Interview, Phase 5 E-zine, May 2002
Carol Berg spins a complex story in The Books of the Rai-kirah: Transformation, Revelation, and Restoration. The series revolves around two very different heroes; Seyonne, formerly a Warden of the Ezzarian people and more recently a slave for the past sixteen years, and Aleksander, heir to the throne of the Derzhi Empire. The Derzhi have conquered the Ezzarians, stripping those captured of their melydda, their "true power" of sorcery.
Seyonne is sold to Aleksander and eventually becomes his scribe (Derzhi nobles don't read, pity them). When Seyonne realizes that the arrogant heir to the throne of his people's enemy may actually be the key to not only his own personal freedom and that of his people, but that of the entire world gripped in a demon war unseen by all but the Ezzarians, his duty forces him on a long, strange journey to help Aleksander against his enemies, both human and demon.
What we end up with is two heroes who would never consider themselves heroes. One because he considers this simply his duty to serve, and the other because he's an arrogant SOB. But he gets over it. Mostly, anyway.
Ms. Berg has agreed to answer a few questions about her writing, the series and upcoming work.
Vital Stats: Date and place of birth, where you went to school, where you're located now, etc.
My roots are in Texas in a family of teachers, musicians, and railroad men, and a mother who was never without a book. I graduated from Rice University with a BA in Mathematics, but along the way I took every English course offered that listed novels on the syllabus—just so I would have time to keep reading. After teaching math for several years, I stayed home to raise three sons, finding time to teach childbirth classes, camp, hike, bike, read some more, and get another degree, this time in Computer Science from the University of Colorado. For the past seventeen years, I have worked as a software engineer. I live with my husband at the foot of the Colorado Rockies. The three sons are mostly grown and on their own.
When did you begin writing? When did you begin to seriously pursue being published? How long did it take from the initial writing until the book saw print?
I never wanted to be a writer. Though I’ve always been an avid reader, I didn’t think I could put enough words and ideas together to put together a whole story. In 1989, a friend and I were discussing a fantasy novel we had read that was a series of letters between two characters. Linda wanted to get into writing and thought it would be fun to try something like that. It sounded fun. After a year and a half of writing email letters ‘in character,’ 32 letters each, we had a pretty decent story (albeit amateurish writing) and I was hooked. I kept writing on my own and over the next eight years, I wrote six whole novels and two partials—over a million words just for the fun of it, learning new things with each story. I wasn’t submitting them anywhere, because I didn’t think they were good enough.
In 1998 I wrote a novel called Song of the Beast. I knew it was better than anything I’d written so far. That’s when I started thinking that perhaps someone else besides my youngest son and my friend Linda might want to read my work. I read the opening of Song of the Beast for an editor at a writers’ conference and she was interested. The book also won three “first novel” contests in 1999. Meanwhile I started another story called Transformation. I read the opening of Transformation for an editor from Roc, a fantasy imprint of PenguinPutnam/New American Library, in the spring of 1999, before I had even finished the book. She wanted to see it when it was done. Within two weeks after I finished Transformation, I had a three-book contract with Roc. Transformation was published in August 2000. So, even though Transformation took only 9 months to write, 10 months from start to sale (19 months from start to publication), I had written a fair number of words on my own for ten years.
Where did the inspiration for the complex world you've created arise? Did you use human cultures to create those of the Derzhi Empire and our own myths to create the more magical elements?
I started with my characters before building my physical or magical worlds. The physical world of the Derzhi Empire is, in effect, a reflection of the characters. Though I do enjoy the traditional Celtic fantasy setting, I believed that Aleksander was the product of a harsher, more brutal environment, albeit one that has its own beauty and purity as he does. And the Derzhi Empire had spread uncomfortably far beyond its desert roots, into realms such as the mountains near Capharna, much as Aleksander is forced to move beyond his preconceptions. Seyonne's home, on the other hand, needed to be as remote from the cruel world in which he was held captive as he was from the life he loved. I wanted it to be a place that nurtured his love of life and beauty and "home," as well as his contemplative side. From my studies of art history in college, years of miscellaneous reading, and my travels here in the western United States, I picked bits and pieces of cultures and environments that would reflect and nurture what I wanted in my characters. Plus I did a bit of extra reading on desert cultures, just to make sure the Derzhi were making sense!
As for the more magical aspects of the world, I don’t see them as arising from human myths other than the universal themes that connect all myths. I actually came up with the essential magic of the world—the Ezzarians’ ability to create a physical landscape from the human soul and send in a warrior to do battle with demons—as I was thinking about what needed to happen with Aleksander to fulfill the destiny I had in mind for him. For this arrogant, callous prince to become a “hero,” a battle would need to be fought in his soul. I meant it figuratively…but quickly decided that it would be interesting to make it a literal battle.
Did you have any underlying message about politics, religion or economics with your initial set up of the world?
Not really. Certainly the story and its resolution reflects a great deal of my own feelings about and experience of the world and its institutions—nothing is ever black or white. If I had any underlying theme from the beginning, it was the transformative power of human relationships, and how this power can be found in the most unlikely places.
You have two very strong characters in the form of Seyonne and Aleksander. How did you determine which one would be the focal point for the series?
Funny you should ask. Transformation began as the story of Aleksander - an arrogant, unlikeable, high-born man who was going to fall very low before finding out his true importance to the world (a destiny which I didn’t understand myself before writing Restoration – the third and final book of the series). As proud and arrogant princes are unlikely to be introspective, I needed someone to tell his story — someone who had no reason to like Aleksander, but who was around him all the time to report on what was happening to him. Thus the slave. I truly didn't know who Seyonne was when Aleksander bought him on page one, nor that his voice would prove to be so strong, and his background and character so fundamental to the story. By the time I had written three chapters, I realized that, even though Aleksander’s destiny and growth form a critical arc of the book, this was truly Seyonne’s story.
The characters, places and events are complex in nature. How do you keep track of everything to keep it straight in the story? Are you blessed with a good memory, or do you have a system of notes?
I don’t think of myself as having an exceptional memory, but I do believe that my background in math and computer science enables me to keep things logically connected. I don’t “journal” or “outline”, but I do keep a notebook in which I write down random lists of timelines, names, questions, notes to myself, etc. in no particular order. I write in a sequential style, and every time I sit down to write, I review what I’ve written the previous day. This helps continuity. I try to live the story with my characters, and I do believe this helps me keep things straight.
Do you feel it's easier to write a series because you don't have to "reinvent the wheel" each time, or is trying to keep the plotlines on track with what's gone before still difficult?
In some ways writing a series is easier because you get to know your characters so deeply. Aleksander and Seyonne’s relationship is such fun to write. When they are together, the words just flow. And having the foundations of the world already defined is a great help. But I like to make sure that the sequels are not just a retelling of the previous book, not just an extension of the same conflicts, but new and complete stories in themselves. Both Revelation and Restoration take us into new worlds with new characters and new aspects of the story that actually upend my characters’ beliefs and assumptions and so my readers’ beliefs and assumptions, as well. Thus the later books present many of the same challenges, plus the added responsibility to be faithful to the contract I made with the reader at the beginning of the series, bringing all threads to a satisfying conclusion.
The ending of Transformation seemed to be a complete story – certainly room for a sequel, but not required. Did you originally intend the series to be a trilogy or did that develop after the first book?
Originally I intended Transformation to be a standalone. What pushed me into a sequel was looking back at Transformation and realizing that it had turned into something different than I had started. Because it became the story of Seyonne and Aleksander and their relationship, I found I had given my “villains”—the demons—short shrift. In thinking about the demons, I decided that the Ezzarians didn’t know any more than I did about their origins, which led me into Seyonne’s questioning and his journey of revelation in the second book. I planned to tell this second part of the story in a single sequel. But because I needed to unravel Aleksander’s destiny as well as Seyonne’s, it took two books to do it.
Your next book in the series, Restoration, will be coming out in August. Can you give our readers a hint of what to expect?
In Restoration, both Aleksander and Seyonne find themselves in trouble (what else?). Aleksander still has a lot to learn about people and kingship. Drastic changes occur in the Derzhi Empire, and Aleksander must find his destiny, the promise of the feadnach that Seyonne has seen in him. For his part, besides helping Aleksander cope with disaster, Seyonne will have to confront the consequences of the life-changing decision he made at the end of Revelation, the meaning of his death visions, and the looming threat behind the history of the rai-kirah. Civil war, visions, assassins, oracles, dreams, a prison fortress, storms, narrow escapes, a ghostly woman in green, madness, gods, myths, and even a bit of romance…is that enough clues?
Do you plan any further books set in the worlds of the Rai-kirah?
For now, I am leaving this world behind. As much as I love these two guys, I believe I have wrung them out. I have an idea for one more book in the same world, set in a much earlier time, but I have no plans to write it any time soon.
What's else is on the publishing schedule for you?
Song of the Beast will be published next May. It is the tale of a musician who was thrown into a horrifying imprisonment at the height of his fame. The story begins when he is released seventeen years later, his voice, his body, and his soul in ruins, still not knowing why. Beyond this…I am working on another set of four books—really a trilogy plus one, that I hope to have coming out over the next few years.
Do you have an official email/website/address that fans can contact?
My website is http://www.sff.net/people/carolberg and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org,. I love hearing from readers.
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