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Awesome comment from Karen Miller last night at dinner: Every character lives somewhere inside you.

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… by talking to Karen Miller as part of their Women in Genre Fiction series 🙂

I remember way back in 2007 when I picked up Innocent Mage here in the UK,  how blown away I was by your writing.  I haunted your website and became all chatty with you via my livejournal account.  You were always very gracious to all your readers and commentators.  Did you have any “training” or tips from your publishers on how to handle being in the public eye?

 Well, thank you! I try not to be a jackass wherever possible. Don’t always manage it, of course. *g* No, I’ve not received any formal PR  training, but having had my own bookshop I did get to meet quite a few authors and I learned a lot from watching them. Some were absolutely brilliant with both the public and behind the scenes types (David Gemmell, we really really miss you) and others were — well, let’s just say they were prime object lessons on What Not To Do. At the end of the day, I always try to remember that I am beyond privileged to do what I do, and that without the support of the reading public I’d be cactus. Being a writer doesn’t make me better than everyone else. It just makes me slighty loony. Besides, I think general courtesy is one of the keystones of a civilised society. 

For the rest go here http://geeksyndicate.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/women-in-genre-fiction-karen-miller/

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Karen Miller is a best-selling Australian fantasy author. She brought back the duopoly (take that trilogies!) … then she wrote some trilogies, too, and they were awesome (take that, duopolies!). Her work includes the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duopoly, the Godspeaker Trilogy, two Stargate SG1 tie-ins, three Star Wars novels (including Stealth, which has just gone for a third printing), and, as KE Mills, the Rogue Agent series. The Reluctant Mage is now available and the Orbit mass market edition of Wizard Squared is coming soon. She has a Masters in Children’s Literature, used to run her own sf/fantasy/mystery bookshop, and is a self-described ‘story junkie’. She is also very nice … and I don’t say that just because she answered my questions.

1. I first knew I was going to be a writer when …
Hmm.  I don’t honestly know that I knew, as such. I know I knew I loved storytelling as far back as primary school, with all the composition exercises.  And I know that when I performed the skit I wrote for the Year 12 farewell in high school I got a buzz from making an entire hall full of students laugh. And again, when a theatre full of patrons laughed at a one act play I wrote, I knew that touching people with my words was the thing I wanted to do most of all. So I always wanted it, but it wasn’t really until I got my first major contract in 2005 that I started to believe it could really happen. Five years and fifteen novels under my belt later, I still have some trouble believing it! I keep expecting to wake up.

 2. Complete this sentence: Star Wars could only be improved by the addition of a …. 
… definitive dvd release of the original version, because Han Shot First, dammit!!!!

3. What are your writing fetishes? i.e. what can’t you do without for writing purposes?
I need peace and quiet and darkness, which is why my preferred writing time is through the night. That gets tough with animals, so I have to do my best recreating the conditions with a small room with the windows covered and one low level lamp on. I also prefer soundtrack music playing. Can’t have words in it, I get distracted. Basically, because I’m so easily distracted, I need as much sensory deprivation as I can create. I have, in extremis, written in places like airport waiting lounges and hotel lobbies, but that is so not what I prefer.

4. How many rejection slips papered your walls?
None on the walls. Not so many at all, really. I think maybe 5 all up. I got very, very lucky, and pitched my first fantasy novel to the right person in the right place at the right time.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?
Neither! Coming from a diabetes-prone family, and being really carb sensitive, I have to forgo most yummy sweet treats. On rare occasions I’ll do some cheesecake, or a piece of pecan pie. I still have dreams about the pecan pie I ate once, in Chicago. If anyone’s ever in that great city track down Heaven on Seven. Great little restaurant with pecan pie to die for.

Karen’s website is here http://www.karenmiller.net/

The Innocent MageEmpress Of MijakDo No HarmThe Accidental SorcererThe Clone Wars: Wild SpaceWitches IncorporatedThe Riven KingdomHammer of God

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funny pictures of cats with captions (Thank you, Lolcats)

I answer questions over here for the redoubtable Girlie Jones http://girliejones.livejournal.com/1553106.html.

