KillerCon 4 Guest of Honor Interview - Kelley Armstrong
Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers' dismay. All efforts to make her produce "normal" stories failed.
Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She's the author of the NYT-bestselling "Women of the Otherworld" paranormal suspense series and "Darkest Powers" young adult urban fantasy trilogy, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series. Armstrong lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.
~To order your copy of Thirteen,
releasing today, July 24, 2012, click here!~
KC: KillerCon, now in its fourth year, is a horror convention rising in popularity, and it's certainly gaining ground in the genre community as one of the "must attend" cons. When you were first approached about being a Guest of Honor, what made you accept? The other conventions you do focus more on paranormal romance and urban fantasy, as do the cross-promotional tours you do with your contemporaries like Rachel Mead, Kim Harrison, Marjorie M. Liu, Jeanine Frost, etc. Why say yes to a horror convention?
KA: My roots are actually in horror. Most of what I wrote up until my twenties would be classified as that. It was only after reading Anne Rice’s work that I saw a more fantasy-based possibility for the supernatural and switched. The Horror Writers Association was still the first professional organization I joined and I jump at the chance to write short horror fiction.
KC: There seems to be a slippery slope in definitions of genre fiction, with some people being staunchly defiant about what they consider horror—while they may concede that urban fantasy and paranormal romance contain elements of horror fiction, they aren't "pure" or "traditional" horror—what's your response to that? Do you consider what you write to be horror fiction, or just that your work has elements of horror fiction?
KA: I actually got myself into some trouble when Bitten (Book One of the Otherworld series) came out because I wrote something saying it wasn’t horror. It was misconstrued by a few people as an attempt to distance myself from the genre or “rise above it.” That was definitely not the case. To me, horror should horrify and if that expectation isn’t met by a so-called horror novel, it’s false advertising. For the same reason, I say my work isn’t romance—because that means romance should be the central plot and there must be a happily-ever-after ending. However, I do incorporate elements of both horror and romance in my work…along with elements of mystery, action and fantasy. I’m quite happy to be “adopted” by any of those genres :-) Just as long as the label doesn’t set up reader expectations that I can’t meet!
KC: You've mentioned in other interviews that in your childhood, you enjoyed anything that involved ghosts, vampires, and werewolves, and that informed your work as an adult, when you became a writer, and that you view Stephen King and Anne Rice, two of the biggest horror writers of all time, as your inspirations for different reasons. What was your relationship like with the supernatural growing up? Was there ever a time when you believed in monsters? What made you decide to humanize monsters to a certain degree, as you did with your werewolves in your first book, Bitten?
KA: I can’t say that I remember ever believing in monsters, even as a child. I call myself a reluctant skeptic. I love "true” tales of the paranormal, but I’ve never found anything I can't explain away. Still, that doesn't stop me from looking for that story that seems like it could be true.
As for what made me decide to humanize werewolves, I saw an "X-Files" werewolf episode and it reminded me of how much I hate the “wolfman” depiction. I'd always preferred the old werewolf stories where someone actually turns into a wolf and displays wolf-like behaviour even in human form, so that’s what I wanted to do with Bitten.
KC: You've been compared in the past to Laurell K. Hamilton, while others have said you take more of a Joss Whedon approach to your supernatural fiction, injecting humor between the drama. Do you agree with that assessment?
KA: Like Hamilton and Whedon, I write about various supernatural types—vampires, werewolves, demons etc—with thriller-type plots, where the protagonists are trying to solve a mystery or overcome a threat. When I started Bitten in the early nineties, neither series had started, but I’m sure they both had an influence on later books. When I’m trying to explain what I write, I often use Buffy and Anita Blake as comparisons. I always specify early Anita Blake, though, because otherwise, I set up another expectation that I definitely can’t meet :-)
KC: Thirteen is said to be the last final book in the Otherworld series—did you always know you would end it with Savannah leading the way? Was that the plan from the beginning, or did it gradually evolve and become apparent to you that this would be the way to go?
KA: I’d always hoped to end the series with Savannah, though I had no idea if the series would be successful enough to see her through to adulthood! I wanted to finish with her because she’s grown up in the Otherworld and is the most connected to all the other narrators. For the past six books I’ve been laying the framework for the big end-game that’s unfolding now.
KC: Many fantasy authors and indeed your contemporaries, some of whom you've collaborated with like Melissa Marr on Loki's Wolves (Book One of The Blackwell Pages), have made a greatly successful shift to YA—why did you decide to make the leap while then continuing the Otherworld series? And who conceived of the idea for the Blackwell Pages series—you, Melissa, or both?
