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Monday, December 16, 2019

Interview with Carol A. Park (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Banebringer over HERE
Order Cursebreaker over HERE
Order Sweetblade over HERE

Carol A. Park is an author whom I've discovered in the past year with her dark fantasy debut Banebringer. She released a standalone prequel book called Sweetblade which is set in the Heretic Gods world earlier this year. I've read both of her works and she's become an author to look out for IMHO.

Her books have a solid combination of horror, exciting characters and a nice romantic tinge to make her Heretic Gods saga, standout amidst the plethora of self-published works. In this interview, I chat with Carol about the genesis of her books, the excellent cover art and what new works can we expect in 2020...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, could you please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write in the first place, and describe your journey to becoming a self-published author.

CP: Sure! I’m independent fantasy author Carol A. Park. I write character-driven dark and epic fantasy.

I’ve been writing since I was old enough to form words on paper; I’ve always had an “over-active” imagination. But it wasn’t until after grad school, when I suddenly found myself with an unprecedented amount of time on my hands, that I thought I’d seriously start writing that book that had been rattling around in my brain for years.

I did start by querying agents, first with that book, and then with another. Six years and two kids later, I began writing a third with the intent of querying again. Then, after having some discussions with a self-published acquaintance, I realized that I had two options: I could continue pouring years of my life into writing book after book, hoping that at some point I would get lucky or clever enough to win in the traditional publishing game, or I could do it myself and be well on my way to starting a career as an author by the time I even wrote the book that snagged the interest of an agent. I’ve always been a self-starter who enjoys learning new things and working independently, so once I looked at in that light, the right path for me became clear. I don’t regret the decision, as I’ve now come to enjoy the amount of control I have over my career and business, even though there are days when I feel like my ducks are barely staying in the same pond, let alone in a row!

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of the Heretic Gods series occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

CP: It took me about three and a half years to write, edit, and polish Banebringer. However, that’s not really an accurate assessment of how long it took to write from beginning to end, simply because a good bit of that time was spent querying, doing nothing while I was depressed that I still wasn’t getting anywhere with querying, and then incubating, birthing, and shambling through the bleary-eyed newborn days with my second child.

Of course, I began thinking about the series long before I began writing it. I tend to come up with magic systems, characters, and a general concept first, and then the story develops from there. I can’t remember where all the ideas for the moving parts of Banebringer came from, but I know the magic system had its genesis in a one-off comment by my husband while we were watching Dancing with the Stars—that the god of dance must have given Derek some of his powers. The seeds of Vaughn and Ivana came out of a deliberate decision to run in the exact opposite direction of the characters in the previous novel I had written, so I didn’t accidentally rinse and repeat. From there, it evolved in bits and pieces as I started some explorative writing (what I should probably call my 0.5 draft).

Q] For someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write? What would be your elevator pitch for  Banebringer or Sweetblade?

CP: My stories are first and foremost character-driven. Second, they are characterized by nuanced magic systems that are integral to the plot (Sweetblade is a bit of an anomaly—and it’s still in a world with a nuanced magic system). Third, I’m a sucker for a good love story…so chances are you’ll find that too.

What they are not is necessarily dark. I call Banebringer atmospherically and thematically dark, but there’s plenty of light-hearted banter and humor as well. If my stories are dark, that’s less a deliberate choice and more a consequence of my tendency to prioritize character arc and my commitment to therefore wrestling with the human experience in all its brokenness and pain.

I suck at elevator pitches, but the central question of Banebringer is: “What would you do if gods you don’t worship gave you powers you never wanted?” Sweetblade is the story of an average girl who becomes a cold-hearted killer to bury the pain of her past.

Q] One of the things that I loved about Banebringer was the solid worldbuilding & magic system. What is it about worldbuilding that you love, and what are the keys to successfully crafting such a believable, yet fantastical world like that featured in the Heretic Gods?

CP: Developing magic systems is hands-down my favorite part of world-building. It’s one of the first pieces of a story I come up with, along with characters, and one of the most detailed “setting” sections of my “story bible.” When it comes to the rest, I tend to enjoy world-building the most when I’m delving into the fantastical or extraordinary, which is probably why my magic systems, so far, have been so intricately linked to the divine and/or mythology, and why I like coming up with other fantasy races (not something I’ve done in Heretic Gods so much, but something that will be featured in my next series).

