Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Author Interview with Karin Rita Gastreich

Karin was so kind to answer a few questions for me to help us learn a little more about Eolyn and about Karin as an author. Thank you, Karin! So read on to hear what she had to say about her book, her writing, and what she's working on next. Enjoy!

1) What was your inspiration for Eolyn? 
This question comes up a lot, and I always seem to have a somewhat different answer.  I guess that’s because there have been many things over the years that inspired Eolyn – books I’ve read, experiences I’ve had, places I’ve been, people I’ve known. 

I’d say at the core of it all was a deep-felt desire to write an epic fantasy in which a woman played an essential role, and made important achievements, without necessarily altering the ‘rules’ of medieval society; that is, while maintaining a basic patriarchal structure similar to the one with which real women have struggled throughout our history.  Eolyn challenges the prejudices and prohibitions of her time in order to define herself as a woman and a Maga; but she does so without donning armor or wielding a sword.  Her weapons are her mind, heart, and magic, as well as her unflinching conviction that the world can be imagined and constructed in a different way.

I also wanted to write a story that would bring the forest to life; make it a real and vivid experience, especially for readers who have not had the opportunity to experience ancient woodlands.  The South Woods is not only Eolyn’s home, it is the ultimate source of her power, and she cherishes it greatly. 
2) Did you read a lot of fantasy growing up, or is fantasy a more recent find? 
I read some fantasy growing up.  I was brought up on Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Also, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King is a good example of a story that has stayed with me since my youth.  I was also into historical romance as a teenager, and while I no longer remember any of those titles, I’d be willing to bet they influenced my approach to writing Eolyn. 

But I have always read books from a broad set of genres, two of my current favorites being history and historical fiction. I’ve also read a lot of natural history and Latin American literature, which I very much enjoy. 

In truth, I was not very well versed in fantasy fiction when I started writing Eolyn.  I had read and enjoyed some of the classics in speculative fiction, such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Frank Herbert.  My lack of familiarity with the genre was one source of uncertainty when I started to consider publishing Eolyn.  I wasn’t entirely sure if I had anything new to offer. So I was very proactive about getting feedback from other writers who were more knowledgeable about fantasy fiction than I.  These same authors have since introduced me to a host of writers whose work I very much admire, such as George R.R. Martin and Patricia McKillip.

3) How did you decide what the rules of your magic system and world would be? 
In general, I don’t like to speak of magic in terms of ‘rules’, since in my mind, the whole point of magic is to break the rules.  Nonetheless, I had several things in mind when I started laying down the foundations for magic in Eolyn’s world. 

For example, I wanted Eolyn’s magic to be grounded in the landscape of Moisehén: forests, mountains, plains and valleys, fertile earth and all the creatures that inhabit them.  I knew from the beginning that a prerequisite to mastering magic would be an intimate knowledge of the natural world, and that such knowledge would require years of study and apprenticeship.   

The integrity of magic in Eolyn’s world also depends, in the long run, on a balance between male and female powers.  There are very few characters in the novel who understand this explicitly, and in fact that balance is all but obliterated just before Eolyn’s journey begins.  But Eolyn and Akmael share an instinctive drive toward recovering the full tradition of magic in Moisehén, and both struggle to achieve this balance under ever more difficult circumstances.

Once I had these two overarching ideas in mind, everything else was just filling in the blanks.  While there are perceived constraints on magic in Eolyn’s world – certain things Magas and Mages can and cannot do – I also leave some room for magic to break its own rules once in a while; to act in ways that are surprising, unexpected or inexplicable, even for the practitioner. 

4) Your world, story, and characters are very complex and rich. How long did it take you to work out all the details of your story line? 
Oh, thank you!  I love the characters in Eolyn.  It’s been so much fun working with them, and several of them have stayed with me for book two.

Orson Scott Card, in How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction, claims that it takes about twenty years to gestate a full novel.  My experience with Eolyn seems to corroborate that.  Long before I sat down to write, certain scenes began to come together in my head.  Some of the most fundamental elements of the story – Eolyn’s tragic childhood loss, the prejudices she would face, the nature of the relationship she would develop with Akmael – were with me as early as my college years. 

So, I had a lot in my head by the time I first put pen to paper on this novel in 2006.  From that point forward, it took about four years to finish the manuscript.

Now, before all the young aspiring authors out there get discouraged about that 20-year rule of thumb bit, the good news is that most of us who write are gestating several novels at once.  Also, many of us start gestating at a very young age.  But it takes a long time to craft a novel, so you have to be prepared to enjoy the journey, and to give it the time it deserves.

5)  How is the sequel to Eolyn progressing? Can you tell us a little about High Maga? 
This second novel has been a whole new challenge for me, and it’s coming along very well. High Maga is a darker tale than Eolyn, more entrenched in the terrible realities of war.  It also involves a more malevolent kind of magic. 

The story picks up a few years after the end of the first book.  Eolyn has matured, and is assuming greater responsibilities, including students and followers of her own, but she also faces much more formidable dangers.  The novel features some ruthless villains, and many characters are forced into extraordinarily difficult situations.  The writing of High Maga has pushed my limits as an author; but I’ve found that the most challenging aspects of this novel have also been the most fulfilling.   

I plan to finish High Maga in 2012, and it is scheduled for release in 2013. 

6) What books are you reading right now? 
I’m reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, a nonfiction book which describes the history of the relationship between plants and humans, and especially how plants with certain traits have been particularly successful at “training” us (in the evolutionary sense) to take good care of them. 

I’m also beta-reading two manuscripts in fantasy fiction, one by Eliabeth Hawthorne, the other by David Hunter.

7) What is your writing process like? Any interesting rituals or techniques?
Interesting rituals?  Hmmm…  Well, sometimes I light a green candle because a friend told me years ago that green candles invoke fertility and creativity.  I don’t know if the candle works, but it makes my office smell like a Christmas tree, which is nice. 

I set goals for myself, and try to schedule at least one time during the week when I can have a few hours of peace and quiet to focus on the story.  But even when I’m not writing, I’m often thinking about the characters, motivations and events of the novel.

It’s also really important for me to have ‘empty’ time; periods when I simply do not write or even think about the novel.  So while I set word count goals and so forth, I try to avoid obsessing over them.  Having a life outside of writing, I think, is somehow important to having a writing life.

One thing that is really integral to my writing process is interacting with other authors.  I’ve met some very talented people during the journey of writing Eolyn, and their feedback, ideas and support continue to be important as I work on High Maga. 

8) Who is your favorite author? 

It’s so hard to pick just one.  I guess I’ll say Gioconda Belli, mostly because of her memoir The Country Underneath My Skin, which chronicles her involvement with the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua during the 1970s and 80s.  It’s a remarkable story, and beautifully written.  One of those books that I think everyone should read.

Thank you again, Rita, for taking the time to answer these questions and letting us get to know you and your work a little better.