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A Conversation With Karen Michalson
An interview with Lisa DuMond
July 2002

© Karen Michalson
Karen Michalson
Karen Michalson
Karen Michalson is the bassist and lead vocalist for the adventure rock trio, Point Of Ares, and runs their associated record label, Arula Records. She earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts, where she specialized in 19th-century British literature. After graduating, she taught at the University of Connecticut for two years, and then decided to leave teaching to write fiction full-time. Enemy Glory is the first book of an epic fantasy series of the same name. Hecate's Glory is the second book in her series.

Karen Michalson Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Enemy Glory

I guess I should say this: at the beginning Enemy Glory was a single, unified novel of about 1200 pages. Under the advice of somebody way back, I turned it into a trilogy. My editor read through it and he said I think what we're going to do is split the trilogy. What you're calling book one and a lot of what you're calling book two will become the book one that goes out to the public. That's why it ends where it ends. That was an editorial decision; we will end it at this point. It wasn't my decision to end it in the middle. It was the editor's. And then for your second book, he said, we'll put the rest of the trilogy there. But that left an awful lot of space at the end, so last year I wrote a lot of new adventures for Llewelyn that originally I hadn't even planned on. But I'm glad I did and so this new stuff is sort of tagged onto what had been the third part of the trilogy. The next book is Hecate's Glory and the book after will be much more stand-alone. But the first two are very much interrelated and I think that is a result of this having originally been one novel.

I noticed in reading the novel that it ends somewhat abruptly. Rather like this is the end of one night and we're going to continue.
Yes, that was the David Hartwell's decision to do it that way and I thought, all right, we'll do it that way and see what happens. And that's fine. It's a bit of a cliffhanger and maybe that will keep people interested enough to want to see what happens during this "deposition," during the next minute. I do get some very nice fan mail so I take that as a sign that people are actually reading this. It went into paperback this June and I'm told that's a good sign, that the hardcover sold enough copies to go into paperback.

But, there is no question that the second and, perhaps, a third and a fourth book will come out?
Well, there's no question that the second will come out -- that's already under contract. We are talking about a third. I'd like there to be. I have plans for one.

Do you see the "deposition," Llewelyn's narrative ending at the close of Hecate's Glory?
I have played around with scenes in which other novels set in this world were told by other characters -- not necessarily Llewelyn telling all of them. Right now, I do see him telling the third book, but that doesn't mean other characters won't make "guest appearances." In fact, if I could give a little bit away about Hecate's Glory, there is a part in the book where there is a new character Llewelyn meets and she has a chapter in which she tells her story to him, almost as if she's giving a deposition to him. And that is a deliberate mirroring device. He has got to make his own judgement on her story of what to believe and what not to believe. And I may do that again in the future, but right now it's his series. So I feel that if the energy is there and if there is a book after Hecate's Glory, he would certainly be the narrator.

Did it ever seem to you that this was an examination of nature versus nurture? That Llewelyn was born evil, or if his environment pushed him in a particular direction?
I don't remember consciously thinking, I'm going to write about the issue of nature versus nurture, but I can certainly see where it's there. I was thinking individual choices and their results. And I was thinking more in terms of betrayals. If I was thinking anything, it was what does friendship mean and what does loyalty mean, and I think I got off that topic onto a lot of other tangents in the book. But, now that you mention it: the nature versus nurture thing is certainly there. Was I conscious of it when I wrote it? I don't believe so. I don't remember making a decision to pursue that path, but I can see where people would.

The themes of friendship and loyalty and making decisions carry throughout the book. Doesn't it seem most often that when Llewelyn is making a wrong decision, he is making it based on an incorrect assessment of another's behaviour?
Now, that is conscious. I think fundamentally when I was writing an earlier incarnation of this book I wanted it to be a story about language and constructing the self in language. And I know that sounds terribly pedantic, but you must remember I had just gotten out of graduate school and studying language theories and literary theories. The idea of someone telling a story and creating a self in words was really intriguing to me. And so, so much of this and the next book -- and I don't think I say this per se in the novel -- but each time Llewelyn makes a mistaken decision, he has told himself the wrong story. And the stories we tell ourselves often shape our lives, whether they're true stories or false stories, in ways we might no suspect, but we just deal with the consequences.

