Interview and Comment Chat with Karen Lord!

Karen Lord wrote the fantasy novel, REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, which is inspired by West African folk tales and Caribbean legends. She won the Frank Collymore Literary Award of 2008 for Redemption in Indigo, and then won it again in 2009 for a science fiction novel called The Best of All Possible Worlds. REDEMPTION IN INDIGO was released last week.

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Please tell us what REDEMPTION IN INDIGO is about and how you were inspired to write it.

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Redemption in Indigo are based on a West African folktale about a woman who leaves her husband. He comes looking for her and causes trouble, and she has to deal with him. Her happy-ever-after is based on the fact that he leaves again for good – quite the opposite of gaining Prince Charming, but still a happy ending in its own way. It was one of my favourite stories when I was little, and I liked her character so much that I decided to give her a larger story.

The entire book is about making choices, making mistakes, improving, and not giving up. It’s also about the problem of suffering, and the power of the ordinary. That sounds a bit heavy, so let me add that this all unfolds around a supernatural adversary, talking animals, an adventure-filled journey, love at first sight, fireworks, family and food!

Were the djombi (or undying ones, who are deity-like entities) inspired by any myths, or are they your own invention?

They were inspired by every myth. Jumbies. Djinni. Wood, water, earth and animal spirits in mythologies around the world. And quantum mechanics. Imagine sentient groupings of subatomic particles and forces … but branes, not brains!

I took the baccou name from a Caribbean legend, but I adapted it to fit my story.

REDEMPTION IN INDIGO won the Frank Collymore Literary Award for 2008. Could you tell us about that?

It’s one of the most coveted literary awards in Barbados. Frank Collymore was a teacher, author, poet and editor, well known for his own work and for promoting the work of other writers in the region, like Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, George Lamming and Austin Clarke, among others. You can read more about him and the award here:

http://www.fch.org.bb/fch/fcdata.shtml

I was advised to enter by Dr Peter Laurie (published author, diplomat, former colleague), who had given me excellent advice when I was reshaping my first draft. I’d already had the manuscript rejected by about four publishers and one agent, so I was mainly hoping for feedback. I certainly didn’t expect to win.

How did REDEMPTION IN INDIGO come to be published?

I have to thank Nalo Hopkinson for that. She posted the news about the award on the Carl Brandon Society blog (http://blog.carlbrandon.org/2009/01/barbados-frank-collymore-prize-goes-to.html). I think it caught her eye that the winning manuscript was a fantasy novel. I was shocked and delighted to see my picture on the Carl Brandon blog! I emailed her my thanks. Small Beer Press later contacted me through her and asked to have a look at the manuscript. They read it and they accepted it!

You also won the 2009 Frank Collymore Award for a science fiction novel named The Best of all Possible Worlds. Is it going to be published any time soon, or if you have anything else that we could look forward to?

I hope to get The Best of All Possible Worlds published soon.  I’ve also got about 45 000 words written of the sequel to Redemption in Indigo, and I’m pushing to finish and edit that before the end of the year so it can go out to publishers as well.

You break some so-call writing rules in REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, such a speaking directly to the reader. But it works so well, and the narrator has as much personality as anyone else in the story. How did you decide to tell the story in this unorthodox manner?

I didn’t realise I was breaking rules! I thought I was following convention. It’s an old storytelling trick, to address the audience from time to time. I wrote it that way because it’s a folktale at heart, and folktales are always told by storytellers, not novelists. Even C. S. Lewis does it in the Narnia Chronicles, like when he pauses the story to tell his young readers/listeners that it is very, very foolish to step into a wardrobe and close the door behind you.

Do you have a favorite part of REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, or a part that was a particular joy to write?

As much as I love my main characters, I really enjoy the side scenes with the minor characters. The parts that are tied for favourite are the Storyteller and Kwame talking in the village courtyard, and the Trickster buying a round for Rahid and Pei in a town bar. But I also like when the Trickster first encounters Kwame, and when Kwame finally meets Paama. Perhaps it’s the wonder of first-meetings, especially meetings between strangers who already have a connection and may not even realise it.

Why did you write such a short novel?

The first draft was planned out and written for NaNoWriMo, which is why it’s so close to 50 000 words.

Please tell us a little about yourself. What inspired you to start writing? What books were especially influential to you?

Voracious reader. Fast reader. Always reading at the dinner table, read all the books assigned for Eng Lit before term began, spent all my allowance on books. When my mother realised that, she gave me a book allowance, quadruple the original amount. She also got the Caribbean Examinations Council’s reading list, and gradually bought me almost every book on the list from year one to year four (ages 11-14). That’s a lot of books. It was a great list, with lots of Caribbean authors: Andrew Salkey, Edgar Mittelholzer, Samuel Selvon.

