Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interview with author, Carol Berg

Here's the thing. Carol is my mentor. Most likely, she doesn't know that. She probably thinks I'm just a stalker. However, I have learned much by hiding around corners, friending her on Facebook and listening to her when she talks about her process. My writing is better for knowing Miss Carol. 

We have now interviewed Kirt Hickman, Jeanne Stein, Betsy Dornbusch and Carol Berg. Remember they will all be at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' May Education Event, which takes place this Saturday at the Renaissance Hotel, Denver. 

Marne and I will be there. Alas, Mike, Gail and Susan cannot make it, but we will bring home new information to share.

The price at the door is $85, however, if you mention this blog, I'll give you the early registration fee of $70. 

Now, please welcome Carol Berg. 

First off, tell us a little about yourself and when/how/why you started writing.
I'm a former software engineer, formerly a full-time mom, and formerly, for a very short time, a math teacher, who grew up with a book always in my hand.  Though a lifelong reader, I never imagined I could write a story.  I didn’t even like writing!  One reason I majored in math in college was to avoid writing papers.  But around 1989, a friend and I were talking over lunch about a book we’d just read.  The upshot of our book discussion was an agreement to start writing email letters in character, just for fun.  Over the next year and a half we sent 32 letters each and built a whole story.  The writing was awful, but the story wasn’t bad.  I couldn’t quit. I wrote for about nine years just for myself, never imagining anyone else would ever want to read my stuff.  I sold my first three books in 1999.  Writing gradually replaced gardening, needlework, and a lot of the other things I used to do.  In 2002, it replaced my day job.

And your books, what do you have published and what are you working on right now?
I have twelve novels published. I write epic fantasy--complex, layered, adventure stories centered on interesting (I hope!) characters.  (Nope, no elves or dwarves and not Harry Potter!)  Big stories, where the stakes are large.  Some reviewers call my stories dark – and yes, there is violence and angst and the stakes are high – but I like to think that the endings are satisfying and hopeful.

I have just completed my thirteenth.  Well "completed" in that I have a first version that I'm sending in to my editor.  It is called The Daemon Prism and is the third and final "novel of the Collegia Magica."  I call these three books my double agent murder mysteries set in a late Renaissance-era world where science is replacing magic.

Rejection letters: How many did you receive before you were published?
Not as many as some, as I never really believed anyone would want to read my stuff.  By the time I was bold enough to send things out, I had developed quite a bit as a writer.  So the answer is: 3.

You are participating in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers May Education Event, meeting with attendees and maybe critiquing the first 2 pages of their wip. In your experience and opinion, what is the biggest mistake or misconception new writers have? Did you as well, when you were new to the industry?
Believing that one's original outpouring of words is art, and that any meddling with it is artifice.  I believe the true art of writing is blending that passionate outpouring with the hard thinking and deeper probing of revision.  The craft of writing is what we use to make our art resonate with our readers. 

Yes.  I did it, too.  I read over that first letter and thought, "Damn, that's pretty good."  And the next day, I reread it, and said, "Damn, that needs some work."  And I tweaked and rewrote, and thought that was pretty good.  A few weeks later, I reread it, and thought, "Ugh."  Etc. Etc.  I still have a lot of that early writing.  It keeps me very humble.  The cool thing is, I see good stuff in it too.  Training the eye and inner ear is critical.

How often do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or work it in around life?
Writing is my full time - and often my more than full time profession.  When I started out, I had to squeeze it in around work and kids and house and everything else.  Now I have a very supportive spouse who puts up with my long hibernations.

When not writing, what do you do?
I love to watch movies with my hubby, and with a group of old friends who've started getting together once a week.  I love to teach writing at conferences and hang out with writers.  I have three great kids who are out on their own, two with little ones.  Yep, that's very much fun.  And I love the mountains.  This year, yes, more camping!

          What did I not ask that you want to talk about?

I often get asked what I did to "learn" to be a writer.  I tell them, I read. I think reading (not watching TV or movies, though that's fun) is the single most important education for a writer.  Reading good writing across many genres, not just one’s own.  Reading bad writing, too.   Listening to the flow of words, feeling how a good writer lays in a plot, watching the writer reveal character, and build tension, and use words in narrative and dialogue.


  1. Yay Carol Berg. I always go to her workshops at conferences. Excellent teacher and writer. :)

  2. Nice. I enjoyed this interview. The novels sound interesting. I'll have to check them out.