Our Writers of Fantasy series continues with an exclusive interview with Karen Miller, best known for her epic fantasy novels such as the Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series) as well as her new book, The Falcon Throne.
She has also written Star Wars and Stargate novels and under the pen-name K.E. Mills writes the Rogue Agent series, about a wizard with special skills who works for his government under unusual circumstances.
SFFN: When you look back on your first books, such as The Innocent Mage, and compare them to something more recent, like The Falcon Throne, how do you feel you’ve changed as a writer? Has your process or method changed?
KM: Innocent Mage was a fairly uncomplicated, straightforward book. It doesn’t have a really big cast, or a challenging narrative structure, and the landscape is restrained. It was enough of a challenge for me to just to finish it, and polish it to the best of my ability, and then sell it, without burdening myself more!
But the first two books in that series (Innocent and Awakened) gave me the courage and confidence I needed to challenge myself a bit more, and so that’s what I’ve been trying to do with every book since.
The end result of that process is the Tarnished Crown series, The Falcon Throne being the first one, where the narrative structure, the landscape and the scope of the story are by far the most vast, complicated and challenging I’ve aimed for. This story is making me sweat! But that’s a good thing, even when I’m banging my head against the keyboard. *g*
The other shift, I’d say, is that the characters I’m working with are becoming progressively more layered, more convoluted, less easy to pigeon hole. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Asher and the rest of the Mage books cast, but they are all fairly uncomplicated, in terms of their motives and personalities. The Tarnished Crown cast still has good guys and bad guys, but the waters are muddier. Balfre, for example, is not a good man – but I think some of his actions are at least understandable, if not forgivable, because life has not been kind to him. I think he could have been a good man, if his circumstances were different.
Likewise Liam is a complicated person, someone whose basic nature has been distorted by events beyond his control. Benedikt is a far sunnier, simpler man – but even he has his moments. LIkewise Catrain. She’s a hero, but she has her flaws. And Izusa, who willingly embraces evil, and does terrible things, she’s actually motivated by love. I think that’s because to be human is to be complicated and multi-faceted. Even very good people have their very bad moments. And bad people are capable of selfless, loving acts. That can get confusing, and even confronting, but it’s also human. It certainly keeps me on my toes, as a writer.
I wish I could say, after some 19 books under my belt, that the process of writing a novel has become easier, but no. It’s not. Maybe if I didn’t keep asking more and more of myself it would be! But I still struggle with the doubts and the demons. I suspect most writers do. At the end of the day, it’s about you and the empty page (or screen) and the only cure is to sit your arse in the chair and apply your fingers to the keyboard and wrestle that story out of your head, then polish it until it shines.