If there’s such a thing as ADD of the imagination, Karina Fabian has it—in spades. Craft books, devotionals, serious science fiction, comedic horror and chilling fantasy—she follows her interests and the characters that tell her their stories.
Winner of the 2010 INDIE for best Fantasy (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem) and a Mensa Owl for best fiction (World Gathering), Karina Fabian’s writing takes quirky twists that keep her--and her fans--amused. Nuns working in space, a down-and-out Faerie dragon working off a geas from St. George, zombie exterminators—there’s always a surprise in Fabian’s worlds. Mrs. Fabian teaches writing and book marketing seminars online.
Karina, Fantasy and Sci-Fi have always seemed to me a “boys club”. It’s not often you see groups of girls clutching their LORD OF THE RINGS trilogies. What first led you to these genres?
Oh, my! After three and a half decades, I can hardly remember an instigating cause, but here are the strongest SFF memories I have:
In fifth grade, Mrs. Winters read to us A Wrinkle in Time. I was captivated. I used to put my head in my arms so I could better see and feel what the characters were experiencing. After that, I hunted down her Time Trilogy, and when I’d devoured them, made up my own stories. In fact, I still have stories of Charles Wallace that I’d like to adapt to my own worlds.
My dad was a big Star Trek fan. I still remember when dinner coincided with the show (no Netflix or watch later, then!) The TV got the spot of honor at the foot of the table. He also had the Gray Lensman books, which I ate up.
My middle school library had a good SFF section, and I think that’s where I was introduced to Asimov, Bradbury, Lackey, McCaffrey, and others.
Ironically, I never considered it a boy’s or girl’s thing. It was my thing. I do remember in high school, when a friend (a guy) bought me a couple of bodice-rippers for my 16th birthday. (Bodice-rippers=romance novels with a hint of racy content.) I gave it my best shot—after all, they were a gift--but after the first chapter, I packed them up and traded them in at Waldenbooks for a couple of Star Trek novels. To this day, I think he gave them to me as a joke.
At the Catholic Writers Guild Online Conference, you've taught a popular class on "world building". Are there different rules a writer follows when she writes fantasy or science fiction? Does it take more guidelines to bring these genres to life than say, literary fiction, or is it a free-for-all?
The primary rule, no matter what genre, is to give your world believability in the context of the book. The guidelines are pretty simple: be internally consistent (i.e. whatever rules your world works in, your characters should follow them); give detail, but don’t overwhelm the reader by dumping a bunch of information all at once—let them discover it along with your character.
Whether fantasy is easier to write because you can make up the world rules or literature is easier because you know the rules is really up to the writer. I have seen some writers of real-world novels fail because they let their characters act beyond all world logic in order to fit their plot. With the right set-up, you can do some unbelievable stuff and people will still buy it for the duration of the story—but you must create a world that supports your characters—or make your characters live and act according to the world.
Let me give you an example in a non-literature sense. There’s a commercial on the radio for Lasik that drives me nuts. The premise is a mom and dad watching their son play Little League, only the dad can’t see the field well, so Mom is trying to convince him to get laser surgery on his eyes. The dialogue goes something like, “but I have a stigmatism.” “So did I, and doctor….” “I don’t have time,” “But it was a short…” “but the pain!” “No, it’s…” “Well, the cost…”
In most marriages—and this was portrayed as a normal marriage--the husband would know his own wife well enough to know she had laser surgery for a stigmatism, and at least a rough idea of the details. However, they forced him to ask truly ignorant questions in order to get their information across, and the whole thing comes off as a really badly done commercial. Really, all they needed to do was have two people talking instead of husband and wife, and their world would have been more convincing.
The premises of your Sister Grace and Vern novels make me laugh out loud. You have a great sense of humor. I even love the titles. MAGIC, MENSA, & MAYHEM. LIVE AND LET FLY. And the characters? A Faerie Nun and a dragon. I’ll bite. How did those characters and this series come about?
I wanted to write a unique dragon story for an anthology called Firestorm of Dragons, and while watching a noir spoof on Whose Line Is It, Anyway, I realized doing noir with a dragon detective would be a lot of fun. Noir, for those who don’t know, is that 40s-50s style of literature and movies that are a little dark, a little edgy, kind of gritty: Casablanca and the Sam Spade stories are the best examples.
