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Michaela August

Michaela August is a writing team composed of two Northern California authors, Marian Gibbons and Karin Welss. Despite living 90 miles apart, they've been collaborating for years, using telephones and the Internet.

Marian, a native of Northern California, lives in the wine country with her multi-talented husband (who after many years has gotten used to hearing, "Honey, do we have some wall space left for another bookcase?") As well as being able to make plum jam and chocolate chip cookies, she is a member of Romance Writers of America, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Karin was born in Montreal, Canada. She grew up in California and has traveled extensively in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia (including a stint in Sydney for two-and-a-half years, first as a university exchange student and then while working for a well-known software company). Besides traveling, Karin's other great interests are anime, baking, reading, history, and archaeology. Family members accuse her of writing historical fiction as an excuse to buy books and do research! Karin currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is owned by a small but very bossy parrot. She pays for the birdseed by working as a technical writer.



Interview

Q: Tell us a little about your life outside of writing.
A:
As you may know, Michaela August is actually two people: Marian Gibbons and Karin Welss.

Marian: This question reminds me of Groucho Marx's famous quote: "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Outside of writing, my life is... a life. I have a wonderful husband, a nice house (too few bookshelves--there's still some wall space left!), a day-job resume that looks like a writer's (every job title different) and an interest in my own and others' spiritual growth. I don't really have 'hobbies' anymore. Everything's a research project. Everything's 'inside' writing. And it's not dark at all.

Karin: I'm a technical writer at a high-tech company by day, so I can honestly say that I earn my living by my pen (or keyboard, as the case may be). I'm single, and I love to travel when I'm not writing. I've lived in England and Australia, and I've traveled through most of Europe, a large part of Southeast Asia, and most recently, Japan.

Q: What made you start writing and when did you start?
A:
Karin: I've been writing ever since I can remember. I completed my first story when I was in the second grade--it was a 5-page homage to Jack London, titled Alek, the Lone Wolf. My mom saved it, and I still have it in my files somewhere, in pencil and illustrated with crayon. I wrote all throughout high school and part of college--mostly science fiction and fantasy short stories--and actually sent some of them off to magazines, thus starting what has since grown to be my other hobby: collecting rejection notices.

Marian: I didn't start writing until I was 8 years old, but I was 'playing' stories about magic horses at recess before then. My first written-down effort was going to be a genre-bender: Terra Tawna, about a telepathic alien princess who crash-lands in the jungles of Africa and is brought up by apes... A:E. Van Vogt meets Edgar Rice Burroughs, yes indeed. I didn't finish it although I'm still fond of the concept and think somebody should write it. That was one of my reasons for wanting to write: I loved what I was reading, but wasn't seeing everything that I wanted to read. I started many other projects, and collected a few rejections myself, before I met Karin. Suddenly it became possible to conceive and write LONG COMPLETE books. Having a partner is the best thing that ever happened to my writing.

Q:. What person has had the biggest effect on your life as a writer, and why?
A:
For us, the answer is: each other. We've both learned so much just by working together, and we bring different strengths to our partnership. And, for both of us, having a co-author means we get instant feedback on our works-in-progress, and it also means that there's always someone to brainstorm with when one of us gets stuck on the scene we're currently writing. Also, having someone else waiting for a scene means that we can't goof off and watch TV instead of writing...

Q: What type of books do you write? Is there a reason you write (for instance) historical romance rather than science fiction?
A:
We write historical fiction, both historical romance and historical fantasy. We both love history, and researching the time periods for our books is nearly as much fun as writing them. In the past few years, we've learned about Prohibition, early twentieth century winemaking techniques, court politics in the 13th-century Egyptian Sultanate, Venetian shipbuilding factories, the medieval Flemish cloth trade, Sumerian religion, and what Mongols were really like.

What interests us most as writers are the periods of transition in history...when did the great shifts in thinking, technology, or social culture occur? Sweeter Than Wine takes place right after World War I, during the real beginning of the twentieth century--women's rights, the shift from states' rights to federal regulation, the effect of the automobile on popular culture. Our forthcoming House of the Rose fantasy series takes place in the mid-thirteenth century, and deals with the end of Crusades and the beginning of the end of feudalism in Europe. Although we touch only lightly on these issues, we're fascinated by the effects of huge transition on the people who have to live through them.

Q: How do you come up with the idea for a book? Once you have an idea, do you plot it out, fly by the seat of your pants, or what?
A:
We spend a lot of time talking on the phone (we live 90 miles apart and the phone company adores us...and our long distance bills), and brainstorming. Once we have an idea that we both like, then comes the hard part--deciding whether the idea is big enough to carry an entire book or series. If so, we do more brainstorming, and develop a detailed outline...a scene-by-scene map through the entire story. And then, we start writing. Having the outline means that each of us can be working on a different part of the book at the same time.

