About a week ago I met up with a friend of mine, Karen Dales, the award-winning author of The Chosen Chronicles. We talked about a variety of different things, including some of her upcoming projects, and her favourite novels.
As always, for convenience: K = Karen Dales, and R = Rebecca Lovatt (myself).
R: I’m here with Karen Dales, award-winning author of the Chosen Chronicles. Karen, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
K: Well, I’m a full-time author, and a freelance editor. I have three books currently published in the Chosen Chronicles. My fourth book – which is not part of the series – has been sent off to an agent, and I’m working on the next book in the Chosen Chronicles called Thanatos. I’m a mom, a wife and I am owned by two cats.
R: Owned by cats, yeah.. That’s typically how it works. Can you tell us anything about your current projects? The one you just finished, and Thanatos?
K: I can talk a bit about each. The one I just finished is actually a historical romance, set in early Edo period Japan. I had to do a lot of research for that one, I don’t really want to go into too much information with that until I see what the agent is going to say, and what we can do with that one. But it’s interesting, because I’m so used to having written in the paranormal/dark-fantasy/horror genre that to do the historical fiction as a historical romance – it was an interesting experience, because you write in a different way than you would with horror. The endings have to be different, there are more things you have to stick to.
With the Chosen Chronicles, and with Thanatos, you don’t have to be stuck with happy endings all the time. So, that was one thing I had to kind of wrap my head around with the historical romance, because they need to have that happy ending. With the three books that are currently out in the Chosen Chronicles, there isn’t this “riding off into the sunset” type of book or the “We’re all happy together and we’re going to be together forever.” It’s not a Disney ending, so even with my historical fiction, it isn’t a Disney ending, but it’s at least a happy ending. Whereas the other ones, I’ve had people go: “You did what to the characters?!” because I leave them hanging with some not-so great news.
I think that’s just something with the horror genre, you kind of leave them hanging. Though, I’ve always been a classic like Poe, Hitchcock, so yeah – lots of fun, and it’s an interesting experience working in two different genres that way.
R: Were there any challenges that you faced, switching between the two genres?
K: With the Chosen Chronicles, I could work from a lot of different angles. And the story itself – while it has some romantic elements, it’s not the primary plot – one thing I had to do with the romance is to make the relationship the primary plot and everything else secondary, which is kind of different. At first, I wanted what was going with the characters that weren’t the romance interesting. The other fact is that because the historical romance novel is set in Edo Japan – and even now – they don’t have a word for our concept of love. So, I had to write this romance without that word, without using “love”.
R: I imagine that would be a bit difficult.
K: Yeah, I actually at one point had to go back and do a word search, and find if I used the word “Love” in that context, pull it out, and change it to something completely different. So it was like, how do you write a romance novel without using that word?
So, I had to bring about different aspects about how love is considered in that culture, or how it’s expressed in that culture. So it was just really interesting.
R: I don’t read romances, though I do imagine that would be quite interesting to read, just with that difference in it.
K: Yeah, because I read romances – I am part of Romance Writers of America, in the Toronto branch. I don’t read Harlequins, but I’ve read other historical romances, but the characters talk about how they love each other, and they have this feeling. But within my book, how do they express it? There’s not so much “I’m going to jump your bones”, though there is sex, I’m not going to deny that. But you can do that, but it’s just more how do you get the characters to express those deep feelings using other words?.
R: I’m sure people will find that quite interesting to read.
K: Though, that’s if it ever gets to print, which I hope it will.
R: Good luck with it, and what was your main source of inspiration for that story?
K: That was actually a dream. I woke up from the dream, and most of the idea was fully formed, I just had to flesh it out. That was just kind of freaky weird. I don’t know if that’s common with writers, but it’s just I woke up, it didn’t fade, and it just kind of stuck. And as I was more cognitive that it could turn into a story, everything just went poof and blossomed into something more. At that point I was pretty much just like “okay, I have to write it out.” Which was very different from the origins of the Chosen Chronicles. With the Chosen Chronicles, I was playing an online role-playing game with other people. So very different ways for the ideas to come to be, it was interesting. You never know how the inspiration is going to hit you, but I’ll take it whatever way it comes.
R: Going back to the Chosen Chronicles, vampires are something that are very common in YA fiction now, and each retelling brings something new to them. What would you say that your vampires bring to them, overall?
