Monday, February 10, 2014

An Interview with Fantasy Author Charlie N. Holmberg

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Charlie. Please, tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

Ah, the loaded question.

Hmm… I like dogs and Star Trek and, of course, writing. I’m actually formally trained as an editor, so I freelance on the side. As for my writing, I write almost exclusively fantasy, and I like to jump between the subgenres. I used to write pretty heavily in epic fantasy, but lately I’ve leaned toward YA/NA and romantic fantasy.

You enjoy Star Trek. With that in mind, is there a reason you prefer writing fantasy over science fiction? Also, is there a particular Star Trek series and/or movie that you enjoy more than the others?

Honestly? Science fiction has too many rules. Too much . . . reality, in a way. I actually started a sci-fi short story once, and just making the rocket landing believable spun my brain in circles! I’m definitely not a math-oriented kind of person; even doing “lighter” science fiction is difficult for me.

Fantasy, however, is virtually rule-free. I can make my world be whatever I want it to be, make up my own creatures and technology and people without having to ground any of them in reality (unless I’m going urban or the like, of course). I feel like my imagination is unhindered. And fantasy lets me write magic systems, to boot. :)

Overall, I would say Star Trek: Voyager is my favorite. I’m actually not a huge fan of the original series, and I never got into Enterprise. My favorite Star Trek movie is First Contact. I still think it’s better than the new ones coming out!

I’m a Wrath of Kahn fan, myself. J

When you create fantasy worlds, how do you go about it? Do you draw maps? Have files of information on cultures and magic, etc.? What comes first?

The “What comes first?” bit is a little tricky, because different stories start with different things. But, the majority of the time, I start with the magic first. Usually it’s the idea of a magical ability—for example, animating paper objects, as in The Paper Magician—that sparks a story for me. On occasion it’s a character. The setting/world building usually comes soon after, since the bones of a story depend on that.

I keep tiny notebooks in my purse that I use for creating my worlds. I like to start with the city/country/continent (depending on how large of a geographic scope I’m planning on). From there I figure out the terrain (mountains, rivers, etc.), and from the terrain I can distinguish things like borders and what would be imported/exported from where. How the people would live, dress, and so on.

Can you list for us one or two authors whose worlds you find interesting and why?

Sure! My biggest props go to my favorite author, Brandon Sanderson. He creates fantastic worlds (and fantastic magic systems!). To date, his Mistborn world is still my favorite. Sanderson’s worlds just seem very unique and well-thought out; definitely not the standard pseudo-European realms you see so often in fantasy.

Besides reading and writing, and watching Star Trek, what sort things do you enjoy doing, or look forward to in life?

Well, I like to cook and bake, and I like crafting if I stumble across something particularly neat or useful (such as this and this). As for things I’m looking forward to . . . in the near future, I’m looking forward to the birth of my baby girl (my first!) and the publishing of The Paper Magician (July 8, 2014) and The Glass Magician (Fall 2014), and well as the release of a short story anthology I was lucky enough to participate in, My Bloody Valentine (February 10th 2014, which is also my due date!).

I’m also looking forward to moving back to Utah, my home state, this summer! I’ve been gone for two years while my husband worked on his master’s degree in experimental psychology (sounds a lot creepier than it is).

Can you tell us a little about your path to being published and about your upcoming novels and short story in My Bloody Valentine?

Sure! Let me try to condense it.

I started writing as a teenager, but I didn’t take it seriously as a career option until college—that’s when I started finishing books. Books that didn’t get me anywhere, of course. I got lots and lots of rejections. (And I never bothered revising or querying my first novel.)

I queried more with each book I completed, entered contests, searched for open-doors at publishers. I focused namely on agents, though—they’re the key to getting to the editors. It took me seven years of that “serious” writing (I actively queried for about three of them) before I finally got my agent—Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Agency. I queried her with my ninth book, The Paper Magician, and because she’s a boss, she sold it and its sequel to 47North within a month!

