Thursday 7 November 2019

I Interview Australian Author Karen Simpson Nikakis

Karen Simpson Nikakis grew up in a small town in NE Victoria, Australia, and spent her childhood riding horses through the Australian bush, which created a love of the natural landscape. Her working life was spent in the Education Industries where she undertook an MEd(Hons) in the purpose of dragons in fantasy, and a PhD in Campbell's monomyth applied to the female hero. Her studies woke an interest in the hero's psychological journey, which is often expressed through metaphor and symbolism. She coined the term Deep Fantasy to describe it. Karen has been writing full time since mid 2016.

Her Deep Fantasy book, I Heard the Wolf Call My Name, is due out in early November.


How do you go on living when your entire world has been destroyed?
Jax and Matiu are just twelve years old and in bird-form when their island home blows-up killing everyone on it. Jax thinks he is the only survivor until he comes face to face with Matiu ten years later. The military needs shifters for a crucial mission but Jax refuses. He has spent ten long years burying his horrific past and he isn’t about to resurrect it.
On the last remaining island of Iolana, Anahera sets out on ohaku, the vision-quest where her skin-spirit animal will be revealed to transform her into an Ikaika, a protector of her people. She dreams of finding the white-wolf but when Jax flees the military’s brutality and crashes onto her island, she finds him instead.
To save him, she must break ohaku and risk becoming wairua, a ghost neither one thing nor another, but a greater danger confronts them both.
The forces that blew Jax’s island out of existence now threaten Iolana as well, and time is running out . . .

Publish date:November 2019
Publisher: SOV Media

Hi, Karen, thanks for joining us.

What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

Firstly, understand that writing is a process and you are doing something magical by getting your ideas/vision into words in the first place, but there are many steps after this first one, of developing and refining your story. Enjoy the process and don't be hard on yourself. Above all, see the story out to the end. Don't abandon any project, no matter how disappointing you feel it is. All writing is worth doing and will build your craft.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I use music a lot. Sometimes, hearing a particular piece of music will trigger the story in the first place, but I use music with visuals too, which can give me a sense of the character's emotions. I struggled with the final book in Angel Caste (a five book series) and played Metallica's 'And Nothing Else Matters'  over and over again to sort out the ending. I find music really powerful.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

I come from an academic background so craft is really important to me: clean, concise sentences which use language well. I try not to waste the reader's time and energy by over-writing. 'Less is more', is true of good writing but at the end of the day, the story should be accessible to the reader. Books are written for readers, not for the writer to show off their skill.

What comes first, the plot or characters?

I am a pantser, so I only have a vague idea of the plot when I begin. But with The Third Moon, I thought it would be interesting to write a story about what happens to the losers of a war (most stories are about the winners). I was also interested in inherited memories. Once I started though, I was mostly interested in the hero (Warrain). However I start, characters quickly become paramount to me. I live and breathe them until their stories are told.

What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

Success is bringing together all the plot elements satisfactorily so that the hero completes their journey (both physical and psychological).
As a pantser, I let my unconscious run the show, but to successfully complete a meaningful story, I have to consciously bring it all together.
As noted earlier, Angel Caste was a struggle (and exhausting). I knew the angel characters would transcend (die) but not how this would be positive,  and I knew Viv would find the family she longed for (but not how exactly). After Angel Caste, I swore off pantsering and plotted out 30 chapters
of I Heard the Wolf Call My Name, but found it so boring, I used none of it. It seems I will remain a pantser.

How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

I wrote The Kira Chronicles trilogy (published by Allen and Unwin), and when I got the rights back, updated it and released it as a six book series, so I only count that. Angel Caste is a five book series, and The Emerald Serpent, Messenger, The Third Moon and Heart Hunter are all stand alones. I Heard the Wolf Call My Name (a stand alone) will be my 16th Deep Fantasy Book. I have an academic book on dragons (Dragon Tales) and bits of poetry and short stories published too.

Favorite book is a tie between The Third Moon and The Emerald Serpent because I achieved what I wanted to with Warrain and Etaine's psychological journeys.

Your current book, I Heard the Wolf Call My Name, has a wicked-sounding title. What was the inspiration for the story?

I Heard the Wolf Call My Name: I am really interested in initiation rites, especially where a trance is induced and visions experienced.
I am also interested in our relationship with other animals, as we are all part of the same natural world. Lastly, I am interested in the effects of the Western tradition of classifying people as either male/female or heterosexual/homosexual, so I Heard the Wolf Call My Name brings all these things together.

What is the significance of the title?

Anahera hopes her skin-spirit will be the white-wolf so that, metaphorically, it will call her name. Jax resembles a wolf (silver hair, amber eyes), and literally crashes her initiation rite, so is he her skin-spirit? Jax needs to reconnect with his island heritage to fully heal, and the white-wolf only lives on the islands. So, to become whole, Jax must be open to the wolf calling his name too.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

I have spent most of the year travelling (camping in outback Australia for 9 weeks, then 6 days home, then Dublin for Worldcon, London and other places).
I am writing this in Madrid which is why I Heard the Wolf Call My Name is still sitting on my hard drive at home and won't be launched until November, but I have separate pieces of a new series written too. I write them as they come to me completely out of order. The series will be in the English fantasy tradition (lots of oaks and holloways) and gardens will be a central motif, especially the gardens of Eynsham Hall in Oxfordshire which I stumbled on in 2016, and have just revisited. I fear this series will be complex and incredibly hard to write, so I am toying with doing a dragon series for middle grade readers first, under another name. This is called procrastination, I believe!

Where do you draw inspiration from?

For me, visuals (such as photo that captures a particular expression) and music can trigger whole sections of dialogue which then builds into a story. I am interested in pattern-making, how things that
appear random are actually part of something meaningful. Once I notice a 'random' element (almost like a piece of jig-saw puzzle) I want to know what the whole picture is. Sometimes I think the story is already complete, out there in the ether, and writers have to discover it and assemble it in our world.

Thanks for joining me today, Karen, and I wish you all the best with your writing.

Karen shared a link to a favourite song of hers which helped her write the character Jax. Check it out at

Would you like to talk to or check out Karen's work? Here are her details.


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