Brad R. Torgersen

Catching up with . . . Kary English

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Hugo-nominated and Campbell award-nominated author Kary English has been making a remarkable splash in the field this year, both with appearances in Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge and also the very latest volume of Writers of the Future. I was very happy to be able to chat with Kary about her explosion onto the science fiction scene. As always, I’ve included image links in the body of the interview; so please click and support this very exciting, very talented writer!

Brad: You’re relatively “new” to traditional publishing, but you’ve put a few things on line via indie publishing. What’s your opinion, traditional vs. indie, and do you have any speculation on the future of the industry?

Kary: Both. Definitely both. I think it depends on the individual work. If I were writing romance novels or thrillers, I’d probably go all indie. For my shorts, I prefer to hit the magazine markets first, and my most successful self-published shorts are actually reprints that I released after the exclusivity period had ended. I’m currently working on a middle grade/ young adult crossover fantasy, and for that one, I’m going to try a few specialty houses first, then go indie if nobody bites. I think the YA/MG market still depends heavily on print, and on access to bookstores, so that’s what’s motivating me to go traditional for that age group.

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Brad: Your work caught the attention of Mike Resnick, when he was reading as a judge for the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers and Illustrator’s of the Future Contest. He went on to buy some of your work for Galaxy’s Edge magazine. What’s in been like to work with Mike as an editor?

Kary: Mike has been amazing to work with. He’s kind, encouraging, an incisive editor and he’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know about the business end of writing. I would work with him again in a heartbeat.

Brad: Would you describe yourself as primarily a science fiction writer, or a fantasy writer? Or both? And why?

Kary: Am I allowed to repeat myself? Both. Definitely both. My science fiction leans hard, and my fantasy leans high. I’ve been told that’s an unusual combination, but when I stir the primordial muck inside my head, that’s what bubbles to the surface. For short fiction, most of my ideas tend to be science fiction. It’s different for novels, though. I’ve never had a novel idea that wasn’t fantasy, at least not yet.

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Brad: Are there favorite authors or mentors who have inspired you or helped you? How do you think they’ve influenced your work?

Kary: Oh, gosh. The list is long. I’m a firm believer that a writer cuts her teeth by reading, so C.S. Lewis, Piers Anthony, Roger Zelazny, Patricia McKillip, Anne McCaffrey, Stephen R. Donaldson, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Friedman, Melanie Rawn, Judith Tarr, Jim Butcher, Robin Hobb, and many, many more. Reading trains the ear and helps the writer develop her voice – even if she’s not writing yet.

For mentors, I’d have to cite Mike Resnick, Tracy Hickman, Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland. I am immensely grateful to all of them. Dave, in particular, has had an enormous influence on my writing. I’ve taken several of his workshops, and I’ll be taking his new Worldbuilding workshop this summer. Dave has taught me so much that I can’t even list it all. Suffice it to say that without Dave, I don’t think I’d be writing professionally.

Brad: What’s your project list look like for 2015 and 2016? Anything new and exciting planned, and which you can talk about?

Kary: There’s a lot on my plate at the moment. I’m collaborating on a multi-volume science fantasy series, and the first book should be out in late 2015, maybe early 2016. I’m under an NDA for that one, so that’s all I can say. I’m ghostwriting at least one other project, but I can’t say anything more than that. For my own work, I’m trying to finish my MG/YA fantasy crossover series, and when that’s done, I’ll be turning my Writers of the Future winner into a novel.

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Brad: Do you think (as one of the latest Writers of the Future winners) that the Contest helps new authors gain exposure and increase their credibility with editors?

Kary: Absolutely. Mike Resnick invited me to submit to Galaxy’s Edge because I’d done well in Writers of the Future, and recently an editor stopped me mid-pitch and said “You had me at ‘turning my Writers of the Future winner into a novel’. Send it as soon as it’s ready.” I can’t think of any other accomplishment that would make an editor request a manuscript from a new writer before he’d even heard what it was about.

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Brad: As a child or teenager, what were your science fiction or fantasy enthusiasms, either television, books, games, or movies?

Kary: Let’s see. I discovered anime in the form of Astro Boy and Speed Racer before I could read, and that led to Voltron and Battle of the Planets when I was in elementary school. Star Trek was another favorite, followed by Battlestar Galactica, the Lorne Greene version. I’d discovered fantasy by then, too, when I stumbled on The Hobbit in my elementary school library. I’d read The Chronicles of Narnia and the Prydain books, but somehow I’d lumped those in with the folk tales and fairy tales I’d been reading. I think The Hobbit was the first time I understood that fantasy was a genre of its own.

It took me longer to get into science fiction as a reader. For whatever reason, sci-fi was something I watched; not something I read. It was Anne McCaffrey who provided the bridge. I loved her dragon books so much that I read everything she wrote, including Crystal Singer, Decision at Doona and The Ship Who Sang. After that, I looked for science fiction when I went to libraries and bookstores just like I looked for fantasy.

I skipped Star Wars when it first came out. My mother wanted to go, but a neighborhood kid was having a pool party, and I chose the pool party. I saw it when it came out again later, either because it had won some Academy Awards or because they re-ran it before The Empire Strikes Back came out. Once I saw Empire, I was so hooked that I wrote my own sequel, longhand, in pencil, in a spiral notebook during class in junior high. Friends of mine who knew I was writing it begged me to share it, so we passed the pages to each other in the hallways. This was eighth grade, so I think I was around twelve or thirteen.

Brad: Tell us about your professional and educational background. How does it factor into your writing?

Kary: As an undergraduate, I double-majored in Anthropology and Philosophy, then I went to grad school for a master’s degree in Religious Studies. I focused on the sociology and psychology of religion, with a particular interest in conversion experiences. Later, I’d return to grad school for a Ph.D., but in the meantime, I took about a decade off to work as a reading specialist, curriculum developer and Special Ed. teacher. At the time, I thought the world needed a reading teacher more than it needed another college professor.

As a curriculum developer, I helped write a complete k-12 language arts curriculum and a suite of anti-bullying materials. Those products are now being used with hundreds of thousands of students all over the U.s. Deciding that my commitment to education had been sufficiently fulfilled, I returned to grad school for a doctorate in cognitive science of religion.

I loved it. Was there something hardwired in the brain that predisposed us, as a species, to believe in a divine presence and develop complex religious systems? (The answer is yes, by the way.) In addition to my studies, I coordinated grant-writing teams and helped organize an international science conference. Unfortunately, I was orphaned, which means that my advisor switched universities after I’d completed my field exams, and that meant it was too late for me to go, too. The loss of that one professor collapsed the entire program, leaving me stuck at ABD (all but dissertation).

So, what does one do with an academic background in philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, cognitive science and religion? Well, it makes darned good foundation for creating believable characters, alien societies and rich, fictional cultures.

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