Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Interview with Stephanie Burgis, author of RENEGADE MAGIC

Today we welcome author Stephanie Burgis back to the Inkpot to talk about the second book in her fantastic and fun middle-grade fantasy series about the delightful Kat Stephenson. We first had Stephanie visit us last year to talk about KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, the first book in the series.

I adore these books for the fun, the magic, and the wonderful Regency-era setting, but most of all for the flawed-but-fabulous characters, especially Kat herself, who loves her family fiercely and gets into all sorts of trouble. So I was thrilled that Stephanie agreed to answer a few questions about the newest Kat book, RENEGADE MAGIC.

The cover of RENEGADE MAGIC, featuring a smiling Kat partly submerged in one of the Roman Baths, with magic all around her

Kat’s stepmother drags their family to the fashionable city of Bath to remove Kat’s sister Angeline from a most improper suitor. But unbeknownst to Stepmama, Regency-era Bath is full of notorious rakes, Napoleonic spies, and dangerous wild magic! When Kat uncovers a plot to harness the wild magic in the Roman Baths, she finds her brother Charles is unwittingly involved. Now Kat must risk her newfound magical powers as she defies the Order of the Guardians to foil the plot and clear her brother's name. -- From the author's website, where you can also read the first three chapters!

RENEGADE MAGIC is available now in stores, along with the new paperback edition of the first book, KAT, INCORRIGIBLE!

Thanks for joining us, Steph! We're so glad to have you here. One of the things that impressed me the most about RENEGADE MAGIC is how smoothly you remind us of what we need to know from the first book, KAT, INCORRIGIBLE. Can you share how you approached writing a sequel? Did you encounter any particular difficulties and if so, how did you overcome them?

Author photo of Stephanie BurgisOh, thank you for saying that! I worked really hard on it. Basically, my personal guideline was: only include the bare minimum of backstory! I really wanted RENEGADE MAGIC to stand alone so that new readers could pick it up whether or not they'd read KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, and I think if you put in too many references to the backstory, new readers can feel slapped in the face by all they missed. So I only included the bits of backstory that were absolutely necessary to understand Kat's new situation, and I tried to slide them in as smoothly as possible. I'm so glad to hear that it worked for you!

My other big guideline for writing a sequel (which, again, comes back to wanting it to stand alone and be satisfying for new readers) was: I could not let let myself relax and write it as if it was just the second-volume continuation of KAT, INCORRIGIBLE. ("The next day...") That meant that RENEGADE MAGIC had to start with just as satisfying an opening as the first book had - which, in practical terms, meant starting the book with Kat actively doing something essentially Kat-like, causing trouble by being herself: rambunctious, irrepressible and totally unladylike!

Your main character, Kat, seems to have a genius for getting into tricky (but highly entertaining) situations. Does she manage that all on her own, or do you find you need to push her to get into trouble?

When I'm in Kat's mind-set, it honestly just comes naturally...which is kind of funny, because in my own life, I'm much more like Kat's prissy, rule-abiding eldest sister, Elissa! (And in fact, in real life I AM the oldest sister in my family.) But maybe that's why it's so much fun for me to sink into Kat's voice - I can finally let all my repressed rule-breaking urges out to play. ;)

RENEGADE MAGIC takes place in a wonderfully realized alternate version of Regency England (with magic!). I loved all the little period details you included in both books, and can only imagine they are the result of quite a bit of research. Can you share with us how you approach doing historical research for your books? When do you do the bulk of it? Before, during, or after writing the first draft?

Thank you! I was lucky in that I'd been reading about Regency England for decades before Kat and her family ever appeared in my life. I'd been obsessed with the era ever since my dad first read me Pride & Prejudice. I fell in love with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer - and since I'm a total history geek, I didn't stop with reading Regency romances, but moved on to devour biographies, letters and diaries of Regency-era women just for fun. So I had a good grounding in the era long before I started writing the series, but of course I ended up needing to research a thousand little details after I started writing the books.

Generally, I don't start writing any historical piece until I have a good feel for the time period, social rules, etc. (and again, biographies, letters and diaries are all perfect for this, along with more general history books). Once I do have that basic grounding, though, I go right ahead and write the story while I continue my research. As I write, I stick brackets around any small details I'll need to look up later (e.g., clothing descriptions, exact candle-lighting methods, etc). In general, that works out really well, and helps me figure out exactly which details I need to know, at which point, I can move into more carefully targeted research.

