Today I have an interview with author Stephanie Herman, whose debut book King’s Mark was released last month.
What’s your favourite part of writing a book?
To me, writing a book is not solitary, it’s interactive. The art isn’t the black ink on white paper (or black pixels on a white screen). It’s the experience the reader has while reading.
So maybe it would make sense that I don’t write well in a vacuum. Outlines and first drafts are tough. But get through that, and enter my absolute favourite part of the entire process: feedback from my early readers.
I love hearing from the people who read my story, even when the feedback is a far cry from “oh how wonderful, genius, amazing!” In fact, the best feedback is the kind that frustrates me, because that’s going to be the most satisfying puzzle to solve.
For a project as involved as King’s Mark, I used three or four sets of readers at different parts of the process. It would not be the book it is without their input. I probably wouldn’t have even finished
What inspired you to become a writer?
Asking why I write is like asking why I love to read – it doesn’t spring from one event, it’s my personality, part of who I am. I’ve always done it, and I imagine I always will.
Sappy answer, I know! But while I might not be self-aware enough to actually answer the question, I do have a story that might hold a clue or two.
I spent first grade at an “open” – unconventional – elementary school. We didn’t have to sit in desks or follow a particular curriculum. Instead, parents and teachers would man stations and we could pick where we spent our time (as long as we switched between stations relatively often).
One day, the literacy table had a stack of blank hardcover books, all clean and white and ready to be filled up. I loved them. I wanted to take all of them home, but of course that wasn’t allowed. So my best friend and I spent every day writing (and drawing) stories in them. We got in trouble because we didn’t switch stations when we were supposed to, which is a measure of how fascinated we were (I was not the sort of kid who got in trouble often).
Finally, our teacher had to ban us from the literacy corner for a whole week so we would do things like science and math. When we were finally allowed back, the blank books were gone. But I still remember that week.
What kind of research did you do to write this book?
One of the best parts about writing secondary-world fantasy is you don’t generally have to do much (if any) research for the book to work. That takes the pressure off and shifts the focus from getting things right to making things interesting.
I spent time looking at all sorts of things like architecture, clothing, foods, symbolism, and social structure so I could create cultures that feel deep and unique. One of the especially fun parts was figuring out what kind of hidey-holes might be available to a gang of orphans in an early industrialrevolution city. I didn’t want to use settings that I’d seen used before in fantasy fiction (where there are a surprising number of orphans), so that was quite a challenge.
A lot of the cool stuff I found didn’t make it into the book – I didn’t want the story to get unnecessarily cluttered or bogged down – but maybe I’ll have a chance to use some of it if I have the opportunity to write a sequel.
Do you keep track or write reviews for books you read?
I absolutely should… I mean, I depend on reviews. As a reader, I’d never have discovered some of my favourite indie stories without reviews from intelligent, honest people. And without those same people to help my book connect with an audience that might enjoy it, it’s highly likely King’s Mark will drown in the sea of self-published titles.
So I should help my fellow readers and authors by writing reviews. Sadly, I’m not discerning enough as a reader to write useful reviews on fiction (writing guides are another matter entirely). If I’m reading a book for pleasure and I make it past the first couple chapters, then it won me over. I’m pretty much going to love it.
I probably won’t even notice its flaws. I have trouble getting enough distance to analyze the story – and in truth I don’t want to, because it takes the magic out of my reading. The hardest part in my reading life was when I learned all sorts of rules about writing and started to work on improving my prose. I couldn’t turn it off, and it prevented me from enjoying some great fiction. I’m thankful to have passed that stage of my life and loosened up again!
It’s funny, because I can and do critique other writers’ work regularly. But it must be a different part of my brain.
Which of your characters is your favourite?
Well, don’t tell them I have any favourites. The correct answer is “they all have a special and unique place in my heart.” And of course, they do. But in King’s Mark, I fought particularly hard for Maro to earn his story (he was not an early favourite). I wanted someone who didn’t have special/magical skills but still had something quietly extraordinary about him.
Maro believes there are worthy things in the world, and wants to be part of them. So maybe he’s a little naïve. He doesn’t always make good choices (or even know what’s going on). But faced with a cynical, dangerous, frightening world, he looks for the beauty. He looks so long and so hard that he finds merit in people who don’t believe there’s anything worthy left about them. I think we all wish there was someone in our lives with that kind of vision.
King’s Mark by Stephanie Herman
Published by Self published on May 15, 2013
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Find the book: Amazon, Smashwords, Goodreads
Nearly a century ago, the immortal King disappeared. Now, his Marked servants are hunted as demons and his land is falling into chaos. Three Marked have survived: a sheltered river princeling, an exiled mercenary, and a charismatic street urchin. Faced with overwhelming odds and blessed – or cursed – with a magic they cannot control, these three must fight to save the people and land they love.