Year five we didn’t worry so much about because by then I was choosing and buying my own books. Speculative fiction galore, starting from the Narnia Chronicles, moving into Tolkien’s Middle Earth, checking out Ray Bradbury’s surreal alternate 1950s of rockets, Martian colonies and unusual people. Mind you, Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham (The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Day of the Triffids, Chocky) were already on the schools’ reading list. Add to that Asimov and Clarke in the school library (also borrowed and lent between friends), and Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula Le Guin and Madeleine L’Engle in the Public Library. Should I mention the X-Men? Why not. There were some great stories in those early 1980s issues.

Reading inspired me to write. It was almost impossible not to go from one to the other.

Which books were influential? So many. Better to say which authors. C. S. Lewis – not just for Narnia, but for a lot of his later works, both fiction and non-fiction. Till We Have Faces is my favourite Lewis, and possibly my favourite novel. Ray Bradbury for the humanity in his stories. The short story ‘The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ is a classic. You’ll find it in his speculative fiction anthologies, but the only magic there is the magic of people learning to become fully themselves.

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You can purchase REDEMPTION IN INDIGO here. Karen has promised to come by every now and then to reply to comments, so if you’d like to chat with Karen, or if you can think of a question I neglected to ask, please do so in the comments.


29 thoughts on “Interview and Comment Chat with Karen Lord!

  1. I love that this was a NaNoWriMo novel. It ALMOST has me inspired to try NaNo for myself, but I know that I would never be able to put in that kind of writing time–slow and steady works for me. Did you have much work to do on it after November was over?

    Thanks for the interview and for hanging out with us today!

  2. After NaNoWriMo I chopped out a fair bit, wrote some more, erased a minor character, expanded some minor storyline, and of course cleaned up basic spelling and grammatical errors. I gave it to test readers, and took note of bits they liked, didn’t like or found confusing and tweaked it some more. I gave it to a proofreader (she did such a good job on my thesis that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity). Then I sent it out to publishers and in between collecting rejections I polished it some more. I think the NaNo was in 2003, and the Colly submission deadline was in 2008. NaNo helped me start it, but that’s how NaNo is – just a start at writing, not an exercise in editing.

    And thank you! It’s a pleasure to be here.

  3. First of all, I love that red jacket you’re wearing in your picture! I want one! It would probably look terrible on me, though.

    Secondly, I too love the fact that this was a NaNo novel. It really gives me hope that the NaNo novel I’m revising right now will make it someday. It’s interesting that the first draft was written several years before it was published. Mine is that way, too. I think it sometimes takes a while for everything to come together enough in the subconcious mind before you’re ready to take that lump-of-clay first draft and shape it into a fully-developed manuscript.

    And finally, this book just sounds so neat and different. I love how the fantasy genre is starting to tread new ground, exploring so, so many different cultures. I’ll have to look for this one.

    • Aw, thanks! Gotta give credit to my friends who saw it and convinced me to get it.

      You’re right about a book needing to incubate for a while in the subconscious. Sometimes the story we plan to write isn’t the story we’ll end up telling. I wish you all the best with your novel!

  4. This book sounds like a lot of fun. I especially like the idea of a narrator who addresses the audience. :) Is the narrator you -I mean your thoughts and opinions- or is it a character in its own right? (I haven’t read the book yet, I’m afraid, but I would like to.)

    • The narrator is and isn’t me. That sounds like I’m hedging, doesn’t it. I mean that although I did envisage a distinct, not-me, in-universe character who was telling the story, there were times when I allowed my own musings to bleed into the storyteller’s ramblings – like a couple of times when I speculate about the other characters’ motives. It’s risky – one of my test readers didn’t one of those bits – but I kept it because it felt true to the character. And since you haven’t read the book yet, I won’t say any more so I don’t spoil you!

    • I must confess here and now that I wasn’t being radical and experimental, just ignorant of convention. I’ve only studied English Lit as a dilettante, not an academic, but I suspect different cultures and genres have different ideas of what’s conventional.

      I love legends. They’re like the bones of Story, y’know? The tales we keep telling ourselves for generations, adapting just a little to cater to the culture or the age, dressing the framework in a different costume each time.

      • Ignorance worked here! I remember a critiquer once dinging me for talking to my audience. I didn’t know what was wrong with that approach because I loved reading it.

        Liz also wrote a wonderful novel based on legends!

  5. I love an unconventional success story! (And the red jacket.)
    My NANO novel is the one that got me my agent. But I did have it planned and plotted ahead of time, and did the rest of it after NANO was over. However, that first 50K is still very much the way it was written.

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