Interview with Karen Miller

Hi Karen, welcome to my blog and thanks for participating! I’d like to congratulate you on and excellent book and series. I’d normally offer you cookies at this stage, but I’m out – is there anything better than cookies in your opinion?!

A: Thank you very very much. I’m so thrilled that you liked the books, seriously. As for what you can offer — coffee ice cream, please! We don’t do plain coffee ice cream in Australia. Breaks my heart, I’m telling you! For some reason Hagen Daaz tanked here. Sniff.

I’m sure that can be arranged 😉 For those who are yet to read your books (or don’t trust my reviews – damn you, people!) could you give us a brief overview of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series?

A: Well, The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage, together, make up the story of two very unlikely friends whose paths are fated to cross so that a kingdom can be saved from great peril. Asher, who belongs to a race of people called the Olken, is a blunt, forthright young fisherman who wants to make enough money to buy his own fishing boat and escape the confines of the family business. Gar, who belongs to a different race called the Doranen, is a king’s son who can never rule because he was

born with a disability — he can’t do magic. But the safety and prosperity of the kingdom depend on magic. And the kingdom’s ancient enemy knows this, and is just biding his time … So these books are about how things go very very wrong for these people, and what sacrifices are required of them to save Lur from destruction.

A duology is a rare thing in today’s fantasy market – what is it that made you write your début series this way?

A: Well, there’s the specific answer and the general answer. Specifically, the story was originally written as a single volume. But it became apparent that the story had been totally short-changed, so after it was knocked back by my Australian publisher, Voyager, with an invite to rewrite and resubmit if I

fixed a few things, I took another look and saw that it needed to be expanded to two volumes. So I found what I thought was the best break point, ended the first book there, and completed the story with the second volume.

In general, and possibly because of my theatre background, I see big stories in terms of the two and three act play structure. That’s why, when you read my books, each instalment doesn’t stand alone. It can’t stand alone, because it’s part of a greater whole. For me, that’s what a trilogy or a duology is — a very big story broken down into acts. As opposed to a series like Pratchett’s Discworld, for example, which is a series of standalone adventures in a single world. There are long-term story threads in Discworld, but the events of each novel are self-contained.

Of course, there are authors like Kate Elliott and George RR Martin who write bigger stories with more acts — and I love them both! — but I think the principal still applies to their work.

How does it feel for Book 1, The Innocent Mage, to be one of Orbit’s titles for the launch of their World Empire … erm, US division? It’s done very well with its new audience, I hear.

A: It’s a huge compliment. The guys at Orbit know the spec fic genre upside down and inside out. They have an amazing team of people working to make the books that we love a real force in the literary market place. They amaze me on a daily basis, not only because they do great covers and design and promotion, but because they’re so embracing of the genre. They don’t turn up their noses at any kind of s

pec fic, they recognise that it’s a Big Tent genre, and that there’s a flavour of fantasy and sf and horror for everyone. Being selected by them to help launch the US imprint is a huge thing, quite intimidating. Because that’s a lot of faith to be placing in someone.

So far, things are going very well. Better than I could have hoped for, ever. The Innocent Mage is currently at #3 on the US spec fic mass market bestseller chart. For an unknown début author, that’s just overwhelming, and the credit largely goes to Orbit for doing such a great job.

Quite a few fantasy books have been coming out of Oz of late; do you think your nationality impacts on your writing – giving it, say, a particular style or flavour?

A: I honestly don’t know. We’re a culture that loves action and loves story. We’re a curious bunch, we do a lot of overseas travel, we embrace the unknown. We’re pretty short on pretention, we’re irreverent, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is something I really like about being Australian. We get the job done but we like to do it with a laugh. Perhaps because this is a huge country physically, with limitless horizons once you get past the coastal fringes, we tend to think big. And perhaps because much of Australia is so damned empty, when you start heading inland, our imaginations need to start filling up the spaces. We’re a very free country, intellectually. We have time and space to let our minds wander. And we just love a good rollicking yarn!

What was the initial inspiration that drove you to write these books?

A: Every story I write has its genesis in character. Everything starts with the people. They tap me on the shoulder and say hi, and I look at them and ask, Well who the hell are you? What’s your story? And on I go from there. In the case of these books, I was swimming laps in the
local pool and a single scene popped into my head: two friends, one noble, one common, brought to a place of terrible confrontation. One friend was about to preside over the other’s execution. And I thought, oh! But how did this happen? How did you guys get to this point?

That was the seed of the story that became the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology. From there, I just let it grow.

Could you tell us a little about the journey your story undertook to be published? How does it feel now to be a published fantasy author? How has it impacted upon your life?

A: Authors can be very odd people. Sometimes I think they don’t come much odder than me. For all that I’d been dreaming of being a published writer most of my life, I had a great deal of fear and insecurity to overcome along the way. I wanted this so badly I kept stopping myself
from continuing, because the fear of failure was at times absolutely crippling. I stopped and started writing the original standalone version of this story more times than I can remember. I wrote other stuff, started and stopped other stories, walked away from writing altogether for months at a time. Worked other jobs, ran my own business. But I always came back to it. I could not get these characters and their story out of my head completely.

In hindsight I realise that this was as necessary part of the journey. I had the ideas but not the technical skills I needed to write the story. As I writer, I wasn’t cooked yet. Eventually though I pushed through the barriers and wrote the single volume version as a film script. It was the only way I could overcome my resistance and just get to The End. Once I had an actual completed story, I turned around and rewrote it as a novel. All that narrative prose — I still find that challenging. I love dialogue. Narrative prose makes me sweat, sometimes. Then I submitted it, as I said before, and it still wasn’t right. Eventually I got there.

It feels fantastic and surreal to be a published fantasy author. It’s also an immense privilege. So many people dream of being a writer. So many people sweat blood over their manuscripts. And yet the sad truth is that relatively few writers will manage to see their dream turn into a reality. Not a day goes by when I don’t stop to think about how incredibly lucky I’ve been. As for the impact on my life, well, I’m writing full time at the moment. I’ve got a solid two years’ worth of
work ahead of me. I’m pretty much living inside my head all the time. It gets a bit lonely sometimes, not to mention strange *g* but the trade-offs are worth it.

It comes across in your writing, that you’re clearly very much in love with the genre you write in – what book was it that first hooked you on fantasy, and are there any you’d recommend?

A: The first fantasy novel I read was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, when I was in 4th class primary school. I’ve never looked back. In terms of recommendations, well, there are a bunch of authors I love and always read. I’ll give you a few of them, this isn’t an exhaustive list — just some of my favourites. Writers whose work gives me great pleasure.

George RR Martin, Kate Elliott, Kage Baker, Lois McMaster Bujold, Orson Scott Card, Rachel Caine, Glenda Larke, Terry Pratchett.

With what part of your writing are you most pleased that fans have picked up on? Best reader response/experience?

A: I’m thrilled that readers are responding to the characters. I love these guys, and it makes me really really happy that other people are loving them too. It’s incredibly satisfying to me that people are investing themselves emotionally in their lives, their journey. Because I’m really invested as well. Fictional characters have always been real to me, not just the ones I write about, but all of them. All the fictional characters I fall in love with, in books and moves and tv
dramas, they’re all real. That’s what drives my love of fiction. And I love it that other people feel the same way.

As for best response, well, I had an email the other day from a young English reader who wants to use the books as the basis for a school project. I am just blown away by that. It knocked my socks off. The other thing I love is when people tell me they don’t usually read fantasy but they liked my books. Yes! More converts to the cause! *g*

Which characters have changed the most from your original idea of them, to how they’ve appeared on the page? I’d imagine Asher could have been pretty unruly! 😉

A: Actually, Willer changed the most. In a very very very very early draft he was just an obnoxious one-line character in a single scene. But he wouldn’t go away. He just kept popping up, demanding to be included … and now, in the final analysis, he’s a pivotal character.

Asher was always the easiest to write. I knew him immediately. Gar was trickier, it took me some time to really understand his interior life. But I got there, eventually.

I was completely wrong! –Your first trilogy, Godspeaker, is currently being published in Australia. Could you tell us a little about the series and how it differs from Kingmaker… What’s the situation for publication in other countries – I know I’m interested!?

A: Well, it’s different. It’s a bigger canvas, covering far more territory, literally. There’s a much larger cast of characters spread across the 3 books. The first book, Empress, which comes out in the UK and US next year, is set in a hostile brutal culture far, far removed from anything approaching kings and queens and courts and knights on horseback. The central character, Hekat, is … pretty out there. She isn’t always sympathetic. I love her, I find her fascinating, but I can’t escape the fact that this is a pretty dark book. It’s not as rompish as some of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker stuff, I have to tell you.

The second book shifts location to a more civilised, orderly place with a king and a court, but it’s a society in danger of falling apart … and though it doesn’t realise it, the shadows from Empress have reached it already. The third book is about the clash between these two very different cultures, and the battle to see whose version of God is going to win. It’s a much bigger story, and to be honest it’s scaring the pants off me, I’ve bitten off a huge chunk of narrative. But if you don’t challenge yourself you don’t grow … so I just have to keep my fingers crossed.

I’m sure there are many aspiring fantasy authors out there (more than a few people who run these review blogs for example!) so are there any precious nuggets of writerly advice that you’d like to share?

A: First of all, you have to educate yourself to the realities of the publishing business. And it is a business. As writers we get caught up in the creative aspect of the process, and that’s fine, it’s what we do. But if we want to get published by a publisher (as opposed to self publishing, which is a whole other story) then we have to step back from the personal, from the creative, and recognise that publishers are people who might love books but who also need to keep their bank accounts in the black. So there are cold hard pragmatic economical factors to the publishing game, and an aspiring author needs to know what they are. Read trade publications like Publishers Weekly and Locus. Talk to booksellers, who work at the coal face, who get to see first hand how readers react to the books on offer. Read editor and agent blogs. Get educated about the mechanics of the business. Too many aspiring writers live in a la la land where they seem to think that publishers exist to make their writing dreams come true. Really, they don’t.

Beyond that, there’s the writing. Writing is really really really hard work. It requires enormous amounts of time and patience and a willingness to overcome many barriers. The most important thing an aspiring writer can do is learn to be objective about the work. Yes, it’s personal. Yes, it has deep significance to you. But it’s also a commodity, it’s a product, it’s something you expect other people to shell out good money for. So you owe it to them not to be precious, not to be defensive, not to rant and rave and spit the dummy when you’re told it’s not good enough yet. Many writers say they want critical feedback but what they’re really after is validation. Well, that might make you feel good but it won’t get you any closer to being published.

If you’re an aspiring spec fic author, the single best place I can think of for you to go to for help is the Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy and Horror. It’s a brilliant critiquing group run by
industry professionals. Critiquing other people’s work can improve your own by quantum leaps. It’s a wonderful community. I can’t say enough good things about them.

Most of all, you need persistence. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll be investing years of your life in this with no guarantee of a prize at the end. You have to love the process. You have to love words and books and reading and story. You have to have enough ego to get you started, but not so much that it stops you from learning and growing. You need to never get complacent, but always be looking for ways to get better.

Well, I think that’ll do for now! Thank you so much, again, for taking part 🙂 Any last words? Or favourite ones at that? Mine at the moment are bamboozle and claptrap … but I’m sure you can beat that!?

A: Last words? Well, thank you for inviting me to rabbit on, and thank you for taking the time to help a newbie author find her place in the game. Review sites like yours are becoming more and more important, especially for genre fiction, because the mainstream media doesn’t give us much airtime. Your efforts and energy are hugely appreciated.

As for favourite words … um … communicative.


Interview by Chris, The Book Swede

Leave a comment