"The Markings" book on a shelf with other YA books

Interview: Indie Author Catherine Downen On ‘The Markings’

Fantasy and post-apocalyptic worlds? Powers based on the four senses? A girl’s journey to freedom? You will find all of the above and more in Catherine Downen’s new book, The Markings. 

A hardcover copy of Catherine Downen's book, "The Markings" on a wooden table next to a glass vase with flowers
Photo credit: Catherine Downen

In The Markings, Catherine brings to life a new world with gifted individuals who are persecuted by the ruling kingdom on the island-nation of Dather. The story follows Adaline, a gifted 16-year old who escapes a prison cell after her mother reveals the truth about her unique power. Along the way, she meets other gifted individuals and embarks on a quest to find Libertas, an island that holds answers to people like her, while on the run from the tyrannical King Renon. 

Read Our Interview

Author photo of Catherine Downen
Author photo of Catherine Downen / Photo provided by Catherine Downen

In this interview, I ask author Catherine Downen questions about The Markings, delving into her inspiration and process of bringing her vivid tale to life. Catherine also shares her experience with self-publishing for the first time, stressing on the importance of self-publishing for authors.  

The Inspiration for The Markings

How was the idea for The Markings born? Was it an accumulation of inspirations or a sudden ‘spark’ from a moment? 

The Markings is an idea that came to me as a freshman in high school, nine years ago. Originally, I got the idea from a dream that I had. Many parts from the dream are still in the finished manuscript. Like opening the story in Adaline’s prison cell. Her meeting Alexander, an old friend and ex-nation guard, and an ambush by the captain of the nation’s guard, Paylon. That day I had written chapters one and two of this story, knowing that it was something I was very excited to write about. Three of my favorite authors also fueled the inspiration for the rest of the book while bringing the entire story to life –Suzanne Collins, Victoria Aveyard, and John Green. 

The protagonist, Adaline, has the gift of “Force Lifter.” In a world where enhanced senses play a heavy theme, what made you choose this gift for her?

"The Markings" sits on a shelf with other YA fantasy and dystopian novels
“The Markings” sits on a shelf with other YA fantasy and dystopian novels / Photo credit: Catherine Downen

Adaline actually had these powers in the dream I had that began the story. Of course, in the dream she just had the powers. I didn’t know why or what it was called. That all came later when I was deciding what kind of magic system could exist in my world. Adaline’s powers are very similar to telekinesis, which is the ability to move objects with your mind. I knew I wanted my magic system to be something unique that felt fresh. I took the concept of telekinesis but twisted it so the character controls objects with her sense of sight, not her mind. 

From there I realized using the five human senses could be a really easy way to build a relatable magic system in my book. I also decided Adaline would be a Force Lifter because I wanted to give her a power I felt she could “unlock” on her own and wouldn’t need as much training as say a Future Holder or Sensor may need. This aspect allowed Adaline’s discovery of her powers to become more natural. This gift was something that strengthened Adaline, but didn’t overpower the thrill of life and death or intensity of the story. If I had given Adaline a more powerful gift, the progression of the story would have been much faster. Her gift would have become the driving force of the journey instead of the ways Adaline figures her gift out on her own. 

The Setting and World-Building

The history of the asteroid showers leading to the current setting and time is interesting. What was the inspiration behind the story taking place on the Hawaiian/Pacific Islands?

I chose to set this story on the Hawaiian Islands because I had vacationed there as a kid and fell in love with them! They are so beautiful and tropical and the perfect setting for my novel. I really wanted this world to feel small, with a small leading force ruling different islands. I didn’t want it to feel like it was Adaline against an entire nation as big as the United States. It helps to let the reader feel like they know the whole world. 

Another reason for the setting is how important it is to Adaline’s story. If the setting was a huge, vast, and complex world, it would be harder to understand the details of her journey to Libertas. The actual history is that asteroids had destroyed everything on Earth but the islands pretty much wrote itself. I remember sitting down one day knowing I needed to write the background to the story. How did this world come to be? Where did the powers come from? How do I make this feel realistic and magical at the same time? The answers just seemed to flow that day. I didn’t research or have any other idea for the backstory. The asteroid idea just seemed to write itself from my subconscious. 