Other far more interesting people like Karen Miller, Lisa Hannett, Peter M Ball and Garth Nix answer questions over here:

http://random-alex.livejournal.com/
http://girliejones.livejournal.com/
http://kathrynlinge.livejournal.com/
http://www.mechanicalcat.net/rachel
http://tansyrr.com/
http://editormum.livejournal.com/

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A fabulous night had by all! List of winners here http://www.aurealisawards.com/finalists_winners.htm

Congrats to all :-). Special huzzah to Peter M Ball for ‘Clockwork, Patchwork and Ravens’ in Apex Magazine May 2009. There was Snoppy Dancing. 🙂

At the back: moi and the other half of the Brain, Lisa Hannett. In front, the lovely Abigail Nathan (freelance editor) and Karen Miller (Writer Queen). Photo from Cat Sparks (who won her third AA!) – more to be found here http://catsparx.livejournal.com/190172.html

Oh and moi, the lovely Ron Serdiuk and the even lovelier Helen Merrick.

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I arrived a day early, which was great because it meant I got to spend some time with the awesome La Belle Hannett, my fellow Clarionite and the other half of my brain. We found a cafe, Notcoffee (which provided much bacon) and talked; we talked a lot; then we talked a bit more. Her partner Dr Chad had cleverly acquired a set of earplugs to make sure his five days went smoothly.

So I guess if we just cover the highlights or Good Stuff that Happened:

The wonderful Sean Williams’ pirate party – an event filled with Haighs choclit frogs, munchies, drinkies, and much talk. It was also a great chance to catch up with Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung, Kate Eltham and Rob Hoge.

Notcoffee (for the second time) in Rundle St, where LBH and I met with the most excellent Peter Ball and Jason Fischer for a writing intensive. We wrote, ate more bacon and drank a lot of coffee and wrote a lot more. A major distraction – which I was lucky enough to have my back to – was a series of paintings on the wall. One of them the one we named ‘Baboon Goat Butts’ and I give it to you below:

A rocking dinner at Concubine in Gouger St, in the company of the superb Ron Serduik of Pulp Fiction Books (and Press), Sean Williams, Karen Miller, Jonathan Strahan and Dr Helen Merrick. It was noisy, it was fun and it was clever. And I had duck – duck for entree and duck for mains – had there been, as Sean suggested, duck ice cream, I would have had that. It was ducktacular.

Two hours spent with Karen Miller discussing novels – specifically my novels – she knows her stuff. Any time you hear the words ‘Don’t worry about making word count: you’ve got enough there for two books, maybe three’  is a good time.

Guest of Honour Julie Czerneda was superb. She totally rocked – she’s funny and smart and was, unfortunately, a bit underutilised.

Caught up with the inimitable Dirk Flinthart – this con was good coz this time he didn’t attempt to use me to demonstrate martial arts throwing techniques. And we scoped out a new novella (working title of Flying Willow) and generally did what writers do best: see who can tell the biggest porkies and exchange the most unusual and useless facts. [Ten points to Mac North, who managed to tell DF something he did not know … I don’t imagine it’s happened very often and has earned Dr North as much Jameson whisky as he can drink for the rest of his life.]

Jason Fischer provided the frog cake – which I must say was delicious. It was filled with cream and covered with icing is so thick and gooey it will stop your arteries.  And it inspired this t-shirt design by Jason’s mate Liam, and the Lovecraftian wordery by JJ Irwin:

Peter Ball’s launch of Horn – which both rocked and scared small children. It’s put out by super indie press Twelfth Planet Press. You should go and find it on the TTP website http://twelfthplanetpress.wordpress.com/.

Ditmary goodness went to Sean Williams, Dirk Flinthart, Alisa Krasnostein and Kirstyn McDermott amongst other legends.

