Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Fantastic Carol Berg

One could go on and on about Carol Berg’s critically acclaimed publications and her recognition--winner of the Mythopoeic, Prism, Geffen, and Colorado Book Awards. There are countless articles about Ms. Berg that tout her writing achievements. I’d like to take a different approach, though, because I consider Carol Berg to be one of my mentors. She’s an excellent teacher to many aspiring authors. And that’s something that I don’t think many of her fans may know about her.

Yes, of course, her writing is outstanding. I read Transformation and was immediately blown away. Her command of the language and clear dedication to lay down prose that sings to the reader hooked me into studying her style so that I could make my own goop better.

I met Carol at the Colorado Gold Conference about five years ago. It was during one of those lulls in between workshops and dinner that we chatted. My nerves were twitching because I was shootin’ the breeze with such a successful author. But let me tell you something, she immediately pushed aside any airs that one could perceive as pretentious and conversed with me as if we’d known each other for decades. In fact, she won’t even let me suck up to her as I discovered later when we corresponded over email. It’s one of the things I love about her. It’s pretty simple. She loves to write and she’s damn good at it.

Over the next few years when I’d see her at RMFW events, I bounced ideas for books off of her and such. Not only did she give me her most candid opinion, but she also usually slipped me an unexpected tidbit of good information.

Then there are her workshops. Holy cow, Batman. I attended one of her sessions about dialogue and you could see the lights come on in the eyes of all the audience members when she struck home with the crux of her lesson.

In terms of staying in the game to get published or to keep getting published, Carol has been a wealth of information to me and my colleagues. With that in mind, many of my questions are for the benefit of the aspiring and or newly published author.

CIR: You had a critique partner who redlined your manuscripts before you found your way to publication. How important is it that a writer gets some kind of feedback?

CB: I think it is critical. Very, very few people can see every flaw in their own work. We’re too close to it. Our eyes fill in the words that are missing and subtract the words that are repeated. More important, we can fail to notice missing character reveals or absent motivation because we know what we intend. Our action scenes can be incoherent because the work of translating our vision to the page just doesn’t work. My friend and muse critiqued all my early work, but we set finding a critique group as a goal for our first writers’ conference. I still run all of my writing through a critique group.

CIR: The standard advice goes something like this: write, rewrite, get feedback, rewrite again, and when you think you’re done, check it again, then start proofreading. In your bio, it always mentions that you are a former software engineer. Do you believe that such a rigorous discipline gave you a leg up on being meticulous in drafting a manuscript?

CB: Yes. For one thing, I was accustomed to design reviews, listening to feedback, and using it to make my own designs better. I had also learned NOT to adopt everything anyone said. I learned the value of testing – in this context, reading. Reading on computer, reading on paper, and reading aloud. But even more importantly, I think my engineering experience taught me to follow the logic. I examine at character’s choices – the alternative paths they don’t take, as well as the path they choose. I make sure I set up premises for my world and its magic, backstories for my characters that generate the kind of person they’ve become, logical underpinnings for goals, motivations, and conflict. I don’t do all of this in advance. Some develop as I write. But I don’t consider the work finished, until I’ve made sure everything is grounded in logic. Hard thinking is the key to writing complex stories.

CIR: Should an author believe that once they get a book deal, they got it made?

CB: Ye gads, no. (And that surprised me, too.) Every new contract is a new sale, scarier than the first. You are competing with your own sales numbers, with new authors who’ve come on the scene in your genre, with what’s hot. I’ve been fortunate that my publisher has supported my big, traditional fantasies through this urban fantasy, vampire deluge. (We will hope that support continues.) I don’t want to write the same stories over and over, but every deviation from a kind of story that’s worked for me is a risk. I’ve know people who’ve sold 30-40 books very successfully, only to be dropped by their publishers. People who are well respected. Sadly, it’s all about the latest numbers and markets and finances.

CIR: What is one way that you know is effective for promoting your books?

CB: Beyond writing the best book you can, I have no idea. Truly. I’ve acquired readers from good covers, from formal reviews, from Amazon reviews, from interesting cover copy, from appearances on panels at science fiction conventions and from doing writers’ conference workshops. 90% of my readership comes from word of mouth, but how that word gets started, I’ve no idea. I don’t have time to explore all the current internet avenues. My blog is neglected. My website does get updated, but perhaps not as often as I should. I find that the people who come to all these places are my current readers. Ditto with signings. I do try to be accessible to my readers, but does that gain me new ones? Don’t know. Yeah, not helpful. Sorry.

CIR: Are you teaching any workshops any time soon?

CB: I’ll be doing two workshops at Colorado Gold, one on how to reveal your characters on the page and one on worldbuilding (a repeat.) I’ll also be on the program at MileHiCon in Denver in the middle of October and at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus Ohio at the end of October, but I’ve no idea what I’ll be doing at either. Next year, over Memorial Day, I have my first (US) Guest of Honor gig at MisCon, a regional science fiction convention in Missoula, Montana. Now that is cool!

CIR: Now I have to ask something bizarre. Who is cooler…Bruce Willis or Clint Eastwood?

CB: No contest. Bruce Willis. With or without hair.

CIR: What fantastic journey from can we expect from The Soul Mirror?

CB: More mystery. More magic. A very smart young woman in a very bad situation. A brooding necromancer. Ghosts. A mysterious voice in a young woman’s head. And a plot to rend the Veil between this life and the next. With all associated mayhem.




Peg Brantley said...

Terrific interview.

(And I totally agree with you regarding Bruce Willis.)

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your interview with the talented and sweet Carol Berg! Thanks Karen Lin

N. R. Williams said...

I appreciate Carol's advice and thank you Dave for hosting her.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Patricia Stoltey said...

This is a great interview, Dave! Carol's presentations are excellent, so anyone who's attending Colorado Gold should be sure to check out her sessions.


RCM said...

Great interview with one of the Rock Stars of Colorado writers.

I've missed so many of Carol's workshops because of other responsibilities that I cannot wait for Colorado Gold!