Sunday, 6 January 2008

Author Interview - Carol Berg


Song of the Beast

Son of Avonar
Guardians of the Keep

Soul Weaver

Daughter of Ancients
Flesh and Spirit

Breath and Bone

Unmasking, published in the book Elemental Magic


Pitch your latest novel

>The two volumes of the Lighthouse Duet, Flesh and Spirit (NAL/Roc Books, May 2007) and Breath and Bone (NAL/Roc, January 2008) are truly one story. Flesh and Spirit introduces Valen, the rebellious son of a long line of magical cartographers and seers. The restrictions these family connections impose on his life drove him half crazy as a kid, so he’s spent most of his life trying to escape them, even forgoing the use of sorcery so his family can’t track him. Though the world is tough, he’s not greedy and manages to have some good times along the way.

But everything changes when a comrade abandons Valen in a rainy wilderness half-dead, addicted to an enchantment that converts pain to pleasure, and possessing only a stolen book of maps. Offered sanctuary in a nearby monastery, Valen thinks he’s found a cozy place to hole up for the winter, out of the weather and the dangers of civil war. But his book of maps — rumored to lead men into the realm of angels — gains him entry into a world of secret societies, doomsayers, monks, princes, and madmen, all seeking to unlock the mystery of a coming dark age.

Before you know it, everyone in Navronne is after Valen. There is Prince Osriel, a claimant to the throne who steals dead men’s eyes and maybe their souls. There’s the priestess Sila Diaglou and her fanatical Harrowers who want to return the earth to a primitive state to appease the gods. And the Pureblood Registry, determined to catch their most annoying renegade sorcerer. Valen even glimpses beings out of myth—the human-hating, beautiful Danae guardians, whose dancing nurtures the earth. Though lying and thievery have kept Valen free and fed most of his life, his own peculiar sense of honor gets him in worse trouble. Bound by oaths he refuses to abandon, he has to risk body and soul to rescue a young monk, seek justice for a murdered child, and bring the ailing land its righteous king. Harrowing adventures for a guy who just wants a warm bed, good company, and a meal or two a day.

What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

>The Heaven Tree by Edith Pargeter, a grand adventure set in 12th century Wales with one of the best villains I’ve ever read;
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen;
Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, a lyrical, passionate retelling of the fairy tale;

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

>Content-wise, some of the most difficult scenes were those in Guardians of the Keep, where the villains of the D’Arnath series subtly and systematically corrupt a child, making him believe he is evil, a natural born killer destined to destroy his father’s people. As a mom that was rough (but necessary!) Technically, the most difficult was probably the climax of Restoration. I had told the entire story, two and nine-tenths novels, from a single character’s point of view, and all of a sudden I needed him to take a step that would radically alter his personality, essentially recasting him as the villain of his own story. To shift to a new point of view character so late in an epic work would be as harmonious as putting a Mozart violin concerto on a Jay-Z album, so I had to stay with his perspective, yet take the reader through the scene understanding what “the real Seyonne” had chosen and why, as well as his new perceptions. Tricky, but ultimately rewarding. After bringing that off, I gained a great confidence that I could tackle tough writing problems!

What character is most like you?

>I relate to certain aspects of all my characters. But one of the delights of writing fiction is to write people more heroic, more passionate, more careless, more foolish, more daring than oneself, to challenge them with interesting adventures, and see how their lives play out. I would make an extremely boring fantasy character!

As for which one I feel closest to… Well, of course, Seri (Bridge of D’Arnath series) is a mom, but my kids never got into quite the pickle Gerick did, and Seri was so extroverted and determined from early on that I would find her quite intimidating. Seyonne (Books of the Rai-kirah) dealt with the conflicts of beliefs and ideals, and the disillusionments that we all go through, while retaining his faith in the intrinsic goodness and generosity of those around him – but thank goodness I’ve never had to face the things he did while he was gaining that bit of wisdom. And he was a warrior, which gave him a whole level of experiences that I, thankfully, have not had. Now I’m thinking of it, maybe Jen, from Daughter of Ancients is the one I’d get on with the best. She loved her family, was good at math and her “day job,” and not so good at the extraordinary things. She got riled up about politics, but felt pretty helpless to do anything about it, and had those few awkward physical things she couldn’t get over (hers was heights, mine is crossing rushing rivers on log bridges). But she accomplished more than she expected and came up with some talents that surprised even herself. Yep, I think it might be Jen.

>What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?