Ultimately, I would like people to think that this is a book about words, a book about the power of language, but it's a book about a lot of other things, too. Basically, it was intended to be a book about storytelling.

It does seem to be a book very much about language. One striking thing about Enemy Glory is your talent for finding the humour in situations that wouldn't necessarily appear humourous -- as in the way Llewelyn manipulated people or when he was juggling people around -- some of that is really extremely funny. Do you play up the humour purposely at the time or is that just how it turned out?
Yes, I hate to say this because it sounds like evaluating myself, but I do think of myself as someone who is able to write humourously, with a touch of comedy about my writing. It's funny because when people read Enemy Glory the impression I get back is that this is a very dark novel -- people who love dark novels, of course, they love this -- but it's very funny, too, and I want it to be thought of that way, too. I think there is a lot of wit in there and a lot of humour in the darkness and I want to thank you for noticing it.

The humour is intentional and I should probably say this: when I was finishing graduate school and some of this was intended to be a satire of academia. I don't mean to say that this is all it is, because that's been overdone in the genre, but especially the monastery scenes, there is that. In an earlier version of the book, I called Llewelyn a literary critic because he works with words and works with language. I had some scenes that got cut -- maybe I'll put them up on my website, because I think they are quite funny -- where he is given poetry to analyse and some of the classic poets that we read, Shakespeare and Wordsworth, and he makes a comment that these poets are coming from another world. The interpretations he came up with were very cynical and satirical, they literary theories that are floating around, but they are not in the book.

So there is a lot of very conscious humour in there and I'm very gratified when people write to me and say, "This reminds me of my English department!" So some of it I guess still came through. It reminds me of mine, too.

You say this was partially intended as a send-up of academia, but in the book the religions are so upended and so twisted that is seems almost a Bizzaro World where one is not allowed to enjoy anything. Is that how you see it?
In a way. In Llewelyn's particular religion, in his alignment to Hecate, in this book is very restrictive and the more you deny yourself pleasure, the more pleased she is. But that isn't necessarily true of other deities in this pantheon. That's just where he ended and who he was aligned to. But evil in general is like that. There are other students and instructors in the monastery that deal with different deities that don't necessarily make people deny pleasure. They use the different powers that are involved to warp and hurt others.

Is this a comment about the frequent lack of logic in religions?
I'd have to save that, to an extent, this satirizes organized religion, obviously. I think it's clear earlier in the novel, in fact I tried to make this very clear, that when Llewelyn is still young and living in Sunashiven and all that he has known, is this religion of sacrifice to Habundia that he hasn't been intimately involved with it -- his parents take him to church and he learns about it at school. When he first comes to Threle, I wanted to make it apparent what an open and free country his was. And Caethne is talking about Habundia and she's a completely different goddess. People just worship her out of their hearts -- you grow some food or work the land -- and that's worship for her and there's no structure. She tells him about that and he's very surprised to learn there are other approaches to deity. I wanted him exposed to that before he made that decision to approach one of the deities that would require him to restrict himself and restrict the remainder of his life. So, yes, that is conscious and there is definitely a satire against organised religion, but not necessarily against spirituality.

It seemed at times that Llewelyn was using the religion to achieve his own pleasure. Is that so?
I wouldn't go so far as to say he was receiving pleasure; it was more to avoid condemnation by his own deity. I don't think he's happy when he makes other people miserable. If he was, he wouldn't be interesting. There's a big part of Llewelyn that still loves beauty and still loves goodness and, yet, he has to destroy these things every day, because of a decision he made to follow Hecate. And I think the tension -- tension is what interests me -- and I tried to bring that up at the point the wandering musician comes to play at the monastery. Because, that's a reminder to Llewelyn that there are beautiful things in this world and he still loves them even though he's bound to destroy them. That becomes a real conflict for him in the next book.

