Monday, 26 March 2012

Gwen Perkins - The Universal Mirror

Ok, so here it is - my totally revamped blog!

And to kick things off, I’m very excited to be able to showcase fantasy writer Gwen Perkins. In her interview below she tells us all about her novel The Universal Mirror and her other works in progress. But before we get to the interview, just to set the scene a little, here’s the blurb for The Universal Mirror:

Set in the streets of a medieval city, The Universal Mirror follows the journey of two magicians - the wealthy but carefree Quentin and his friend, Asahel, a lower-class citizen. These two men challenge the laws set down for magicians regarding the practice of magic. Among these rules is the promise never to use magic on the human body. In the dark of night, Asahel and Quentin undertake their mission: learning to heal, rather than harm. This quest takes them to graveyards, royal palaces and finally, into the heart of a conspiracy that goes much deeper than they ever could have imagined.

Hi Gwen, as an introduction could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I'm a self-professed geek from the Pacific Northwest whose interests include lampworking, historical research, and stomping through the woods as time and weather permit.  I have three lovely children, each one named from a different book or legend (Amaranth, Nynaeve, and Oisin, respectively)and a wonderful partner who live with me in a home swarming with cats, dogs, and the occasional misfit soul or two. So far as my day job, I'm fortunate enough to work in a history museum where I spend my days surrounded by stories of one sort or another.

And could you tell us a little bit more about The Universal Mirror?

There are several themes in The Universal Mirror but one of the strongest is the debate between civil law and sacred law.  How do you know what is right?  What do you do when what you believe to be the right, or the moral, thing conflicts with the laws of government?  These are the questions that my protagonists have to face as they struggle with the prohibition against using healing magic. 

Relationships and self-image are also a key aspect of Mirror.  Some of the characters delude themselves, either through their perceptions of their own actions or through the way in which they believe others perceive them.  It's possible sometimes to do the right thing for the wrong reasons—while I can't say much more than that for fear of spoiling the novel, this comes up at a pivotal point.

When and why did you begin writing?

I will be honest and tell you that I don't remember not writing.  I started writing short stories at a very young age.  It was a way to escape boredom, for the most part.  I was a fidgety child (actually, I'm a fidgety adult too) and it was a way to keep myself from going insane from sitting still. Even trapped behind a desk, I could roam free on the page. 

I never quite stopped daydreaming out loud, I suppose.

What genre do you prefer to write in?

Fantasy and horror are my preferred genres.  At some point, I'll likely cross the two but I haven't done yet.  I've published nonfiction works and written museum exhibitions as well.

What is your biggest writing achievement to date?

Thus far, I'd have to say it's The Universal Mirror.  However, I reserve the right to change my answer after I've finished the sequel!

What inspired you to write The Universal Mirror?

A lot of my writing comes from frustration with the world around me and a wish to change something specific. The triggers for each book that I write aren’t what I’d consider obvious. In the case of The Universal Mirror, there were two things at play. The first was listening to my youngest daughter complain about how beautiful the people always were in the fantasy novels she was reading at the time and that she wanted “to read a book about regular people.”

The second, oddly, was my frustration with the whole universal healthcare debate and my dissatisfaction with the political process on both sides. The book is about two men who defy the government so that they can heal others and the moral complications that come with the experimentation involved. Those are issues that exist in our society - I wanted to explore them in a medieval setting to see how that changed the ways in which those kinds of questions were dealt with.

Who is your favourite author, and what is it about their work that strikes a chord with you?

This changes regularly but one of my consistent favorites is author Octavia Butler. I love her work because it manages to tackle difficult topics such as spirituality and gender without feeling preachy or overbearing.  Her worlds are also diverse in terms of the personalities and characters that she features—she writes of places that I live and have lived.  It's easier for me to see myself in her stories simply because her characters are more like the people I know than those featured in many other books.

What book are you reading now, and would you recommend it?