The structure of power seems to follow feudalism. Do you think Adaline’s journey and conflict would have been any similar or different if they played out in modern times (under let’s say a Constitutional Democracy in the US or a Constitutional Monarchy in the UK)?

I think it would be a very different story if the structure of power changed. Since the book is set up this way it’s easy for Adaline to see King Renon as the one and only enemy in control. There aren’t Vice Presidents or any other government officials that have any rule or power. Because of the way the book is set up it gives King Renon all of the control and thus makes everything his fault. It further drives the hatred Adaline has for him and sparks the idea of a rebellion against the king. 

Unique Promotional Perks

Catherine Downen, author of "The Markings" series
Photo provided by Catherine Downen

I love that you have a quiz on your author page to let visitors choose what type of Gifted they are! (P.S – I’m a Sound Waver). Does each question correspond to certain elements in the book?

I’m so glad you took the quiz and liked it! I had so much fun creating it. I know as a reader, I love when there’s something extra for me to feel like I’m part of the world. The questions actually do line up with things that happen in the book! For example, if you answered the questions based on things you know or infer about Adaline, you would get a Force Lifter as your result. 

Other than enhanced senses, foresight and prophecies play a role in this story. If you were in Adaline’s place, how would you feel if certain actions and decisions relied on prophecies and seeing the future?

I think I would feel very similarly to Adaline. When it comes to prophecies, there would be a sense of overwhelming second-guessing if I was doing everything right. Adaline, however, feels the need to destroy these things. She doesn’t want to always be second-guessing what each move could do to the future. My approach would be to study these prophecies more to understand them and work out the right path. Of course, the difference would be that there is no right or wrong outcome. In that way, Adaline may be more wiser in that she doesn’t rely on foresight too much (even though the temptation is strong). She trusts her instincts.

Self-Publishing Tips 

Promotional image of "The Markings" book, available on Amazon Kindle
Promotional image of “The Markings” book, available on Amazon Kindle / Image credit: Catherine Downen

The Markings was a self-published book. What are some tips you recommend for anyone who wants to self-publish their books? 

Here are some tips I would give someone that is self-publishing: Take your time. Have a schedule, and don’t rush into hitting the publish button. Check your manuscript a thousand times but understand that it will never be perfect. You will always find something that you would want to change but ultimately you will have to rip off the band-aid. Give yourself a real launch. Announce the book in advance and have everything ready to go at least a week before the launch. 

The best form of advice I can give is to have a good marketing and networking strategy. This can go from creating an author page or reaching out to other authors and writers on Twitter by using the tag #WritingCommunity. You will find so many writers that are in the same boat you are. Plus, they are a great resource when you have questions about the process, and they will be the biggest supporters in your journey. They have helped me in mine to self-publish my book!

Overall, I truly think that everyone who wants to be an author should self-publish at some point. It has been an amazing experience and I have learned so much from it, including the marketing and business side of the industry. I’m definitely a better writer because of it. 

Future Projects 

Book Two is in the works. Without giving spoilers, what are some things we can expect from the second installment? 

I am so excited about the second book, perhaps even more than I was for the first! You can expect that book two will be about the same length as book one. We’ll have the same structure, thirty chapters with ten in each part. I can tell you that they will be split into parts: Part One: the Arrival, Part Two: The Royals, and Part Three: The Storm. 

There are lots of new characters coming into the story. Book one leaves off at a cliffhanger in a new setting, so definitely expect new people, ideas, and plot lines. It’s a very fast paced book. 

Adaline (and her friend, Alexander) will remain our lead characters in Book Two, but the biggest surprise of their characters has yet to be told. You will also get more history behind Libertas. Readers can expect the title announcement to come in late June and a cover reveal by the end of the summer! 

The Markings is now available as a paperback on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The ebook is available exclusively through Amazon (Free for Kindle Unlimited members). An audiobook version will be released in June 2020. 

Official merchandise line of Catherine Downen's "The Markings"
Official merchandise line of Catherine Downen’s “The Markings” / Image credit: Catherine Downen

Catherine Downen is also launching her very own merch line for The Markings this summer. You can find out more on her website at: https://cdownen.wixsite.com/website

If you are a female / WOC creator of any form (writer, artist, cosplayer, etc) and would like to bring your voice to the table, please reach out at julisa.basak@gmail.com. You can also find me on Twitter at @jules_ba5ak. I would love to interview you!

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