The point where Mirand says he can no longer train him, is it your thinking that at that point he could see exactly what was going to happen or did he only see some sort of trait in Llewelyn that he knew was going to "go bad"?
Mirand saw a trait in Llewelyn that was absolutely the opposite of everything he taught him to be. Mirand was also under a lot of pressure and a lot of tension because he has agreed to kill. That goes against his grain, too, but he's doing this to help Threle and he can justify it, but Mirand justifies the killing of the other wizards very uneasily. He has to do it, but he's not happy with it. Just as later Llewelyn has to hurt people because of his alignment with Hecate, and he's angry. As the author speaking, I think that if they had a chance to communicate again after that scene, it might have still been all right. Mirand is quick to anger like a lot of wizards, but I think he probably would have given Llewelyn a lesson and maybe another tongue-wagging and it would have been all right. But they don't get that chance. Llewelyn takes this as an absolute; he has been cast out of the only family he ever had and runs off.

There's an interesting pull throughout the book, in that he's already committed all these evil deeds, because he's confessing to Walworth, when he begins to make a hasty decision it's impossible not to wish that he would think first. The reader wishes it to turn out differently but it can't.
But, that's the essence of tragedy, isn't it? Every time you see Romeo and Juliet you think, "Get there five minutes early!" If that didn't happen you wouldn't have a story and I was very conscious of thinking in terms of the way tragedy is often structured there are often these moments where the audience or the reader is shouting, "Don't do it!" The fascination is you know they are going to do it anyway.

Llewelyn seems to be very hot-and-cold in the way he evaluates people. Does he have any middle ground, at all?
He's also, through much of this first book, an adolescent and a young man, and I tried to capture the exuberance of youth -- and I'm not trying to stereotype here -- but that period of one's life is very extreme. Love and hate follow each other much more so than when we have more experience. So he gives unreserved loyalty to Walworth and his cause. Had he met him at age thirty, I don't know if he would have been so unreservedly loyal. So, there are a lot of extremes. I will say, in Hecate's Glory, which is told from his adult perspective, there is a lot more gray in his emotions. He's still obviously evil, but the rise and fall of adolescent angst is behind him. I think he becomes a very interesting adult character as a result of his earlier experiences.

An intriguing relationship in the book is that of Mirand and Caethne, with the sexual tension between them. Is this because of a celibacy Mirand has chosen or a certain reserve on his part or maybe something he can see about her?
You have to be a very good reader to get that, because in the back of my mind there is a reason Mirand pulls back from Caethne. And that's hinted at in Enemy Glory, that there is some kind of marriage, whether real or play between Caethne and her cousin, but that isn't the whole reason. There are elements of Caethne, and this comes out more in book two, that aren't entirely sunshine and light, and I think that will be more clear in Hecate's Glory. But the dynamic between them is interesting because when I started writing this book I honestly didn't know Walworth had a twin sister. What I saw was these two men in a hovel in this chaotic northern region and one of them was telling his story, and that was pretty much all I knew. It was only when Llewelyn entered Threle for the first time -- I remember I was playing some music and I just thought, "Oh! Walworth has a twin sister!" And from there I was thinking of the old legends of Merlin and Vivian, where there is often an archetype of an older wizard and a younger woman who learns magic and is also in love with him and could be destructive to him. That was very conscious; I did pull from that pattern.

