(Yes, I really like this piece by Clint Langley, so have used it a second time…)
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin was one of last year’s best received fantasy trilogies: magic-infused, character-driven and epic in scope, it put Rowena Cory Daniells firmly on the fantasy map. With her next trilogy announced (with frankly gorgeous artwork), I thought it would be a perfect time to ask Rowena some questions about her novels, writing, and so forth.
Your first fantasy series – The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin – was released last year, but for those who haven’t tried it yet, how would you describe it for a new reader?
I’m a fantasy fan from way back. With King Rolen’s Kin I set out to write the kind of fantasy that made me fall in love with the genre, the kind that sweeps you away.
There’s kingdoms in peril, a bastard heir, betrayal and power that seeps up from the earth’s heart infecting the unwary with Affinity.
But because this is the twenty-first century the fantasy world is rawer, the characters are grittier and their triumphs laced with irony. Sure, there’s battles, beasts and betrayals, but there’s also an exploration of friendship and the bonds between brothers and sisters. For instance, through no fault of his own, Byren’s best friend causes immense trouble for him. Will Byren stay true to his friend, or will he put expediency ahead of friendship?
There’s mention on your website of a return to the world of the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy. What can you tell us about this next trilogy, without spoiling anything for new readers?
I do have a page dedicated to KRK2 on my blog. The story picks up just after the other trilogy ended, but in this book the characters are a little older and wiser so there are more shades of grey.
I started on a new paragraph about KRK2 then realized if I continued, it would be a spoiler. You’re right; it is really hard to talk about the new trilogy without giving away spoilers for people who haven’t read the first one, let alone this one. Suffice to say, there will be blood! (And tears, love, treachery and triumph).
Ah, I do love the fantasy genre. It is life on a grand scale.
Solaris recently released the artwork for your next series: The Outcast Chronicles, which will be published in 2012. What can readers expect from this series, and is it connected in any way to your other novels?
This trilogy is not connected to KRK. It is, however, connected to my original trilogy about the T’En, a race of mystical people. But you don’t have to read that trilogy to read this one, which is set six hundred years earlier and follows the fate of the T’En through the eyes of four key individuals.
With The Outcast Chronicles I wanted to explore what would happen if there really were people amongst us with the kind of powers that we take for granted in fantasy books. How would we ordinary people react?
You only have to look at the world today to see the extent of discrimination and persecution based on race and ethnicity. Imagine if those persecuted people had an innate gift we envied?
There’s a great book trailer on your web site. Do you think book trailers help sell books?
This trailer was created by my husband, Daryl, who has just retired. He’s doing covers and trailers now. He did this one for my friend Trent Jamieson’s dark urban fantasy series, Death Works. I’ve been very lucky in my covers, thank to Solaris and Clint Langley, the artist.
I don’t know if book trailers help book sales. From anecdotal evidence people aged between 15-25 like book trailers because they are used to getting their information visually and it gives them a taste of the book in less than a minute or two. I like them because they’re cool. <grin>
Where do you draw your inspiration from, generally, and who or what would you say are your biggest influences?
I used to have a secondhand book shop. I read a book in the morning, a book after lunch and a book after dinner. When I ran out of books I began to write. I’ve always been a great admirer of Fritz Leiber. I devoured his Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books. After thirty years, some scenes are still so fresh and vivid in my mind they make me shiver.
Basically, I find the real world fascinating. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle that I’ve been putting together all my life. I don’t know if I will ever make sense of it. Just when I think I have a grasp on it, I find another layer to peel back. (Now I’ve mixed my metaphors!)
Writing is my way of making sense of the world. Writers tell lies to reveal an inner truth. Through the lie of fiction a writer can illuminate the things that we are too close to see in the everyday world.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry (which you did even before you’d become a published author yourself)? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I don’t think you ‘enjoy’ being a writer. It’s not something you choose to be. It’s something you are driven to do. (I could make heaps more money as a real estate agent.)
Yes, I had the bookshop, was part of an Indy Press back when there were bromide machines and cut and paste, meant cut and paste, and I also illustrated and ran a graphic art studio. So I know what it is like for creative people to try to make a living. I think J.C. Leyendecker captured it perfectly in his thanksgiving painting.
When did you realise you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I think I answered that earlier. When I had the bookshop and even now, if I find a book I like, I read it once for the story, once to discover what worked, and a third time to discover what could have worked better. Then I’ll hunt up all the author’s books that I could find and read them.
I like to read the author’s books in chronological order to see how they develop as a writer but, as one of my writing friends pointed out, these are only their published books. Most authors have books on their hard drive that don’t quite fit into the genres their publishers want. So we don’t see all an author’s books. (Although, with e-books this may no longer be true.)
