Author Interview: Phyllis Irene Radford


Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel


Irene Radford (Merlin’s Descendants, Dragon Nimbus)

Q.) Writers worrying about their sell-through and afraid the last book in their series will be “killed” often threaten to write the next book under a pseudonym. As far as I know, you have four nom de plumes actively writing series. Where and how did all these worlds surface, and why did you give them their own, unique authors?

A.) Changing or keeping a pen name is a numbers game. Can the publisher get better publicity and orders from a new name or an old one? More often than not the marketing department makes the decision rather than the author.  With my first book contract I knew I’d have to have a pen name because there was another fantasy author with my first name and my husband’s last name—the same weird spelling.  At the time the Romance Writers of America were having a kerfuffle about pen names and who owned and controlled them.  So I went with my middle name and my maiden name for something like fifteen books.

But the Tess Noncoiré books are very different from the high fantasy of the Dragon Nimbus (includes the Stargods) or the historical fantasy of Merlin’s Descendants. Harmony and Enigma are different again. I have a lot of YA readers of the dragon books. The marketing department didn’t want young readers exposed to the high sensuality and violence of modern life in the Tess books. Harmony and the sequel Enigma are a spiritual journey with a literary twist in a space opera landscape, unlike anything I have ever written before. Thus a new name for it as well.

As for Lacing Up For Murder, that’s gone to a small press with 2 sequels coming, the publisher wanted the cache of Irene Radford. It’s also a cozy mystery without paranormal elements. Different again.

Q.) Is Irene Radford still writing Dragon Nimbus and Star Gods books as well as Merlin’s Descendants books?

A.) The Children of the Dragon Nimbus Book I The Silent Dragon came out from DAW Books in February 2013, The Broken Dragon and The Wandering Dragon are written and in various stages of draft and production.

As for Merlin’s Descendants, they are out of print through the original publisher but are now out in e-book on Book View Café as well as other outlets.

Q.) Did you select the time periods of the existing Merlin’s Descendants books up front, or did each story arrive from hints in the previous novel?

A.) I planned Guardian of the Balance to be about Merlin’s daughter and her stormy relationship with both her dad and King Arthur. I planned Guardian of the Trust to be about King John and the Magna Carta with an aging and almost respectable Robin Hood. In the middle of writing those two books I decided the Elizabethan period was too dynamic to be excluded. Guardian of the Vision was supposed to be one book, about 200,000 words covering the thirty years from Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne to the Spanish Armada. 230,000 words later I’d only covered 6 years and I killed off some key characters. So then I had to write another 230,000 words dealing with the children from Vision and the Spanish Armada, Guardian of the Promise. A major plot point for that book came from a History Channel program that claimed that in the 16th C 3,000 confirmed werewolves were burned at the stake in Europe. Oh yeah, I had a plot point there.

Guardian of the Freedom sprang to life independently. How could I forget about the American Revolution? Energy, ideas, changes in government and the philosophy of government, and Masonic conspiracies. I couldn’t not write that book.

Q.) Are you going to hop around in time, or continue taking the Merlin books up into the 20th century?

A.) At the present time I have no plans on adding to the saga. I do however have a couple of short stories in that universe. “Curse of the Pendragon” appeared in the DAW anthology Slipstream edited by Martin Greenberg and John Helfers 2005.  It deals with the exile of Jews from England in 1299 by Edward I. Then, in the 2008 DAW anthology Something Magic this Way Comes edited by Martin Greenberg and Sarah Hoyt I have the story “More to Proof Than Truth.” Which takes place in modern times.  Both stories are in Fantastical Ramblings my new collection of short fantasy fiction from Book View Café.

And don’t forget the CD of music composed by Heather Alexander Merlin’s Descendants available at  The songs make a nice accompaniment to the books.  A few single pieces have taken on a life of their own, like Familiar’s Promise, all the things a wolfhound familiar promises their Pendragon.

C.F. Bentley—Harmony and Enigma

Q.) Who decided that you needed a new name for Harmony’s author—you, your agent, your editor?

A.) Mentioned above, this came from my editor and the marketing department, but I knew it had to have a different author as I wrote it. It is just too far outside the norm from my previous books to be marketed as anything other than unique.

Q.) Was there any particular reason that you decided to create a religious form of government?

A.) This book started with my fascination with Babylon 5 and the character Delen. She walks on stage a fully formed religious and political leader. I needed to explore how she got there, but I couldn’t write B5 tie-ins. So I created my own world. One bit of world building led to another. The theocracy evolved out of the themes I found myself developing. The book was organic in the way it came together.

Lacing Up For Murder

Q.) I’ve read the first chapter of your Lacing Up For Murder, now available from Skywarrior Books, and am looking forward to reading the entire thing! Your heroine has staff troubles, a huge mortgage over her inn, and the willingness to harbor someone who faked his death. And the inn may be haunted. And her Ex has shown up rolling in dough and with a group of people. AND—So…

A.) Not your usual cozy mystery.  The Whistling River Inn came first.  It is as much a character in the books as Glenna McClain and Craig Knudsen, Joy Dancer and Pete Beumain.  I have a number of hobbies, so does my husband. Bringing small conventions of those hobbies to Glenna’s inn gives me the opportunity to play. I started with Lace because I am a lacemaker and using silk thread as a garrote seemed the thing to do. For the sequel—written but not yet in production—I’ve written about an antique tractor pull to clear some land for an extension of the golf course. Guess what they find under one of those stumps! Then there are highland games in the third book.  If I continue further I have ballet, fencing, glass blowing… I could take this series forever.

Q.) Did you write this book because you wanted a mystery set in the northwest? I’m thinking legal deductions for travel in the northwest! Was it a spec novel, or did you have an idea of which publishing house might want it?