Our writing styles are complete opposites. Karin is a non-linear writer--she may start at the beginning of the scene, or the end, or somewhere in the middle, then she will jump around, filling in gaps and writing paragraphs out of order, until the scene is done. She'll 'hear' a bit of dialogue, and go from there.

Marian, on the other hand, starts at the beginning, goes on until the end, and then stops--not necessarily knowing how any of it will go, but just writing word by word. She'll have the vague idea of what needs to happen in that scene, but no clue as to how it will happen, except by 'watching' what the characters do. And when the Muse is kind, Marian takes dictation.

Q: What type of writing schedule do you have? Is it flexible, or do you have a goal for each writing session?
A:
This has changed since we first started writing together, years ago. We used to be able to dedicate our evenings and weekends to writing. Nowadays, we both have very busy lives, and so we actually have to schedule our writing time, and to set concrete goals. For example, right now, we have each committed to writing two-and-a-half pages a day, from Easter til Christmas, so that we can finish the second and third books of our trilogy, and still leave time for rewrites and edits before we have to turn them in.

Q: What one thing do you like the most about being a writer, and why? What do you like the least?
A:
Karin--writing is my vocation. I'm happiest when I can sit down and transcribe the stories in my head. I'm miserable if I can't write. It's very cool and very fulfilling to know exactly what it is that I'm meant to do. I know that I'll never be happy doing anything else.

Marian--I love the sheer creation of writing: bringing something into being that hasn't existed before. I also love the fact that I can communicate to others what I have seen in my mind, and felt in my heart. Even people that I've never met and who don't know me can experience the story that I've lived with characters that have come to life through me.

What I don't like about writing is having to market the book. Actually, I know it's a bit contradictory of me, but I think the work should be able to stand on its own and be known on its own without my having to tell people "Read my book! It's really good, you know." After all, I may think it's good, but other people have their own opinions.

Q: If you include love scenes in your books, are they difficult for you to write? How do you decide whether to include a love scene at that point in the book, and if so, how explicit to make it?
A:
All writing is difficult, and love scenes are no more difficult than other kinds of highly emotional scenes. Whether there is a love scene, and whether it's explicit really depends on the story, and also the viewpoint character. Some characters are more shy than others!

Writing a good love scene isn't as much about the mechanics as getting the emotional truth of the characters, and the changes they undergo.

Q: How much of your own life and experiences do you put into your books?
A:
Marian--all of it. Everything we write is based on our experiences. In writing historical fiction, everything has to be researched, but that research itself is our experience. Every character we write is a specialized composite of who we are, and every individual we've ever met. Writing does not occur in a vacuum. We include more or less whole incidents from our lives when such incidents will fit the story, and take bits and pieces from everywhere, like mosaic fragments, until the overall picture of that story has its own unique form. We're always paying attention to how things work in life, and one of our favorite maxims is "All, all, is grist for the writer's mill."

Q: What's your current writing project? How did you come up with the idea?
A:
Karin has just finished writing a solo historical romance, Twist of Honor, which was conceived and researched during a half-year work assignment in England. It's set at the court of Charles II, and deals with a mercenary who's hired to kidnap a widowed young Countess. It was sparked by the true stories of seventeenth-century English women in Antonia Fraser's The Weaker Vessel. Twist of Honor will be published by Awe-Struck some time next year.

Together, we're currently working on The House of the Rose series, a medieval fantasy epic set during the time of the final Crusades. It's based on an idea that we came up with very early in our writing partnership. The story itself has gone through several incarnations (and so have the characters), and it is loosely based on the ancient Sumerian epic of Inanna's Descent to the Underworld, which is one of the first divine death-and-rebirth stories.

Glass Souls is the first book of the House of the Rose trilogy. In the world of our book, the vampires who call themselves djinn protect the people of the House of the Rose from Crusader and Saracen alike. More importantly, the djinni search for the new incarnations of the House's ancient souls to return their memories of previous lifetimes. As the trilogy begins, one of the djinn, Menelaos, is robbed of his powers when he is injured during the massacre of Beziers by Crusaders in AD 1209. In the aftermath, he fights to heal so he can resume his duties. He must prove to himself that he deserves to live after failing to save his charges and his beloved djinn wife.

When sent on a difficult mission for the House, he encounters a young Crusader knight who may be his wife, reborn. Menelaos embarks on an obsessive quest for the young knight, hoping to redeem himself by returning a lost soul to the House. But his efforts lead him to dangerous questions: What secret agenda is the eldest of the djinni pursuing? Why was one djinn cursed and cast out millennia ago? And will the answers to these questions free the djinni from an invisible tyranny, or destroy everything Menelaos loves?

Glass Souls is scheduled to be released in May 2005. Volume Two, House of Memory, will be published in Spring 2006, followed by the third volume, Queen of Heaven, in Spring 2007, and concluding with The Shattered Crown in Spring 2008.