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Friday, July 29, 2011

Interview with Karen Azinger (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “The Steel Queen” HERE
Read An Extract HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “The Steel Queen
Watch a Video Discussion with the Author HERE

Q: Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For those who are unfamiliar with you, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background?

Karen: I have a degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University. After working for ten years as an engineer, I discovered a talent and a passion for taking the “big-picture” strategic approach to problem solving. I evolved from an engineer to an international business strategist, eventually becoming a Vice-President for one of the world’s largest natural resource companies. I’ve worked on developing Canada’s first gem quality diamond mine in the arctic, on coal seam gas power projects in Australia, and on petroleum projects around the world. So I started as an engineer, and then I became an international business strategist, and now I am an epic fantasy author and it is a dream come true!

Q: What inspired you to be a writer in the first place, how much time did it take to finish your first book, and anything else you’d like to share about your writing endeavor?

Karen: I’d just finished re-reading George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords and like most readers I wanted more. My mind was swirling with thoughts of medieval fantasy. I went for a hike in the Columbia River Gorge and started wondering why more fantasy books do not have the complexity of characters and plots that I crave. So I started thinking about what I would do if I wrote an epic fantasy saga. My subconscious must have been mulling this problem for a long time because the ideas just started to flow. By the end of the hike I knew I had enough original ideas to write a saga. I started writing and never stopped. It took me nine months of solid work to write the first draft, and another nine months to burnish the words and the story to a shine. The Steel Queen is my first book, born from that hike in the Columbia River Gorge.

Q: How would you describe The Steel Queen?

Karen: The Steel Queen is a fast-paced action-packed fantasy with a stunning female lead. Kingdoms and characters come alive as they are woven together in complex plot twists with surprises that draw the reader through each chapter. You empathize with the good and pray they prevail but you truly feast on the bad who are utterly compelling.

Q: You mentioned working as an engineer, business strategist, and Vice-President of “one of the world’s largest natural resource companies.” Did you have any background experience in writing or literature before you decided to take this huge leap of writing your own story?

Karen: In my opinion, the best background a writer can have is to be a reader. In that respect, I am very well qualified! When I was in the third grade, I read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea based on a dare. It took me more than a month, but when I finished; I was totally hooked on reading, especially science fiction, and later fantasy. I have been a voracious reader ever since, but I don’t just read books, I think about why they work, why the characters are engaging, why the plot twists are surprising, and why some endings work while others fall flat. Once I started writing, I joined Willamette Writers, the largest writing group in the NW, and I started attending conferences and focusing on the craft of writing. But the true bedrock of my writing ability is my life-long passion for reading, and my desire to give back to the fantasy genre some of the joy that reading has always given me.

Q: Originally your fantasy series was slated to be published via HarperCollins UK. but now you’ve decided to self-publish starting with The Steel Queen. Could you explain your reasons for this decision?

Karen: In February of 2009, my five book epic fantasy saga was acquired by HarperCollins Voyager in London. I was over the moon with joy. They were talking hardback books, followed by trade paperbacks, followed by audio books, published “everywhere in the English-speaking world”. It was a dream come true, but then the delays started and my e-mails and phone calls went unanswered. Two years passed and then I got a notice from Amazon.com that my publishers wanted to delay the first book by yet another year! As a business person, I realized the publishing industry was undergoing a massive transformation, creating exciting new options for authors. So I re-claimed the worldwide rights to my manuscripts and formed Kiralynn Epics. The Steel Queen was published in May 2011 and is getting great reviews and performing very well on Amazon. In fact, it is now on sale just about everywhere in the English-speaking world! So my writing journey took some odd twists and turns, as life often does, but the dream finally came true.

Q: You mentioned previously that your inspiration to write was born on a hike in Oregon. Could you explain in detail your eureka moment?

Karen: I’ve always had a dual nature, with art as my life-long hobby, and science/logic as my career. I’ve often wondered if I was a scientific artist or an artistic scientist. On that hike in the gorge, at that eureka moment, there was a strange melding of the business strategist and the artist. The business strategist was analyzing my favorite books, thinking about why they worked, why they were so compelling. Meanwhile the artist was daydreaming about my ultimate fantasy saga, something I’d long to read over and over again. Somewhere on that hike, the daydreaming artist and the business strategist collided, and I realized I had enough original ideas to write a book. I started writing and never stopped. My first book, The Steel Queen, was born from that hike in the gorge.

Q: In a video interview I saw online, you mentioned three authors whose books were a huge influence on you. Could you point out what was gleaned from each of these authors?

Karen: There are three authors who had a major influence on my writing. The first is George Martin, whose work inspired me to start writing. From GRRM’s ASOIAF I studied the style of writing where each chapter is told from a different POV. I love to read this style of writing and I love to write this way. This method allows me to get deep into the hearts and minds of my characters and to weave complicated plot twists that surprise the reader.