Of course, I decided to make noir funny by twisting all the clichés and tossing in some from other settings. Every noir hero needs something in his past to feel bitter about, and what better for a dragon the St. George? Since killing Vern would have nixed my main character, I decided he was coopted into serving the Faerie Catholic Church. That story, “DragonEye, PI” came out in Firestorm of Dragons, and I loved Vern so much, I resolved to write other stories with him. Eventually, Sister Grace came along as his partner and a mellowing influence. They have great chemistry; she’s one of the few people he respects enough to put before himself. (This is always fun when I get a new editor—Vern says “I and (person)” because, after all, he’s a dragon, top of the food chain and the greatest of God’s creations. For Grace, however, he’ll say “Grace and I.”)
The series so far has two books and several short stories and novellas. For some reason, the novellas tend to be very serious and far more in keeping with the noir style. Sister Grace and Vern have had more than their fair share of troubles. I love being able to write the sorrow as well as the joy and the heartache as well as the slapstick. It makes them more real to me.
Catholic writers might be saying to themselves: Magic! Faerie Nuns! Heresy! Can you explain to writers who might be interested in Catholic fiction, or even faith fiction in general, why these characters and situations are okay and what guidelines they can keep in mind to remain worry free when combining faith with fantasy?
First of all, as I tell the people who get uptight about Harry Potter—this is make believe. Escapism. Anyone trying to apply this to the real Church would be taking things waaay too seriously. However, unlike Harry Potter, my DragonEye works are so far removed from reality that no one has had a problem with the my magical nun, the Faerie Catholic Church, or a spell-slinging Saint George.
Having said that, however, I do my best to make sure my work is respectful of the Catholic faith (and of all faiths, even those I disagree with), and that there is a clear line between my fantasy Church and the True Catholic Faith. For example, while the Faerie Catholic Church is (in my world) in communion with the Roman Catholic Faith, they are separate, with their own Popes, history, etc.
This has been kind of fun, too—for example, Martin Luther was able to work within the Church to address his concerns, so there is no Reformation. I saw this as a direct result of the Faerie realm—when a demon can walk down the street, horns, tail and cloven hooves, people are a little more inclined to keep their church united and strong.
Also, I make it clear that God created a separate set of rules for Faerie, to include magic as well as magical creatures. Humans from our world (the Mundane) cannot practice magic…unless they intend to strike a deal with Satan with all its soul-eating consequences.
You have also delved into faith writing with “Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life”. (I bought the book, read and enjoyed it without ever noticing you were the author!) This is a book you co-authored with your father, Deacon Steven Lumbert. What brought about this collaboration?
This was definitely God’s doing. I just happened to see a call for a Catholic writer on a group I infrequently checked up on. Nicole at Tribute Books wanted a short devotional. I’d written a few devotional stories I never sold, but wasn’t sure I had enough—or that I had a good enough education in our faith to write a book on it. I was praying on it at Mass and I realized—my father is a Deacon! *headslap* He was thrilled. It’s his first book. We wrote it in just two weeks and had such a great time.
What’s the most common problem in your experience that keeps people from seeing God in their lives?
We’re wrapped up in ourselves—our troubles, our obligations… When our focus is on us, it can’t be on God. I am just as guilty at others, and frankly more so than many of my friends. It’s good to have people who are better than you—they inspire me to get better.
What’s next for you?
Well, along the lines of God’s will and role in my life, I’ve spent the summer re-evaluating what I expect from my writing and how I want to focus my time. I’m actually stepping back some, at least until the kids are all out of the house. As I write this, I’m clearing out the obligations of my life to free myself of guilt as well as tasks. Then, I have some short stories I want to write in the DragonEye universe for anthologies, and after that, I’ll return to the next DragonEye book, GAPMAN. Someone is trying to cause riots against the Faerie in the Mundane—and step one is to get rid of Vern. Meanwhile a mysterious superhero emerges and causes trouble for the police. Grace “convinces” Vern to mentor him. It’s a superhero spoof with a little bit of buddy-movie unwilling mentor/protégée shticks tossed in.
After that, I want to tackle something serious again. I might do the pro-life women’s fiction that I disguarded nearly 15 years ago. I think I know how to make it work now, and I might have someone interested. We’ll see.
Thank you, Karina!
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