I’d say the key to world-building in general is logical consistency, whether you’ve got a thousand-page world-building manual to start or if you like to figure it out as you go along. I actually enjoy the challenge of logical boundaries, even if those boundaries are fantastical, because it forces me to go deeper rather than wider when it comes to building on the pillars of a world I’ve begun to create. I also have to give a nod to “Sanderson’s Laws of Magic” as a guide for developing robust magic systems!

Q] Let’s talk about the main relationship between Vaughn and Ivana. I really enjoyed the slow-burn nature of it. Was that planned from the beginning or something that became apparent during the writing?

CP: While I don’t read a ton of genre romance (we’re talking maybe 5% of my annual reading), I can be a complete and hopeless sap for a good, slow-burn love story wherein the characters are believably drawn to each other. So, I always had a notion that there would be a slow-burn romantic sub-plot in Heretic Gods. In this case, just because of Vaughn and Ivana’s respective backgrounds, I also knew that it would end up being a “frenemies” (“enemies-to-RAFO?”) sort of relationship, which is always fun.

From there, however, I let the relationship develop organically in response to plot elements and each character’s growth or development. I’m trying hard not to be spoilery here, but a good example of that is the way Banebringer ended in regards to Vaughn and Ivana’s relationship. It was not actually what I originally envisioned, but it was what felt true to the characters at that point in their lives. So, in answer to your question—yes!

Q] The nature of banebringers as well as the bloodbanes that inhabit the world is a nice tinge of horror that resides within the books. How did you go about crafting this aspect?

CP: What’s crazy about the bloodbane is that when I first started doing some exploratory writing for Banebringer, I didn’t know about the monsters—i.e., it wasn’t part of my original concept. Then, in a sort of “free-write” I was doing to figure out where I was going with the whole idea, a character made a one-off comment about monsters that they intended to be allegorical—and I realized that making the monsters literal would fit this story perfectly. I had the idea for these magic users who were given powers against their will by heretical gods, thus making them fugitives—why not up the ante by making people hate them even more because their existence means there are these monsters that stalk the land as an ever-present threat? That’s a great example of the way a story develops in its early stages for me.

As far as the individual types of bloodbane, while there are some nameless and unique horrors, I decided to make most of them sort of twisted, corrupt versions of real animals—since they’re from what is essentially another plane of existence.

Q] Please talk to us about Sweetblade, I recall you mentioning online that it began as a novella that became a 90K novel. What was it about Ivana’s past that lead you to write it in so much detail?

CP: Ah, Sweetblade. I call it my bastard book since it was never in\
the plans. If you promise not to laugh, I’ll tell you where the concept for that character came from (beyond needing to differentiate her from the female protagonist in my other book). I was with some teenagers and they were singing along to this, at the time, relatively new song, “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift. I started pondering the various scenarios that could have led to these lyrics. And, over-active imagination that I have, before I knew it, I had gone down the rabbit hole and developed this concept of the “girl next door” who became a cold-blooded killer in order to bury the pain of her past.

But as I began to write, even with a backstory in mind, I could not get Ivana’s character right. I think it was somewhere in the middle of the third draft of Banebringer that I stopped and wrote some 20,000 words of her backstory in detail—what ultimately became the past timeline in Sweetblade—and after that it clicked for me. From there, I decided to turn it into a novella, and it kiiinda ballooned as I explored more and more of her past.

You’d think, given my concept for the character, I would have realized what an incredibly dark story Sweetblade would turn out to be, but I surprised even myself. I wanted to deal authentically with her struggles, which led to some really dark places, and so it wasn’t an easy story to write. Though I market it as a stand-alone, I could not have written it without knowing the full character arc for this character—not just as found in Banebringer but ultimately the entire trilogy. But I think having written it has given the character a greater depth in my own mind that I hope comes out on the page, as she continues to struggle with her past and her identity.