I’d written ten books before I was 26, but I didn’t send them out because I figured I didn’t have the life experience to write anything worthwhile at that point. Ten years (and six children) later, I submitted one of those books to the Harper Collins $10,000 fiction prize and it made the long-short list, so I was doing OK for someone under 26.
For me the act of writing is intrinsically satisfying – weaving all the threads together, having the characters come to life and say things I didn’t expect. It’s very left brain/right brain. The creative part is intuitive, the craft part, the weaving of narrative, is logical. Having said that, I will often wake up with the answer to a plot flaw, or the discovery of a plot flaw so the brain is always working.
What’s your opinion of the genre (and its community) today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I went to Melbourne and became involved in SF Fandom when I was 18. At that time, before the first Star Wars movie, readers of the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres were way out on the far end of the bell curve. If the speculative fiction genre was mentioned in mainstream media at all, it was mocked – fans wearing tinfoil on their heads to communicate with aliens. Now only three of the top 50 grossing movies aren’t spec-fic (according to Wikipedia). So the world has changed, Grasshopper.
I’m very lucky to have been born in the last half of the 20th century, any earlier and I would have been burned as a witch (only half joking). As a modern female I can choose when to have children, I can own property, have a career and work as a creative person. So I’m a product of my time, we all are.
I find I keep coming back to the questions that interest me. While writing a rollicking tale in King Rolen’s Kin, I was also questioning the roles that are forced on us. Neither Orrade nor Piro fit neatly into their world. In The Outcast Chronicles I explore gender roles the expectations society places on us, as well as persecution and discrimination. These are things that fascinate me, so they are the basis for problems that my characters have to deal with.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
I’m working on the new KRK trilogy, but I also have a couple of other trilogies which I’d like to polish and see reach readers. At this point I’m watching what is happening with e-books and seriously considering publishing them myself.
Who are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I’m always reading something, even if it’s only New Scientist on the train to and from work. Currently I’m lugging around George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, in hardback. If ever there was an argument for e-readers it is this book. Honestly, if I get mugged, all I will have to do is swing it at the mugger’s head. It’s so thick it would stop a bullet! [I totally agree! - Stefan]
Interspersed with that, I’m reading Salt Water in the Ink, edited by Lucy Sussex. It’s a collection of journals and letters written by people on their voyage out to Australia during the 1800s. It’s a time capsule that reminds us how similar we are to the people of the past and yet, how different. After months at sea in terrible conditions, they speak of drawing near the coast of Australia and the exotic alien smells coming off this newly discovered continent. Reading original accounts like this help give your writing verisimilitude.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t know. I’m pretty ordinary. I get up every morning and try to put the best of myself into my writing, while still giving the best of myself to my family and doing the best I can for my students (I’m an associate lecturer). I never want to look back on my life and wish I’d been braver.
I see you belong to a writing group. How did it start? How useful do you find this and would you recommend it?
Definitely recommend it. Belonging to a group has helped me through the tough times and helped me grow as a writer.
Over the years, I have learnt so much from my writing groups. Back in 1997, Marianne, Adrianne and I started Vision Writers for writers of SF, fantasy and horror, and it’s still going strong. This group read short stories, which is great, but Marianne and I were working on novels, so we formed Ripping Ozzie Reads (ROR). The idea was that we’d write our books, swap them about a month before the meeting, write reports on them, then spend the whole weekend critiquing our books. (Writing geek heaven!) And that’s what we’ve done now for ten years. (Ten years of ROR.) Our members have grown. That first ROR was all women, not by choice, it just happened that way. Now, there’s 8 of us, three males, five females. We write across a range of sub genres and for a range of ages.
ROR works because we all have a love of the craft of writing. We want to make our books the best we possibly can, and we want the same for the others in the group. So our critiques are constructive. [How we actually run a ROR is here. And how we critique is here.]
We’ve had successes over the years. One of us has won four World Fantasy Awards. I’ve lost track of the number of Aurealis Awards and nominations (Australia’s peer voted award) and other awards that the group’s books have garnered. When one of us is nominated or wins, we all share their joy, just as we all support each other when times get tough.
The publishing industry is not a benevolent society. Forging a career is hard work, by pooling our skills and knowledge, I guess we’ve formed the equivalent of a medieval guild, where the group shared knowledge and supported its members through adversity. (I don’t mean that we supported with money, I meant with advice and encouragement.)
Our next ROR will be in January of 2012, in Tasmania. So I’m madly trying to complete book one of the new KRK trilogy to take to ROR.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Every time we have a ROR we do our short term goals, long term goals and dream goals. And every time, the dream goal for each of us is to be able to give up our day jobs to concentrate on writing full time. In about 18 months I’ll be able to do that. (We have six kids and by then all but one of them will have finished studying and moved out of home). I want to have the mental space to devote to writing.
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