I'm always reading a few different books, some a little more esoteric than others. Crown of Vengeance by Stephen Zimmer is currently on my fantasy plate and I'm really enjoying it.  I just finished Balance by Peter Giglio which was excellent (though I would have liked it to have been longer!).  And for non-fiction, I'm reading Skyjack by Geoffrey Graywhich is an intriguing look at the mystery of Dan (better known as D.B.) Cooper—highly recommended!

What are your current projects?

I'm currently writing the next books in the Artifacts of Empire series.  The first one of these, The Jealousy Glass, follows the adventures of two of the characters (Asahel and Felix) as they travel to the Empire of Anjdur.  That one's very exciting—everything from shipwrecks to swordfights!—and there's a lot of action in its pages.  I have to say, it's an intense novel to write but I'm enjoying every minute of it.

I also have a backstory shorter piece planned that will explain how the Plagues started in Cercia and reveal some of the hidden history behind the characters in the series.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

I generally write after my children go to bed, from 9 until about midnight. Thankfully, I'm not a person who needs a lot of sleep!  I don't have an office space of my own so most writing is done on the couch or in bed. And of course, on the occasional Post-it on the fly for that idea that just won't let go.

What would you say was the hardest part of writing your book?

Finding the time and self-confidence to keep going.  It's hard to write a story—particularly one that doesn't seem to fit the traditional "mold"—with no real sense of whether or not it will be well-received at the end. I've found that since I've gotten published and have the support of a wonderful team of authors and my publisher, the second book has gone much more smoothly.

Who designed the book cover for The Universal Mirror – and was the cover something you deemed important?

The cover was very important to me.  The layout was done by my publisher, Frank Hall, of Hydra Publications and the artwork by artist Enggar Adirasa. 

I spent hours looking at different artists' work before I suggested to Frank that he look for an artist "like" Enggar who was my top choice. It was to my surprise—and delight—that Enggar agreed to illustrate the cover.  I love the cover so much.  I can't stress how wonderful it was to see the first draft and know that Enggar understood the look and feel of the book immediately.

Did you try to go down the route of traditional publishing first– or did you feel that self-publishing was right for you from the beginning?

The Universal Mirror was published by a small press, Hydra Publications, and that's a decision I've been very happy with.  I did a fair bit of research and submitted Mirror to only a few small presses, Hydra being a top choice.  I wanted to go the small press route because I hoped that I would find a publisher who was willing to listen to what I had to say and to develop a strong author-publisher relationship.  It's been a wonderful experience so far and one that I honestly don't believe I would have had with a larger publisher.

What do you think about self-publishing?

I'm a small press author which is similar but slightly different from being self-published.  That said, I've discovered that the "indie" author circle is warm and welcoming. There is a terrific sense of community among indie authors that is highly encouraging to newcomers.  I've learned a lot from the generosity of others in the community and I hope that I myself can pay that forward and give as much as others have given to me.

Where can we buy The Universal Mirror?

The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell's.  To see all of the links at once, the best place to go is my book page at Hydra's website:

Do you have a website or blog where we can keep tabs on you?

If you visit my website at, you can find out more about the book but also see all of my social media websites.  I love to chat with readers so feel free to friend me.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

"Don't give up" is the advice that everyone gives but it's very true. I would add to that, however, "don't look back." It's too easy to fall into the trap of editing over and over without actually finishing your work. Finish your book and then edit it. Don't obsess too much over the tiny details while you're writing but let the story tell itself.

And, finally, do you have anything else that you’d like to say to everyone?

Thank you all for taking a little of your time to find out more about The Universal Mirror.  Even if my novel doesn't appeal to you, I hope that you'll consider looking at other small press or self-published books.  There are so many gems out there that go unnoticed.  I'm discovering an entire world of creative literature in this brave new world of e-publishing.  I hope that you do as well.  (And if you find a particularly good book, drop by my Facebook page and let me know!)

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