By far the best research sources I found for RENEGADE MAGIC were the various tourist guidebooks to Bath published in the early 1800s. They were a fabulous resource, so full of rich historical detail - I felt really lucky to have found them.

What is the strangest or most fun historical research you've done for the Kat series?

Trying out the (truly disgusting) Bath water! You can read a whole blog post I wrote about the experience, complete with photos. It was definitely worth doing for the sake of getting my descriptions right - but when you read about Kat choking down that horrific water, please spare a thought of sympathy for her author. ;)

Much of the action of RENEGADE MAGIC takes place in the city of Bath, renown for its extensive Roman baths and the restorative powers of its waters. If any of our readers visit Bath today, what should they be sure to see?

Ohhhh, I love Bath! I want to tell people to see EVERYTHING. But here are my personal top highlights, all linked closely to RENEGADE MAGIC: the Museum of the Roman Baths, which is amazing - the story of RENEGADE MAGIC came directly from how inspired and compelled I was by my first visit to the Baths, years before I'd ever conceived of Kat's series; the Pump Room where elegant Regency-era society used to congregate every morning to see and be seen (and where Kat ends up causing an awful lot of chaos!); and the Jane Austen Centre (a museum about Austen AND the Regency era as a whole, located in Jane Austen's old house and complete with a lovely tea room). I also love the Museum of Costume, which filled with amazing outfits from lots of different historical periods, including the Regency era.

You have a strong background in music. Are there any particular songs or albums that were inspirational for RENEGADE MAGIC?

Kat's theme song throughout the trilogy, for me, is Adam & the Ants's "Stand and Deliver!" For RENEGADE MAGIC, I also filled out my individual-novel playlist with the Doctor Who series 1 & 2 soundtracks, the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix soundtrack, and the new Star Trek movie playlist. All in all, they combined to give me a soundtrack of fantasy adventure and fun.

I love how your series includes such a wide variety of strong, interesting female characters. I find it particularly interesting how in Kat's own family, she and her two sisters and step-mother are the most active figures, while her lazy brother Charles spends most of his time sleeping and gambling, and her father is mostly interested in his studies, and in avoiding conflict (to the point where I really wanted to reach into the book and give both of them a good shaking). Was that a deliberate choice? 

Honestly, it wasn't - it was just how the family came to me. For Kat, her two sisters are the most important people in her life, because they basically raised her after their mother died and their father retreated into an emotional shell. Once their father finally remarried, their oldest brother was sent to live away from home for several years, first at boarding school and then at Oxford, so he really disappeared from his youngest sister's lives, and by the time he came back, he'd changed significantly, becoming someone Kat doesn't understand at all.

One thing I would add, though, is this: Kat doesn't know what happened to Charles at boarding school, because she was only 7 when he left, and she doesn't know any details of his life there at all. If you think about what might have happened to a boy who arrived at an upper-class boarding school (and these were pretty infamous for pupil brutality) at a later age than all the rest of the boys there who'd known each other for years, *and* with a scandalous background - because everyone else there would've known that his late mother was a notorious witch...well, Kat's never really thought about any of his life away from home, but I have. 

This trilogy is told from Kat's POV, not Charles's, so we only see her disappointment in him in this book, and the results of his behavior on his family - but if it were told from Charles's POV, we might feel more sympathy for the fact he feels like he HAS to fit in with his companions at any cost.

And his story arc develops a lot over the series, so you might be surprised by what happens with him in Book 3! :)

Excellent! And speaking of Book 3... While RENEGADE MAGIC was an entirely satisfying story all on its own, I will admit I turned the last page and let out an audible protest when I realized it was the end, because I wasn't ready to say goodbye to these delightful characters. So I am going to selfishly ask this last question: Can you tell us a little of what we might expect in the third Kat book?

Oh, thank you so much for telling me that! What I can tell you is that it involves smugglers on the north Devon coast, a grand society wedding, social disaster...and a very unlikely romance. ;)

Ooo, that sounds thrilling! I cannot wait!


Deva Fagan is the author of Fortune’s FollyThe Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle and Circus Galacticus. She lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. When she’s not writing she spends her time reading, doing geometry, and drinking copious amounts of tea. Visit her at

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