Sunday, 19 August 2007

Author Interview - Karen Miller

Hi Karen, thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview

1) These days, a typical fantasy series will either be a trilogy or a
multi-volume epic. What made you decide on a duology?

Long story. When I started the ‘Kingmaker, Kingbreaker’ story (way back when)
it was a single volume and that was its title. But for various reasons I
couldn't get it done. I had crises of confidence, real life got in the
way of writing. I started and stopped and rewrote the beginning instead
of getting to the end, a bunch of times. Eventually, just to make
myself finish the damned thing, I wrote it as a film script -- and
entered it in a script competition. Needless to say I didn't win, but I
got some good feedback on the characters and the dialogue. So then I
went back and novelised the film script and that got me to a finished
first draft of a real life novel. If memory serves, it came in around
120,000 words. The whole thing. I polished that and submitted it to
Voyager Australia. It was knocked back with an invite to resubmit after
a rewrite and a fantastic list of suggestions on how it might be
improved. So I had another look and promptly passed out from
embarrassment, since it was now abundantly clear to me how wrong I'd
been to submit it like that. Mostly I saw how much I'd short-changed the
story, and glossed over a whole heap of events. So I sat down, found
what I felt was the best 'break point' in the story, reworked the first
part into the first novel The Innocent Mage, worked up the outline for
book 2, known in Australia as Innocence Lost, resubmitted, and made the
sale. At the heart of all this palaver was my profound self-doubt. I just
couldn't believe I had that much story in me. I've subsequently
discovered that I do, that my natural story length is pretty long. But
that was something I had to discover by doing. I was also influenced by
my theatre background. I tend to think in either a 2-act or a 3-act structure, like a play.
At this point I don't have any really long connected series in mind, a
Jordan or Martin or Elliot 7+ act stories. The standalone series novel
or the two or three act structure seems to be my default construct.

2) In your introduction to 'Innocent Mage', you say that you "fervently
hope" this won't be your last fantasy series. Do you have others
planned? Are they also set in the land of Lur?

I do indeed have others planned. In fact I've been amazingly lucky.
Currently I'm working on a trilogy, Godspeaker. Brand new world, brand
new characters. Book 1, Empress of Mijak, released in Australia in June
and will start releasing in the UK and US next year with Orbit. Book 2
comes out here in December, and book 3 next June. Releasing in Australia
next April, under a pen name, is a standalone series -- The Rogue Agent
series, with book 1 The Accidental Sorcerer. No word yet on a US/UK
release there. I have another 3-book deal in negotiation at the moment,
for release in Australia, the US and the UK, but I can't announce the
particulars yet. I'm really looking forward to writing those stories,
though. I'm currently working on another Stargate novel, and will do
another one next year as well as the other mainstream stuff. Basically
I'm booked solid until 2010, writing-wise. I have other ideas simmering
on the backburner, but I'm not letting myself get ahead on those.
There's no point! My brain is already on the point of melting and
dribbling out of my ears.

3) Some authors have shied away from using maps in their books, saying
it distracts the reader from the story itself, but 'The Innocent Mage'
has one at the beginning. Was this a conscious decision on your part or
a decision made by the publisher?

Oh lord. Trust me when I say the maps aren't my idea!!! Voyager, my
Australian publisher, really likes to use maps. I hate them. I never
look at them in other books, I'm not geographically minded, I'm afraid.
I do bad maps. I draw them and someone else does their best to tidy
them but if I didn't have to have them I wouldn't. I could get someone
else to draw them from scratch but there's no point because I just
don't think that way. I appreciate enough to understand causal links
between geography and human civilisations but beyond that?
Aaarrgghhhh!!!!! I am held in deep disdain by other more mappish
authors, trust me. I do appreciate many fantasy fans love the whole map thing
and I wish for their sakes it was something I liked and could do halfway decently.
But there you have it. I'm crap with the maps.

4) Asher's 'rural' accent stands out right from the start and
illustrates clearly the divide between the Olken and Doranen people.
Where did the inspiration for this come from and ...

Probably from the time I spent living and working in the UK. I'm
fascinated by regional differences in accents. I think it's amazing
that even though the language is basically the same the musicality of
it is so incredibly varied in the same country. In any country -- look
at the US, for example. And here in Australia, there are regional
differences. Accents really do define communities and clans. And
especially for Asher, with his strong sense of identity and his
prejudice against the Doranen, holding onto his accent, playing it up
even, is his way of maintaining his identity and past, even as he tries
to forge a different future for himself. He's a bolshy character, quite
bloody-minded. It's his way of rebelling, of drawing a line in the
sand. I really enjoyed playing with that.

5) As a female author, do you find it difficult writing male characters?
Well, I don't think I do, insofar as I find it quite easy to relate to
the male psyche. In fact in many ways I find it easier to relate to the
male psyche than to the female, really. I've never been a particularly
'feminine' female. Never played with dolls, never been into fashion and
makeup and frills and so forth. With me it was always dogs and horses.
I mean, if I'm going out I scrub up okay, but I've never been the
maternal, nurturing type. And I tend to have a very pragmatic, logical,
intellectual approach to life and the world in general which --
although I might get shot for gender stereotyping here -- I feel is
more male than female. But I am female, not male, so I do worry that
I might be feminising my male characters. A good friend's husband,
one of my beta readers, always looks for that when he reads my works
in progress. So far he hasn't thought I've fallen into that trap. And quite
a lot of letters from readers have been from men, which is really gratifying.
Because often when I'm reading fiction written by women, using male characters,
I feel the men have been emotionally feminised. So I do try hard to
avoid that.

