The OF Blog: An Interview with Carol Berg

Friday, August 03, 2007

An Interview with Carol Berg

From Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia:

Carol Berg is the author of several fantasy novels, including the books from the Rai-Kirah series, Song of the Beast, and the books from The Bridge of D'Arnath series. She lives in Colorado, and is the mother of three boys. Before writing fulltime, she designed software.

Which of your characters do you relate to the most?

I relate to certain aspects of all my characters. I think most fictional characters express something that their author has found interesting about people, whether inside him- or herself or from observing others. But one of the delights of writing fiction is to write people more heroic, more passionate, more careless, more foolish, more daring than oneself, to challenge them with interesting adventures, and see how their lives play out. I would make an extremely boring fantasy character.

As for which one in particular, I feel closest to... Well, of course, Seri is a mom - but my kids never got into quite the pickle Gerick did, and Seri was so extroverted and determined from early on that I would find her quite intimidating. Seyonne dealt with the kinds of conflicts of beliefs and ideals, and the disillusionments that we all go through, while retaining his faith in the intrinsic goodness and generosity of those around him - but thank goodness I've never had to face the things he did while he was gaining that bit of wisdom. And he was a warrior which gave him a whole level of experiences that I, thankfully, have not had. Now I'm thinking of it, maybe Jen, from Daughter of Ancients is the one I'd get on with the best. She loved her family, was good at math, and not so good at the extraordinary things. She got riled up about politics, but felt pretty helpless to do anything about it, and had those few awkward physical things she couldn't get over (hers was heights, mine is walking over rushing rivers on logs). But she accomplished more than she expected and came up with some talents that surprised even herself. Yep, I think it might be Jen.

How did you become interested in writing?

I'm certainly not one of these people who wrote novels in first grade! Though I've always loved reading and I had excellent English teachers throughout my schooldays, I always detested writing. In fact, one reason I majored in math in college was to avoid writing papers. As for "creative" writing, I never did much of it, except for those poetry assignments in school - ugh. I assumed that inventing an entire story, with plot twists and interesting characters, and such would be horrifically difficult and boring because you had to plan it all out in advance.
But back in 1989, a few years into my software engineering career, a coworker/friend and I had a crazy idea over lunch. We decided to write each other email letters in character just for fun. I went back to work that afternoon, and at an...ahem... "lull" in the late afternoon, I started the first letter. Before I knew it, I had written twenty pages! Over a period of a year and a half we wrote 32 letters apiece. Fairly ugly writing, but a good story with some fun characters. And I learned you didn't have to plan it out in advance. You could live the adventure along with the characters. Once we had finished the "letter story," I couldn't quit! For years, I wrote just for the fun of it, learning about fiction writing as I went along. But in 1998, I started writing this story about a musician being released from a long imprisonment, and I knew it was better than anything I had ever written. So I went looking for information about the publishing business, and the rest, as they say...

How did you become interested in the fantasy genre?

I've been a reader forever. I read most everything except pure westerns and category romance. But in college, my roommate loaned me this series called Lord of the Rings...and I was fascinated, not so much by the story, which was pretty straightforward, or even the characters, who were in some cases a bit flat, but by the tangible reality of a magical world. The books read as if those places existed. That vivid believability is something I strive for in my own writing (without Tolkien's linguistic minutiae!) When I started writing, I enjoyed the opportunity to incorporate all the other genres I loved - mystery, adventure, times and places that were not the here and now, spies thrillers, mythology, fairy tales, romantic suspense, along with the broad reflection of humanity that one can find in classic books of any genre, from Dickens to Tony Hillerman. When people ask me if I might ever move on to mystery or mainstream, I ask them (and myself) why I would ever want to do such a thing? In no other genre do you have the freedom to write exactly the stories that you want to read as you do in this one.

What are you writing after the Lighthouse Duet?

