Please welcome Karina Sumner-Smith to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Radiant, the first in the Towers Trilogy, was published on September 30, 2014 by Talos.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Karina: I started writing seriously when I was thirteen, after falling into a writing “flow state” for the very first time. The real world fell away; I was truly in the fantasy world of my imagining, seeing the characters, listening to them talk – and scribbling as fast as I could to keep up. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I decided then and there that I was going to be an author, and started trying to get published shortly thereafter. (Of course, the journey from there to here took twenty years!)
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Karina: Pantser. I actually think that many authors’ processes rightly belong somewhere between those two extremes, but I definitely live near the pantsing end of the scale. I do enjoy freewriting about a scene or character before diving into the next big story arc, but find that my experience is more like driving into the light from a car’s headlights than having a map for the whole trip.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Karina: Finding the discipline to write consistently – especially on those days when the words refuse to flow.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Karina: Oh, so many! When I was learning to write, I studied the works of Octavia Butler and Sean Stewart, trying to figure out what made their books so elegant and captivating. Usually, though, I’d just end up caught up in the story again, and forget to analyze entirely.
While I try to read widely, my heart truly lives in the fantasy genre. A few of my current favorites include Robin McKinley, Guy Gavriel Kay, Daryl Gregory, Michelle Sagara, Laini Taylor, and Mike Carey.
TQ: Describe Radiant in 140 characters or less.
Karina: A homeless girl in a magic-run city attempts to save the ghost of a girl who hasn’t died.
TQ: Tell us something about Radiant that is not in the book description.
Karina: At its heart, Radiant is the story of a very unlikely friendship that develops between two young women. There are so many things about the world that I hope to explore in more detail in future works, but this is really a character story about love and sacrifice and the connection between two people from wildly different places and backgrounds.
TQ: What inspired you to write Radiant? Please tell us a bit about how your magical system works in Radiant.
Karina: Radiant is actually based on a short story I published a number of years ago, “An End to All Things.” It was written in a blaze of inspiration – but even after it was published, the characters stayed with me. I knew that there was more to Xhea and Shai’s story, and more to their world. Since I don’t plot my work out in advance, the only way to know what happened next was to keep writing.
As for the magical system, the novel takes place in a world where everything runs on magic. Magic is currency and identification; you need magic to open doors, to buy food, to call a taxi.
Everyone generates some magic – some just a little, some in unthinkable quantity – but the magic that your body creates is something that you cannot change. Being rich is not a thing you earn, it’s a thing that you are, while poverty is literally in your blood. And into this world comes Xhea, the main character, who has no magic at all.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Radiant?
Karina: My favorite kind: all about the apocalypse! While the novel itself takes place many years after a new civilization has risen from the ruins of our world, much of the story is set in the Lower City, where people live in crumbling buildings on the ground rather than in the floating Towers above. I wanted to get all those little details of decay and destruction right – and make sure that any deviations from what “should” happen were planned consequences of the world and its magic, rather than accidents.
The workings of the City and Lower City were also very much influenced by the daily news. Radiant is a fantasy novel, yes, but it’s also all about poverty and economics and corporate warfare. (And ghosts. Lots of magic and ghosts.)
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Karina: I think that the easiest and hardest both was Xhea, the main character. In some ways, writing from Xhea’s point of view was effortless; the ways she saw her world, the rhythms of her thoughts and voice, were always so clear to me. Yet her life had never been an easy one, and her character was definitely shaped by her years of poverty and ostracization. It was a tough balance trying to write the character authentically – her mistrust and defensive reactions and the hurt underneath it all – while still trying to keep her accessible and sympathetic for the reader.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoliery lines from Radiant.
Before her the ground was black and grey, the cracked roadway darkened by the shadow of her bowed head and slumped shoulders. She stared at the image she cast—no face, no will, only a puppet to the sun’s slow fall. Just the shape of a girl where no light fell.
TQ: What's next?
Karina: Radiant is the first in a trilogy, and books two and three, Defiant and Towers Fall, are both due out in 2015. I’m so excited to share these stories, and hope that Xhea and Shai find readers who love them as much as I do.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Karina: Thank you for having me!
Towers Trilogy 1
Talos, September 30, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.
When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.
With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.
Karina Sumner-Smith is a fantasy author and freelance writer. Her debut novel, Radiant, will be published by Talos/Skyhorse in September 2014, with the second and third books in the trilogy following in 2015.
Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.
Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario, Canada, where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.