Karen Miller was born in Vancouver, Canada, and lives in Sydney, Australia. She has loved books her whole life, and always dreamed of becoming a writer. The dream came true in 2005 with the Australian publication of her first fantasy novel, The Innocent Mage. Since then she's published 16 novels, including tie-ins for the Star Wars and Stargate universes. She also writes the Rogue Agent series, under the pen name K. E. Mills.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
My introduction to speculative fiction came very early in primary school, when the librarian handed me a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At the same time I came across Enid Blyton's Secret Seven mysteries, and I've been in love with fantasy and crime fiction ever since! I also read Andre Norton, the Tom Swift series, Robin Jacques ... basically, if it wasn't nailed down I'd read it. The Billabong series, that's Australian fiction. I honestly don't remember a time when I didn't love stories, be they in books or on film and tv.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I knew I wanted to be a storyteller from the first time I had to write a composition in primary school. And then all the way through school, in English classes, I was always happiest when we had to make up a story. I was always happiest with my head buried in a book - I used to walk to school reading! I guess, when it comes to the people who read my work, I want them to finish a book thinking it was worth their time and their money. I want them to walk away satisfied emotionally. I want them to be glad that they read the story, and spent some time with those characters.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
Yes, reading for pleasure is much much harder now. I think that's inevitable, in the same way that anyone who tries to do in leisure what they do for a living can't ever be free of involvement. You get too close to the mechanics. So for me, when I pick up a book, the inner editor is always waiting to pick up the red pen. That's why I treasure my favourite authors, who allow me to enjoy reading without ever thinking to look at the work critically.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
I can't read in my genre while I'm writing. And since I've done nothing but write for the last few years, I'm pretty behind on the reading! I can still read outside my genre, I can read romance and crime and still be enormously entertained. But reading fantasy/sf while I'm writing it is way too distracting. Luckily, I don't seem to be influenced by what I'm reading while I'm writing. It's a relief, because I couldn't stand not reading at all!
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
The author who has had the most influence over me and my work is the late Dorothy Dunnett. She was a spectacular storyteller, a gifted stylist and a genius with character. I learn so much from re-reading her work, which I try to do every year. CS Lewis, whose Narnia books kindled my love affair with speculative fiction. The late Kage Baker, whose work was so under appreciated while she lived, and whose imagination was amazing. Georgette Heyer, who teaches a master class on how to seamlessly marry story with research in every book. Reginald Hill, whose crime fiction is a fabulous blend of intelligence, sly humour and searing narrative skill.
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
Probably the final book of Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, Checkmate. Because it's the culmination of the whole saga and it's wonderful.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
Riveting characters and a compelling story told with grace and style.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
First and foremost, clunky execution. If the writing itself is flat or clumsy I can't do it. Usually I can't get past the first page. If story logic is missing, if the characters are doing stupid things, or I feel like my intelligence is being insulted, or if the story's going on and on and nothing's happening. That's when I stop. And when I don't care. If I just don't care about the characters and their troubles, I walk away.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
That's hard. There are so many authors whose work I adore. But again, I have to say Dorothy Dunnett. Let me put it this way: back in the 80s, when I found her Lymond books, I was working on a horse stud in England. Hunt saboteurs broke into the property and set fire to a horse box. There was a great deal of excitement, as you can imagine. I stayed in bed reading Dunnett. What was happening to Francis, in that moment, was more important to me than anything else, including my safety! Which might mean I'm crazy, yes, but that is the power of her work, to me. She has it all: breathtaking characters, high stakes, and magnificent execution. She was fearless in her storytelling. She broke my heart again and again, and it still breaks whenever I re-read her work.
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
In no particular order, just as I think of them...
A Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
A Catskill Eagle by Robert B Parker.
The following, by Terry Pratchett: Guards, Guards; Jingo; Lords and Ladies.
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters.
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer.
Hot Money by Dick Francis.
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.
Born in Fire by Nora Roberts.
Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold.
And yes, that's 12, but I've barely scratched the surface! For me, what makes these books outstanding even though they cross genres, is that in each case I am completely swept away by the stories. The real world vanishes and I am caught up in the world each author has created. And I am completely emotionally engaged. I care, deeply, about the characters and their lives. And these are books I return to again and again, because I love them passionately and it doesn't matter that I've read them before. I read them again and I'm totally swept away, as though it's the first time.
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott. Beautiful, beautiful writing, great characters, an exciting story. Biggest thing, though, is that even though it's told in the first person - and I don't like first person narratives unless it's crime fiction - within a page I didn't care. I was just carried away by the story.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
Well, I can see that ebooks would work for a lot of people. I'm not really techy, I like the real thing, but they're a part of the landscape. Basically, any delivery mechanism that allows people to read is fine with me. I just wish people wouldn't pirate them and then crow as though they're doing something noble. Theft isn't noble, it's theft, and it's grubby. Yes, I think print books will go on. I think stories will go on, full stop. But then I'm an incurable optimist!
Find out more about Karen and her books here.