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Godspeaker: An Interview with Karen Miller

27.jpgKaren Miller, is the author of the bestselling Kingmaker,Kingbreaker trilogy, a couple of Stargate SG-1 novels, and of several more novels in those worlds as well as all new ones to come, as she elucidates in this interview. One of my favorite authors, Karen’s stories are the kind readers of epic fantasy will love. For more of my thoughts you can visit these other pages on my site.

My reviews of The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage.

My interview with Karen about the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology.

My review of Empress, the first in the Godpeaker trilogy.

Now, on to the interview.

Grasping for the Wind: You have stated elsewhere that you were trying to write a very different novel from the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology with Empress. How is it different?

Karen Miller: I think the main differences are found in the setting, which is a long way away from a medieval/renaissance/European influence, and in the tone, and in the central character. And the journey the reader takes with that central character, Hekat, is very very different from the one readers of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books undertake. There�s also less lightness, less humour, which is sad, but that�s the way the world turned out in the writing. This is a much tougher book to read, I think, because the world is harsh and the characters are pretty confronting. It�s risky, there�s no doubt about it.

GFTW: You have also said that you felt that Empress was a necessary addition to its sequels in order that we might better understand Hekat. Your sequels to Empress are supposed to be more like the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology in mood and tone. Why not just let the sequels to Empress stand alone as another duology?

KM: Well, the short answer to that is: Because that�s the way the story wanted to be told! *g* When the idea for this story first came to me, Hekat�s role in it was much briefer, but I quickly realised that wasn�t working. Basically, she demanded the stage. And I wanted to explore this culture, I wanted to show it in all its savagery and mystery. I wanted to do something different in the genre, and stretch my wings a bit. There was no way I could explore Hekat as a character if I didn�t make her the focus of the first novel, and show her in the context of her culture. And from the entire trilogy�s point of view, when we shift location to the cultures that flourish elsewhere, the reader knows exactly what�s coming. The threat has been made viscerally real. Now, whether or not that gamble pays off isn�t for me to decide, of course. I just have to keep my fingers crossed that readers are happy to go along for the ride!

GFTW: Empress is a very violent, very blood filled novel. This is different from your previously published work. Was it difficult to write something so very different from your previous imaginings?

KM: It was difficult in the beginning, yes. The writing style in Empress is different from my other work, the narrative rhythm is quite distinct, and many of the characters are quite challenging people to embrace. I battled my way through much of the first draft, coming to grips with the shifts in my regular approach and style, and in the vastly different tone of this story. But once I�d nailed down the first draft and turned to rewriting, I found the process went much more smoothly. I will say that the levels of violence and blood weren�t any part of the challenge. They are such an integral part of the culture that once I immersed myself in that world, it all flowed very naturally. When it came to writing Hekat, basically I just went to my dark side and abandoned all social restraints. In an odd way, that was very cathartic, once I�d given myself over to it!

GFTW: Although Hekat is a sympathetic character at the beginning of the novel, we have come to dislike her very much by the end. How were you able to write a character that rather than having an upward spiral toward a �happily ever after� instead moved on a downward spiral filled with selfishness and hate? Was it a conscious choice to send Hekat down that path, or was in a natural outgrowth of her character?

KM: Ah ha! My dastardly plan has been revealed! *g* Yes. Hekat was never intended to be �the good guy� in this story. And that�s another reason for focusing so strongly on her in the first volume of the trilogy � one of the story threads is her downfall. Things could�ve worked out very differently, for everyone, if she�d made different choices. So yes, it was a conscious choice to send her down such a dark road. What she does affects her country, her people, and the people around her. It has an effect on the whole world. I wanted to explore what it�s like to take that kind of personal journey, and what happens to the people around you when you do. And she�s such a strong personality, she just forged ahead. There was never any question, for me, that she�d suddenly wake up one morning and renounce her bloodthirsty ways. She was never destined for happy ever after � and I find that quite sad, really.

GFTW: For all Hekat�s faults, she does produce a good son. Will we see more of him in the sequels?

KM: Absolutely. Zandakar has an integral role to play in this story, which is tied to the mystical vision his father had of him, in the godhouse of Et-Raklion. He�s massively important, and I�m very fond of him.

GFTW: Did you do a lot of research into historical cultures in order to create the barbarian society and religion of Mijak? Any society you particularly based it on?

