Interview with author Karin Rita Gastreich
Karin Rita Gastreich was born near Kansas City, Missouri. After living and working for ten years as a tropical ecologist in Costa Rica, she recently returned to her home town and is now a Professor of Biology at Avila University. In addition to reading and writing, her past times include camping, hiking, music and flamenco dance.
Tell us a little about Eolyn. What inspired you to write it?
EOLYN is a fantasy novel featuring a strong female protagonist whose journey through magic, love, betrayal and war is woven against a rich tapestry of history and culture. The main character, Eolyn, inherits a tradition of magic that has been forbidden to women in her world. As a young girl, she develops an important friendship with the boy Akmael, heir to the king who destroyed the Magas and killed Eolyn’s family. When Eolyn and Akmael meet again as adults, they are leaders on opposite sides of a military conflict that will determine the fate of a millennial tradition of magic.
It’s hard to pinpoint what inspired me to write EOLYN; the story has had a very long gestation period, so the influences have been many and complex. I suppose at the heart of my motivation was a desire to write a fantasy in which a female character could play a meaningful role without necessarily wielding a sword (or simply being the romantic interest of the hero). I also wanted the story to reflect something of the reality of women’s history, especially during medieval and renaissance times in Europe. I’ve read much of women’s history from those periods, and I have always been fascinated by how certain extraordinary women managed to exercise a lot of power, despite their lack of skill on the battlefield and the rampant discrimination that characterized those societies.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Much of what inspired me to write EOLYN also provided information and ideas. In addition to the books about women in history already mentioned, I looked to many classic examples of fantasy fiction. For example, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, as well as the works of T.H. White, J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, gave me ideas not only about content but also about different approaches to storytelling. Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction was a great resource when I was just getting started. I also had some sources that might be considered unconventional for a fantasy writer, such as Gioconda Belli’s memoir The Country Under My Skin, and works of other great writers and poets of Latin America, such as Mario Benedetti. The system of magic in Eolyn’s world has an ethnobiological foundation drawn from my experiences as a field ecologist in Costa Rica. Brian Todd Carey’s Warfare in the Ancient World and John Clements Medieval Swordsmanship gave me some sense of the logic of battles and warfare.
Funny -- I often claim the reason I don’t write historical fiction is because I’m too lazy to do the research. But I actually had to do a lot of research to be able to write EOLYN in a way that made the story authentic.
In addition to these and other diverse sources, I work shopped the manuscript through two great writers groups, The Dead Horse Society, based in my home town of Kansas City, and theNextBigWriter.com, which is an on-line workshop. Without the help and advice I received from authors and experts in both these groups, EOLYN would have never made it past the half-baked stage.
Tell us a little about your road to publication. Was it a long one?
Well, it depends on when you start counting the weeks, months and years. It took about three and half years from when I first started writing EOLYN to the moment in which I felt comfortable beginning the query process. From the time I started querying, it was about ten months to when I received an offer from Hadley Rille Books and decided to sign the contract. During that time, I sent queries to both agents and publishers, but I did not use a ‘shotgun’ approach. I spent a lot of time researching the places I submitted to, and tried to make sure they would be interested in the kind of story I had written. In truth, my road to publication was much quicker than I expected it to be. When I first started querying, I was prepared for about five years worth of rejection slips.
Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process?
EOLYN just became available in Kindle format about two weeks ago, and is slated to appear on the Nook any day now. So I can’t speak to my experience with the eBook process just yet. But I think eBooks are great, and I can only hope that having EOLYN available in electronic format will help get the word out about the novel.
What’s your writing schedule like?
I am a full-time professor of biology at Avila University, so my writing schedule varies depending on where I am in the academic year. While the semester is in session, I basically write whenever I get a spare moment, which of course is not nearly often enough. During summer (and occasionally winter) break, if I am at home I try to write regularly in the morning, putting out at least 500 words a day, and/or revising previous work, before I do anything else (including activities related to marketing). If I’m at a field station doing research, I complete my field work in the morning and write in the evenings.
Finding time to write has become more complicated since I landed the contract for EOLYN, because what used to be just ‘writing time’ has now become ‘writing and marketing time’. And of course, I can’t give up the day job just yet – I’m not even sure I would want to give that up. The good news is that I have a better handle on the craft of writing now than I did when I first started EOLYN, so I like to believe that the time I have for writing – while it isn’t as much as before – can now be used more efficiently.
What’s your favorite / least favourite thing about writing?
Everything about writing is my favourite thing about writing. I honestly can’t think of anything I really do not like. I enjoy rewrites, because it’s like going back to a wonderful exotic country that I love visiting. And during rewrites, I often get to explore new and surprising territories. Even editing and proof reading is fun for me. I especially love interacting with other authors during the writing process – there’s just so much creative impulse to be found in the exchange of ideas. And for all the horror stories one hears about editors, my editor – Eric T. Reynolds – is awesome. He’s been great to work with; fully dedicated to making EOLYN a success without compromising any aspect of my vision for the novel.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
Oh, please don’t ask me that! Every time I say where I hope to be in 5 years, I end up in some place completely different. [sigh] Okay, I’ll take a chance. Five years from now, I would like to be living half the year in the USA and half the year in Costa Rica. I would like to have two more novels finished and another on the way. I would like for the sales on EOLYN (and its sequels) to be strong enough to renew my contract with Hadley Rille Books, or to seek a new contract with another press. I’d like to have an agent whom I can trust and who can give me solid support and advice while building my career as a novelist. I’d like for George R.R. Martin to call me up next time he’s in town and invite me for a cup of coffee.
How much of the marketing do you do?
A lot. I run two blogs, one dedicated entirely to EOLYN, and a Facebook page. I also do book signings, readings, workshops, and tell everyone I meet about the novel. I have business cards with the novel’s cover design and website that I leave on tables in places like Starbucks, or drop into the purses of unsuspecting potential readers. I attend conferences whenever time and budget allows. I enjoy marketing, as I never get tired of talking about this novel. I truly believe everyone should read it, and that everyone would enjoy it.
Anything you’ve found to be particularly helpful in marketing your book(s)?
Being published by Hadley Rille Books has been important for marketing my novel, as I’ve been able to make use of their existing networks as a source of readers for EOLYN. They also did a wonderful job with the cover art and cover design, making the novel an attractive product that I think anyone would like to see on their bookshelf. And the support of other Hadley Rille authors in getting the word out about my novel has been invaluable.
Hadley Rille also made sure to submit the ARCs to different magazines that review novels. As a result, EOLYN earned a favourable review in the April 2011 issue of Publishers Weekly. A professional review makes a big difference; people really sit up and take notice when that happens.
Where can readers find you?
To learn more about EOLYN, including previews of the first three chapters, the best place to go is my blog for the novel, http://eolynchronicles.blogspot.com
I also provide regular updates on the novel, including announcements about events such as signings and conferences, on my Facebook page for EOLYN at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Eolyn/110814625640244
I keep a personal blog about my life as a writer on livejournal at http://karin-gastreich.livejournal.com/
Livejournal is also a great place to network with other authors.
And I’ve opened up an author’s page at Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004HU1RGU
Last but not least, I recently started uploading audio recordings of excerpts from EOLYN onto YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/user/EolynChronicles?feature=mhee
I love to have visitors, and hope your readers will stop by one or more of these sites!
Thank you, Karin. I very much appreciate your insightful answers. Best of luck with Eolyn.