Q] Let’s talk about the cover art beginning with Cursebreaker. It’s a very striking piece and definitely ups the ante that was set by Banebringer. Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Brit K. Caley and how this cover came to be?

CP: Yeah! Brit is actually an old friend of mine from years back, and when I first decided to self-publish I knew one of the essentials was a quality cover. I also had in my head very definitively that I wanted original artwork—something that I could potentially hang on a wall.

Brit had been doing illustrations and graphic design since before I knew her. I knew she had done some work on covers for her, at the time, day job, which meant she could, perhaps somewhat uniquely, handle both sides of what makes a book cover—artwork and the technical design. I love her style, so I contacted her and asked what she thought about doing a cover for my debut fantasy novel. She enthusiastically agreed, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the way she can take a concept and really capture the mood and atmosphere of the book in the art. She has since quit her day job and is now working as a full-time freelance digital artist (I have to admit, I’m just a little jealous!), and I know she continues to work on her own self-education and improvement in all areas of art and design, so I can only say that every cover just gets better!

Q] What’s the status report on the last of Ivana & Vaughn’s trilogy? What can you tell us about the end of their journey? Can you give us a hint about the title?

CP: I’m in the outlining stages of the final book in The Heretic Gods trilogy, and I’m planning to start the first draft as soon as we get through the 2019 holiday season. I was hoping to release it by the end of 2020, but it’s looking more like it will get pushed to the first or second quarter of 2021.

I can definitely tell you the title—Bloodmaster—and there are some really cool things I have planned for it. But I think to say anything more would be spoilery!

Q] Besides the Heretic Gods saga. On your website, there’s a mention of A World Broken (The Chronicles of the Lady Sar #1). Can you tell us a bit about it to whet the readers’ minds and appetites?

CP: Sure can! The Chronicles of the Lady Sar is a story that I have had kicking around in my brain—and partially on paper—for over a decade. It plays a bit with the classic fantasy trope of “that thing that happened millennia ago to break/destroy/forever change the world,” inasmuch as the story is actually about those legendary events, rather than about the “darkness/dark lord/evil empire arising once again.”

It’s true epic fantasy in scope—being literally about the end of the hypothetical primordial golden age—the “first age,” if you will. At the same time, it’s a deeply personal, character-driven story, because this epic is told through the eyes—and amidst the personal struggles—of those who will one day become legends because of their part in these events.

At any rate, true to my style, it’s character-driven, has a hard magic system, and yet another slooooooooooooooooooooow-burn romance (extra “o’s” for emphasis).

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

CP: While I’ve always been a voracious reader, the first fantasy novel I ever read was Lord of the Rings, when I was in high school. It sparked my interest in and eventual love for fantasy. From there, I delved into more modern classics by authors such as Mercedes Lackey (The Obsidian Trilogy is a favorite of mine), Tad Williams, David Eddings and many more. But the author that really opened my eyes to everything fantasy could be was Brandon Sanderson. I stumbled upon his Mistborn trilogy first, pre-Wheel of Time days, and I was instantly intrigued by Sanderson’s fresh take on magic. Sanderson is the author that inspired me to want to make a career of writing fantasy, whereas before I had just been a fan and dabbler.

The independent fantasy community is amazingly supportive, and I’m grateful for many of the connections I’ve made with other authors over the past eighteen months, particularly since entering Banebringer in SPFBO 4. Angela Boord, D.P. Woolliscroft, Devin Madson, Travis Riddle, Barbara Kloss, Kayleigh Nicol, Jon Auerbach, Phil Williams, and Josh Erikson are just a handful of the authors I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know! And you should totally check out their books!

Q] Thank you for your time and for the answers. Any parting thoughts/words that you'd like to share with your fans & readers?

CP: It takes a certain amount of terrifying conceit to believe that other people might want to read these crazy stories you’ve made up, and yet it’s humbling to realize that it’s true. I’m honored by the time that people invest reading my paltry attempt at words, and I hope they enjoy the sequel to Banebringer as well as other works coming down the pike! If you haven’t already, sign up for my newsletter, which I’m going to attempt to launch for reals in 2020, to stay up to date on the latest news.



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