Trilogies and Tribulations: a Conversation with Julie E. Czerneda & Karina Sumner-Smith

Trilogies and Tribulations
a Conversation with
Julie E. Czerneda & Karina Sumner-Smith

When writers get together, shop talk is a given. We each have our own styles and approaches. We all learn from one another. Case in point: trilogies…with occasional tribulation!

Julie: I’ve had stories morph into trilogies (and so on) much to my surprise and occasional chagrin. How about you?

Karina: Oh, yes. Stories have minds of their own, don’t they? The Towers Trilogy was actually supposed to be only one book! And, well, just look at how that turned out.

I thought I was working on this simple little story about a homeless girl in a magic-run city who attempts to save the ghost of a girl who hasn’t died. It wasn’t until I was knee-deep in story that I realized I’d never, ever finish it in one book. By the time I reached what I thought would be the end of the whole thing, I’d barely scratched the surface of the world or its workings—and, to be honest, I’d fallen in love with the characters and wanted to know what happened to them next.

But science fiction and fantasy authors are teased that our books always seem to come in threes. (Okay, guilty as charged!) What is it about this structure that works for you as a writer? Do you plan your stories in trilogies, or do trilogies just ... happen?

Julie: I didn’t plan it, but I quickly found I plot books in thirds: start, middle, end. That said, my fantasy isn’t doing trilogy and the Esen books are pretty much like episodic television. But where I see a strong finish ahead, the trilogy gives me the room and means to get there.

When writing the final book, I find the first two have locked in much of the coming story. Hopefully. That’s satisfying, but I find the middle book the most fun to write. How about you?

Karina: If the Towers books are anything to go by, then it’s definitely the final book that’s the most fun!

Looking back, I feel that the first book, Radiant, introduced the world and the characters, and showed how it all worked—how the magic-as-money concept worked in this society, that the flying Towers in which everyone resides are actually sentient beings, and the connection between the main character and the ghost that she rescues. The sequel, Defiant, was all about the personal and societal fallout from everything that happened in the first book. But the third book—oh, goodness. It’s the big payoff! I feel almost like I’ve been setting up dominoes for two full novels, and now I finally get to watch them all cascade.

I wonder if part of the difference between our experiences might be our approaches to plotting. While, for me, the first two books definitely lock in the world-building and set up the story—as well as give me ideas of what’s going to happen—I don’t entirely know how it’s all going to play out until I’m there in the story. So I have some version of the experience that I hope the reader has, rushing toward the end to see how it all turns out.

Julie: I like that. It explains why I feel so satisfied at the end of the last book of a trilogy, despite all the angst and detail checking. I should add the payoff in Towers Fall is wonderful. Well done! Readers will be thrilled.

Karina: Thank you! But your upcoming book, This Gulf of Time and Stars is something a bit different: the first book in a new trilogy, but in a familiar world. You’re returning to the Trade Pact universe, the setting of not one but two of your previous trilogies. What keeps this setting feeling fresh and exciting for you?

Julie: Long before I considered sharing my stories with anyone else, Story X, that of Sira and Morgan, was my favourite unfinished daydream. I’d think about them and the worlds of the Trade Pact before falling asleep at night. I’d imagine interstellar adventures waiting for the dentist to finish or a bus to arrive. I’ve never lost that sense of wonder. It’s a future I’d love to come true: cosmos-spanning travel, intelligent species, humanity in the midst of it all. Weird alien biology. Characters who do their best and care about others.

To share the story, I had to finish it, so I did. But only one small part. That’s why I’ve kept such passion for the Clan. There are things I know—things I’ve dreamed all these years—still to come forth. That’s a special feeling. The flip side? When I write those final words, when I end it, I expect to cry. It’s a big story.

“Trilogy” is a bit misleading. I think of a trilogy as four stories in one, namely each book has its start/middle/end, but so does the combination, the big story. How do you balance the needs of the book story with that of the trilogy as a whole?

