Saturday, April 21, 2012
An Interview with Karina Fabian
In what follows, beyond the typical author interview questions (influences, reading list, etc.), you'll find discussion of magic and technology, preachiness, and morality... and, of course, dragons.
My blog is The Baptized Imagination, so I suppose I need to start there. C. S. Lewis said that George Macdonald's stories baptized his imagination. Was there something in your past that inspired you to write what you do?
I think Madeliene L’ Engle was one of the first influences, but there’s no single author I can point to and say, “S/He made me want to write,” or even “to write fantasy or humor.” It’s been more of a journey, wandering around, curiously following this path or another and seeing where it leads. Following that analogy, my writing is all over the map: from the serous devotional I wrote with my father (Why God Matters) to my latest, the humorous fantasy, Live and Let Fly.
What do you read and watch now, religious or secular?
It varies and often depends on what my husband has bought. (He’s the book buyer of the family.) This past week, (week of March 11, when I wrote this), however, I was reading books of friends: an original manga adaptation full of action and impossible “ninja” powers, and a fantasy about a celibate succubus working for a secret Catholic organization. I also read Terry Pratchett’s The Unadulterated Cat, which is an amusing mockumentary about “Real Cats.”
On a related note, what about your background or environment? Tolkien was a philologist, and that shows in his famous trilogy. Robert Jordan kept a room full of swords and other weapons he could swing around while crafting battle scenes. Is there anything like that that you draw on for your stories?
I did not know that about Robert Jordan. We have a lot of blades in our house, too; though my husband, Rob, is the collector. We practice haidong gumbdo, Korean sword martial arts, so I do swing one of my own now and again, but mostly I swing the wooden practice blade. When I get better, I might choreograph my own swordfights, but right now, if I’m stuck, I’ll ask a couple of the black belts.
Our environment changes every few years, as we’re military, but there are a few constants: kids, pets, lots of science fiction and fantasy books, swords on the walls (when the house is big enough), saints on the walls, and lots of love. I think all of that comes into my stories at some point or another. As far as my background, it’s pretty ordinary: I graduated with university honors, did seven years in the Air Force myself before resigning my commission to raise the kiddos, and started writing. I helped found the Catholic Writers’ Guild, in which I’m still active.
Thing is, I write my stories because they are way more interesting than my life. The characters also deal with a lot more pain, stress, and angst, and I consider that a fair trade. Peaceful and ordinary suits me just fine.
From your own contributions to Infinite Space, Infinite God to Vern's tales, your writing has included both technology and magic. C.s. Lewis wrote of both that they are used (or can be used, at least) "to confirm reality to the wishes of man", instead of man conforming himself to reality. How do you treat magic and technology in your books? Is there a particularly Catholic way to handle these subjects?
I can’t tell you if there is a particularly Catholic way to treat the subjects. Considering the vast treatment Harry Potter has gotten from the church—everything from denouncements that it’s evil, plain and simple, to praise for it as a way to get children reading—I’d say that writing about magic in a fictional setting is still pretty wide-open.
I treat magic and technology similarly in my books: they are tools people (and by this, I mean any species of sentient creature) use for good or evil. Magic in my Vern novels, however, is part of the Faerie world and cannot be used by Mundanes. It’s like the Faerie humans are a slightly different species in that aspect. As my Faerie professor of magic, William Gates wrote on his door at the university:
Pronounced Gay-TEZ. No relation to that Mundane computer fellow, thank you. However, if you are a Mundane and want to learn magic, I suggest computer science." On a map, he traced a path from his office to the Department of Computer Science. Below the map read: "Mundanes: You are not genetically suited to handle magic. I cannot change that. I will not change your major. So very sorry."
Is there a distinction between how the "good guys" and "bad guys" use magic in your stories?
I have three kinds of magic: Good, Evil, and natural. Good magic is the stuff of miracles, of course, and can only be worked on a regular basis by mages consecrated to the Faerie Church. (There’s only one and it’s structured similar to the Catholic, so in the Mundane, they call it the Faerie Catholic Church.) There’s evil magic, which is classic Black Magic. Then, there’s natural magic, which is neutral, but not as strong as good or evil, and have specific limitations. Natural magic can heal in a limited sense, but never bring someone back from the dead. It can manipulate objects and weather, but not on a huge scale. It often relies on physical props.
