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An Interview with Kelley Armstrong

by Chadwick Ginther - Sunday, Jan 18, 2009 at 3:01pm

Kelley Armstrong, author of the acclaimed Women of the Otherworld series of fantasy novels, will be at our Grant Park location for the launch of her latest book: Men of the Otherworld. Her stories are known for their strong and complex female heroines. Her latest book takes readers into the heads of two werewolves, Clayton and Jeremy. Kelley was kind enough to take the time to answer some of my questions in a brief email interview.

CG: How did you get your start as a writer? Did you labour in the short fiction market, or did you always intend to make it as a novelist?

KA: I've been writing since childhood. I did indeed start in short stories--they were the easiest form to tackle at a young age. I never grew up intending to be a writer. It was a dream, but in my family (quite rightly, I think) it was considered a hobby, not a career choice. As I reached my twenties, I began seriously thinking it'd be nice to write part-time. I sold my first novel at 30, and moved into full-time writing a couple of years later.

CG: According to your website, you didn't initially intend for the Otherworld to blossom into a series after Bitten was published. How much of the world building of which you reveal in Stolen, such as the existence of witches, demons, and vampires, was decided upon before you wrote the first novel?

KA: Only the werewolves. Stolen is a bit of a cheat. In Bitten, I have Elena (and apparently everyone else) believing they're the only supernaturals. Then in Stolen she "discovers" the truth--that there's a lot more out there--and the older characters had apparently heard such rumours. I could say I planned that all along, but I'd be lying. It was rapid back-pedaling when the publishers wanted a series and I didn't want to do a werewolf-only one.

CG: The Otherworld series is unusual in that you often shift narrators from novel to novel, rather than focusing entirely on one character. Could you explain to our readers why you've chosen this route?

KA: That was decided as soon as the publishers asked for a series. I discussed it with my agent and said I didn't want to do umpteen novels with the characters of Bitten. I love them, but after a few books, I'd been struggling to find fresh threats for them to face! It would get very repetitive very fast. So we came up with the idea of the wider supernatural world, and creating characters in Stolen I could spin off to as narrators. That has meant infinite possibilities for the series. I just returned to my werewolves for #10 and it was as much fun as #2. I wouldn't be saying that if it was book 10 of the werewolves!

CG: In addition to your novels of the Otherworld, you've tried your hand at crime fiction with Exit Strategy and now Young Adult Fantasy with The Summoning. What difficulties, if any, or changes did these deviations from your normal routine present?

KA: The challenges (good and bad) of the Exit Strategy series are that I need to work within the real world (well, as "real-world" as a novel about hit-men can get!). That's always fun, but it's also nice to return to the Otherworld, where I can just make stuff up. The YA was easier than I thought. The biggest challenge, as I expected, was getting into the head of a fifteen-year-old narrator. Having a daughter that age helped, though, and I found it surprisingly easy to conjure up my own teen years, and remember what it was like.

CG: Vampires have appeared in your novels but you have yet to use one as a narrator. Can vampire fans expect to see a novel about Cassandra, the vampire who debuted in Stolen?

KA: She will, but I keep putting it off because I don't have the right story. I find vampires the most difficult supernatural type to write. They've been done so often--and so well--that it's tough to contribute anything I think is fresh enough.

CG: In your latest book, Men of the Otherworld, you showcase the origins of your werewolves, Jeremy and Clayton. Your novels have all featured female narrators. Do you intend to write a novel from the point of view of one of your male characters?

KA:Three of the four stories in Men are actually older ones, from years of doing e-serials for readers. I added a new one for the collection and all my proceeds from the book go to World Literacy of Canada. But I do hope to use those stories to prepare my readers for a novel from a male point of view. With my latest contract, I was clear that I wanted to scrap the "Women of the Otherworld" title and any restrictions it carries.

CG: Men of the Otherworld introduces creatures from Japanese mythology. Have you considered expanding the Otherworld further beyond western mythology to include creatures and legends from other regions?

KA: I'd like to. One problem is that I've hit the point where I want to be careful not to add too many new types to the series. Not too quickly, at least. I still have current races I haven't really explored readers are constantly reminding me.

CG: In recent years, werewolves, vampires, and demons are as likely to be the heroes as the monsters in fantasy fiction. What do you think of this role reversal?

KA: I think it speaks to a shift in our interest in supernatural creatures. While they can still work as horror villains, there are far scarier things in the world than vampires. Readers seem to now be interested in the fantastical aspects of legendary creatures--what would it be like to be one? It's a form of fantasy that the average reader can relate to, having grown up with the idea of vampires, werewolves, etc.

CG: Many of your contemporaries in Urban Fantasy are seeing their creations take life in other media. Do you have any plans to translate the Otherworld from prose to comics or film?

KA: Not right now. With films, it's a matter of Hollywood coming to the author. I had that with Bitten, but the movie died in development as they often do. With comics, I'd be more interested in doing original ones than seeing my books translated, and translations are the preferred form right now, so instead, I'm writing a story arc for Joss Whedon's Angel comic series.

CG: After nine novels and many short stories do you find it difficult to keep the Otherworld accessible for new readers? What steps do you take to ensure the series remains open to new readership?

KA: Changing narrators makes this naturally easier. There's a good chance that the first book a reader picks up will be the first one narrated by that character (the last 3 have all been like that). Although other characters appear and past events are mentioned, it's the beginning of the true story for that character. I just need to be careful to fill in enough background on those characters and past events to keep new readers from getting lost, without having so much that it bores long-time readers. My editors are invaluable for helping with that--reminding me to add an explanatory line when I forget.

Categories: Interview, SciFi & Fantasy, Mystery & Crime, Romance

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