"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
Witches -- It's all in the SPELLing!
McCullough is the author of four novels of romantic suspense published
by Avalon Books, The GREY MOUNTAINS, a fantasy role-playing game book,
THE RAINBOW BRIDGE, electronically published by Dreams Unlimited (http://www.dreams-unlimited.com) was named winner of the 2000 EPPIE Award for best electronically published fantasy novel.The EPPIE Award is sponsored by EPIC, a professional organization of electronically published authors, to promote excellence in electronic publishing. THE RAINBOW BRIDGE was also a PRISM award (given by the Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal chapter of the Romance Writers of America) finalist and a SARA Rising Star award finalist.
A QUESTION OF FIRE wasan EPPIE 2000 finalist in the Mystery category, and SHADOW OF A DOUBT is an EPPIE 2001 finalist in the Romantic Suspense category. WITCH'S JOURNEY, a new fantasy novel set in the same universe as THE RAINBOW BRIDGE, has just been released.
She's had a number of short stories published in a variety of magazines and online.
graduate of Duke University with a degree in Spanish and
McCullough is currently senior web editor for Cahners Business
PNR: Your most recent novels have be released through e-publishers. What do you think the advantages are of that forum? Do you feel you have more freedom to write the kinds of stories that you like to write. Your works have won quite a few awards?
Karen M: Freedom is the big advantage with electronic publishing. My print published novels were written within the serious constraints of the publisher's guidelines. But I like to balance out the "inside-the-lines" stories with others that are different. I've enjoyed the freedom electronic publishing has given me to write stories that don't fit anybody's mold.
Yes, I've been fortunate to win a few awards. The Rainbow Bridge won the 2000 Eppie Award in the Fantasy Category. It also won Second Place in the 2000 Fantasy/ Futuristic Category of the PRISM awards (given by the FF&P chapter of RWA) and Second Place in the Paranormal Category of the 2000 SARA Rising Star awards. A Question of Fire, my straight romantic mystery (no paranormal elements), was a 2000 Eppie finalist in the Mystery category, and Shadow of a Doubt is a 2001 Eppie finalist in the Romantic Suspense category.
PNR: Shadow of a Doubt was a rather dark novel. Witchs Journey is a paranormal but much lighter. Do you like to vary your style? What drew you to the paranormal romance sub-genre?
Karen M: I like variety. I like to write in a lot of different genres: mystery, suspense, romance, paranormal, fantasy, sf, etc., sometimes including several of those in the same novel, and there are distinctly different tones in my books. Doing different things is what keeps me excited about writing.
up reading mysteries, romance (although gothics were the prevailing
romance genre of the time, which probably explains a few things!), fantasy,
science fiction, suspense, even Westerns. A few influential early books
were Andre Norton's "Ordeal in Otherwhere," which introduced
me to the concept of a science fiction romance, and later her "Year
of the Unicorn," which I still regard as the finest romantic fantasy
novel ever written. Mary Stewart's "Madam, Will You Talk?"
and "This Rough Magic" started a
PNR: Jinissa is the heroine of Witchs Journey, and the witch in question. Are her abilities inherited or acquired?
abilities are inherited, and that's actually an important
is not an issue here. The heroine actually commits an act of kindness
that could result in her death, correct? The townspeople are
Karen M: The heroine saves a child's life (or at least saves him from serious injury) with magic, but it's actually a bit more complicated than just the townspeople being superstitious. Jinissa is a spy, from a land where the use of magic is a possibility, working in a place where magic is proscribed. (There's actually a reason for this within the plot, but to explain more would give too much away.) In using magic to save the child, she reveals herself as a spy, but of course, it's even worse since she's also using what they consider an evil power. So she is condemned to death, and she knew that was a possibility.
story is set in a fantasy realm. Would you say it is medieval in setting?
