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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

SPFBO Semi-finalist interview: Holly Karlsson, the author of Kingdom of Essence

About Holly Karlsson: Holly Karlsson writes epic and adventure fantasy filled with magic, dangerous quests, compelling characters, and mythical creatures. Holly is the author of the Daughters of Fire & Sea Trilogy, and Kingdom of Essence.

She enjoys connecting to her readers and regularly releases flash fiction stories on her website Follow her on Instagram @byhollykarlsson, Facebook or Goodreads.

Kingdom of Essence links: AmazonGoodreads


Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m originally from the west coast of the United States, but moved to northern Sweden two years ago. I’ve always had a big imagination, so I knew early on that I wanted to write stories about epic lands and fascinating magic. Of course, if I’d chanced upon the opportunity to become a mage or befriend a dragon, that would be my first choice!

The one question everyone gets: how long have you been writing and what made you decide to become a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was a child, but I didn’t finish my first novel until my thirties. In high school, I thought my only career path to becoming an author was to work as an English teacher. That didn’t appeal to me, so I dabbled in numerous subjects and career paths until I had the lucky opportunity to write from home while on maternity leave with my first child.

What made you decide to go the self-publishing route? What were the advantages, and what do you think you missed by not being traditionally published?

I wanted to have more control over how and when I published and what cover artists I worked with. Finding the right agent and publisher can take years and be very difficult, and I decided I’d rather release my work on my own terms. A definite advantage is being able to make updates quickly, such as updating a cover or something in the book or blurb.

The biggest downside has been that I don’t particularly enjoy marketing, so it would have been very useful to have help in that regard. It’s also harder to get a book into physical bookstores as an indie author, so my reach isn’t as wide as I’d like.

Can you tell us about your editing process? Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or hire professionals?

I’m relatively good at self-editing my work, and my critique partner — a fellow author — often picks up on anything I miss. I then read my entire book aloud, as this helps to find awkward phrasing, and then send it to my copyeditor who does a final pass. Usually, my final work is pretty clean, but I love working with a professional editor as the last step to ensure it’s as polished as possible.

Why did you decide to enter SPFBO? And seeing as you have others novels- what made you choose Kingdom of Essence, to put forth over your others?

I heard about the competition last year and considered entering Kingdom of Essence, but it wasn't until J.D. Evans won SPFBO 7 — we have the same incredible cover artist — that I decided to see how far I could go. Finding new readers is challenging, and I thought the competition might help put my stories in front of new eyes.

I chose to enter Kingdom of Essence because I think my Slavic-inspired world and magic system are fairly unique, and I believe it’s my strongest work so far. I love the close friendships in the book, and thought many of the themes would resonate with other adult readers.

I personally loved the pen and ink style of your cover art for Kingdom of Essence. Who's the artist/designer? What drew you to that style and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it?

It’s one of my favorite art styles! My cover artist is Tatiana (Tanya) Anor, who created the covers for J.D. Evans’ Mages of the Wheel series. That’s how I found out about her. I thought Tanya’s illustrations were unique and distinctive and perfectly fit the tone of Kingdom of Essence.

I love working with artists and seeing how they interpret my character descriptions. I shared with Tanya which of her existing illustrations I loved (for style and composition), loosely described the background, and gave her Elitsa’s physical description with Pinterest images for clothing inspiration. After sketching, Tanya suggested a bird silhouette in the swirl of air coming from Elitsa’s hand, and we settled on a swan, which has significance in the story. There wasn’t much back and forth after that, as all of Tanya’s sketches were amazing, so I was mostly just thrilled with every work-in-progress she sent!

What was your initial inspiration for Kingdom of Essence? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

It started as a random idea to write a short, fall-inspired murder mystery in October 2020 with a magic system that involved metal and the question, “how would you extract magic from plants?” From there, my imagination just ran wild (there is a bit of a murder mystery, but not quite what I’d envisioned) until it eventually became the book you have in your hands! I also wanted to write a Slavic-inspired world to bring some of my Ukrainian heritage (my great-grandparents emigrated from Ukraine) into the story in the mythology, food, and fashion.

It was supposed to be a short break from working on my other series and only take a month or two, but as it became a full-length book, it took most of a year to finish writing.

I’m very curious to know what inspired your magic system? The amount of thought put into its varied uses- from the relics to the harvesting of the essences, must have taken quite a bit of your time to work out the details and to add all those little finishing touches- like the use of scent upon release (something I loved a lot). Was there anything you regret adding, that made it a nightmare to work around as the story progressed?

I’m always dreaming up new magic systems and talking through the limitations and consequences with my husband, who loves fantasy worlds as I do. Usually, they come about through a question, like what I mentioned above, and then evolve as I think about what world they would exist in and how magic would affect the lives of my characters. I love nature and plants, and I think stories come alive and are easier to immerse in when you can feel and smell the world by engaging the senses.

I wouldn’t say I regret anything in particular, though I always worry I’ve forgotten to explain something that exists in my head but not on the page. It was occasionally challenging to think of unique scent combinations for the different ways magic was used in the book, but I also loved that part.

Your bio mentioned Nancy Drew, as some of the books you grew-up reading. As a Nancy Drew fan, there were many times during reading Kingdom of Essence, that I thought to myself that Elitsa, had Nancy’s spirit. After seeing your bio, I had wondered if she was an influence on Elitsa as a character? Or were there others that helped inspire you to bring Elitsa’s story to life?

Yes! I’m glad Elitsa reminded you of Nancy! I hadn’t thought about that, but she does have the same investigative spirit. I’ve always been drawn to resourceful, courageous characters who want to unravel mysteries and know the truth of things. For Elitsa, I didn’t have any particular influences in mind, but I wanted to write about a reserved character who is world-weary and figuring things out. Living through the pandemic while relocating to a new country gave me a lot of emotions to draw on, and she just became clear in my head.

The interactions between Elitsa, Pipene, and Cas were a lot of fun. Enquiring minds…well, this mind anyway, wants to know- will there be more of them to look forward to in the next book?

They are so much fun to write! Yes, the three of them are returning in the second book. I love Elitsa and Pipene’s friendship, and I can’t wait to see what trouble Cas causes during their travels.

How many books have you planned for the series? What are you working on at the moment? And what’s your publishing schedule for 2022/2023?

I have at least one more book planned for Kingdom of Essence and maybe a third, depending on how the story unravels during the drafting stage. Elitsa and her friends have many adventures ahead of them.

Currently, I’m working on the final book in my epic trilogy, Daughters of Fire and Sea, and hope to publish it this winter. After that, I’ll most likely begin on the sequel to Kingdom of Essence and then pick from my long list of ideas. If I can publish two books next year, I’ll be happy. I wish I could write faster because I have a lot of interesting worlds and magic systems I want to explore.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

I want to say a big thank you to all the judges for giving their time — and to you for your wonderful review of Kingdom of Essence — and to Mark Lawrence for hosting this incredible competition. It’s been fun to find new authors and books I’m excited to read, and I’m so grateful to still be in the running. Thank you!



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