Yellow30 Sci-Fi is pleased to have the four time Christy Award winning author, Karen Hancock, as one of our Featured Authors. Karen’s The Legends of the Guardian-King Series has proven to be a very popular fantasy among readers.
Title of your first novel.
According to the bio on your website your first writing efforts were westerns and then science fiction. Now you’re doing fantasy. Why the switch?
When I first started writing, SF and westerns were the genres in which I had read the most. I think the only adult fantasy I’d read was Lord of the Rings. I’d started the SF by springing off of Star Wars, and a little later some Christian (it might have been the pastor I was listening to at the time) said that science fiction was evil so I switched to fantasy. It was an offhand remark, without a lot of development but it wasn’t hard to move the story from the SF setting I’d had it in, to fantasy. I don’t see a lot of difference between the genres in terms of the things I enjoy about them, I suppose because I’ve always been more of a space opera fan than a fan of rigorous extrapolations of what the future may be like or what it’s possible for man to do. Even in the rigorous extrapolations there are usually “fantasy” elements, the biggest one being faster than light travel. SF may be a genre of big ideas but they’ve always taken second place to the characters for me.
It’s kind of funny now to look back and see how such a small thing made such a big change in my life. Anyway, at the time Terry Brooke’s Sword of Shannara had just released and that was the beginning of the great explosion in the fantasy genre. Suddenly I had lots of fantasy to read, was very comfortable writing in that genre and just went with it. Later I switched back to Arena, which I consider to be something of a hybrid. The next two books I’ll do after Legends of the Guardian King are back in the hybrid category.
Your husband seems to have been the major impetus in getting you started writing professionally. Does he still provide encouragement or other assistance?
My husband maintains a hands off approach — it’s my thing, and generally he doesn’t concern himself with it. He does provide the major assistance of supporting me, though, and without complaint. That’s something I never want to take for granted. Without it I would have had a very difficult time writing.
Can you tell us anything about the plots of that early western and SF story you wrote?
Ugh. They were juvenile. No doubt because their writer was juvenile! The first western was about a female gunslinger, before that was an in thing. The second never got very far off the ground before I switched to SF, but it was going to be a Christian-Romance-Western. The SF never really got very far either. I don’t tend to plot first. I see characters, situations, ideas for a world system. The plot comes from those, and then in turn affects those.
From your publication track record, you publish one book a year. What’s your writing routine?
Actually, I think that rate is changing. It’s more like a year and a few months. I think Return of the Guardian King is going to come out almost 18 months after Shadow Over Kiriath. My routine has been to get up, do a small bit of pickup, dishes, etc, then start writing. It varies depending on the requirements of the day. I work pretty much all day, but my writing process is one that seems to require a lot of thinking, simmering and times when it seems that nothing whatever is going on in my head with respect to the work itself (let alone producing pages of manuscript). I fight a constant battle to stay focused and on task, but over the last year I’ve questioned more and more whether I should fight that or just go with the flow or find some way to work it into something more directed. One thing I have not been able to do is to force things to happen before they’re ready.
Back to the routine, though, In the afternoons two days a week I work out at the gym, and the other days, walk at the park. Then I do Bible Study and after that dinner. Sometimes in the evening I’ll return to the work — always when the deadline looms — or not depending on what’s going on.
Besides your editor at Bethany House, do you have someone else that reads your drafts to give feedback?
I used to have critique partners, but since my turnaround time for drafts has shrunk to about three weeks, it’s been difficult to find someone who can drop everything and read my drafts. Also, it seems useless to me, since I’ve had to turn in drafts to my editor that I wouldn’t normally show to my dog. When I know the work is way off where I want it to be, it’s not all that helpful to get feedback, because mostly people just point out what I already know.
What type of research did you do for the Legends of the Guardian-King series?
I read books on the Middle ages, the Romans, Petra, the Age of King Charles, castles and palaces, swordsmanship in the Renaissance, seafaring… since I wrote the books over such a long period of time, it’s hard to remember all of it now, and much of it is drawn from experiences, novels I’ve read… you name it.
You obviously have a love for other creatures, from distressed birds to horses. Do animals play a role in your stories (or will they)? And do you have any pets yourself?
