Interview with National Bestselling Author Carol Berg
Hi everyone!! Today’s blog post will be a copy of the interview I did with national bestselling author Carol Berg for Coffee Talk Writers. I had so much fun with the interview, I decided to share it here as well. Enjoy.
K: Today, I have the pleasure of introducing talented writer and award winning author Carol Berg. I was first introduced to Carol through her The Bridge of D’Arnath series. It was an amazing four book series depicting the trials and tribulations of Seri and Karon and the people who loved them. I have to tell you, Carol, your books sucked me in and I couldn’t put them down until all four were read cover to cover.
C: Thanks so much! I’m happy to be here. And it’s really nice to talk about the Bridge series. It has some of my favorite characters and it’s my only series where a woman is the heart and soul of every book. The fourth book, Daughter of Ancients is one of my most favorite of all my work.
K: Ooh, Daughter of Ancients is my favorite too!! Tell us a little about The Bridge of D’Arnath series.
C: I often start a book at the point where someone’s particular story seems to have ended, and I really like experiencing world changing events through a very personal lens. In this case, a young woman who had shown so much promise in her youth–intellect, passion, courage, and love–lives in an exile of pain and bitterness. She’s lost everything of meaning to her. Once wealthy and privileged, she has been reduced to poverty, left with only a rustic hovel and a trunkful of painful memories. When a strange young man appears in the vicinity, desperate, hunted, unable to speak or understand her or remember anything at all, she is tempted to leave him to his pursuers…until she realizes that his pursuers are the very people who caused her own sorrows. Son of Avonar is Seri’s journey to reclaim her life and her family by helping this young man discover his identity and his mission. In order to do this, she must relive the painful memories she has shut away for ten years.
The next three books take us on a journey through three worlds and eleven years, embroiling Seri and her stranger in a magical war that is at once intimate and worldshaking.
K: It really is an intense story and I loved every page of it. My favorite of your characters is Seri. She’s this strong, quiet woman who fights against unspeakable odds to protect the ones she loves. What inspired you to create her?
C: So much fantasy is written from a male perspective (I certainly do that a lot!) And it seemed like most heroines are either snarky, kick-ass twenty-somethings or naive ingenues with unbelievable magic. I wanted to create a different kind of heroine. Strong women don’t have to be fighters, although Seri certainly knows her way around a knife. And women who have been around for more than twenty years (Seri is 35) can have a lot of experience and resources to bring to an adventure – also some painful baggage of course. I also liked the idea of the central character of a magical war who has no magic of her own but the power of her own personality. That was a challenge!
K: “Strong women don’t have to be fighters.” I so love that statement. Your The Bridge of D’Arnath series is in the first person point of view. There’s a lot of debate about writing first person. What are your thoughts on the subject?
C: Personally, I just don’t see the debate. Many of my favorite books, both fantasy and other, happen to be first-person narratives. First person stories are so intimate. I love experiencing a grand adventure through that kind of personal lens. Of course, some first person is done well, some not – just like any other kind of story! Writing first person is both challenging (to avoid the common pitfalls) and enjoyable.
The real challenge in the Bridge series came in Guardians of the Keep, when I realized that my hero and my heroine had to take different paths through the story. I gulped and decided I needed both points of view. And then a child was kidnapped, and neither of my narrators could be with him, and I had to start thinking like a young boy who had grown up believing he was evil. Books 2, 3, and 4 all ended up with multiple FP points of view, and were great fun to write.
K: You have written a total of 13 epic fantasies thus far. For those of us who aren’t very familiar with that genre, tell me what is an epic fantasy.
C:Epic usually refers to big stories, usually spanning multiple volumes with continuing characters, and involving political, religious, or large scale conflicts. This can certainly include quest fantasy, the quintessential “road trip” like Lord of the Rings, but also many other kinds of heroic adventures – like the Bridge books. (Game of Thrones is certainly an epic.) I like my epics told from the aspect of a very personal story imposed atop the epic events.
K: How do you know when a series is done?
C: In the case of the Bridge series, I didn’t, at first. I wrote the three and believed the story was done at the end of The Soul Weaver. And yet I knew that Gerick, the youth we saw grow up in Guardians and Soul Weaver had a great deal left to learn. But then I wrote a bit of another story, about a young woman who walks out of the desert and a young man who has no understanding of love. I wasn’t sure whether this was the beginning of another series in the same world, or a fourth in the Bridge series. And then, one day when I was driving, the insight hit me – the twist that resolved Gerick’s story and the other threads left dangling from other three. I knew Daughter of Ancients had to be the fourth of four!
K: Carol, you’ve been recognized for your writing. Tell me, how many awards do you have under your belt currently?
