Karen Eisenbrey is the Author of Ego and Endurance and The Daughter of Magic Trilogy series, amongst others!
Karen Eisenbrey lives in Seattle, WA, where she leads a quiet, orderly life and invents stories to make up for it. Karen writes fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as short fiction and the occasional poem or song if it insists. Published books include the Daughter of Magic fantasy trilogy: Daughter of Magic, Wizard Girl, and Death’s Midwife; and the St. Rage garage-rock/superhero series: The Gospel According to St. Rage; Barbara and the Rage Brigade; and Far from Normal (co-written with LeeAnn McLennan). Watch for hard sci-fi workplace rom-com/survival story Ego & Endurance in 2023! Karen shares her life with her husband, two young adult sons, and four feline ghosts.
Have you ever written a story from a dream?
Yes! My first attempt at a fantasy novel was inspired by a probably five-second dream that featured two wizards and at least three plot twists. I had to write the whole book to discover what brought those characters to that place. That was over 20 years ago! I am currently revising the manuscript and the rest of the series that grew out of it, in hopes of making them publication worthy.
Do you base characters on people you know?
Most of them are composites of myself and others. I take an aspect from one, another aspect from someone else … I have one who is essentially me if I were a teenager now instead of then, and had superpowers. Another started as literally my son, but has developed into his own person, though with strong similarities.
Have you ever met your writing hero? If so, what were they like?
I got to meet Ursula K. Le Guin at a few readings, and she was always so kind and encouraging, even when I wasn’t sure I was saying anything coherent.
How do you feel when you start a book, in the middle, and when you finish?
The beginning is both daunting and exhilarating. How will I get from this blank page to 80 or 90K words? But the ideas are fizzing and I have notes, so I get to work with high hopes.
By the middle, I have some confidence that this is going somewhere, as well as doubt and dismay. This is a mess, who will care, etc.
Finishing the first draft is a huge relief. Now I have a big pile of material to work with! I enjoy the revision process and look forward to it the whole time I’m drafting!
What was the first thing you learnt as an indie author that has never failed you?
Other authors are colleagues, not competition. We need to lift each other up.
Do you think a big ego is a hindrance or a help?
You have to have enough ego to believe in your work, to put it out there and promote it; but not so much that you feel entitled to accolades, or refuse to listen to constructive feedback.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
So many! Just a few examples: Angelika Rust (Resident Witch, Tales of Istonnia) was the first self-published fantasy author whose work I read and felt really held up next to trad pub. We now beta read for each other, a time-consuming but rewarding endeavor. Her feedback has helped me push my characters farther. LeeAnn McLennan (The Supernormal Legacy) is a fellow author with Not A Pipe Publishing. We discovered enough similarities in our respective YA superhero series that it sounded like fun to collaborate on a book where our characters would meet and have an adventure together. We left our egos at the door and trusted each other with our characters … and had a ton of fun creating Far From Normal over 2020 and ’21. We want to do another!
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Can I say both? I write series, with lots of connections between books, but I hope the individual volumes can stand on their own, too.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
In 2016, I paid $110 for a one-day workshop, Write Here, Write Now. I brought a stuck project that by the end of the day was unstuck, and how! My problem turned out to be the lack of a worthy antagonist. Once I figured that character out, it all started falling into place. I was up to my eyeballs in other projects by then, so I didn’t get to actually write the book until almost 3 years later, but I had lots of notes so I wouldn’t lose my ideas. Death’s Midwife was published in 2021.
Do you soundtrack your own novels?
Not usually, but The Gospel According to St. Rage is kind of a musical in its own right, along with the sequel, Barbara and the Rage Brigade. They’re full of song references, including originals that I wrote (with my brother’s help) for the fictional band. We recorded them and put them up on Bandcamp: https://strage2.bandcamp.com/
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I always go with octopus: solitary, predatory, intelligent, and when threatened, disappears in a cloud of ink.
Do you always give books not your own a chance right up until the end, or are you quick to DNF?
I nearly always see it through. It might not be to my taste, but I can appreciate the imagination and effort, and some books that were a pull at first ended up growing on me.
What does literary success look like to you?
Readers enjoying my books and letting me know.
Do you do a lot of research and why, or if not, why not?
I don’t generally enjoy research, so I do as little as I can get away with. I choose settings I’m familiar with or base fictional settings on places I know. I will look up details as needed. Some research is internal to the book series: what did I name that character/location?; how did I say this magic worked?; what color eyes does this character have? The exception was Ego & Endurance, my hard sci-fi workplace rom-com/survival story, inspired by and modelled on the Shackleton expedition. I had to do both historical and scientific/technical research. That was a challenge but rewarding in the end.
How many hours a day do you write?
Rarely more than one. I discovered years ago that if I have only an hour for writing, I can get a lot done; and going longer is usually not that productive. A couple of times a year, I take part in all-day group writing marathons as fundraisers, but those are outliers.
What did you edit out of your most recent book?
I had to change the name of one of the main characters, after he had had that name for 13 years. I also completely changed a dramatic scene with some robots so they were not left behind, but got to make a heroic sacrifice later. This required reorganizing the surrounding scenes.
How do you select the names of your characters?
In my fantasy setting, most of the names are made from fragments of other names, usually of the parents or other close relatives of the person being named.
In my contemporary YA novels, I gave most of the teen characters names that seemed to be common among my kids’ peers, while their parents had names common to my generation. The exception is the main character, Barbara. She’s invisible, so I needed her to have a name that was very common but not fashionable in her age group—not a designer name, nor vintage, but just old.
For Ego & Endurance, I borrowed a few first names and a few last names from the historical expedition that inspired the story, then filled in the rest out of my own head.
If you have a day job or family commitment, how do you work writing into it?
When I started writing, I was working full time and had two young children. I wrote at night after they went to bed. Then I was able to leave my corporate job, so I moved my writing to naptime, then preschool time. After my youngest started school, I squeezed my writing in during his morning kindergarten. That first summer, I had an idea clamoring to be written, so I negotiated with the kids to have one uninterrupted hour per day for writing. It worked so well, I had a complete draft by the end of the summer that I could continue improving after school started again. These days, the kids are grown and I work parttime (though I will be retiring soon). I still rarely write for more than an hour, generally in the afternoon after my workday is done.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do. Finding a new review is a highlight of the day, and I can use them promotionally myself. I have only had one I would consider a bad review, which mostly revealed that this wasn’t a good match between book and reader. As long as it seems like they actually read the book, I can take it.
Do you ever think it’s ethical to reply to your book reviews?
I don’t know about ethical, but it isn’t smart. It’s not a good look to argue with a reader over a bad or mixed review. I’ll click the like button for any review and move on. If it was left by someone I know in real life, I might thank them privately.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
The St. Rage books are littered with references to one of my favorite local bands.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
They do! My husband is usually one of my first readers, and my kids offer excellent technical and creative suggestions. My 92-year-old dad has read all my books at least once.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It usually takes about a year to write a readable draft that I would consider sharing with beta readers. After that, it varies wildly. I started Ego & Endurance in 2010 and it is being published this year. I have been revising other, even older projects, going back to 2000.
Do you have a hidden talent?
I can sing and play drums at the same time.
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