Interview: Karen Chance
by Gayle Surrette
Review by Gayle Surrette
SFRevu Interview ISBN/ITEM#: INTKarenChance
Date: April 2008
Links: Author's Website / Embrace the Night Review /
SFRevu: For those of us who've been following Cassie's adventures in Touch the Dark, Claimed by Shadow, and now Embrace the Night, it seems that you've ended the story arc that ran over these three books. However, it seems that now we have some new threads that could be used to continue with another arc. Do you have plans for Cassie or will she be taking some time off as you work on your new series with Dory?
Karen Chance: I conceived the Cassie Palmer books as a series of interwoven trilogies. The first of these, centering around the theme of Cassie becoming Pythia, has now been completed. I'm already working on the next, which concerns the war that began in the first trilogy. The Dory books will be coming out concurrently with the Cassie series, with a new book published approx. every six months.
SFRevu: In preparation to putting together these questions I visited your web site. While the tarot cards go with Cassie's gift, do you have an interest in the cards? Who did the art on the deck for your site?
Karen: I did the art for the deck, as well as for a few other things here and there on the site, like the image of Cassie, the cartoons, etc. I know just enough about Photoshop to be dangerous, and I'm not afraid to use it! Actually, I didn't have much choice because I couldn't find a deck that went along with the theme I wanted (ancient Greek divinities) and had just the right people for the right cards. The deck is an ongoing process, with a new card or two up each week. I'm hoping to finish it before next year. I think tarot is fun, although I don't ascribe the same power to it that Cassie does!
SFRevu: In the current series, Cassie moves through time. How has your degree in history been helpful in dealing with the scenes set in the past?
Karen: Well, it makes research a lot easier! I already own most of the books I need for that, as well as about a metric ton of class notes, so I don't have to spend a huge amount of time in the library. And using historical events and/or places as a backdrop adds fun to the books while making me feel like I'm getting some good out of all that study.
SFRevu: While your books are ripping good action-adventure stories with a strong female lead who doesn't wait to be rescued, they're considered to be paranormal romance. Is there a definition of this subgenre? How do you feel about the subgenre and its label?
Karen: That's actually a more complex question than it sounds. When I started out, I was pretty naive about genre expectations. So when someone asked me if my books were paranormal romances, I cheerfully replied, "Sure!" They were paranormal, they contained a romance, so it seemed obvious that the term fit. But of course, I was getting myself in a LOT of hot water without realizing it. What I didn't know was that some romance fans have very specific expectations for their books, including things like a focus on the romance (which makes sense) and a happily-ever-after ending (which doesn't so much, when you consider that Romeo and Juliet and Gone with the Wind are among the world's best-known romances, yet neither ends exactly happily.)
Anyway, I can't write to a formula and I don't try. A lot of romance fans have been nice enough to say that they enjoy my books anyway. Others ... not so much. I still get excoriated from time to time for breaking the rules of a genre in which I don't actually write. Of course, I also get angry letters from horror fans sometimes too, who have found my books shelved in the horror section of their local book store and write to let me know that I don't write horror. They always seem surprised when I agree with them. These days, I define my books as fantasies, because the fantasy elements are the main focus, and let others fight about where to shelve the books.
SFRevu: What has surprised you most about your readers and their reaction to your novels?
Karen: Surprised me? I suppose that I have readers, something that continues to amaze. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so when I read my stories, I have a tendency to focus on the flaws -- on dialogue I wish was wittier, on a scene that could have been more dramatic, on a transition I'm not completely pleased with, etc. So when someone writes to say how much they enjoyed the books, I just sit there, amazed.
I remember one e-mail especially. Shortly after Touch the Dark, the first Cassie Palmer novel, was published, a woman in her 80s wrote to tell me that she was a life-long reader of fantasy, and that she had a shelf at home where she kept her absolute favorite books. Asimov was in there, and Bradbury and Madeleine L'Engle (who has always been a personal favorite of mine) among many other "greats." And so was Touch the Dark. She just thought I'd like to know. I sat there, stunned, staring at her e-mail for the longest time. I eventually sent off some basic "thank you," which I've always regretted, but I could honestly barely think at all. I was just so completely touched and disbelieving and, well, a little bit freaked out. Because, no pressure, right? It's that sort of thing, not the people who write to tell me what a hack I am, that always surprises me.
SFRevu: Were there any particular books that you read as a child that sparked your interest in the field or in writing? What were they?
Karen: Oh, A Wrinkle in Time, definitely. And Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day" (I know it's a short story, but it's the BEST short story. Ever.) And C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, which I practically memorized, and Tolkien's The Hobbit. (I hate to admit it, but it took me years to get through The Lord of the Rings trilogy -- it's kind of weighty stuff for a kid.) And pretty much the rest of the fantasy section at the local library, although those stand out and are still on my shelves.
SFRevu: What do you read for pleasure? Say, the last five you read?
Karen: History, mystery, biography, fantasy, thrillers -- I'm pretty eclectic. All I want is a good story well told and I'm happy. I'm on a deadline at the moment, so I'm not currently reading anything, but the last five would actually be Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. I'd heard about them for years but never got around to reading them until recently. Oh, and I also reread I, Claudius. All great stuff. I have a huge TBR pile in genre fiction, too, which I intend to plow into with glee as soon as I finish writing my current book.
SFRevu: Do you have any hobbies, interests, pursuits? What do you do to recharge the creative batteries?
Karen: Read (kind of goes without saying, doesn't it?), take care of three spoiled dogs, travel, try (and mostly fail) to learn to cook, swim, goof off (doing it properly is an art form, after all).
SFRevu: From your web site it looks like you've got an impressive array of books and stories coming out over the year -- what's next for you? Anything on the burner right now that you can tell us about?
Karen: Well, the big news is that Midnight's Daughter, the first Dorina Basarab novel, comes out in October. She's a 500-year-old dhampir with anger management issues, so that was great fun to write! The series is set in Cassie's world, but lets me show a different side of it. In addition, there's a lot of shorter stuff coming out soon, including "Rogue Elements," a short story in Wolfesbane and Mistletoe, Charlaine Harris and Toni P. Kelner's Christmas anthology (also hitting shelves in October), which features my first werewolf protagonist; "The Day of the Dead," featuring Tomas from the Cassie Palmer series, which is out in July in the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance; and a short story in Strange Brew, a black magic anthology due to be published sometime in 2009. Something not on the web page is that I just agreed to participate in an unnamed anthology for Roc (also for 2009). I'm contributing a novella featuring magical tattoos. There'll be more info online as soon as I get any!
SFRevu: Thank you for your time and patience.