After that, Marlene brought me the offer to work on the My Bloody Valentine anthology, which I readily accepted. It’s coming out February 10th, and therefore will be my first professionally published work. My contribution to it is “Salt and Water,” about an enslaved sea-woman whose tears have healing properties, and her relationship with a sympathetic slave-trainer.

The Paper Magician takes place in an alternate 1900s London, where people have learned to cast spells using manmade materials (rubber, glass, etc.). It follows a recent graduate of a rigorous magic prep school named Ceony, who is forced to study paper because there are so few paper magicians left in England—namely because paper is lame, ha. However, only a month into her apprenticeship, a strange woman barges into her tutor’s home and literally rips his heart from his chest. It’s up to Ceony to get the heart back before her tutor dies.

The Paper Magician is available for preorder through Amazon, and it’s set to release July 8th. Its sequel, The Glass Magician, will be published shortly afterward.

If you could identify three individuals who you would be excited to know both read and enjoyed The Paper Magician, who would they be and why?

Oh… that’s a good question.

  1. Oprah Winfrey. Because anything Oprah reads, the world reads.
  2. Ellen Degeneres. In part because of the Oprah effect. In other part, because she’s awesome.
  3. Tom Doherty. So I could get me some TOR.

If you personally lived in the 1900s alternate world created for your fantasy novels (The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician), what kind of magician would you likely be? Would that be the kind of magician you’d prefer to be?

Well unless someone forced my hand, I’d hopefully be the magician I prefer! ;) I think being a Pyre—a fire magician—would be pretty sweet. They have a narrower range of spells, but hello, you’re controlling FIRE.* I’d be pretty bad-A.

Otherwise, despite the stigma in the book, being a paper magician would probably be my second choice merely because paper is so widely available. (Then again, so are matches!)

*Note that Pyre can only control manmade fire, not natural fires. No saving the rainforest or anything.

So at the most basic level, a Pyre could make the flame of a cigarette lighter “dance” or take the shape of a rabbit’s head? And a paper magician would be an awesome scrap-booker to start? What would competent or everyday practitioners of such magical disciplines be able to accomplish? What about masters a discipline?

Such deep questions! You sure know how to interview. ;)

Basically the material is the means through which a spell can be cast. Yes, a Pyre could make the flame on the end of a cigarette dance if he knew a specific spell for it. A paper magician (or a Folder) could, say, write a message on a paper airplane and send it across town to a specific destination (super mail!). A master of a material magic would know the whole shebang of spells and be adept and carrying them out (for example, a Folding apprentice could botch a paper spell by not lining up the edges of the paper a certain way).

Charlie, you mentioned the anthology My Bloody Valentine. What might potential readers expect from your story in it (“Salt and Water”) and from the anthology as a whole?

The My Bloody Valentine anthology is a multi-genre story collection where every story begins with the line, “Love hurts.” Many of the stories are penned by bestselling authors, and the anthology dives into all the complications of love. You can see each individual story’s description on the anthology’s Goodreads page. We’re also throwing a Facebook release party for it (with prizes!), which y’all can check out here.

“Salt and Water” is a little different than the others in the anthology just by genre alone. It follows Chellis (who is basically a mermaid with legs) and her enslavement by a desert-dwelling nation at war. Why? Because the healing properties of her tears keep soldiers at the front alive. Chellis tries to mend a broken heart while learning to trust a slave handler who might just be her ticket to freedom. :)

Speaking of tickets to freedom, we’re just about at the end of the interview. Is there anything you’d like to add or say to the readers here at Up Around the Corner?

Just thank you so much for having me and letting me share a few of my accomplishments! I’m always happy to chat and share, so anyone can contact me through Twitter (@CNHolmberg) or through my blog (Myself as Written). I’ll have a website up soon, so please stay tuned for that!

You’re welcome, Charlie. Maybe we can do a quick update when The Paper Mage is released this summer.


  1. What a wonderful person to spotlight. And Charlie has such great taste!