K: Something new? Well, one thing about the Chosen Chronicles is that I’m developing a new mythos or origin story to them, which is something a lot of people don’t read when they read vampires stories. With Bram Stoker, that origin idea came from Vlad the Impaler, even though we know he wasn’t a vampire, but the concept is that he was. Stoker pulled upon that historical figure, but he still he never really went on about how he became one. With Anne Rice, she does go into how vampires came to be, but I really haven’t found anything else that has.
With my Chosen Chronicles, I’ll be drawing a lot on history/pre-history and mythology specifically of the British isles. So, there’s a lot of history that has to go into them, to make sure than when you read them, you can go “Wow, this could really make sense, and maybe these type of people are really walking amongst us.” So, it’s a fine-line of keeping it within the realm of fiction, and could it possibly.. Which is different, and giving it an origin story within our own world and mythology and really helps. Like, with Anne Rice she pulls upon the Isis and Osiris mythology which is great. And, I’ll be doing something similar with the Celtic mythology.
R: Seems like it’ll be cool! I’m sure that’ll be interesting to read.
Now, moving on.. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you?
K: Finding the time to write. Between family – who when I’m home, they think that since I’m home, they can get attention. Even though, I’m in my office telling them I need to work and do my writing. They want me to spend time with them. So, when my son is home from school, I find it difficult to find any time, because he wants to spend time with me. Which, I know I should appreciate because it’s not going to last. But that’s the big thing – finding the time to write.
Another big factor is that because I’m also a freelance editor, I’m under time pressure to get editing stuff done. So I have to get that done sometimes before I can get to my writing. So, I try not to take too many editing jobs done. After we finish up here that’s what I’ll be getting back to, you know, the review process — crossing things out with that red highlighter, there being red marks everywhere,and all that.
R: Yeah, I’ve come to learn that editing is a very meticulous process.
K: A lot of people don’t realize that when you’re editing, you’re not just reading it going through being like “Ooh, I like this, I don’t like that.” You actually have to analyze every little detail. Especially when you have historical elements, you want to make sure it’s as accurate as possible. So, I get a bit nit-picky about facts… And making sure what’s said on page 13 matches up with what’s said on page 200.
R: Yup. So, you’re a fairly common sight at conventions here in Toronto, but do you ever have people recognize you outside of the convention scene?
K: I haven’t had that situation yet, which I like. One thing about being an author is that people won’t necessary recognize you in person because your fact is not on the cover, or even in the book. So, you have that anonymity, which is fine. But if someone came up to me, and said “I love you books”, that would be great. But it’s not like being on TV where everyone will recognize you.
I’d like to get to that point sometime though! It would be interesting.
R: Fair enough, and next question: Who is your favourite author?
K: Oh… No. You didn’t… You just did. Jeez. Can we go by genre? Do you get this reaction a lot by authors? Like.. How dare you? What did you just do to me?
R: Yep, always an interesting reaction when I ask that one, along with “What’s your favourite book?”
K: Oh Jeez. I don’t think you have enough room on your recording device for me to list them all.
R: I’ve got an hour or so on here..
K: Oh, well, okay then.. For historical fiction, there’s two of them that I really enjoy. Jean Auel, and Diana Gabaldon, I really enjoy the first parts of their series. In terms of vampire novels/paranormal, Bram Stokers Dracula, there are a lot of other amazing ones out there, but I think Stoker is a really important one to me, and it’s such a horrific story – the sex without the sex, the horror, which is pretty tame by today’s standards is still horrific. In terms of general horror, The Watch, now I edited that book, and every time I went through it, I was still scared, knowing what was coming.
For Science Fiction, I enjoy the classics, Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, more than modern science fiction.
As for fantasy, I would have to say Tad Williams’ books, especially The War of the Flower. In it, he actually has an apology to readers because there’s a part that he wrote before 9/11 occurred, and it’s almost like he had foreseen 9/11 happening, and he translated it into his fantasy novel. So, when you read that apology and get to that part of the book, it hits you even harder, because it’s so close to what had actually happened in real life, but it was all in imagination beforehand.
Violette Malan’s books are all great as well, I could keep listing more, but that would take forever.
R: Fair enough, and thanks.. I did have to ask that evil question.
K: Yes.. Well, please don’t ask that again. <laughing>
R: Nah, that should be my first question in every interview
K: And everyone will go: “I hate you for asking that.” I’m sure a couple would be like “Oh, well have you read my book? It’s fantastic. My favourite!”
