2012 Snapshot Archive: Karen Miller

First published at Alisa Krasnostein’s blog.

Karen Miller was born in Vancouver, Canada, and now lives in Sydney, Australia. She’s been writing spec fic professionally since 2005, and since then has published 17 novels. Her first fantasy novel, The Innocent Mage, was the #1 UK bestselling fantasy debut novel in 2007. Empress of Mijak and The Riven Kingdom, the first two books of the Godspeaker Trilogy, were honor listed for the James Tiptree Jr award. She has also been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards twice.  As K E Mills, she writes the Rogue Agent series. When she’s not in lockdown in front of her computer, Karen enjoys directing at her local theatre. Her recent productions include The Crucible and Last of the Red Hot Lovers.

Wizard Undercover, your latest Rogue Agent novel just came out. Can you tell us a bit about this book and what is next for the series?

Well, first of all I’ll throw in a quick Guide To for those who aren’t familiar with the books. The Rogue Agent series is about a young man, Gerald Dunwoody, who is failing in his chosen career of wizard. As a last ditch hope, after yet another on-the-job disaster, he takes a position as Royal Court Wizard to the king of another country – and immediately finds himself up to his elbows in alligators, so to speak. As a result of this adventure, he learns some fairly startling things about himself, and by the end is walking a whole new career path.

The Rogue Agent series uses as its historical influences late Victorian/Early Edwardian Britain, so it’s a little more modern than the epic historical books I write as Karen Miller.  There’s a core of ensemble characters who share the spotlight with Gerald: Reg, the ensorcelled witch queen, Monk Markham, his genius best friend, Monk’s sister Bibbie, who’s a bit of  a wild child, and Melissande, a princess masquerading as a private citizen. Together they stumble from adventure to adventure, and while each crisis they’re faced with is self-contained, there are ongoing plot points and story arcs that thread their way through the series.

Wizard Undercover, the 4th book in the Rogue Agent series, picks up where book three, Wizard Squared, left off. After the cataclysmic events of Wizard Squared (no spoilers, I promise!), Gerald and co. are still trying to find their feet again. But even as the ripples are settling, a new international crisis is brewing and Gerald’s sent off to prevent the disaster. This time he’s working undercover, as Melissande’s private secretary, and Bibbie’s along for the ride as her personal maid.  Suffice it to say they soon find trouble. *g* Meanwhile, back at home, Monk and Reg team up to provide support … which makes Monk’s  life much, much more interesting than he was bargaining for.
I start writing book 5 in the series later this year, and it’s due out next year. It kind of brings everything that’s happened so far to a head. And that’s all I’ll say there!
What’s next from Karen Miller- tease us with what you’re writing right now and what we can expect soon from you!
At the moment I’m deep in the throes of a new epic historical fantasy series, called The Tarnished Crown. Book 1 of that is out next year, too. Puff puff pant. *g* This is the biggest, most challenging thing I’ve ever tackled and to be honest, it scares the crap out of me. I’ve got maps, I’ve got photos from research trips, I’ve got historical portraits to help me ‘see’ the lead characters, I’ve got more research books and dvds and cd lectures than I can jump over. It’s a massive, massive undertaking and if I think too hard about what I’m trying to achieve I end up under the blankets sucking my thumb. *g* It’s a 5 act play, basically, in which we follow a number of lead characters as they jostle for power and influence and sometimes nothing more than survival against a broad landscape of several countries and cultures. It’s the rise and fall of dynasties, love, death, betrayal, revenge, war,  redemption, sacrifice, sorcery, treachery, lies, and pirates. Basically all the really cool, juicy stuff you get to play with in epic fantasy! It’s about to consume the next 5-6 years of my life, really. But in a good way!
You had a sf/fantasy/mystery bookstore at one time. As both a bookseller and an author, what are your feelings on the publishing industry at the moment? How do you see the ebook phenomenon playing out and where do you see the genre going in the next 5 or 10 years?
As a former bookseller, I think I’m glad to be former. The front line operators, bookshops, are doing it horribly, horribly tough just now. There are so many pressures from so many different directions. I do miss the customer interaction and talking books and stuff, but the nuts and bolts business side of things? Beyond stressful. Because we are in such a state of flux. Leaving aside the economic pressures on the retail sectors of just about every English-speaking country, which is the main spec fic marketplace, there’s such an upheaval on the production side of things. Ebooks are still finding their place, and they have a major impact on bookstores. I get that there’s a place for them, but I can’t even begin to contemplate a world without proper books, and places where readers can go to browse shelves and make exciting discoveries.

I love the internet, I really do, but I worry that we’re being driven to live more and more inside a cyberworld that denies us our tactile senses and the joy that comes from physical interaction with our surroundings. I want bookshops to survive and thrive. I have to believe they will, when some of the GFC crap settles, eventually.  The one thing I do know for sure is that there will always be stories, because humans are hardwired for storytelling. And that means there will always be storytellers. Beyond that? Honestly, I have enough on my plate trying to figure out the challenges of being a storyteller. I have to believe that if I do my job right, if I tell the best story I can, each and every time, then the story will find a home. At the end of the day, the delivery system is never more important than the story.
As for the spec fic genre … there are cycles and tides, and all we can be sure of is that the ebb and flow will continue. Fantasy and horror have been part of our storytelling lives from the beginning of human history. They’ll never die. They might change costumes, some kinds of spec fic will burn more brightly than others for a while, only to fade a little as another style lights up the sky for a time. But it will always be with us. And while some elements of science fiction might fall out of favour, as more and more we live in a world that forty years ago really was seen as nothing more than scifi, the yearning for something else, something bigger, a new adventure, that never leaves us either. So I have no fears for the genre. As for what the next big thing is? As William Goldman said about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything. So I don’t try to predict that, I’m just enjoying the ride.
What Australian works are have you loved recently?
Well, first of all a disclaimer. Pretty much the only books I’ve been reading for nearly a year now are research books. Ask me about The Hundred Years War. Ask me about The  Wars of the Roses, or the fall of Byzantium, or the Visigoths, or the Carolingian dynasty … yeah. Fiction? Aside from half a page of something well read and familiar to help me fall asleep, I am woefully behind.
But having said that, I did read Garth Nix’s new book, A Confusion of Princes. It’s YA sf, and a ripping good yarn, as you’d expect from Garth. Plus I’ve beta read Glenda Larke’s work in progress and of course, it’s a ripper too. But aside from that? Sad, sad, sad. Back in my bookshop days I was reading pretty much every new release that came into the shop. But reading while you’re writing is very,very tricky. I’m off another research trip soon, so I’ll do my best to take a backlog of great Aussie stuff with me. I know it’s out there. Much of it is sitting on my to be read shelf!!!

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