I almost always have animals in my stories, though their roles are varied. I don’t think there were any in Arena, but there are quite a few of them in the Legends of the Guardian-King. Personally, I’ve had a lot of contact with animals — chickens, goats, pigs, turkeys, fish, pigeons, horses in the past and we’ve always had one or two dogs. Currently we’re without a dog for the first time since we’ve been married, having just lost our 12 year old coonhound to chronic kidney failure. We’ll probably be getting a puppy once the holidays are over.
How big of a role does going to science fiction conventions play in your life as a writer?
A very small role at the moment. I’ve only been to three of them and that was years ago. That might change in the future though…
Your Legends of the Guardian-King books have done very well. How do you feel about the success?
I am very grateful for the recognition my work has received by way of awards and even more grateful for the fact there are actually a few readers out there who are waiting to read my next book. That is amazingly cool.
The Christian element in your Legends books has a fine weave similar to the Lord of the Rings. Do you think some Christian readers might be bothered by the “magic” in your books?
I don’t think so. First, those who would read my books at all, know that fantasy entails manifestations of powers beyond the natural. Those who object to fantasy because it has “magic” in it would probably not read them. I think the key lies in how those supernatural manifestations are handled within the context of the story, and how closely they mimic real world rituals of the occult. Related to this and maybe even more important is the source of the magic as it is portrayed: are practitioners calling upon demons and evil forces or just attempting to marshal forces of nature with their own exceptional power? Or is the source an equivalent of God? I think my books make it pretty clear that the power comes from one of two sources, even if the characters aren’t always sure which source is generating it.
As a Christian author do you steer clear of certain subjects to write about?
I write about what is important to me, what interests me, what I like and what I think is true. I never think in terms of certain subjects I might like to write about but can’t because I’m a Christian author. As I consider it now, I’d have to say there probably isn’t any subject that would be off-limits depending on how it was handled.
Does your writing focus on Christian readers, or readers in general?
I don’t think about it that way. I write to express what I know and love about life, what I struggle with, what answers I’ve found, what questions I still wrestle with. I write books I’d like to read, about people and a way of life that I know, but don’t see in very many other books. Not even Christian books. The Writer’s Mentor (Jackman) quotes author Ernest Gaines who picked cotton and potatoes in the South as a child. When he was older and living in California, he read all the books in the library he could find about “the peasant life”. He said he “wanted to see something about my own people and there were no such books in the library.” He’s written at least ten books to fill that hole. I think, in some ways, the same sort of impulse originally motivated me.
Everything I’ve ever read or done! I’ve been a voracious reader since I can remember, in nearly all genres. Given the number of his books that I read as a teenager, Zane Grey had to have some influence. Dean Koontz has also influenced me greatly, since I adore his work and pored over it when I was learning to write. His How to Write Best-selling Fiction holds a venerated spot in my library, tattered, worn and highlighed as it is. Lois McMaster Bujold, C.S. Forester, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robin Robb… all have influenced me with the quality of their writing and storytelling.
Future plans – projects.
Right now I have a contract with Bethany House for two more books, one which they are thinking about marketing as suspense, though it’s another sf/fantasy hybrid, taking place in our world (more or less) that deals with technology and cults. The other contracted book is unnamed at this time, because I’d only proposed the one book, though I have developed the start of another that takes place on a non-earthlike planet completely unconnected to our world. It’s got a lot of technology in it, so I think it would be categorized as SF.
Advice to new writers.
My first suggestion is to read a lot of fiction in all genres. Second, read a lot about the craft of writing, as well. I learned a good deal of what I know from reading, and then reading about writing. Go to your Library’s creative writing shelves and start reading everything you find. Subscribe to Writer’s Digest, or other magazines on writing. I have listed some books I’ve found helpful on my website under “Writings.”
Also, check out the Mentoring without Meeting article on my website (also under “Writings”) for a method I used to study books I particularly enjoyed.
Third, write a lot. Try to be very objective and analytical about your writing when seeking to evaluate it. Get feedback from others, preferably those who know a bit about writing (other aspiring writers, critique services, writing groups, online critique groups, conferences, etc). When you do, try hard to listen to them and understand what they are saying, but never make changes just because any of them tell you to. Only make changes because you understand what they’re saying and agree that it will improve your work.
Fourth, don’t give up.
Editor’s Note: As with most of all our previous Featured Authors we haven’t kept in constant contact with Karen. She has completed another science fiction book called, The Enclave and is currently working on a new book. Her blog, Writing from the Edge 2, is informative and usually gives updates to her current projects. Perhaps in the future there will be another interview and we can see what new projects Karen has for readers.