Hello gentle reader,
I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author! This week it’s Karina Sumner-Smith, whose debut novel RADIANT comes out on 30th September 2014. It’s a YA Fantasy and the first book in the TOWERS trilogy.
A Writer in the Spotlight – 24
Author: Karina Sumner-Smith
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Book: RADIANT (published 30th September 2014 by Talos/Skyhorse)
Karina Sumner-Smith is a fantasy author and freelance writer.
Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.
Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario, Canada, where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.
My interview (9th September 2014)
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was little, I wanted to be a scientist just like my dad. Science, I knew, had something to do with test tubes, which were awfully fun to play with in the sandbox. Scientists got to do interesting things in a lab, and wear these white coats, and use cool equipment for experiments. Science, I decided, was awesome.
I was thirteen when I decided that my future was in science fiction and fantasy instead. That was the year that I fell into that true writing “flow state” for the first time – and also realized that writing stories was an actual career path. (At the time, the rather low income that one can generally expect as a writer seemed like so much money.)
When and where do you write?
There was a time when I wrote best at night. I was one of those people who’d be up at all hours typing by the glow of the computer screen, always telling myself that I’d go to bed when I finish just this next little bit.
Now, it’s all over the place! These days I work as a freelance writer, so I’m at my computer in my home office for most of the day, and I try to fit fiction in wherever I can. Some days that means that I’m up and writing before I’ve had my breakfast; others I don’t have a chance to get started on my day’s words until quite late. For all that I am a creature of habit and routine, there’s definitely something to be said for flexibility when it comes to writing.
What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?
Focus on your craft. I think that we writers can get too caught up in things like what’s hot in the market, agent wishlists, blogging and social media, and all the rest. The writing should always be the most important. Trends will come and go, the market will change, but there will always be a demand for great writing.
I truly believe that once you reach a certain level of skill, it’s not a matter of if you’ll be published, but when. If not this project, then another.
So read books on writing, and figure out which methods work best for you. Read widely, both inside and outside your genre. Study the works of authors you love. Develop a critical eye. Critique others’ work, and really focus on seeing not just the piece’s flaws but what makes it shine. Try freewriting. Practice, practice, practice.
After that? Settle in and get ready for the long haul. Sometimes the road to getting published – and all the roads that follow, for that matter – can be pretty bumpy. Fasten your seat belt and just try to enjoy the ride.
Radiant actually started as a short story that I wrote for the DAW anthology, Children of Magic. I’d been struggling for an idea that would fit the anthology’s theme, tossing around the idea of a girl who could see ghosts, maybe something about a magical, post-apocalyptic society … it was all a jumbled mess. But when I sat down to write, bam, Xhea arrived, as whole and vivid to me as if I’d been writing about her for years. I suddenly could barely type fast enough to keep up with the story as it unfolded.
The short story was 6,000 words – and there was so much about the characters and their world that I still wanted to understand. Since I don’t outline, the only way for me to know what happened to Xhea or to Shai was to keep writing. In that way, I think it’s not inspiration that keeps me going so much as curiosity. My brain is always asking, “What happens next?”
Your book features two strong female protagonists, but no romance I believe. Why did you make these choices for your story?
I don’t really feel that having the story focus on a strong friendship rather than a romance was a choice, to be honest – at least not a conscious one. For me, any story grows naturally from the characters, their problems, and their world. I could probably write a few thousand words on why there isn’t a romantic plotline for either Xhea or Shai in this book, but the simplest explanation is that there just isn’t room, emotionally, for a romantic entanglement.
This is especially true for Xhea. When the story begins, she’s so very closed down, so defensive – which shows in countless little quirks designed to keep people away from her, to keep herself safe. She learned the hard way that she can only rely on herself. And then the ghost, Shai, changes everything. This story isn’t about Xhea falling in love; it’s about her learning, slowly and hesitantly and painfully, to trust one other person. Given where she starts, that’s a huge emotional transformation for her.
I will say, though, that while I can enjoy a great romantic plot or subplot in novels that I read, I don’t like the idea that every story has to include romance or romantic elements. Romantic love can be so powerful and transforming – but it’s only one part of the spectrum of human emotion, and one way that characters can connect.
What are you working on now? (Is it Book 2?)
Right now I’m working with my editor to revise Book 2, Defiant, and am gearing up to start writing Book 3, Towers Fall. (It’s going to be a busy fall for me, for sure!)
I actually have to admit, finishing this series is a little daunting. These characters and this world have been with me, in my head and in my heart, for so many years that it’s strange to think that I’ll soon reach “The End”. Exciting, too, of course. I already have a couple of new projects waiting for my attention that I think are going to be really fun and different.
What are you reading right now?
Truthfully, right now I’m reading dog training books. I’m bringing a new puppy home soon (in a week, as I write this!), and want to be ready for the fluffy addition to the household.
But I’m actually really excited about some of the things on my to-read pile right now. Fighting for my attention are Cast in Flame by Michelle Sagara, The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, Hidden by Benedict Jacka, and Broken Souls by Stephen Blackmoore. In YA, I’m really looking forward to reading Stefanie Gaither’s Falls the Shadow, which is supposed to be released later this month – but, of course, I’m impatient!
What are your favourite books? Any books you’d recommend?
I used to work part-time in a science fiction and fantasy bookstore – Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto – so it’s really, really hard to recommend just one book. And I’d recommend different books for different people!
But let’s see … if you like fantasy or science fiction with a great romance, check out Archangel by Sharon Shinn or A Thousand Words for Stranger by Julie E. Czerneda. For dragons and adventure, you can’t go wrong with Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon. For sweeping, emotional, history-inspired fantasy, go straight to Guy Gavriel Kay. For great YA, I always point to Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series that begins with The Thief, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
But if I were dragged away to a desert island, the book I’d take with me is Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I’ll need to buy a new copy soon; carefully though I treat my books, my copy has been read so often that it’s falling apart.
Thanks for the interview, Karina!
You can read the first chapter of RADIANT and pre-order your copy here.