I always enjoy writers’ conferences such as Surrey or Pikes Peak, and I look forward to any sf convention where I get a chance to hang out with my readers and professional friends. But my most exciting writing event of recent months had to be my stint as the Guest of Honor at the ICon Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Role-playing Festival in Tel Aviv, Israel.
My hosts—my Israeli publisher, my translator, and the convention foreign guest coordinator—treated me royally, taking me to tour the country for four days before the convention, as well as introducing me to much of the Israeli fantasy/sf professional community. Outside my part of the convention programming (thank goodness the guest-of-honor events are held in English, which everyone speaks exceedingly well), I was able time to sit and talk about the books, about writing, and about American politics and life in general with many of the young, energetic, and passionate fantasy readers. I had felt a bit anxious following in the footsteps of Orson Scott Card, Tim Powers, and Neil Gaiman as the ICon GOH, but I felt welcomed every step of the way.

What is your university degree in?

>I have degrees in mathematics and computer science.
And so follows the inevitable question about why I write fantasy instead of hard science fiction. The answer: I write fantasy because I’ve found it to be a delightful way to incorporate many of the other genres I especially love – mystery, adventure, times and places that are not the here and now, spies thrillers, mythology, fairy tales, romantic suspense, and so on. Science fiction can incorporate these as well, but I think science fiction readers have certain expectations with regard to detailed, believable technology playing a large part of the solution of the story’s problems. And when it comes down to it, I’d rather research desert anthropology than Martian geology and medieval beermaking in preference to nanotechnology. I DO use my engineering background every day as I write. Writing any kind of speculative fiction requires starting from a set of premises and developing a story and a world using logic (“if, then, else”) problem-solving, language, and semantics. Which sounds a lot like what I did in my software engineering career.

Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

> 1. Write because you love it, not because you think it will make a profitable/prestigious/convenient career. Write because you can’t not write.
2. Learn about the publishing business and develop patience.
3. Learn the craft, which means
- Read, read, read. Read outside your chosen genre. Read classics. Read good literature. Read good writing.
- Learn grammar. Learn fiction writing—things like point of view and maid-and-butler dialogue and said-bookisms. Ask yourself what is it about this or that writer's characters that makes them seem real.
- Write. Rewrite. Write more. Put your first work away, write something else while continuing to learn the craft, and then take another look. I’ll bet you dollar to doughnuts you’ll say, “Ewwwww…” Learn to accept critique. Exchange work with critiquers who are readers of many books and writers of your own or above your level.

Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

>Neither is easier than the other. Fiction writers of any genre must address and consciously balance all elements of story – character, plot, setting, dialog, voice, dramatic suspense, and so on – with clarity, while avoiding cliché, infodumps, and all the other pitfalls of writing and storytelling in the particular genre. Both fantasy and science fiction require research in order to create vivid, believable worlds to host the events of the story. Nothing can bump a fantasy reader out of a novel quicker than horses that run like motorcycles, wars that make no historical/anthropological sense, invisible economies, or magic that solves everything. In the same way, nothing can bump a dedicated sf reader out of a story quicker than a planet that behaves just like our earth, despite having three moons, or another use of “reconfiguring the stream of tachyon particles”!

If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else's?

>Heavens no! My worlds are all in deep trouble one way or another. Well, of course, ours is too, but I really like 21st century medicine, transportation, water, education, books, etc. One world I might like to visit is Roger Zelazny’s Amber – but only if I had the power of Corwin’s family to travel between the shadows of Amber. How cool would it be to shift the colors of the sky with your mind and take yourself to a wholly different place?

In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why?

>You have to understand that this is akin to asking which of my three children is my favorite! The answer can vary depending on the day. Right now Valen (of Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone) is the apple of my eye. Handsome, fun-loving, self-deprecating, he can always find humor in the direst situations. Despite his faults – and he will be the first to confess them - he holds to a firm core of principles that he will uphold even to the risk of his own life. And I so much enjoyed confronting him with the deepest mysteries of his world and seeing his reaction as he realized what they meant for him. This job is SO much fun

Share an interesting fan story.

>I loved hearing from a Navy guy just returned from deployment on a nuclear sub. He reported that during their long months under the Med, he and his shipmates had all read Transformation, Revelation, and Restoration, discussing the stories in between their drills. He said he had to hide his copy of Revelation under his bunk so people wouldn't steal it before he was through. He said that the stories had made their deployment tolerable. That was very cool to hear!

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

>No way. I put them through too much.

What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

>My first novel is blessedly unpublished and will remain that way. It took me (and a friend) a year and a half to write.

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