Journal of Always: Welcome to the Journal, KC. Nice to have you here. I recently finished reading Venom of Vipers, and obviously, based on my review, I loved it. It is a departure for you, however, as your previous two published works are fantasy. Was it difficult to shift from that into a science fiction/mystery tale grounded mostly in the "real world"?
KC May: Thanks! I'm delighted to have this opportunity to chat with you. The Venom of Vipers was quite different from anything I'd written before. All of my short stories, novellas and novels have been fantasy, thriller/suspense or horror. I'm a huge sci-fi fan, though, and this story had been banging around in my head for a long time (over ten years). By the time I started to write, I'd gotten comfortable with the near-future world and characters. I do write "real world" stories from time to time, so that part isn't unusual for me, but none of those have been published yet.
JOA: The science in this book seems very well thought out and realistic. How much research did you do on things such as birthing science and anatomy? Do you have a background in this field, or did it come out of left field?
KCM: I have a liberal arts degree and no formal science training, but I love science! For this story, I had to design a really nasty virus that put humans in a no-win situation. That took quite a bit of research and tossing ideas around with science-minded friends. Then I had to learn some basics about genetics engineering. A lot of what I dug up went over my head, but I got what I needed to make the story work! The birthing science and anatomy research came later, once I had the basic plot and scientific backdrop ironed out.
JOA: Could you tell us about the title of the book? How long did it take you to come up with, and how many different titles did you run through? What do you think The Venom of Vipers means in the context of the story told behind it?
KCM: I didn't come up with the title until this summer -- midway through writing the second draft. Until 'The Venom of Vipers' came to me, I had no real prospects, but I wanted the title to do two things: have a multi-word format, like The __ of __ (I thank George R.R. Martin for being the inspiration for that) and continue (or introduce, from a reader's perspective) the snake theme.
The asp is a type of viper, so that part fit beautifully. If wikipedia is to be believed, some kinds of vipers give live birth. Wikipedia also says the word itself is derived from Latin vivo, meaning "I live," and pario, meaning "I give birth." Seeing as how there are birthing problems in the story, I knew I had to use this word in the title! As for the use of 'venom,' I think we will agree that the ASPs behave venomously!
JOA: The characters in this book are extremely well fleshed-out and believable. What is your process when it comes to character development? How much do you pull from your real life?
KCM: Thank you! I don't consciously pull from real life in that there's no one who serves as a model for my characters. The characters become who they are because of their environment. I started off by imagining a guy who's lived in a 20-acre enclosure his whole life. Then I asked myself questions like: What significant events in his life have helped to shape who he is? What is his daily life like? What experiences would be foreign to him that we might take for granted? What does he care about? What might he want more than anything? Sometimes, when I'm stuck, I'll interview the character and just take notes. Most of those notes don't go into the stories, but they help me know him better so I can make him behave consistently.
JOA: Speaking of taking notes, I like to ask every author about outlines. Do you use them? When plotting out a story, do you want to know what happens next, or have the tale "tell itself" in a way? In other words, when you write, how do you go about it?
KCM: Usually, I have an ending in mind when I begin. I plot out the story before I start to write, designing scenes that move the story toward that ending. For VoV, I didn't really know how I wanted to end it, but I had an inkling of how the climax would go. That story largely told itself.
JOA: You have one other published novel, The Kinshield Legacy, and one novella, Sole Sacrifice. Please take a few moments to tell us about those particular works - and any others you might like to promote - and let everyone know why they should want to read them.
KCM: The Kinshield Legacy is an epic fantasy adventure set in a land that's been without a king for 200 years and is struggling against all kinds of chaos. A "warrant knight" named Gavin Kinshield discovers that by deciphering a set of runes, he earns the right to rule the country as its king. The problem is that he doesn't think he's qualified, and so he sets off to talk a friend of his, a nobleman, into taking the job.
On his way, he saves a woman from drowning. This one simple, noble act kicks off a series of events that result in the wrong information reaching the wrong ears, putting people in danger who were really just minding their own business.
In The Kinshield Legacy is a character named Sithral Tyr who's a foreigner to the land. He's pretty evil, and while I was writing the novel, I needed to understand how he'd gotten that way. I started a short story to explain things to myself, telling his journey from decent human being to scumbag, and it turned into a novella. I workshopped it at Viable Paradise in 2005, and got some great feedback from folks like Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Steven Gould, James D. Macdonald and Laura Mixon. Once I published The Kinshield Legacy for the Kindle and nook, it occurred to me to release Sole Sacrifice, too.
The Kinshield Legacy is often described as a fun romp. I think readers who enjoy sword & sorcery would get a kick out of the story. Sole Sacrifice is more a curiosity satisfier for those who've read The Kinshield Legacy and would like to know more about Tyr. My current writing project is the sequel to The Kinshield Legacy, tenatively called The Wayfarer King. Hopefully I can match -- or exceed -- the "fun" aspect of the first book!
JOA: As an author whose work is extremely well polished, what advice would you give to authors looking at self-publishing as a possible outlet for their writing?
KCM: Thank you! My advice: don't be in a hurry to get it out there. It's really hard to see our own errors, so another pair or two of (critical) eyes is tremendously important. If you're not passionate about grammar, spelling and words, enlist the help of someone who is. I know that with every book I publish, my reputation as a writer is on the line. My goal is to build a readership by giving people a good reading experience every time they pick up a book with my name on it. With the enormous selection of books on the market, readers can afford to be choosy. By making sure each book is as polished as I can get it, I hope to increase the chance they'll choose my books again.
JOA: What books have you read recently, and whose writing would you recommend to those looking for a good book to read?
KCM: I've been reading George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series. I'm not finished because I know HE isn't finished, but the writing is phenomenal. Robin Hobb is one of my all-time favorites. I adore the artful way she structures sentences and uses words to spin an engaging story. She's absolutely brilliant! As far as indie authors go, one of the best I've read so far is Monique Martin. Her debut novel is outstanding!
JOA: Finally, criticism is something every author, independent or not, must deal with. Out of curiosity, when someone is critical of your writing, how do you deal with it?
KCM: My first response is usually, "Aww!" So far, it's been fairly easy to shrug off differences of opinion about the subjective stuff. Some people just won't find my books interesting or engaging, and I accept that. Some people don't like GRRM or Robin Hobb, either. Those dissenting opinions don't mean the author sucks. As long as the majority of readers enjoy my stories, I know I'm on the right track. In case I get a really negative review, I keep the supplies for making cupcakes on hand. It's hard to be sad when eating a cupcake.
JOA: Thank you for stopping by the Journal, KC, and good luck with this fantastic little book in the future!
KCM: Thank you, Rob, for inviting me to chat, and for reading and reviewing The Venom of Vipers!