A.) I live in the Pacific Northwest—the foothills of Mt. Hood to be exact. The book came out of my rambles around the mountain and the local golf course and the Salmon River. I wrote it on spec but found the market for cozies pretty much closed. Then small presses became viable and I had a market.

Q.) This is not the first time you’ve slipped tatting into a book. There’s a tatting renaissance coming! The upcoming SF book from Lee and Miller has their Fledgling using something suspiciously like tatting and crochet to design three and four dimensional space navigation points. What brought you to tatting, and what made you want to use it both for magic and for murder?

A.) I’ve always done needlework, knit and crochet as well as sewing. Many years ago at a county fair my older sister looked at a doily and said “That’s a really weird crochet pattern.” Mom explained that it wasn’t crochet, but tatting. Two weeks later my community school offered classes. I had to learn something my sister couldn’t do. So took the class and got addicted. My sister and I competitive? Not in the least <-: Tatting is both magic and murder. To create a lovely piece of lace out of air and thread is amazing. But it’s murder to learn the peculiar flip of the knot that makes tatting well tatting. By the way, no matter what crossword puzzle designers say, not all lace making is tatting. There’s also, bobbin, needle, netted, knitted, and crocheted lace. I can do them all but tatting is my first love.

Q.) Where did Glenna come from? She seems tough and willing to go to the mat to defend the inn she loves.

A.) The inn came first. The rambling old building needs someone to handle its eccentricities. Glenna emerged from that.

Q.) How have you changed the tropes of unfaithful ex-husband and troupes of ex-wives and girlfriends? (I confess, I peeked at the current chapter!) Because you always do a good job with teasingly familiar stories that make sudden right and left turns, leading readers into new territory.

A.) All I have to do is look around me at life. Tropes disappear in the real soap opera of my friends, neighbors, internet acquaintances, etc.

Q.) Did you try to sell Lacing to a New York house? Or did you realize quickly that things you thought made it a great book were the things editors would want to strip from it? I’m thinking of the advice Tony Hillerman was given on his first novel—it was pretty much “Lose the Indians.”

A.) I tried marketing this to some agents. They all turned it down because no one could break into cozies at that time. They didn’t want to try and the guidelines say no unagented submissions. I even considered forming my own agency with some friends so we could market off the wall stuff. BVC and small presses seemed the better solution.

P.R. Frost–Tess Noncoiré’s World

Q.) Tell us about Tess Noncoiré. Where did she come from, and where is she heading? She’s lost a man she loved, is carrying an unusual secret about her disappearance, and has an imp following her around and occasionally helping out. The imp is young, smokes cigars that everyone can smell, and is flatulent, but he’s useful—sometimes. Tess disappeared, and then returned, and there was no way to explain where she was or who she had become. Which came first, Tess or the Sisterhood of the Celestial Blade Warriors?

A.) This started with a painting in an art show at a con.  I thought I’d write a short story.  It got longer and longer and died.  Then I tried making it a post apocalypse book and went nowhere faster. The simple shift to modern times opened all kinds of new possibilities. Tess moved from being a bounty hunter with an imp that becomes her weapon of choice to a modern SF/F writer. I always knew her name was Tess and that she was a widow who still considered herself married. I wanted a woman who could wear lace and knock back beer with the guys. Scrap the imp is himself. I had little or no say in his character development. He dictated it from the other side of the computer screen.

Q.) What do you call the Tess Noncoiré novels–mysteries, paranormal mysteries, fantasies, paranormal fantasies, paranormal romances—and was the humor thread (of the imp, for example) in from the beginning? Both sample chapters on your site turn violent fast. Action scenes!

A.) Yes. Actually they are marketed as Urban Fantasy. That’s the current buzz word, but all of the above.

Q.) Where does Faery Moon take place in Tess’s adventures? (Timeline-wise)?

A.) Faery Moon is #3 and follows close on the heels of Moon in the Mirror, less than a month later. For this book I had to go to Vegas. I knew it would take place there. But I was really struggling with the plot until I went with a friend who had grown up in the area. She and her niece took me out to the Valley of Fire and the whole plot landed in my lap. Seeing Mystére by Cirque du Soleil was just icing on the cake. I have kidnapped Faeries. I have rogue portals between dimensions. I have a vampire crime boss—though I swore I’d never write vampires—who may or may not be a real vampire. And I have Tess’s mom singing up a storm.

Q.) Rumor has it that a fairy got in bad with the higher-ups, was stripped of her wings and dropped naked into the middle of Memorial Fountain in the middle of rush hour on a hot August morning. And a fairy without her wings is…what? Who is she, and who wrote her tale?

A.) Actually that’s a Pixie not a fairy. Her name is Thistle Down and the book and its sequel Chicory Up are in print and e-book from DAW Books with gorgeous covers by Cliff Nielson. And Irene Radford wrote these books. Seems like Pixies don’t play tricks on other Pixies. That’s what humans are for. Except Thistle got mad and broke this one prime rule. Now she has to live as a human for a while to learn some things, like the value of love and friendship, loyalty, and when to curb her instincts to invoke mayhem.

Q.) Anything new on the horizon?

A.) Actually, as a collector of pen names I have a new Urban Fantasy with a different name that’s also a bit different.  You see there’s this Wercougar who isn’t happy about being Wer.  Then I picked up a ghost writer who is working with the character of Madame Magdala first seen in the BVC anthology Shadow Conspiracy Volume I.  There’s a sneak peek of the novel and a brand new short story about Madame Magdala in my new collection Steampunk Voyages with magnificent cover art by Mark Ferrari.  It’s coming out September 10th.

And there are a few more projects wandering around my lizard brain waiting for an opportunity to leap into words.  With me you never know what I’ll come up with, or if I can sell it.


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.

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