Breaking up is hard to do.
And so, with this month’s Orbit hardcover release of The Reluctant Mage, book 2 of the Fisherman’s Children duology, I’ve come to the end of the story that began five years ago now with The Innocent Mage.
Actually, truth be told, it began before that. The Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology was bought by HarperCollins Australia in late 2003, with The Innocent Mage being published locally in 2005. But the actual seed of the idea at the heart of the story sprouted some ten or so years before that.
It was a wrench saying goodbye to everyone. Such a wrench, in fact, that I kept adding one more scene, one more scene, just a bit, just a bit, because I couldn’t bear to say goodbye! I know them so well, and I care about them so much, it just felt wrong to be walking away. Which might well sound crazy, but you have to be a little bit crazy if you’re going to play this game.
The Mad Hatter’s Michael asked me if these books, these characters, have changed my life … and if so, how.
Well. Let me count the ways!
Before The Innocent Mage was published I was a hungry aspiring novelist, dreaming of reaching a wide audience with this story that had lived inside me for years, never letting go of me even though I tried to let go of it a couple of times. Just getting the nod on the sale, making that first amazing sale, that changed me. It changed my perception of me – I was no longer aspiring, I was pre-published, and my often faltering confidence got an enormous boost.
But even so, there were jitters. Getting a contract is wonderful, but the book actually selling well enough that a publisher will take a risk on you again? That’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax. Publishing is a very odd business, without any rhyme or reason. Basically it’s one big gamble, and all you can do is cross your fingers and wish on an entire galaxy of stars that you’ll be one of the lucky ones.
And I was incredibly lucky. The Innocent Mage sold well in Australia, and as a result was bought for UK publication by Orbit. To my enormous surprise – and great pleasure – The Innocent Mage became the most successful UK debut fantasy novel of 2007. In 2008 it was chosen as one of the titles to launch Orbit US, and again fared extremely well. The follow-up volume, The Awakened Mage, also sold well and my next project, the Godspeaker trilogy, was accepted for publication.
And not just that. Because of those first two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books I was given the enormous privilege of writing in the Star Wars universe, sold the Rogue Agent series under my pen name KE Mills, was able to go back to Lur with the Fisherman’s Children duology and have recently signed a new deal with Orbit for a 5-book epic fantasy saga called The Tarnished Crown Quintet. I now have the rare luxury of doing what I love for a living – and that’s thanks to The Innocent Mage.
Seriously, there are many, many days when I have to stop and convince myself that yes, this really is my life!
I think I’m a better writer now than when I started, and that’s because being part of the publishing cycle exposes you to a lot of criticism, a lot of feedback, the professional kind, that an aspiring novelist doesn’t get. It also exposes you to reader feedback, and while that can sometimes be a bit confronting it can also really help you develop as a writer – if you can grow a thick enough skin fast enough! Readers have no vested interest in keeping you happy. They’ve bought your book, and with it have purchased the right to say whatever they like about the work, however they feel like saying it! Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever received has been from readers, who were honest and blunt and absolutely right. I owe them a great deal.
Michael also asked me if the characters in my books were like my children. I have to say no, they’re not. If they were I don’t think I could kill so many of them off with such ruthless abandon! To me, characters – and this is all characters, not just mine but the ones other people create, that I love – are totally real people who just happen to live in another dimension. They live, they love, they fight, they make up, make mistakes, make sacrifices, redeem themselves and live happily ever after – or not -- just like the people of Earth do. I just get to eavesdrop on them.
When I start a book sometimes I know the people in it really well from the beginning, like Asher, and sometimes I get to know them through the process of discovering the story. Sometimes they burst onto the stage and sometimes they sneak up on me while my back is turned. There are two new characters in The Reluctant Mage, Ewen and Tavin, and they really did surprise me. Seriously, I just fell head over heels in love with both of them. I’m so hoping everyone else does too.
I said at the start of this ramble that with the publication of The Reluctant Mage I’d bid farewell to the land of Lur and the people who live there … but that’s not quite true. Right now I’m deep in the throes of writing A Blight of Mages, which is a stand alone prequel to the entire saga. It tells the story of Morgan and Barl, who were ultimately responsible for what happened in the four Mage books. It’s a real challenge, but I’m having a lot of fun with it.
The last five years have been such a roller coaster ride, I can’t tell you. I’ve worked harder that I ever have before, even when I had my own business. I’ve known the heights of elation and the utter depths of despair. I’ve met some truly amazing readers, some fabulous, fabulous writers, and been given opportunities it’s sometimes hard to believe I deserve. All because I had an idea for a book.
Life really is very odd … and I love it.
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Cover Unveiled for Karen Miller's The Reluctant Mage