Do you think it is easier to write a fantasy setting or a historically
think of it as a "quasi-medieval" setting. Most of the realities
of medieval life weren't all that pretty (the description "nasty,
brutish and short" comes to mind). I take the more romantic or
attractive features of a medieval setting and play those up while adding
in the elements of magic.
One of the attractions of using a quasi-medieval setting for fantasy stories is that in the pre-technological, pre-enlightenment era, magic was as good an explanation for anything people didn't understand as anything else. There was no competition.
I'd say it's easier to write in a fantasy setting because you get to make your own rules. I'm pretty obsessive when I do a historical setting. I research extensively and try to make sure I get everything as accurate as I can. In a fantasy setting, I have more leeway. That said, you still have to be careful to be consistent and to be credible. When I was getting ready to write the battle scene for The Rainbow Bridge, I did quite a bit of research on medieval warfare, so that the scene would sound realistic. You can make up your own rules, but you then have to follow them. So it's not just a case of 'anything goes' in fantasy.
PNR: The hero does not set out to be her hero, does he? He is predisposed to dislike the witch? Why does he save her from her current fate?
Karen M: Lord Stephan initially is hostile to Jinissa, based on an old, well-justified anger at her people. He does save her from the townspeoples' justice in the beginning, but only to take her to the king for questioning. In the course of the journey to get there, though, he comes to know her better, to realize that she has good qualities, and to understand thatnot all Calavrians are like the people who mistreated him. Although sexual attraction is what initially brings them together, it's deeper understanding of each other's virtues and some fundamental values they have in common that eventually make them willing to fight for each other.
PNR: Jinissa prefers to take her chances with him and his king rather than the villagers. What about her ownpeople, the Calavrian witches? Does she attempt to escape, go to them?
Karen M: She thinks about escape, and even tries it once, but she's in pretty difficult position. Her own people don't want her back (the reason they don't is also a significant part of the plot), so she doesn't really have any place to go. She does consider just running away, but with her sheltered background, she doesn't have much in the way of survival skills, either.
PNR: In spite of his prejudices, Lord Stephan is not an unkind man is he?
Karen M: Certainly not. I try to show pretty early on in the story that, despite his hatred and the seemingly unfeeling way he treats Jinny initially, he's not a brute. In fact, he says to her at one point, "I'm not a gentle or sympathetic man, but I'm not cruel, either." And then he acts in a way that at least hints he's a good bit kinder than he'd have us believe.
It was one of the challenges in writing this book to present Stephan in a way that lets the reader know pretty quickly he's actually a good man with some strong heroic qualities, despite his lingering anger and hatred over the way the Calavrians treated him. Making it more of a challenge was the fact that, with the exception of one chapter near the end, the story is told entirely in Jinissa's point of view.
PNR: The journey is a long and perilous one. The pair are virtually isolated. Is there tension or friction between them? What do you feel is the turning point in their relationship. When does lose her apprehension? When does he begin to admire her?
Karen M: Certainly there's tension between them. He hates her people, for some pretty good reasons, and he's taking her to the king where she expects to be tortured for information and executed. They're also both proud, strong-willed people. How could there not be tension between them?
Thinking about it, it's hard to come up with one single major turning point. I've tried to make the entire book a series of developments, with the two of them learning more about each other as they confront the crises that nature throws at them as well as exploring the sexual attraction between them. She begins to lose her apprehension of him early on. I think they each begin to appreciate the other in a scene not far into the book, when he's made her walk behind his horse, but as the day goes on he begins to worry about the weather and pushes the pace without realizing the effect it's having onher. Eventually she falls, is dragged behind the horse and suffers some mild injuries. This is where he asks why she didn't tell him she was having a problem and makes the remark about how he's not a cruel man. When she responds, "How was I supposed to know that?" I try to have his body language show that he recognizes the justice of her accusation, and she sees that. And when he asks again why she didn't complain, her response tells him something about her intelligence, her pride and her self-control.
