Interview with fantasy author, Kristen Britain
Kristen Britain, author of the Green Rider series, is our first featured guest of 2016! From her career in the National Park Service to her lifelong passion for writing, her interview has a little something for everyone! Check it out below!
Hi Kristen, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I am a quiet person who grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and went on to a career with the National Park Service for about 15 years, during which I got to crawl through caves, hike mountains, and handle historic artifacts. I have always written, it seems. My first novel, Green Rider, was published in 1998 by DAW Booksand I’ve been writing in the Green Rider world since then.
What inspired your initial passion for writing?
Definitely reading. I was a reader from the start, making good use of my school libraries. I devoured Beverly Clearly, Walter Farley, and any books I could find on horses.
What inspired the concept of a Green Rider and did it also inspire the entire series?
The inspiration was multifold (not sure that’s a real word). When I was a teen, I had written to completion a fantasy novel. This is what was at the root of what I started to write when I sat down in 1992 to take a serious stab at completing a publishable novel. One of the characters was a messenger, and I became intrigued by the whole idea of “killing the messenger,” that the job of a royal messenger would be perilous, and thus fun to write about. That is when I decided to focus my story on Green Riders. Aiding and abetting this initial focus was my day job. I’d spent the summer doing bicycle patrols on Acadia National Park’s historic carriage roads, which wend through forests, alongside lakes and ponds, over the shoulders of mountains, and over stone bridges. It inspired the landscape of the story, and there I was riding in a uniform that was partly green. I wasn’t on a horse, but… As for horses, there had to be horses in the story.
Tell us a little about your main character, Karigan.
Karigan is the protagonist of the Green Rider series, a young person who runs away from school, only to encounter a dying Green Rider messenger along the road. The messenger thrusts his mission on her and she gets caught up in all sorts of dangers and intrigues as a result. Being of a stubborn nature, it is not until the second book that she really answers the magical calling to be a Green Rider. She is a hard-headed but kind and loyal person who often finds herself out of her depth in a given situation, but resourcefulness gets her through. She is action-oriented, which sometimes gets her in trouble, and far from perfect. I have nightmare visions of what would happen if we ever met. Considering all that I put her through, she would not be very happy with me.
If Green Rider were to become a movie, who would you cast as your main character?
I really have no idea. I suspect it would be some fresh face we haven’t encountered before.
Explain your writing process. Do you follow a structured outline or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?
Each book is a little different. The only one that had a full outline was the second book. I was still a beginning novelist and it was a great help to have these signposts directing me along the way. On subsequent books I’ve become more of a “pantser”, developing the course of the story as I go along. I still will do mini-outlines of scenes or sections in my writing journal. It’s kind of a way to talk myself through the various choices and decisions that need to be made in a story. I’ll do whatever works. There is no wrong or right way.
Have you used your knowledge in film production in your writing process?
I was a film major in college (with a writing minor). Film, for me, was another way of telling a story, but encumbered with the mechanical processes and other people required to produce a film. I can sort of see scenes I write unfold in filmic style, the shots, the editing, etc. So, yes, I guess there is some influence, but I think I’ve always been visual in my writing.
Has your career in the Park Service helped to inspire any of your books?
Expanding on what I said above, the natural world, especially at Acadia, was very important to me, both as a place to go take a walk and let my imagination flow, and as a direct inspiration to the landscape of my world. Many years ago when my then-agent came for a visit, I welcomed her to, not Maine, but Sacorida (the kingdom that is the setting for much of the action in my books). Also, working for the National Park Service, a government entity that sprang in its earliest days from the U.S. Cavalry (soldiers were the first guardians of the parks in the 19th century), I learned a lot about “chain of command” and the organization of such an institution. Such experience is useful when building a unit of royal messengers. Also, the Park Service has a strong sense of identity due to the shared values of the various parks and the type of people who want to work at them. I try to instill my Green Riders with a similar esprit de corps.
Have you done illustrations for any of your own book covers? Why or why not?
As a traditionally published person who is not a professional artist, the answer is a resounding no. My editor, Betsy Wollheim, is also the art director for my books. She chooses the artists who illustrate my covers and oversees their production. Same story for my books published in other countries. I dabble in art, but I could never do what Keith Parkinson or Donato have done for my covers. Even if I were a professional artist, illustration is its own discipline. Covers are major sales tools, so it is critical to have the right artist and illustration to grab the attention of readers. I have been very lucky in my covers.
How do you think you’veevolved creatively since the release of your first book?
Since the first book, I have found myself taking chances with stories and characters in a way I might not have been confident to do early on. As my characters grow and change, so do I.
How do you combat writer’s block?
I don’t really get blocked. There may be pauses, but those are times when I have to think a story choice through. A plot is really a series of decisions one has to make, which can be hard because stories are so interconnected. You pluck one thread and it can unravel several others. I always keep in mind that it’s okay for a rough draft to be, well, rough. Things can be fixed. Also, working out problems in my writing journal, a sort of method of talking to myself, is helpful.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Isolation and the length of the process.
On average, how long did it take for you to write your books?
It has varied from one to three years.
Is there a project that you are currently working on?
I am working on the seventh book of the Green Rider Series. Book six, Firebrand, is with my editor.
Do you read often? Who are some of your favorite authors?
I don’t read as often as when I was a kid, sadly. I think that happens to a lot of adults. In addition to pure reading pleasure, I will often read books to keep up with the industry, to see what other authors are doing. Some of the authors who inspired me and whose books I would want if stranded on an island are J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, and Lloyd Alexander.
If you could be the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
I would only want to be the author of my own books, if that makes sense.
How do you market your books?
DAW/Penguin Random House and my foreign publishers handle most of the marketing. They have a much farther reach than I. I also have fatigue issues that limit what I can do. I do keep a sort of low-key presence on Facebook and Instagram, maintain a website, and do the very rare interview such as this. Once in a very great while I’ll attend a convention or do a book signing. When a book is released, there might be more requests for blogs and the like. Probably writing and getting the next book done and out to readers is the best marketing strategy an author can have.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
I think that depends on an individual author, whether they are traditionally or independently published, how gregarious they are, how much energy they have, etc. Again, writing the books and getting them out there is key. I would suggest not doing anything that they hate (it will show to potential readers while making oneself miserable) or makes them uncomfortable. There are certain social media sites that I don’t use because they either make me uncomfortable or don’t “float my boat.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t worry so much. Don’t be so uptight. It’ll be okay.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
They can visit my website at www.kristenbritain.com, or look up my author page on Facebook.
Thank you again!
Thank you for inviting and having me!