6) What made you decide to write fantasy as oppose to, say… political
thrillers? Were you a fantasy fan first (who decided to write a book)
or were you a writer who decided to write fantasy?

I was definitely a fantasy/SF reader who grew up wanting to write
stories, and so naturally gravitated towards spec fiction. Fantasy in
particular, because I'm also a huge history buff and I think history
and fantasy fiction have a natural affinity. Sadly, I've always been
pretty crap at science, which isn't so good if you're wanting to write
science fiction. I think, writing fantasy, you get the best of all
worlds. You can incorporate a lot of things when you're writing fantasy
-- it truly is the Big Tent of genre fiction. Mystery, romance,
thriller stuff, political intrigues -- it can all be used in the
fantasy genre.

7) How do you feel about the reaction, so far, to 'The Innocent Mage'?
Enormously gratified. Enormously grateful. See, I knew this book wasn't
startlingly original. I knew I was playing around with some pretty
standard fantasy tropes. But for me it's always been about character.
Being startlingly original is fantastic, but if I learned one thing as
a spec fiction bookseller it was this: your mainstream readership wants to
fall in love with the characters. They'll accept you haven't done
anything gobsmackingly new if you give them characters they can love
and hate and cheer for. I love to fall in love with characters, in all the books
and TV dramas I adore, at the end of the day it's all about character. How many cop
shows are there? How many medical shows? Lots and lots. What keeps people
watching them are the characters and their relationships, and that's what I try
to do in my work. I am madly in love with my characters, even the bad guys,
and I just hope like hell that love translates into the work and readers fall in love
with them too. So far, that seems to be the case -- and I am so relieved, and so
happy about that. Which isn't to say I'm not looking at ways to grow as a writer.
I think it's safe to say that the Godspeaker trilogy is a lot less safe, a lot
more startling but I started out with baby steps. I wanted to walk
before I tried running. And regardless of what else I do, I'll always
try to keep the focus on character.
So yes. The Innocent Mage has done well in Australia and the UK, and I
am beyond thrilled. Both Voyager and Orbit have taken such a chance on
me, an unknown author. It's so wonderful that I haven't let them down
so far! The Innocent Mage releases into the US in September. So my
fingers are crossed American readers like it too.

8) Can you give us any hints as to what we might expect to see in 'The
Awakened Mage'?

Well, without getting spoilery, readers are in for a bit of a roller
coaster ride. There's less humour and more angst, given the events at
the end of Innocent Mage. You know the saying: things are always
darkest before the dawn! And it's safe to say that life gets pretty
dark for our heroes as they fight to save Lur from the ravages of evil.
One of the themes of the story is sacrifice, after all ...

9) It's the night before 'The Awakened Mage' is released. Will you
still feel nervous about how it's received or has that feeling gone now
you're a published author?

Absolutely. Being published doesn't change a thing, I'm afraid! Not for
me, anyway. Every story is a new adventure, every new audience is a
new chance to fall on my face. Even though these books have done
well in Australia, I was terrified before the release of the new
series, with Empress. I was terrified when Innocent Mage launched in
the UK, and the nerves are starting up again knowing that in two weeks
it'll hit bookshelves in the US. Waiting for the UK reaction to The
Awakened Mage is nerve-wracking. Every time, I feel nervous. Every time,
I'm worried I'm going to disappoint people and that they're going to feel
let down.
For me, I think it's part of the process. I'll just have to get used to
it. And maybe if I stop feeling nervous it'll mean I've become
complacent -- and that would be awful. I don't ever want to take
readers for granted. If that looks like happening I want people to hit
me with a lump of 2 by 4!

10) How does it feel being a part of this surge of Australian authors
suddenly gaining recognition in the genre? Do you have a favourite? Do
you guys all hang out together?

It feels fantastic. I am so incredibly proud of what Australian spec
fiction authors have achieved. We're such a small population, and yet we
keep on producing great sports teams and individuals and great genre
writers! I also consider myself incredibly lucky, since I've come into
the game after other writers like Sara Douglass and Trudi Canavan and
Margo Lanagan have really paved the way internationally for Australian
spec fiction writers to be noticed and taken seriously. I think we're also
hugely indebted to publishers like Orbit, who've so strongly championed
new Australian writers.
We're pretty geographically scattered, so mostly we meet up at
conventions a couple of times a year. And of course there's the
Internet! We're only ever an email away.
As for favourites, well, I never answer that question. Sorry. Hand
on my heart, I'm in awe of every Australian writer on the scene. They
all contribute something amazing and uniquely Australian to the
international spec fiction literary community, and I consider myself
privileged to be counted among them.

Thanks for answering my questions, hope you have a great day!
You're welcome. If you need any clarification of answers, just let me
know! And thanks again for this wonderful opportunity.


Chris, The Book Swede said...

Very nice interview :) It was good to hear of an author that hates maps as much as I do!

I was also interested in what she had coming up after the "Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series".

Excellent questions, Graeme! It was nice of Karen to do the interview too, and with such speedy replies!

I also look forward to the DAD Acacia review :)

Lawrence said...

I LOVE maps, but I don't feel like repeating the whole Joe Abercrombie thing, whether to include a map or not. But nicely done interview Graeme! Kind of cool that you got the answers back so soon. :)