PNR: Do you think that removing secondary characters, and pitting the protagonists against the forces of nature makes the story more romantic? Gives them more opportunities to prove themselves?
Karen M: I think so. It provided lots of opportunities for sensual scenes where the two of them, both attactive young people, become sexually aware of each other. It also means they have to rely on, learn to trust and work with each other in order to survive. As I said earlier, the sexual attraction pulls them together, but what they learn about each other's character in the course of the journey keeps them together.
PNR: Of course the is the inevitable end of the journey conflict. Lord Stephans heart is no longer in the mission, but the king he serves is also his best friend. It there ever a time when his honor is in question?
Karen M: I hope not. The fact that Lord Stephan's two strongest loyalties are so impossibly opposed to each other becomes one of the fundamental conflicts of the story. Jinny loves him, in part, because he is such an honorable man. The one time he weakens a bit, she recognizes what it would cost him to give in and she refuses to accept it. Her own conflict is somewhat in parallel with his, since by the end she wants desperately to be able to give the king whatever he needs from her, to spare Stephan the agony of anything happening to her, but she still owes duty and loyalty to her own people.
PNR: The king is an interesting character, and though he only appeared briefly he has a major role to play in the plot resolution. He seems wise, kind and honorable, in short hero material. Would you ever consider a story for him?
Karen M: I haven't got the story entirely mapped out yet, but I do have something in mind for King Randell. I deliberately left the door open for a sequel, and he's such a fascinating character, I have to give him his own story.
PNR: Will you continue to write paranormal romances? Whats next for Karen McCullough?
Karen M: Yes, I'll continue to write paranormal romances, but as usual they'll come in all shapes and sizes. I've got a couple of projects in progress right now. One is a Gothic with an unusual shapeshifter for a hero. Another Gothic I'm working on has a ghost as a significant secondary character. And I also have a romantic suspense that involves a paranormalelement. None of those stories is under contract as yet, so I can't say anything definite about when they might be appearing.
Featured in this Issue:
When Jinissa uses magic to save a child from a bad fall, she reveals herself as both a Calavrian witch and a spy in the land of Lendiil. In a place where magic is regarded as evil and its practicers as hopelessly corrupt, witchcraft is a capital crime. Jinny is sentenced to torture and death.
Before the sentence can be carried out, however, a delegate from the king arrives to announce that the king wants to question the witch himself. Lord Stephan has been sent to fetch the witch. A long trip over the mountains gives Jinny and Stephan time to get to know each other better. In the face of all the things that should keep them apart, including Stephan's deep and well-founded hatred for her people, they begin to learn the truth about each other and fall in love.
Stephan is an honorable man, loyal to his king, and his feelings for Jinny will cause only conflict. And Jinny, for her part, is determined to escape during the trip, because she's sworn to keep her people's secrets, even though her background ensures that she will never be welcome back in her own country.
reissued as Wizard's Bridge
rainbow bridge is one you cross in faith, believing that there is substance
beneath the glitter to hold you up and carry you across the chasm."
Alsa is a young woman with a problem: her home town is about to be attacked by a coalition of unfriendly neighbors. The seeds of the solution lie within her, she believes, in the form of an untutored talent for wizardry. But she needs to learn how to use the talent, so she goes to the local wizard, who (of course) lives in a castle high on the side of a mountain, accessible only by a bridge that appears to be made solely of light, and guarded by a dragon.
She crosses the bridge with trepidation but survives, only to encounter the guard dragon, a creature that turns out to be not at all what she expects. But then Alsa finds that a lot of things on the wizard's mountain are not as she anticipates, including the wizard himself. The bargain she has to make with him for the lessons is a shock to her, and the training itself bears no resemblence to what she anticipated. Alsa has a lot of adapting to do and not much time for it.
It will take every bit of her intelligence, courage and compassion to master the magic, her home's enemies, the dragon and the wizard himself.
Other romance titles:
Dreams Unlimited and LTDBooks have since closed their doors.