I am still thinking about that. I spent an intense two-and-a-half years on the Lighthouse books, following an intense three-and-a-half years with the D'Arnath books, so I want to give myself a bit of time to let some ideas gel. Currently I have two projects I'm playing with - one a YA about a boy who has been raised to have no imagination, and another that I call my "broody necromancer double agent" story. But then again, I had so much fun writing the novella for Elemental Magic that I'm also considering some shorter pieces that are tied into my existing worlds.

Are there any plans to write any other stories set in the world from the Rai-kirah trilogy after the novella "Unmasking"?

See the previous answer. Up until Elemental Magic, I've not written much of anything short. I have one short story firmly buried in my trunk, and I've been known to throw out 25K from one of my novels in a month! So I was pleased to find out I could write the kind of complex, layered story that I like in the shorter form. And it was really delightful fun to step back into the rai-kirah world. I've always said that I put Seyonne and Aleksander through so much trouble that I believed their story was finished. But "Unmasking" takes place about forty years before the beginning of Transformation, which means everything we learned in the three books is out the window. Short answer: Yes, I am definitely considering writing some other short pieces, but I've not spent much time thinking about exactly what as yet.

What types of experiences have contributed most to the writer you are today?

Reading. Growing up in a household where reading for pleasure was not only encouraged, but practiced. Reading novels. Reading newspapers and magazines and nonfiction (well not TOO much of that). Reading about exotic places and great adventures and how people who are not me live. Reading good stories.

Raising kids. Amazing how this leads you to actually think about so many issues, from how humans learn, to sexuality, to how humans perceive the world and other humans, to what one might do to keep people who depend on you safe. Kids make you try things you might not otherwise (like 500-mile bicycle trips). Reading to kids makes you catch up on books you missed (Loyd Alexander) and revisit things you love (Zelazny's Amber).

Falling in love with the natural world. I always enjoyed "being outside," and lots of my childhood playtime was spent in mock covered wagons or spaceships or some other kind of adventure outside under the trees. I loved building houses for fairies. But I was a city kid and we weren't able to travel a great deal, so I was already in college the first time I saw real mountains in person, and a newlywed the first time I went camping in the Rockies. There's a reason mountains play an important role in all my books!
Living. I often think how many books I might have published if I had started writing in the years I stayed home with my kids, and then I think...nah... I could not have written the books that I write now back then. I needed to spend all that time acquiring material.

What do you consider your biggest success?

The fact that somehow I am able to connect with such a wide variety of readers. I hear almost equally from men and women, from high school/college students to people older than me. I've heard from men in the service who've said that Seyonne's experiences as a warrior has meant something to them. I've heard from women who've said that Seri's strength as a mother has inspired them and Gerick's perverted childhood has wrung their hearts. I hear from aspiring writers and readers who've read infinitely more books than I have to people picking up their first fantasy because someone has told them about my books. I've heard from readers on five continents. I never expected that.

And because I've been really surprised by the amount of negative, generalized comments I've heard about female fantasy authors lately, I'd be curious to know: Do you ever feel like people take your work less seriously because you are a female fantasy author?

Sure. Though I have absolutely no data to back that up, only vague perceptions when I see who gets mentioned for what in our industry rags and who gets heavily promoted by their publishers. Of course, some people dump all fantasy writers in one bucket, proclaiming that we could not possibly be serious writers or that we all write children's stories or monster books or Dungeons and Dragons level stories. I've had people tell me that they don't read fantasy because they like to read about "real people." Some people assume writers write fantasy so they don't have to do research or address Big Questions. And yes, some people dump all female fantasy writers into one bucket, assuming women write Big Fat Fluffy Fantasies that are Tolkien clones or romances thinly disguised as fantasy. Some people think women can't write men or real adventures, and they don't want to read books about some seventeen-year-old virgin playing with magic jewels and unicorns. All I can say is that those people don't read the right books. They're missing out.

Thank you for your time and patience. We wish you the best of luck with your work.

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites