Author Interview with Karen Eisenbrey!
Hi, Karen Eisenbrey, welcome to the Indie Publishing Group website! Introduce yourself to us. Tell everyone who you are, where you’re from, what you enjoy doing, your hobbies and interests.
Hello! I’m Karen Eisenbrey, an author and musician living in Seattle, Washington with my husband, our two young-adult sons, and two mature-adult cats. I work part-time as a church office manager, a job that suits my interests and temperament perfectly. In addition to writing, I enjoy baking (bread, cookies, pie) and making all kinds of music: sacred choral, contemporary art song, free improvisation, garage rock … As an outgrowth of one of my book series, I’ve started writing pop songs, which came as a big surprise! I’m also kind of obsessed with band names. I write Square Pig in a Round Hole, a weekly blog responding to five band names I find in the local club listings.
When did you start writing and why?
One answer is 3rd grade. As far back as I remember, I always loved stories. I was excited to learn to read for myself, and amazed that learning to write would include writing stories. That was my favorite schoolwork, and I decided as a teen that I wanted to be a novelist (if I couldn’t be a rock star). I held onto that dream even though I discovered after college that, as much as I wanted to write fiction, I didn’t have any good story ideas (I wrote 2 bad practice novels that proved this).
The other answer is 1998. In the midst of the chaos years of working full time and raising young children, for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to start writing seriously. It just felt like what I should be doing. I still didn’t have much in the way of ideas, but I used what I had, and lo and behold, more and bigger ideas followed! So then I couldn’t stop. Over the next several years, I filled my hard drive with unpublished novels, then began tentatively sharing them with trusted readers, then more widely on Authonomy.com. My first published work was a short story called “Hat” in the 2013 anthology Heathers.
That led directly to my first published novel, The Gospel According to St Rage, in 2016. During that same period, my brother and I finally got around to having our teenage garage band (in our 50s) which heavily influenced that book and its upcoming sequel, Barbara and the Rage Brigade. In the meantime, two young adult fantasy novels from my “back catalog” were picked up by Not A Pipe Publishing: Daughter of Magic released in May 2018 as part of The Year of Publishing Women, and its sequel Wizard Girl followed in July 2019.
Which is your favorite book you have written and what gave you the idea for it?
That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child!
One of my favorite unpublished books is the one that started it all, a wizard fantasy called Crane’s Way that grew out of a brief dream that involved two wizards and at least three plot twists. I couldn’t not follow that up. It eventually led to the Daughter of Magic series, so no work was wasted.
Of the published or about-to-be published books, I have a special fondness for The Gospel According to St Rage, my first book to make it into the world. I had written a short story for a YA anthology about Barbara, an invisible girl who can only be seen when she wears a hat. At the end of the story she has gained enough confidence to try to start a band with some of her classmates. When I saw a sign for a storage place with a burned-out O, I thought St Rage sounded like a good band name or a good superhero name. I decided to make it both and give it to Barbara.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
It seems like I either have the title before I start writing or I don’t have it until after I’m finished. When I wanted to write about Luskell, a girl whose parents were both powerful magic users, Daughter of Magic seemed like an obvious choice. The sequel, Wizard Girl, was the same way. The Gospel According to St Rage didn’t have a title until after the manuscript had been submitted and editing had begun. It came to me in the shower and led to an amazing cover. Barbara and the Rage Brigade was a title long before it was a story. I was relieved it still fit once the writing was done.
Who helped you with the cover? Or did you design it yourself? What was your inspiration for your cover design?
Weirdly, all my covers so far look like Bibles or grimoires.
Gospel’s cover grew out of the title and was designed by the publisher of our little writers’ collective. She came up with a pebbled leather Bible-y look and I suggested adding rock-band stickers and streaks of bird crap, which makes sense if you know the story. The book is being re-released in August 2019 in a new edition from my current indie publisher, Not A Pipe Publishing. We’re keeping the basic design and adding more stickers.
Barbara and the Rage Brigade will have a similar cover, with most of the front torn off to reveal a comic book style cover underneath. My niece is handling the comic book illustration; she just graduated with a degree in sequential art and has the right skills for the job. We’re still in the preliminary sketch phase but I’m super excited to see how this one turns out.
Daughter of Magic was originally going to have a very different cover design, with an illustration of the main character doing some magic. Then it became clear the artist wouldn’t be able to finish in time for the scheduled release, not to mention it was starting to look more Historical Romance than YA Fantasy. So my publisher took a stab at a new design using stock images, I offered some input regarding color, and we came up with a very pretty, dreamy cover that includes thematic elements of the story on a background that looks like an antique spellbook.
My publisher also designed the cover of Wizard Girl, which I like even more. It has that same spellbook background for consistency, with a more angular font and the main character looking like trouble and doing something with lightning. As of this writing, the book has been out for a week and the cover is getting a lot of love.
What are some of the themes of your story?
Both series concern growing up and personal power, with underlying themes of feminism, friendship, and strength in numbers. Barbara learns to stand up for herself and have confidence, while Luskell learns she needs to control her selfish and impulsive tendencies. They both have hot tempers but really want to use their significant power to do the right thing.
What’s your process when you sit down and decide to start writing a book and do you have a system?
My process has been evolving, so each book is a little different. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, so I just started writing and discovered the story as I went along. This led to a lot of rewrites and drastic changes, but also a well developed world with lots of fully rounded characters. I do more planning now, but I still have to discover a lot through writing. In the beginning, I will make note of the initial idea, then collect thoughts about what the story could be, who should be in it, what the goals and conflicts might be, possible timeline. I turn that into a loose synopsis, then start writing the story, continuing to note insights and needed additions as I go. I’m not a fast writer but can usually churn out a readable draft in a year.
Who are some of your favorite characters and why?
I love Ged and Tenar from Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series, both as individuals and as a team. Ged begins as a nobody from nowhere with everything to prove, makes a catastrophic mistake, and ends up going on a quest to set things right, in the process becoming a legendary voyager and a wise and compassionate man. Tenar goes from a girl whose choices are made for her to a woman who starts making choices for herself and never stops, without forgetting that girl or the wizard who first offered her a way out.
Luke Skywalker is another nobody from nowhere who goes on a grand heroic adventure, gaining power and allies but suffering great losses, too. And where would he be without Artoo, Threepio, Obi Wan, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and Darth Vader himself?
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I like to say Ursula K. LeGuin made me a writer. She showed that it was possible to have beautiful, compelling writing with serious themes in genre fiction. I admire Terry Pratchett for that reason, too, as well as for being laugh-out-loud funny. Jasper Fforde captured my attention with his Thursday Next books, set in parallel reality where books are REALLY important. These days, I end up reading mostly indie authors. A favorite you might not have heard of is Angelika Rust, whose Tales of Istonnia and Resident Witch series are at least as imaginative and well written as anything on the bestseller lists.
Have you got anything you’re working on now?
I’m slowly writing the third book of the Daughter of Magic trilogy, working title Death’s Midwife. I started working on this book several years ago but ended up stalled. I went to a workshop that included a 15-minute one-on-one with a published author in my genre. She helped jump start the project and I spent the rest of the day making detailed notes, but I had more urgent projects on the go and wasn’t free to continue working on it until November 2018—more than 2 years later! I used NaNoWriMo to work up a thin but complete draft. I’ve been poking away at it this year, but frequently have to put it down for editing or book promotion. I like where it’s headed and hope it wraps up the trilogy nicely while foreshadowing future books in a new series.
If you could have any superpowers what would they be?
Funny you should ask because I think about this a lot. St Rage can fly and be invisible, both of which interest me (or why would I put them in the book?). She can also call down bird crap on bad drivers, a power I would love to have as long as it doesn’t endanger actual birds. Another member of the Rage Brigade can punch people through the internet, which is really tempting some days.
If you could travel to any location in the world where would you go?
In our world, you mean? I’ve been fascinated by Antarctica since about 4th grade, so I’ll say that. Several years ago, I wrote a space adventure inspired by Ernest Shackleton’s failed Transantarctic Expedition (1914-17). That meant I did as much research about Antarctica as about space, and it awoke that old fascination with an incredibly harsh, remote location.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years’ time?
Still in my little house in Seattle, hopefully still turning out books, ideally making decent money from them. I could be retired by then, which would open up more time for writing and promotion. I can easily imagine having 7 or 8 books out by then, not counting anthologies. I might polish up more of that back catalog, but I imagine there will be brand new material, too.
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