C: My work has been honored with a number of awards that I appreciate very much, and I’ve been shortlisted for several others. The fourth Bridge novel, Daughter of Ancients, received the Prism Award for the Best Romantic Fantasy. And I’ve received three Colorado Book Awards for the best genre fiction novel by a Colorado author (which is not easy, as we have so many fine writers of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance, and horror in Colorado). But the award that humbled and thrilled me the most was the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature that I received for my Lighthouse Duet – Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone. That put my name in the company of Tolkien and Neil Gaiman, Patricia McKillip, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Mary Stewart–one of my inspirations. It still gives me goosebumps!
K: I’ve been hearing a lot about your Collegia Magica series. Tell me about them.
C: I call The Spirit Lens, the first Collegia Magica novel, my “double-agent murder mystery set in a kingdom that has experienced a grand renaissance, where science is forcing magic to the sidelines.” I’ve always had a particular fondness for murder mysteries and double-agent thrillers. I love the combination of reasoning and instinct needed to formulate a theory to fit a chain of evidence. And I enjoy watching the interplay of skills each particular investigator brings to a puzzle. As I was contemplating what to work on next when I concluded the Lighthouse Duet, it occurred to me that I had never written a story where a mystery and its investigation drove the plot. But an investigative mystery is a tricky challenge for a fantasy-adventure. You’ve got to make sure the possibilities of magic don’t make true investigative skills unnecessary.
It also happens that I love the tension that derives from mismatched people working together to a common purpose (eg. Holmes and Watson, Merlin and Arthur, and my own Seyonne and Aleksander of the Rai-kirah books). I already had one character who had lurked in my imagination for many years – a brooding practitioner of magic, a talented man with a big chip on his shoulder, a sorcerer on the verge of choosing whether to pursue his passion for magic into the dark or the light. His name was Dante. So then all I had to do was to go looking for a partner (or two!) and a good, juicy mystery. And so I found Portier, my serious librarian, and Ilario, the dandy chevalier, and sent them after a murderer.
Of course the story grows larger than a simple murder attempt, dealing with the nature of magic, and the lines that separate magic and myth and science and the divine. Also with mysterious cities in the desert, lots of people who are not what they seem, and a young woman who falls in love with a voice in her head! No, my stories aren’t simple.
K: So how does a software engineer and math major become an award winning writer? Are you still a software engineer by profession?
C: It was wholly by chance! I as always a reader, but I was convinced I could never write a whole story. (All that plotting and foreshadowing and leaving clues and such.) But a good friend of mine – a fellow engineer – and I had the habit of trading books and talking about them over lunch. One day we were talking about a fantasy story that had been told as a series of letters between two sisters. In a fit of midday madness, she suggested we each take a character and write letters to each other, as she had ambitions to write stories one day – our own little RPG!! Before I left work that afternoon, I started the first letter and produced TWENTY pages. No one was more surprised than I. I was already hooked. I left the day job behind in 2002, which means my software skills are hopelessly out of date. So I am now a full-time writer. I do find my software experience helps me a lot, whether using logic to connect the pieces of a complex plot or withstanding and responding to editorial critique (aka a design review!)
K: Do you have any advice for new writers out there who might read this blog?
C: My standard advice for aspiring writers is:
1. Think characters. What do they like; what do they dislike; what are they afraid of; why do they choose the paths they walk? Avoid all-powerful heroes, all-evil villains, and magic that can fix anything.
2. Another bit . . . read your work aloud. This reveals so much about flow of language and dialogue, about balance and clarity.
3. Find compatible peers to read your work and critique it. Don’t change things just because they say, but listen to their comments and let them teach you to read your story with new eyes.
4. Read, read, read. Inside your genre. Outside your genre. If you don’t read, why would you want to write?
K: Where can readers get copies of your books and find your blog?
C: My books can be found in brick and mortar bookstores. Ask, if you don’t see them there!
All of them are in print, ebook, and audio book (through Audible.com).
About the Author
Carol Berg calls writing the hobby that ate her life. Though a devoted reader, she majored in mathematics at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado so she wouldn’t have to write papers. Somewhere in the middle of a software engineering career, she started writing for fun, and that was that. Carol’s thirteen epic fantasy novels have won multiple Colorado Book Awards, the Prism Award for romantic fantasy, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. They’ve been read, so readers tell her, on five continents, on a submarine under the Mediterranean, in the war zone of Iraq, and on the slopes of Denali. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews called her Novels of the Collegia Magica things like “compelling, intelligent, complex” and “superbly realized. The latest is The Daemon Prism. Next up is a new fantasy/mystery duology about a sorcerer who draws portraits of the dead. First volume, Dust and Light, will be out from Roc Books in August 2014. Carol camps, hikes, and bikes in Colorado and lives on the internet at http://www.carolberg.com.