From Tolkien’s LOTR I studied the art of creating settings that glow in the mind. To me, the three most intriguing settings of The Steel Queen are the great fortress of Castlegard, the Isle of Souls, and the mystery of the monastery. Readers might think they know the land of Erdhe but there are many more settings to be discovered as the five books of the saga unfold.

And the third master work that I studied was Frank Herbert’s Dune, the way he wove the themes of religion and environmental science into this characters, his settings, and his plots. To me, theme is an author’s secret weapon. Theme elevates a good read to a great read. I wove several major themes through The Silk & Steel Saga. One theme explores the mechanisms of evil. The avatars of good must identify and then foil the mechanisms of evil if good is to have any chance to prevail.

Q: Speaking of The Silk & Steel Saga, how many volumes are projected, how far along are you in the next book, and have you envisioned how the series will end?

Karen: The Silk & Steel Saga will be a total of five books: The Steel Queen, The Flame Priest, The Poison Priestess, and The Battle Immortal. The Steel Queen was published in May 2011. The next three books are written but they still need to be edited and formatted. I’m planning to publish the first four books in six month intervals, so The Flame Priest should be published in Dec 2011. I’ve got about a third of the fifth and final book written. I basically know how it will end, but I still have to write it, and the ending has to be worthy of the saga.

Q: The Steel Queen features a large number of female characters as the main protagonists. Was this done consciously?

Karen: A medieval world is a man’s world, but what if the survival of the kingdom depended on the success or failure of a young blonde princess, a brilliantly strategic Queen, a sexy priestess, and a granny armed with knitting needles and knives? The Silk & Steel Saga is unique among epic medieval fantasies precisely because of its many strong female characters and their surprising role reversals. This saga explores how women gain, keep, and wield power in a medieval world. The women of this saga will weave themselves into your thoughts and emotions and never let you underestimate the “weaker” sex again.

Q: What do you hope the reader reaction will be to such a diverse cast of characters?

Karen: The beauty of having such a complex cast of characters is that there is someone for everyone to like. When I talk to readers about their favorite characters I get a wide diversity of answers from Liandra, Kath, and Jordan, to Steffan and the Priestess.

Q: Liandra was probably my favorite character! I noticed that she always describes herself as “we” when talking to other characters. Is there any particular reasoning behind this?

Karen: Liandra rules alone in a man’s world. Despite the fact that she is a brilliant queen, her crown is constantly at risk because of her gender. As a woman, she uses unique weapons to protect her power. One of her weapons is image. “Few understood that the time spent before the mirror was not so much about appearances as it was about image. In a world dominated by kings and knights, the queen wielded her image like a sword, gaining advantage from every nuance of beauty and power.” As part of her image, she always uses the royal “we” in her speech, constantly reminding her loyal men that she is the queen, and is set above them. As a writer, the use of the royal “we” instantly puts me in Liandra’s character, but the tricky part comes when she gets close to one of her loyal lords. Will Liandra ever trust a man enough to drop the royal “we” and lower her crown?

Q: Who are your favorite characters in the series?

Karen: I have four favorite characters that I love to write. Kath because she let’s me indulge my love of swords and my sense of adventure. Liandra because she is brilliantly strategic and because she is based on Queen Elizabeth I, one of my heroes from history. Steffan because he is so very male and such a walk on the Dark side. And the Priestess because her sexual prowess makes her wicked good fun.

Q: What do you do when you are not writing or reading books? Any other hobbies?

Karen: I love the ocean! My favorite hobbies are scuba diving, snorkeling, and underwater photography. To satisfy my artistic side, I love doing fused glass, acrylic painting, and rubberstamping. When I finished writing The Steel Queen, I wanted to find a way to express the kingdoms of Erdhe using my artwork, so I stamp a series of Art Cards of Erdhe to represent the characters and settings in my books. I had so much fun with this project that I stamped a deck of 90 cards. These cards are featured on my author website while others are posted on my Facebook page  and The Steel Queen page. These cards are a unique way for my readers to see the kingdoms of Erdhe through the author’s own artwork.

Q: Which authors would you recommend to your readers, what books have recently made an impression on you, and what titles are you looking forward to?

Karen: Lately I’ve been reading books by Elizabeth Chadwick. I love historical fiction, especially set in medieval England. Her books are very well written and very well researched. For an avid student of history like me, her books are like candy.

The most recent book that made an impression on me is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a very fun read with smart female characters set in an intriguing post-apocalyptic world.

And I am anxiously awaiting GRRM’s A Dance With Dragons…like everyone else in the known universe!

Q: In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share?

Karen: Yes, the acronym for the saga is SASS! And I hope my readers will agree that this saga is full of women with attitude!

2 comments:

Unknown said...

I found the Steel Queen to be a great read. Fast paced, well written. Normally not a fantasy reader, but found enough elements of SciFi to thoroughly enjoy. Looking forward to next installment.

Anonymous said...

Great Book! Can't wait for the next one. I'm already hooked on several characters, and can't wait to see what happens next!

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