Lowlights? All the goodwill in the world cannot make up for a lack of organisation. This con was almost completely uncontaminated by any kind of organisation. The program felt very much last minute and by-the-seat-o’the-pants. Panels had no designated moderator and not all of them had the ideal number of members (three panellists, one moderator – and ideally those people will have had a chat beforehand). For those of us who had people to catch up with, professional contacts and the ability to network, it was okay – we had the time and the place to catch up with folk. However, had I been a newbie, someone who didn’t know anyone and had paid my money for the con and the flight to Adelaide for an experience that included learning opportunities as well as the chance to discuss the state of the genre, I would have been a bit disappointed. This is to in no way denigrate the hard work put in by volunteers and the committee … a con is not an easy thing to do, it is time-consuming and can’t be done well at the last minute. Personally, I like organisation. I like certainty. I don’t necessarily cope with with a mid-range chaos factor, but I recognise that may just be me. But hey, everything happened that was supposed to happen; the launches were terrific, the dealers’ room was filled with books; the Maskobolo was superbly DJ’d by Sean Williams and some of the costumes were amazing. People were friendly and I guess it wasn’t intimidating – I was at the EasterCon Orbital last year in the UK and that was intimidating.

Ultimately, a good con had by most of my crowd; a chance to relax, chat, drink and eat too much, sit on our backsides and make up stories. And eat frog cakes. Huzzah.

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Do my characters have to be ‘likeable’?

Having had a couple of short story rejections this week (which is a designated taking-time-off-work-and-writing-like-a-caffeinated-monkey week), this is something I’ve been pondering. One of the rejections said “We didn’t like the main character”. This started me thinking about the received wisdom of readers needing to like your characters. (Admittedly, it also caused me to make rude hand signals at the email in question – hey, I hate rejections same as the next person, I just happened to write a sensible post about dealing with them).

I mean, not everyone is going to like Elizabeth Bennett – some might see her as a whinging little pill – but a highly engaging whinging little pill.

So, do your characters need to be likeable?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say “No”.

I had a chat with the most excellent Karen Miller recently and the thing she said that stuck in my mind (well, there were many things, but this was the particular thing that had sequins and some ostrich feathers on it and I’m partial to both of those things) was that your characters need to be engaging. That’s not the same as likeable. A reader has to want to take the journey with your character – maybe because s/he likes them, sure. But maybe also just because said reader wants to see what happens, even if s/he doesn’t like the character.

I’m going to build on engaging and add that a reader needs to understand a character – also something you don’t need to like someone to do. I may not like a character, but if I can understand her/his actions and choices (even if I don’t agree with them) I will go on the journey with them. I want to know how things work out.

Characters who are engaging for me that I don’t necessarily like? Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin in Perdido Street Station – selfish, intellectually vain, arrogant sod. The narrator in Gaiman’s Bitter Grounds – again, selfish. Julia in Philippa Gregory’s Wideacre – not likeable at all, but engaging and understandable in a lot of ways. Lestat in the early Anne Rice books. Don Sebastian de Villanueva in Les Daniels’ Yellow Fog – selfish, monstrous but sympathetic.

Characters I have found engaging and liked but not necessarily agreed with their choices? John Connolly’s Charlie Parker – superbly drawn, conflicted character, someone whose actions you don’t always agree with, but man, you have empathy for the guy. Finn in Diana Norman’s Daughter of Lir – grumpy and bossy but you love her. Hekat in Karen Miller’s Empress of Mijak – scary but you understand her and suffer for her even if you don’t always like her. Fia in Nancy Kress’ The White Pipes – cowardly liar, but you understand why. Those are just the ones leaping to my tired mind because (a) they’re on the bedside table, and (b) they rock.

And if there’s no conflict for a reader about what a character does, then where’s your story? If a character doesn’t make questionable choices some time, then what’s the point? “Everyone was nice and made the right decisions and we all sat down for tea and toast” – doesn’t really work, does it?

So, I personally don’t need to like a character. I just need to understand and empathise with her/him. The likeability I can take or leave.

That’s just me.

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