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Karina Sumner-Smith, Author of RADIANT, on Ghosts, Magic, and Why She Loves SFF

Karina Sumner-Smith is a fantasy author and freelance writer. Her debut novel, Radiant, was published by Talos/Skyhorse in September 2014, with the second and third books in the trilogy following in 2015.

Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.

Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario, Canada, where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.

Karina was kind enough to answer a few questions about her brand new book, Radiant, and much more!


Kristin Centorcelli: Karina, congrats on your new book, Radiant! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?

Karina Sumner-Smith: Thank you! Radiant is always a bit of a challenge to describe. (I know, at this point in the publishing process, I should have my elevator pitch down cold!) In a nutshell, Radiant is about a homeless girl in a magic-run floating city who attempts to save the ghost of a young woman who hasn’t died.

It’s a book about ghosts and magic, economics and poverty, and the development of a friendship between two very different young women in strange circumstances. Author Violette Malan (very kindly) called it “Blade Runner for the fantasy crowd” – a description that I absolutely love!

KC: You already have numerous short stories under your belt (of which one was Nebula nominated), but have you always wanted to be a writer?

KSM: I decided that I was going to be a SFF writer when I was thirteen. Science fiction and fantasy were a big part of my childhood – my parents were both readers, and provided me with book after book from their seemingly endless shelves – but it was only when I reached my teens that I realized that writing was a real career. Making a living writing about magic and other worlds, spaceships and dragons? I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful. (And yes, while the economic realities of being a genre writer are perhaps not what I once dreamed, I still wouldn’t trade it for anything.)

What I always wanted was to write novels, but I listened to the advice that I found repeated in various books and articles: hone your skills on short fiction, sell some stories, then move on to longer fiction. It wasn’t bad advice; yet writing short fiction – especially short fiction that sells in the current market – is such a vastly different skill from writing novels. Working now on longer work, I sometimes feel as if I’m learning to write all over again.

KC: What kind of research did you do for the series?

KSM: I’ve said that I researched the apocalypse, and rates of decay, and similar subjects – but really, I just read books like The World Without Us for fun. That the knowledge such resources provided was hugely helpful was a bonus.

The biggest straight-up research that I did was actually on dealing with injuries, knee injuries in particular.

KC: Why do you think readers will root for Xhea and Shai?

KSM: I suppose that will be different for every reader. For me, what draws me to write about these characters are their contrasts, and the hesitant, unlikely friendship that forms between them. Xhea comes from a place of ruin and poverty and want, while Shai lives a life of unimaginable wealth – with consequences that all but destroy her. They each should be helpless against the forces arrayed against them; but together they find a way to fight back. That, I think, is worth rooting for.

KC: Why SFF? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?

KSM: The surprise.

I try to read widely – I have nonfiction and romance, mystery and contemporary YA all on my to-read pile with some regularity – but SFF always draws me back. Though there are subgenres and familiar tropes and all the rest, there is so very much happening in our genre that is genuinely different than the tales that have been told before. I love that feeling of opening a book and encountering a world, a character, a story that is entirely different and surprising – and I’ve been truly happy to see that breadth expand in recent years. I hope it continues to do so, drawing from a greater diversity of people and cultures and perspectives.

This holds true for writing, too; stories surprise me, even the ones that I’m creating. It’s worth the slow days, the times when each word needs to be dragged onto the page, for those unexpected moments.

KC: What are you currently reading? Are there any books you’re looking forward to diving into?

KSM: Right now I’m reading Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which is great fun so far. My to-read pile has gotten so out of hand it’s threatening to topple and bury me, but a couple of books that I’m really looking forward to reading are Benedict Jacka’s Hidden, Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, and Stephen Blackmoore’s Broken Souls.

KC: What’s next for you, this year, and beyond?

KSM: Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on book two, Defiant, and writing the final book, Towers Fall – both of which are scheduled to be published next year. Defiant was a real challenge to get right – I’m told that the second book often is – but I still blame the title. (The file for Towers Fall is now saved as Happy Fun Writing Times in an attempt to avoid repeating this problem.) I’m thrilled that I’m finally getting to finish this story, and get to know what happens to “my girls,” Xhea and Shai.

I’m also head-over-heels in love with another project in progress, a standalone contemporary fantasy. It’s very offbeat and surreal, and it may still go wandering off into the brush and get bogged down in mud, the way stories sometimes do, but I’m loving the journey.

There’s so very much I can’t control in publishing, but that’s what I’m trying to hold to: enjoying the process, and the many small joys and triumphs along the way.


About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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