Karina: Four stories in one—that is an excellent way to look at it! For me, each book is like a building block; you want it to be whole and real and solid in and of itself. Yet when you put them together, you create a larger, more interesting shape that gives more meaning and purpose to each individual element.

I realized recently that I’d structured the meta-novel of my trilogy the same way that I did the individual books. Each novel is divided into three parts, which I think of as the introduction to the problem, the complications stemming from that problem, and then the “explosions”—the big events of the climax and resolution. Now, with a bit of distance, I see that each book also follows fulfills that structure: Radiant is the setup, Defiant shows the complications, and Towers Fall is all about explosions (both literal and figurative).

Julie: That’s the structure of the entire Clan Chronicles series as well. Stratification, all three books together, is the setup. The Trade Pact? The complications in the middle along with raising the stakes. Reunification will be the payoff. And why yes, things blow up!

Karina: Okay, last question! You know I’m a big fan of your work, and that I’ve loved Sira since your very first book. (My much-loved and much-read copy of A Thousand Words for Stranger on my bedside table right now, in fact!) Any hints about what readers can expect in this new trilogy?

Julie: I’m just going to glow for a moment. Thank you! I’m a huge fan of yours as well, as you know. (This happens more than you might realize, dear readers. After all, similar hearts and minds lead not only to friendships but to stories that speak to both.)

Hints? Reunification will answer the questions raised in Stratification. How the Om’ray, Oud, and Tikitik came to inhabit Cersi and why. How the Hoveny Concentrix rose and why such a galactic civilization could fall all at once. Readers can expect more of the aliens they already know, such as the Carasians, and more aliens they haven’t yet met. Most of all, they can expect to finally know who the Clan really are.

Big story stuff. What happens to Sira and Morgan? I honestly don’t know. Yet.

My last question. What’s next for you?

Karina: I’m working on a new fantasy novel, a strange standalone set in a fictional southern Ontarian city, where people can shift reality through the power of thought and belief—often to disastrous consequences. Of course, I say now that it’s a standalone, not a trilogy. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope that it stays that way!

Karina and Julie will be launching their latest books together, at Bakka-Phoenix Books, Toronto ON November 28th.


About the Author

Author Photo Credit: Lindy Sumner-Smith
Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Nov 2015), published by Talos/Skyhorse. In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a small dog, and a large cat. Visit her online at

Author Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography
Julie E. Czerneda's first novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger, was published in 1997 and made her a finalist for the Campbell Best New Writer award. Since then, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has continued to share her love and curiosity about living things through science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. Her fourteenth novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, soon followed by A Play of Shadow.

But the story begun in Thousand remained in her mind, growing into the Clan Chronicles series. Julie’s presently writing the finale, the last two books of Reunification. For more about her work, visit or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.


About the Series

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future with interstellar travel where the Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification will conclude the series and answer, at last, #whoaretheclan.

Listen now to a sample from the upcoming audiobook of THIS GULF OF TIME AND STARS!


Just because we Canadians are so darn pleasant and polite, we have not one, not two, but three prizes to giveaway! There will be three winners (one for each prize), so please be sure to leave a comment letting me know in which you are interested!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Karina, I guess we'll find out if it's a single book or part of a trilogy, won't we?
    After reading their exchange, I feel like I planned my trilogy all wrong.

    1. There's never wrong, there's only different outcomes. Good luck, Alex.

  2. What a bear of a choice! Groan. This Gulf of Time and Stars.

  3. This Gulf of Time and Stars sounds fascinating!

  4. I'd love the audiobook of This Gulf of Time and Stars. So excited about this most recent story and can't wait for the conclusion in Reunification! :)

  5. Oh man, oh man. I'd love to go for a copy of Towers Fall. I'm counting the days. :)

  6. The thing I find incredible about both of you is that your middle books don't feel like a lull in the action (you know, how middle movies and some middle books feel like they're just to get you from 1 to 3 and nothing much important happens). Well done!

  7. I'd love to win Towers Fall, it's going to be awesome! The other sounds great too, but I want to read the other trilogies set in that world first, even if it's not necessary.


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