Two other characters who were interesting were Cristo and Devon, Llewelyn's puppets at the monastery. Did you include Cristo primarily as comic relief?
Well, he certainly is that. I won't mention any names, but I did go to school with a "Cristo." But he's a composite of several people I've known, an extreme composite. What I was thinking artistically was Llewelyn now has this little household within the confines of the monastery that's a mirror of the one he had in Threle. So, instead of Walworth and M, who are great at what they do and wonderful friends, he's got Cristo and Devon. One of the things that gets explored in Enemy Glory is Llewelyn's way of manipulating the monastery, how in a hopeless situation he force-feeds "love apples" into Devon and Devon becomes very much attached to Llewelyn. Because of this weird ritual they do, Devon is the Son King and Llewelyn gets to run the monastery through him. This forced affection, to me, is like an evil perversion of the actual friendships he had in Threle. Instead of having a brilliant man like M to work with, he has this dunce Cristo. I wanted people to see Cristo's relationship to El, where El keeps leading him on knowing he's totally unsuited to that life and leads him on as a form of torture. Compare that to how M generously taught from his heart, so I was definitely drawing parallels there. So, it's not just comic relief, but that certainly is a part of it and Cristo is very funny.

Devon has an extremely interesting role to play in Hecate's Glory, but I don't want to give too much of it away. Readers will see more of him and they will see more of the results of forced friendship and a forced affection. It's going to cause Llewelyn to think about a lot of things, as an adult more than as an adolescent. That's all I can say. It would be too easy to do "spoilers" because I just turned in what I hope is the final edited version of Hecate's Glory. But, that will be out in a few months, from what I'm told.

With the publication of Enemy Glory, you have been nominated for the very prestigious Prometheus Award. How has this affected things?
That was a surprise. I didn't think first novels got that kind of attention, then I learned I was a finalist for the Prometheus Award. So the libertarians like me! I'm a libertarian myself, so I'm not surprised that a lot of those ideas show through. There are certainly a lot of pro-freedom tropes, especially in the scene where Llewelyn is rolling illusion dice and telling a story about his homeland, Sunashiven, and I gave Caethne a lot of pro-freedom lines. And I made it clear that there is a big difference between the oppressive, share everything so no one has anything society of Sunashiven and a free-market, limited-government country like Threle.

I was thrilled about this, because my understanding is that, historically, the award goes to science fiction novels.

Not only that, but isn't your book the only one nominated this year that is not a book midway through a series?
That's true. It's pretty stunning to have a first book and a fantasy novel, which I don't know how many fantasy novels get nominated for the Prometheus. I'm sure there's some, but I don't think there's many. That's cool and I hope that draws more attention to the work.

Some parts of Enemy Glory, especially Caethne's asides, were reminiscent of other feminist fantasy. Were you influenced by any particular science fiction, fantasy, or horror authors?
No, I have to be honest about that, I don't read a lot of fantasy. I read classics, mainly, 19th century fantasy writers. I wrote my first book, my PhD dissertation about 19th century fantasy writers and why they weren't canonized. But, I really don't read that much in the genre. I like to read history, I like to read politics, hard science. I've been reading renaissance poetry lately. So, if there's a feminist fantasy influence off the top of my head I can't think where it would come from; I'm not saying it isn't there.

One thing that was very different in Enemy Glory was that you had a male and a female character introduced and no romantic or sexual relationship is initiated. That appears to be a given in most fiction, doesn't it? Even when he realizes Caethne's affection for Mirand there is no jealousy.
Not at all! He wants them to be a couple; Llewelyn wants them to be happy. He calls her sister and sees her as a friend. One of the things about Threle as a culture that he notices is that people take other people as they come. There doesn't seem to be such gender differences, even among the nobility. The possibility of male/female platonic relationships is just a given in this world.

One last thing: Does Llewelyn's lack of jealousy act as a sort of mitigating factor against his later, evil deeds?
That's interesting. I hadn't thought of that. But there is a certain generosity of spirit. He says that he wishes it were in his power to make Mirand love Caethne the way a man loves a woman. He wants his friends to be happy. That's all he's thinking of at that time. And I think that is his inner core, that stayed with him through all his experiences in the evil monastery.

Copyright © 2002 Lisa DuMond

In between reviews, articles, and interviews, Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. DARKERS, her latest novel, was published in August 2000 by Hard Shell Word Factory. She has also written for BOOKPAGE and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. Her articles and short stories are all over the map. You can check out Lisa and her work at her website hikeeba!.

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