KA: For the Darkest Powers books, I had an idea inspired by a subplot in my second Otherworld novel, Stolen, but it would work best with supernaturals just coming into their powers, which made it a much better YA idea. I held onto that idea until my daughter was hitting her teens, which seemed an excellent time to start. I definitely wanted to continue the Otherworld, though. This was just a spinoff for a younger audience.
As for the Blackwell Pages, Melissa and I had discussed writing a joint book for a while before she suggested Norse-myth-based middle-grade. We both had preteen sons and we were keen to write something “for them.”
KC: How did you enjoy the co-writing process? What were some of the challenges involved?
KA: I’m really enjoying the co-writing. I think the biggest challenge is figuring out how to share and divide the work. We split the writing by chapters and narrative point-of-view. I’m taking the male protagonist and she’s taking the two secondary characters (a boy and a girl) We alternate chapters—I do one for “my” character, then she writes a chapter for one of hers.
KC: You've spoken in the past about writing strong female characters in both your adult and YA series, and said that it's more about making them capable characters, and you've spoken to why you write paranormal fiction, but when you were just starting out, did you think you would be as successful as you've turned out to be?
KA: Not at all. My initial goal was to be able to work part-time and write part-time. Being successful enough to make that switch to full-time writing was amazing…and being able to continue doing it really has been a dream come true.
KC: You've also written a crime series, the first book of which, Exit Strategy, came out in 2007. How did that come about, and would you like to return to doing non-supernatural fiction, and if so, would it still be within the realm of crime, or would it be outside of that?
KA: I love reading thrillers, so when I was worried about early Otherworld sales, my agent asked what else I’d write if it didn’t work out. I said crime and she suggested I start one, just to calm my fears. Then the Otherworld took off and a few years later, I returned to finish and sell Exit Strategy. I loved those books—I’m finally writing the third and final one now—but I think my heart really does belong to fantasy and I prefer to have some element of that in my stories. My next adult series is more mystery, but still has supernatural elements. It’s like a mix of the Nadia books and the Otherworld.
KC: You've also done work for the Buffyverse with Angel: Aftermath, the comic book—how did that come about, and which part of it did you enjoy the most? Do you think you'll write other comic book adaptations or is this kind of it for you?
KA: It was one of those lucky "networking" things. Someone who knew I was a big Buffy/Angel fan found out that IDW was looking for writers to continue the Angel comics . I loved the opportunity to write in that universe, but it was terrifying, too. I felt a huge responsibility to “get it right” and I never felt I quite managed it. I suspect I’ll stick with my own worlds from now on.
KC: Returning to your YA fiction, you've mentioned that it's very difficult to get into the minds of teens to be able to convey them as characters convincingly, but that your own teenage daughter is a great help with this. What other things help you get into the mindset of a teen when you're writing the Darkest Powers books?
KA: It actually wasn’t nearly as hard to get into the mindset as I feared. My daughter did help, mostly by pointing out words or phrasing or dialogue patterns that teens wouldn’t use. But I found I could get back into that mindset myself by immersing myself in reminders of my own teen years—listening to the music, looking through yearbooks and so on.
KC: What's next for you? More YA? A new adult series?
KA: As much as I love writing YA, I started in adult, so my focus remains there, even if I’m ending the Otherworld. I’ve sold a new adult trilogy that I wouldn’t call urban fantasy—there are none of the classic supernatural types like werewolves and vampires in it. It’s definitely got a paranormal angle, though. The first book, Cainsville, comes out next summer.
KC: Your summer and fall are shaping up to be busy with lots of promotional events and book signings and convention appearances—what are some of the highlights for you? Some of the ones you're really looking forward to going to?
KA: KillerCon of course :-) I was very excited when I was invited for 2011…and then very disappointed when I realized I was already booked for that weekend. I’m also looking forward to the 3rd and final Smart Chicks Kick It tour—a YA group tour that I organize with Melissa Marr. And I’m heading to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories in November, which will be my first visit to the true Canadian north.
KillerConLV would like to thank Kelley for taking the time out of her jam-packed schedule to stop by for this interview! :-)
Just a reminder that Kelley will be participating in a live Goodreads chat on July 31, 2012! For more information or to take part in "Ask Kelley Armstrong," click here to join the Goodreads group.
Kelley will be involved in various panels and events during KillerCon4. For more information, please visit the Schedule/Events page.