenge that much more exhilarating. To find my spin on the gods I’m coming to know in a different aspect. But, I love the voices of The Pantheon, everyone knows their deity intimately, and I respect that as an author. So much so I applied to be a writer for them. I can’t say, however, that it wasn’t difficult to move away from how I know a specific god or two to be portrayed when I finished my chapters for Apotheosis. I really had to separate my love for The Pantheon from the story I knew had to be told.
CJ: It’s difficult, as a writer, to read another story that has characters similar to what you’ve created yet different because they are someone else’s. Sometimes I wonder if authors should not read in the genre they write in because of that. Are there any other writing projects that you’re involved in?
Natalie: Absolutely! I’m working on my WIP’s my big one is The Domed City (working title) and it’s even larger than Apotheosis. I’m also one of the founders of Legends of the Veil where I voice Medea, the Sorceress of Colchis. And my first post has gone up with The Pantheon, which I said before I had applied to, where I am the humble scribe for Amphitrite, the Sea Goddess. I have felt her calling me, since that first night in The Pantheon Discord server, and I am so glad to scribe for her!
CJ: It sounds like you have a lot of writing stuff going on. Do you have a day job that you do or are you one of the lucky few who can write for a living?
Natalie: Neither at the moment. The job I held while I was in school was a contract job, and when all the COVID crazy happened, I could work from home, which was nice. But then my contract ended, and I have been job hunting since the end of April. It has, thankfully, given me the time I need to write. In that time, since COVID shut the world down, I started and finished The Iridescent Kitchen Sylph, finished Apotheosis, finished a story I can’t publish as it is a fanfiction sequel without public domain rights, and got started with The Pantheon and Legends.
CJ: Looking at where you’re at, how would you define success as an author?
Natalie: My definition of success was originally just getting published. I never meant for my stories to see the light of day. A friend of mine told me he wanted to read them, and then pushed me through the last two years of college to finish and publish Love and Pain in Zion because he loved it so much. I thought, maybe I can actually do this. Now, I’d like to see at least 5 sales of each book each month, but I’m not there yet. I’m working on my promotion and marketing, especially taking all these chances to do interviews whenever I can!
CJ: Your books are all self-published. Was there ever a time that you thought to traditionally publish and if so, what changed your mind?
Natalie: No, I never thought about traditional publishing. I think because I have this innate fear of being rejected. Once I found out about Amazon KDP, I jumped at it. I thought it was brilliant, allowing authors to publish their own work and put it out for the world to see. Even their ad center and promos are helpful. I did a promo for Love and Pain in Zion and The Iridescent Kitchen Sylph back in May and starting this Sunday, I’m doing a week-long promo for Apotheosis.
CJ: I’ve found KDP to be extremely helpful. Let’s take a moment to talk about your process. Walk me through how you get ready to write, how you feel during the writing, and what happens when you’re done.
Natalie: For me, it’s a tea beside me, maybe some snacks because I munch when I write. I sit down wherever. I’ve written in my old office, in class, at the kitchen table, on my bed or on my couch. Really, I think I need to feel my muse surround me before I can right, or at the very least, have my main character start yelling at me. Medea hasn’t shut up in the last two months, which is why I’m pumping out her posts like crazy, Amph is getting there, but she went silent while we waited to hear about the application, and now I feel the need to write her more. Jillian and Laren, the main characters from The Domed City and The Crossing respectively, have been quiet. I need to look at them again. They need my attention as much as Amphitrite and Medea do. While I’m writing though, candy, music, I can write while people talk to me. It’s bizarre but I was more effective at writing and getting my stories out while I was in class, even one of my teachers was a fan of my stuff. After though, that will depend on the scene, chapter, or section that I just wrote. Normally I’m jumping onto the Playstation and running around in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey or Neverwinter. They help me wind down and de-stress. I have found that I never drink alcohol while I write. I’ve had plenty of opportunity to, and I won’t turn down a glass after the fact, but never during.
CJ: I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this, but, when you write your stories, what comes first the characters or the plot?
Natalie: The characters. The plot most of the time doesn’t come until I’m writing. I’m a plantser, kind of. I may have one or two key things that have to happen, but most of the time, the plot comes as I write. I used to write by pencil and paper, and that was how the words flowed.
CJ: Have you ever had a moment of writer’s block?
Natalie: Oh yes! So most of my stories started while I was at college and university for the first time. Love and Pain in Zion I started in 2009 ish, and I didn’t finish it until last year. I put it down for a long time when I was diagnosed with vertigo, but I’m not sure why. Regardless, the voices of my characters stopped, so I couldn’t continue. Then in around 2016, while I was working, one of my MC’s speeches in Apotheosis came to me and bam! The blockage ended.
CJ: I have a series I wrote 5 chapters and then stopped because I had no clue where it was going. A year later I was sitting in my car, about to go into an award ceremony and the name Victor popped into my head for no reason at all. As soon as I heard the name, the entire rest of my story flooded in. It’s almost like magic when that happens.
Natalie: I couldn’t agree more! That has happened to me before. When I was stuck with The Domed City, I completely lost where Jillian needed to go. I knew a few things, but I couldn’t connect them. And then I was outside right after it rained, and you know that smell? Petrichor, the smell of earth right after it rained? It exploded in my mind about who Jillian’s birth mother is, and the rest of the story has mostly come to me. I’m still blanking a little, but it’s more about minute details that anything too large to the plot.
CJ: We’ve only got a few minutes left, so what encouragement would you give to new authors or authors who haven’t published yet?
Natalie: Don’t stop. Don’t think you can’t do it. If you hit a block, that’s fine, it happens to us all. As we’ve both just said, inspiration can come in the most random of places. Pick your story back up and keep writing. Just don’t stop. There are so many avenues for new writers nowadays, that weren’t around when I started or weren’t as well known unless you were in the industry. Don’t Stop Writing!
CJ: Thank you so much for joining me today Natalie. I’ve really enjoyed our time together!
Natalie: As have I, thank you very much for having me!
You can connect with Natalie Bartley via these avenues: