Monday, August 24, 2009

Karen Miller interview

Karen Miller is the author of the bestselling fantasy duology Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, the fantasy trilogy Godspeaker, the bestselling tie-in novels Stargate SG-1: Alliances and Stargate SG-1: Do No Harm and Star Wars The Clone Wars: Wild Space. Writing as K.E. Mills she is the author of the Rogue Agent series.

What can you tell us about the first book you’ve written? What do you think is the difference between that book and your first published book?
Well, when it comes to fantasy fiction, the first fantasy novel I wrote is what got published, eventually. I originally wrote the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology as a standalone novel and submitted it to my Australian publisher. That manuscript was rejected with some rewriting suggestions and an invitation to resubmit, which I did, and it was the rewritten version of the story that was accepted for publication. The biggest difference is in the length -- the original standalone version ran to about 140,000 words, and the final 2-book story ended up at over 300,000 words. So you might say I learned I had a lot more story inside me than I trusted. Nothing changed about the story, as such -- but I dramatised a whole lot of stuff that previously had happened 'off stage' so to speak.

How did you find out and how did you react when you first learned you would get published?

I got a phone call from the editor at Voyager, saying that the project had passed through the acquisition committee and would be published. I was a bit numb at first, because I'd dreamed of being a published author for many, many years. But most of all, I was just very very happy ... and worried that I wouldn't justify the faith the editor had placed in me.

Your books combine a wonderfully complicated world and realistic characters. We’re curious, when you get an idea for a story, which comes first, the world or the characters?

Thank you! And the answer is characters, every time. For me, it's always always always about the people. The world they inhabit comes into focus more slowly, and as part and parcel of who they are and what's happening to them. But story, for me, is ultimately about people. To my way of thinking, societies are created by people, therefore they are defined by the people who live in them. Yes, there are external factors like geography that impact certain elements of world building ... but the root of it all lies in the people who live there. And also, for me, people are more interesting to explore and tell stories about than things or even big ideas -- unless what you're looking at is how those big ideas impact on the characters in the story.

The Kingmaker, Kingbreaker cover art is very neat, especially when looking at the spines side by side. How much say does the author have in creating the cover?
The Orbit cover art for those books is unbelievably amazing, isn't it? And I'm equally in love with the covers for the sequels. Same artist and design team. Spectacular. I'm so lucky on that score I have to keep pinching myself. As for what control an author gets over cover design, well, there's no definitive answer for that one. For example, I get no input whatsoever into the Star Wars covers. That's a design decision between the publisher and Lucasfilm. And with tie-in material, that's pretty much par for the course. With my own work, so far, both of my English language publishers have been tremendously collaborative. See, the thing is, publisher's don't want to upset their authors. On the other hand, cover design is a very specific part of the marketing process, and generally speaking authors don't have the expertise to comment on what will or won't entice or repel a browser in a bookshop. Authors tend to get very protective and literal about the images that appear on their covers, and we can't always see past our emotional attachment to the story. We need to remember that we're writers, not designers. Sometimes we do need to stand firm on things, but we should always bear in mind that other people in the publishing process have their areas of expertise, too, and we should respect that.

Do you plan your stories or make them up as you go? Any tips on this for new writers?

To my astonishment, I'm learning that this is actually a fluid situation. As I answer these questions, I'm about to start writing my 13th novel. At first I really needed to break down the stories plot point by plot point, step by step. Now I can be a little looser with it, mainly because I'm learning to trust myself in the storytelling process. Writing a novel is really an enormous leap of faith. It's like setting out to run a marathon. The first time you do it you don't know if you can. Now I've got a few tucked under belt I'm more relaxed. I know that I can do it, even though I will hit boggy patches and slow patches and have moments of terrible self doubt. I know now that they're part of the landscape and I just need to push on. The other thing I've learned is that writing a step by step outline is, in many ways, a very external process. When I'm writing an outline I'm not inside the story, living it, I'm standing outside it trying to imagine how it's going to turn out. It's kind of like looking at a Christmas present trying to figure out what's inside it because of the vague shape and wrapping. For me, the story doesn't actually come alive until I'm inside it, writing it and experiencing through the eyes of the characters. And it's that weird alchemical process of being inside the story, when the imagination is on fire and the story's alive and you're living it with the characters, that guides me to the nuts and bolts of what happens. Which is very scary, because you can't make that happen from the outside. It can happen on the inside, which means you have to surrender control and let the story grow and develop naturally.

Which isn't to say that I dive in without any kind of road map. I do. I know where I'm starting, I know where I'm ending. I have a few significant signposts along the way. But I'm learning to trust that much of the story will reveal itself to me in the process of telling it.

So for newer writers, especially if you're tackling a novel, I'd say, start off with a fairly detailed idea of what you're doing. But be prepared to let the story suggest new ideas to you as it unfolds through the writing process. Use your outline as training wheels, until you're comfortable taking your hands off the handlebars. But you know, having said that, some writers like to do detailed outlines all the time. It's not about the right way or the wrong way, it's about finding the way that works best for you. So beware of people telling you there's only 'one right way' of getting the job done.

What would you say are the dos and don’ts when submitting a book to an agent or publisher?

Single biggest mistake newer writers make -- and hello, I have more than one teeshirt on this -- is submitting work before it's ready. You need to have your work read and considered by people who are good analytical readers with no emotional investment in you, or who are strong enough to tell you what you need to hear not what you want to hear. It goes without saying that we want people to like what we've written. But while being told we're wonderful might make us feel good, it doesn't do anything to improve a manuscript. I always suggest writers sign up to the Online Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Workshop because it's run by professionals and is a great forum for improvement and encouragement. I believe you learn more about writing by reading and critiquing other people's work than you do hearing a critique of your own work. Learning how to effectively self-edit is one of the most crucial skills you can develop. Editors and agents these days are too busy to take on the work of bringing a promising manuscript up to publishable standard. As the writer, that's your job. Learning how to improve your own work is vital -- and by developing your editing eye on other people's work, you'll be doing yourself a huge favour.

Do your homework. Find out what authors the agent represents, what kind of books the publisher has on its list and make sure you're a good initial fit. And if you are going to submit to them, read their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. Trust me, agents and editors don't find it cute or engaging or encouraging when someone flouts their list of guidelines. Doing that makes you look like an arrogant prat. Nobody wants to work with an arrogant prat.

Agents and editors don't exist to make your dreams come true. Publishing is a business, so be businesslike and professional. If you get a knock back, accept it. Don't ran't and rave and write back vitriolic letters about their stupidity and your unappreciated genius. Publishing is a small pond. Don't piddle in it.

Queries, authors shiver at the idea; any tips from a successful writer on writing a successful query?
Actually, I'm sorry to say I don't. I haven't sold anything on a query. I did a covering letter with my first manscript, which basically said, this is me, this is my book, thank you for reading it, I hope you like it. Since then, everything I've sold has been a verbal pitch, talking about the story in general terms. The closest I came to a query letter was Star Wars. Once I was professionally published I dropped the editor a note saying this id me, I'm a professional fantasy writer, also a huge Star Wars fan, if ever you're in the market for a new writer I'd love to be considered. We chatted back and forth about my Star Wars interests, she read my first novel, and nothing happened for three years. Then I got an email out of the blue and ended up with a 3 book contract.

In general, I'd say it's important to be succinct, polite and self-effacing.

Writer’s block, real or fiction? What are your views on this and what advice would you give to new writers about it.
I think writer's block is a catch-all term for a complicated set of circumstances. I think if you want to write, and you can't, you're looking at some issues relating to fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being noticed, fear of offending people you know, fear of revealing more of yourself than you're comfortable with, fear of close friends and family seeing something about you. Basically you need to dig a little and ask yourself, why am I holding myself back? Deep down you know the answers. And once you've looked them in the face, you can decide how you're going to deal with them.

If you get stuck on a specific project, most often I think it's your subsconcious trying to tell you that you should've turned left at Albuquerque. When the story comes to a grinding halt, instead of trying to push through it go back to the point where the story stopped flowing comfortably, then examine the storytelling choices you've made. Play around with a few different scenarios, and wait for the light bulb to turn on.

What can you tell us about your latest book? How would you pitch it to a prospective new reader?

My latest release is The Prodigal Mage. It's the first of another duology, Fisherman's Children, which follows on from the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology. Basically it's the story of ... just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. *g* Some time has passed since the end of The Awakened Mage. And while everyone thinks things are hunky dory actually they're not, and all hell is about to break loose in the kingdom of Lur. It's also a story about family and expectation and how you can be your own person while not disappointing your parents. And it's about consequences and making mistakes and how you deal with those mistakes. It's about doing the right thing for the wrong reason, and the wrong thing for the right reason, and how much that can mess up people's lives. I think anyone who's read and enjoyed the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books will enjoy it. It's possible to read it without having read them, but there are huge spoilers for the first 2 books.

Are you working on a new story? Anything you can share with us on that?

I've just finished the third Rogue Agent novel, Wizard Squared, and that's been ... an interesting journey. Fun and fraught at the same time. I'm about to start my 3rd Star Wars novel, which is the second part of a two part story.

What does Karen Miller do for fun?

This year, because I have to write 5 novels, there's not a lot of time for fun. When life is less insane I enjoy working at my local theatre as a director and actor, and I really love film and tv and playing with my new puppy, Wilson.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Coming up: Interview with fantasy author Karen Miller!

Karen Miller is the author of the bestselling fantasy duology Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, the fantasy trilogy Godspeaker, the bestselling tie-in novels Stargate SG-1: Alliances and Stargate SG-1: Do No Harm and Star Wars The Clone Wars: Wild Space. Writing as K.E. Mills she is the author of the Rogue Agent series.

And that's not all! If you would like to know more about Karen Miller visit her website

The interview will be available to our readers on August 24, 2009. Don't miss it!

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jane Lindskold Interview

Jane Lindskold is the bestselling author of the Wolf series, as well as many other fantasy novels.

Photo by Patricia Nagle

I would like to begin this interview with a journey down memory lane. What can you tell us about the day you found out your first novel was accepted for publication? How did you find out and what were your reactions?

My first published novel was Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls.
I learned it had sold when my agent called me. I was at home in my house in Virginia. She was very business-like, discussing advances and terms for royalties. I listened. I probably asked a few questions (I usually do), but what I remember was being stunned.
Here’s a perspective note. I just pulled the contract from my files. It’s dated March 26, 1993. Contracts often take months to be issued, so that phone call would have been months earlier. The book itself would not come out until December 1994.
This is not a business to get into if you want rapid gratification.

What can you tell us about the first letter you have received from a fan? Did it have the same impact as actually getting published?

My first fan mail came via e-mail. I was very excited. I think until that point, despite sales figures and all, I really didn’t believe anyone but my immediate friends and family read my books.
However, the book coming out had a bigger impact.

What would you advise aspiring writers to do and not to do when submitting a manuscript?

Follow guidelines from the publisher. If the guidelines ask for a summary and three chapters, don’t send them the whole manuscript. I’ve talked to lots of people who read “slush” and they say that one way they do a fast triage is based on whether or not people read directions and follow them. After all, who wants to work with someone who can’t bother to follow directions?
Also, try to target your submission to the market. If it’s a magazine, read a few issues first. If it’s a book publisher, read some of their books. A publishing house like Baen Books has a distinct “flavor.” Even a bigger publisher like Tor has many editors. These have their own tastes. See what they are buying. Often, you get only one chance, so don’t blow it by failing to prepare.

Do you plan a novel before writing it? If yes, how much do those plans change, if at all?

No. I’m a very intuitive writer. I think about ideas, then I see where they take me. I often do research not only before I start writing, but as I am writing, and when I am done. I don’t recommend this for everyone, but I it works for me, partly because I am ruthless about throwing away things that didn’t work out.

How did you handle the submission of your first book? Was it a difficult market to break into?

I didn’t handle my submission, my agent did. The market was tough. It’s always tough. It’s even tougher for your second book, because the shine of “new discovery” is off.

What are the most effective methods you’ve developed in marketing your novels? How much marketing assistance does your publisher provide now as compared to when your first novel was published?

I’m a writer. That means I thrive on being left alone to make up imaginary worlds and people. I don’t mind book signings or interviews, but that’s about my limit. Oh, and I have a website.
I think that publishers should provide more marketing assistance than they do. Asking me to go out and be a salesperson is not a good use of my aptitudes. Ask me to write a book or story. I’m good at that.
I can’t really compare the situation between my first novel and my current novel. One reason is that fourteen or so years have gone by. In 1994, most people hadn’t heard of the Internet or e-mail. An interview like this one wouldn’t have happened.

Do you work directly with your editor and/or are there times where you work through your agent with the editorial staff at Tor?

I work with my editor. I’ve always worked directly with an editor. Happily, I’ve usually liked my editor, and usually taken away something valuable from the relationship. That goes for both my Tor editors, Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Melissa Singer. I am still friends with my first editor, John R. Douglas.

What can you tell us about your new series Breaking the Wall? What inspired you to begin this series and what have been the reactions of your fans thus far?

The “Breaking the Wall” series was inspired by on odd conjunction of my interest in mythology in general and a game of mah-jong played one Christmas Eve.
A good number of years intervened between that Christmas Eve and actually starting the books, but once the idea was there I began reading more intensively about Chinese mythology and culture, preparing to give those vague impulses shape.
If you’re interested in reading more about this, I did a series of blogs for about how my research shaped the eventual books.
Reader reactions so far have been positive and interested. Brenda seems to cause the most debate, and I expect that this is because she’s so unlike Firekeeper.

Thank you Dr. Lindskold, we are looking forward to more of your work in the future.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mother of All Good Children by Robin Layne

About the author: Robin’s short story, “Blood Ties” won AbD’s YA fiction contest in 2006 and can be viewed on the site in the Museletter archive for May of that year. It is based on a vampire novel she is working on. She made her first “book” in second grade and has been serious about writing ever since.

Mother of All Good Children
by Robin Layne

A woodcutter fled through the forest carrying his three-year-old child. He heard shouts of “Ogre! The woman is an ogre!”
The man ran even faster. He stopped abruptly when a dazzling light shone before his eyes.
A silver-winged being clothed in silk stood before him, her windblown hair encircled with a starry crown. The woodcutter stared. His daughter gaped up at the figure, raising her tiny hands.

“I can offer much more for your child than you and your wife,” the Fairy said. “Let me take her and raise her myself. I am the mother of all good children.”
Trembling, the father nodded. He lifted his daughter and kissed her cheeks.
“You give her up so easily?” the Fairy said.
“We can barely survive. And her mother—“Fear crept into his face.
All the Fairy saw was the toddler he handed her.

* * *

As the girl grew up playing with the other children in Fairyland’s palace, she forgot the rumors of ogres, and almost forgot her parents. But questions haunted her. Was the Fairy really the mother of all good children? Were any bad children in their midst? Sometimes the girl felt as if she were bad. She never had the courage to ask other children if they felt the same way. Above all, she did not want to be shamed in front of them.

When the girl was fourteen, the Fairy announced that she was going on a journey. “I want you to take care of the keys to my thirteen rooms while I’m gone,” she said to the girl. “The first twelve you may enter and enjoy all you like. But the thirteenth room you must never unlock.”
The girl was proud to be trusted and delighted with the freedom to enjoy the twelve bright rooms with her friends. But as time went by, curiosity about the forbidden door nagged at her. She said, “If I just take a little peek, it won’t hurt anything.” The other children all said she mustn’t open it. She kept wondering if she might be the one bad child among all the good ones. At any rate, it would be easy to investigate the door and not be caught.

One day she found herself alone and unlocked and opened the door. Golden light poured out. Three fairies stood by a blazing fire. She stretched her hand into the brilliance. After she shut the door, she saw that one of her fingertips was golden. Her heart pounded with fear.

The Fairy returned, looked into the girl’s eyes, and asked if she had opened the forbidden door.
“No,” the girl replied.
The Fairy, feeling her beating heart, suspected otherwise. She asked again.
“No,” the girl replied, terrified of being found out and shamed before everyone.
The Fairy noticed the gold fingertip and knew the girl was lying. She asked one more time. Again the girl denied it.
“It is time for you to leave my home,” the Fairy pronounced.

* * *

Two recurring nightmares often disturbed the girl’s sleep. In one, she saw a beautiful woman with a crown on her head, her dress spattered with the blood of children. In the other, she saw a face with staring eyes and no mouth—rags ever covering the place where a mouth should be, silence always reigning.
She would wake trying to scream. No scream ever came. She knew the meaning of the second dream: it was her constant reality.

Inside, she raged. How dare the Fairy set before her an irresistible door and then punish her for giving in to its call! For that one crime she was stricken mute and banished to a forest surrounded by thick thorns. She survived day by day—season by season—year by year—alone. Her clothes turned to rags and rotted away. She craved company and comfort, but most all she wanted her voice, so that she could shout the injustices against her to the heavens.
One spring, she heard the hedge of thorns crackle. She crept near and saw a sword blade thrust into her forest. It whacked through a section of the hedge. A man on a horse rode through the hole.

She shrank into the shadows.
He passed her, chasing a deer. She watched him hunt, fascinated, then stepped out into a clearing.
The man gave up pursuing the deer when he saw the young woman dressed head to toe in her long, golden hair. He spoke gently to her, telling her he was the king of the realm. When she made no vocal response, he realized she was mute. He took her to his palace.

The king fell in love with the mysterious woman he had found. That summer, he made her his queen. Although she was comforted by his love and wealth, her nightmares continued. She longed to speak of the wonders and terrors in her heart. Inwardly, she cursed the Fairy for her spell.

At last she was comforted with the birth of a son. When she was alone, the Fairy came to her and said, “Will you admit you opened the forbidden door? If you do, I’ll return your ability to speak. But if not, I’ll take your newborn child.”

For a moment, the Fairy restored her speech so she could answer. Would she give this wicked Fairy the satisfaction of shaming her? “No,” she said. So the Fairy carried her baby away.
The townsfolk suspected the queen had killed her child. However, the king trusted and protected her.

With time, she bore a second son. That night when she was alone in her bed, the Fairy returned to her and said, “If you admit you opened the forbidden door, I’ll bring you back your first child and return your speech. Otherwise, I’ll take this one, too.”
“No!” she denied again. So the Fairy carried the child away.

The palace buzzed with stories of ogres living in the forest, appearing as beautiful women and eating children. “Surely you are one!” the people raged at the queen. She couldn’t speak in her defense. But the king continued to protect her.
Finally, the queen gave birth to a girl. The Fairy came to her a third time. Again the woman denied opening the forbidden door. The Fairy spirited her daughter off.
This time, the king was away on urgent business and could not save her from his own counselors, who gathered to burn the so-called ogress at the stake.

When she felt the heat of the flames near, the queen feared the fires of Hell. If only before she died she could confess her trespass to the Fairy! To her surprise, she found her voice. “I’m guilty!” she cried out.
The Fairy sent rain to put out the fire. Yet the guards thought the queen had confessed she had eaten her children. They charged at her with their spears.
A flash of power threw the spearmen backwards. In their midst stood the Fairy, leading the queen’s two boys, and carrying the infant girl in her arms.

* * *

The queen sat in the palace kitchen playing with her children, awaiting the return of her husband. As she looked into their eyes, she saw other eyes… Before the Fairy became her mother, in a woodcutter’s cottage, a crownless beauty leaned toward her with a vacant expression. Then her father had whisked her away into the woods. Her stomach knotted. Her teeth seemed to be stretching in her mouth. Agony mixed with ravenous hunger. She turned away from the hearth fire and stared at her baby daughter.

* * *

The king returned to his palace. A servant told him his queen had been absolved of guilt and that their children waited with her in the kitchen. Ecstatic, the king hurried to meet his family. He heard a sigh from within the kitchen, but the room was dark. She must have put out the hearth fire to surprise me, he thought. He walked in slowly.


Unable to wait any longer, he ventured, “Children? Where are you? Come to your father. I know your game.”
He heard a low laugh—his queen’s voice, he supposed. “Ah, my dear,” he said. “You’ve found your voice at last!” Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the dark.
He saw no children. His wife sat in her royal robes with her crown on her head, her back to him, hands busy at her mouth. As he came closer, he saw that her white train was dripping with red liquid. Slowly, she turned her head to face him. Her mouth was smeared with blood.
The king’s eyes went wide. “Have you--harmed our children?” he choked out.
The queen swallowed the last chewed sinew and smiled with satisfaction. “No!” she said.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

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