R: So yeah, if you could have lunch with any of your characters, would you? And if so, which one would it be?
K: Oh goodness, in terms of the Chosen Chronicles I’d have to be careful because I could be lunch. But I think I would have to choose Nodos, for one, I wouldn’t be his lunch, and two, he has so much knowledge, being so incredibly old. He’d be fun to take out somewhere and let him not have a bite. As for the historical romance, I think my female protagonist. She’s definitely someone I’d like to have lunch with.
R: Same question, but any author living or dead.
K: Well, a lot of my friends are authors, so perhaps one I haven’t gone out with… I would say Asimov – but I would probably get so lost while he’s talking about things that I’d get bored, because he was so scientifically oriented… I would probably say Mary Shelly. She’d be an interesting one, with her having written Frankenstein, and it being such an interesting way of looking at humanity, and not just humanity, but with our relationship with God in such a horrific sense, and that story came to her in a dream. For her to have written, and become so popular in a time when female writers weren’t so well accepted. So she’d be really cool to talk to.
R: Definitely, now that you mention it. Also, your books are available both in paperback and e-book, but what’s your preference between the two formats?
K: It depends on the book, I do have a Kindle, and I have a lot of books on it – classics, because it’s easier that way. When I’m going places, I like to have my Kindle, but I still prefer physical real books, I’ll never stop loving those books, but when I’m being introduced to a new author, I might not want to spend a lot of money on their books until I get to know them. So, I use the Kindle as a system for that – cheap and easy reading. But for good story telling, I usually get the physical book. Especially if written by friends of mine.
They’re entirely different experiences; reading text on a screen, and paper. Because text on a screen can easily disappear with the breaking of the deceive, or something happening with Amazon. They’re borrowed books, on the kindle. If there’s a mass-market book, I’ll most likely get they physical one. I do understand why people enjoy the e-readers, it makes things easier for carrying and the like, and if I go somewhere I don’t have to carry a huge suitcase of books with me. It’s like carrying around a little computer. They’re great, they’re wonderful, but they’re not physically real. But we’re sitting here in a library, and we see all these books around us, and that’s not something you can take away. It’s always going to be here, or in someone’s hand. You don’t get that with e-books, you can’t ogle the artwork as much, or go to someone’s bookshelf, but, when we first sat down I couldn’t take my eyes off that bookshelf, you can’t do that with an e-reader.
R: I have to say I agree with you fully, and every book has its own story to tell – the cracked spines, folded corners on pages.
K: Yeah, you can tell which ones are really well-loved by the people who read them, and I think that’s awesome. I have books that are well read, and I know if my device breaks down, or I can’t access the internet, those books will still be there.
But I’m very careful with the books I read, especially when it comes to self-published ones, because you never know how they’ll be. So, I tend to just get them on my Kindle, wait until they’re on sale, or free.
R: That’s reasonable, and a good way to do it. Do you by any chance have any advice you can give to aspiring authors?
K: Learn your craft, that is so important. Just because you read doesn’t mean you can write. Take courses, whether it’s through community centers, night classes, college or university, take courses; join writer’s groups, something where you can get feedback. So long as the writer’s group is someone who knows what they’re doing – that’s important,
The other thing is: keep writing, don’t ever give up, never surrender, and just keep going. Yes, in this day and age you can self-publish, but the traditional route is still the best and most lucrative way. Keep working hard, and keep honing your craft.
One thing that I was told when in university at York, was that that most authors don’t perfect their craft enough to get published properly until they’re about 40. I think that age can probably be dropped down a bit, but a lot of that comes down to life experience because if you’re living behind a computer screen your entire life and not interacting with the world around you, and not only the places, but the situation, and the types of people you will interact with in order to create believable characters, situations and worlds. So, whether you’re writing in a fictional setting that is historical, modern, fantastic or futuristic you have to know your stuff. In order to do so, you must have experience that you can draw from accordingly. So, when you have all these teenagers writing YA stories about romance, that’s fine. There’s really no life-experience you need to draw upon, because we’ve all been a kid.
If you want to write something that’s for adults, you need to experience being an adult first, and that’s important.
R: Alright, thank you… I do have one last question for you, I ask this to everyone.. but if you could be any flavour of ice cream, what flavour would you be?
K: Strawberry! That’s an easy question.
R: Thanks so much Karen for taking the time to do this!
K: You’re welcome,and thank you too!