Dragons are curious symbols. Maybe it's because of the dragon of Revelation, but they often represent evil. I'm thinking here of characters with draconic names, like Dracula or, more recently, Draco Malfoy. They play into this symbolism. You go a step further and have an actual dragon in your stories. Do you address this "dragon = evil" symbolism with Vern, or do the people in that world not have such preconceptions?
Vern has often reminded Christians that the dragon in Revelations had seven heads, and he has one.
Dragons in Faerie have Tony Stark (Ironman) personalities, only they earn it even more than he does. They were created last of all creatures, and immortal. They say “God created Man in His image, but he created Dragon from His greatest imaginings.” They’re not evil, just self-absorbed. They’re top of the food chain and fully aware that they are a superior species. They believe they deserve the best the mortal world has to offer, and they can get mighty miffed when they don’t get it.
They are not, however, inherently evil. They have certain instincts—hoard treasure, protect territory, roast and eat the inferior beings that challenge them (or are offered as homage). However, they are aware that they are God’s creation, and under his jurisdiction.
Vern, of course, is a special case. God sent St. George to find a dragon for something in his ineffable plans (not even Vern knows what.) Vern, however, wasn’t one to come quietly, and by the time they were done, George had taken away most of his dragon prowess and abilities. Now he’s earning them back by serving God and His sentients through the Faerie Church.
I think you've taken on a particularly tough challenge by writing overtly Catholic characters. Vern goes to confession. He works with a nun. (Who's crazy enough to try writing a nun into a fantasy novel?) Are you afraid of getting "preachy" with those characters? Is there anything you do to avoid it?
First off, I’m not writing with an agenda; I’m just having fun with some wacky characters that have come into my head. Vern turned out Catholic because of the run-in with St. George, which I imagined because I wanted a noir dragon, and every good noir protagonist needs something in his past to feel bitter and depressed about. Sister Grace came along as his partner… I’m not exactly sure why, but he definitely needed someone to mellow him, and she’s perfect for the job. With her part-siren heritage, she has longer life and stronger magical ability; and she’s had some horrible things happen to her in the past, so she needs Vern as much as he needs her.
I let my characters do the talking, and the directing of the action, so I don’t really have time to preach. On occasion they may preach, but in character and to other characters, not to the reader. Even then, most of the time, they don’t get much opportunity to do that. No one likes being preached to in real life; why would characters in a story be any different?
Having said that, Vern, who narrates the DragonEye novels and stories, will sometimes get on his soapbox, but it can be about humans, religion, politics, science fiction. He’s a dragon; of course he can pontificate. If it gets preachy, my critiquers and editors jump on it, then he has to endure the red pen like anyone else.
Going to the other extreme, what about behavior unbecoming a Christian? A few months ago, I quoted JP Catholic's Tara Stone. She said, in part: "I sin every day. My characters do too. Sin and evil do exist in my scripts because they will always exist in this fallen world, and films should speak truth." Is there a line you won't cross in writing "real" characters?
If I can’t read it aloud to my kids, I won’t write it. My characters sometimes do some very sinful things—offstage, and even then, they live with the consequences. Pearly white, perfectly moral characters would be boring to write. Even Sister Grace has her own foibles. In Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem, she got into a magical fight with the Greek Muse Euterpe. They just have never liked each other, and they were totally catty, and Sister Grace is certain she’ll have to go to Confession more than once because she’ll keep laughing at how Euterpe’s on spell backfired on her.
Last question... Vern's had to deal with pending Armageddon, fairyland creatures, and mythological deities. Where do you possibly go from there? What's coming for poor Vern? (And no giving me the River Song answer.)
Vern gets a little bit of a break, actually. The next novel is Gapman, which is s superhero spoof. Ronnie Engleson, mild-mannered entertainment writer, has a bit of trouble with a vat of magically created toxic waste and a radioactive pixie while on the set of a Faerie stage production…and then he gets hit by lightning on the way home. Is it any wonder he woke up the next day with superpowers?
Sweet, naïve Ronnie embraces his alter-ego, Gapman, and sets off to do good, causing a lot of havoc and trouble for the police in the process. So Vern gets drafted by the chief of police to stop him, but Sister Grace decides Vern should train Gapman instead.
You can order Karina Fabian's latest book, Live and Let Fly, direct from MuseItUp Publishing.