The History Channel ShopKM: Yes, I did do a great deal of research, melding a lot of ancient cultures to come up with Mijak. The Hittites, Sumer, Mesopotamia, Persia, Babylon and Sparta, basically. I did a lot of reading, watched a lot of History Channel documentaries, and visited the University of Chicago�s antiquities museum (which is splendid, everyone should go there). And then I kind of mashed them all together and let them percolate into what became the world of Mijak. It was a lot of fun! Especially finding out about the Hittites. They were an amazing people.

GFTW: Why did you entwine your �magic system� so closely with religion? And why does the blood sacrifice requiring, scorpion worshipping religion play such a large role in Empress?

KM: Well, one of the themes of this trilogy is the role of religion in the life of a people. It gets explored in the sequels, too. I think religion, of any stripe, is a phenomenally powerful force for good and evil in the world, depending on how it�s presented, interpreted and acted out by the people practising it. In Empress, I wanted to make religion an absolutely indisputable fact, I wanted the idea of doubt to be impossible, and then to look at how that certainty might impact a culture. The supernatural elements of the Mijaki religion reinforce its power and its existence, so it was important to show it that way. Again, I don�t want to give too much away in terms of what�s revealed in the other two books � but I will say that my intention was not to push the idea that religion is a bad thing. I don�t believe it is. But I do believe it can be used badly, and Mijak is a prime example of that.

GFTW: Your Godspeaker trilogy is complete, having already been published in your native Australia and being published in the US and UK over the next year. What can you tell us about what you are writing right now?

KM: Well, right now I�m working on the next book in a new series that�s just launched here in Australia, and will be coming out in the US/UK next January. It�s written under a pen name, K.E. Mills, but it�s still me! We decided to go with the pen name because it is a series � standalone adventures with a continuing cast of characters � instead of a two, three or five book self-contained story arc. Also, the tone is very different again, especially from Empress, and the cultural background is more closely aligned with the Victorian era. This isn�t epic historical fantasy. It�s not comic fantasy, either, serious things still happen, there�s a lot of drama, but there is a lot more humour � mainly because of the way the characters interact with each other. Lots of banter. It�s called the Rogue Agent series, and the first book is titled The Accidental Sorcerer. I�m having a lot of fun with it, and getting back to that world is enormously entertaining for me.

After that, I return to the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker world for the first of the two-part sequel that explores what happened after the Wall came down. That�ll be followed by a standalone prequel, in which I�ll tell the story of Barl and Morgan. Plus there�s the third Rogue Agent novel to write, and another Stargate SG-1 novel � basically, I�m chained to a computer for the next two years! *g*

GFTW: You wrote a media tie in novel for the Stargate SG-1 TV series. Did you have to approach writing this novel differently from your other works? In what way?

KM: Yes and no. I take the Stargate books very, very seriously. I know there are people out there who think folk who write media tie-ins are hacks without standards, but I utterly refute that claim. I�ve been a fan of the show ever since it started airing, and I consider myself enormously fortunate to be allowed to play in that sandbox, with those characters. I believe I have a huge obligation to do the very best job I can � I owe it to the producers, the actors, the crew and the fans to pour my heart and soul into the Stargate stories I write. And I do. At the end of the day I might come up short, in some fans� eyes, but if I do it�s not because I didn�t take the work seriously. So in terms of being rigorous in the writing and rewriting process, it�s exactly the same. It�s absolutely not the case of chucking down any old sentence and letting it sit there on the page like suet. I polish and rewrite till the very last gasp!

I do a lot of research. Some of that involves rewatching pertinent episodes (there�s a hardship!) and sometimes it�s regular-style research. I�ve just done my second Stargate novel, Do No Harm, which is out in a few weeks, and I had to do a lot of medical research for that one. I just can�t stress enough � I don�t look at media tie-in work as some kind of poor relation. It�s as valid as any kind of storytelling, in my eyes, and I work as hard at it as I do at my mainstream fantasy novels.

Probably the biggest difference is that with the Stargate novels, you�re working in a shared world with a common frame of reference. So there�s less world-building, less exposition, because the writer and the reader already have an understanding of the environment. So that simplifies the writing process to a certain degree. But to balance that is the complexity of getting the characters right, keeping them true to the characters we see on screen. That�s the biggest challenge, and the most fun.

GFTW: What has been a response from a reader that you particularly enjoyed getting?

KM: I had a lovely letter from a gentlemen recently, who wrote to tell me that his wife had thoroughly enjoyed the two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books, was very disappointed that there were only two, and would I kindly rectify that as soon as possible. That really did tickle my funny bone! And of course, I was thrilled to be able to write back and say yes, there are more on the way.

GFTW: Thanks for your time!

Check out The Book Swede’s interview on with Karen on Empress and various other topics.