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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey is a bestselling author and novelist, primarily of fantasy fiction. She attended Lake Forest College, receiving B.A.’s in psychology and English literature. During college, she spent 6 months working in a bookstore as part of a work exchange program. While there, she decided to write professionally. After returning she started her writing career while working at the art center of a local college. After ten years, she discovered success with the publication of her first book in 2001. Her books include Phédre’s Trilogy, Imriel’s Trilogy, the Moiron Trilogy, the Santa Olivia series, The Sundering and, her latest, the first foray into urban fantasy, the Agent of Hel series, which begins with  Dark Currents. Currently, Carey lives in western Michigan and is a member of the oldest Mardi Gras krewe in the state. She can be found online at Goodreads and her author website.


 SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in SFF come from?

Jacqueline Carey: My mother gave me The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to read when I was quite young, and I’ve been a fan ever since the moment I walked through the wardrobe into Narnia with Lucy Pevensie.

SFFWRTCHT: What are the names of some of the authors & books which have influenced/inspired you?

JC: Mary Renault’s novels of ancient Greece instilled a love of historical fiction in me.  Richard Adams’ Shardik was the first book I read that taught me fantasy could be gritty and harsh, and address adult themes of religion and sexuality, and Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy showed me that the language of fantasy could be lyrical and haunting.

SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you go about it? School? Learn as you go?

JC: Storytelling began as a hobby in high school, but I didn’t realize it was a vocation until after graduating from college, at which point I began writing in earnest with the intention of pursuing publication.  Other than one undergraduate creative writing class, I’m very much a self-taught, learn as you go writer.

SFFWRTCHT: What was your path to publication like? Long and arduous? How long did you struggle until your first sale?

JC: Definitely long and arduous!  It took me just over ten years and several ‘practice novels,’ but it pushed me to become a better writer.  I knew Kushiel’s Dart was my make it or break it book from the first page, because it was such a leap in terms of the caliber of the writing.

SFFWRTCHT: Where’d the idea for Agent of Hel and Dark Currents come from?

JC: I was thinking about a rationale for the existence of magic in a contemporary setting, and came up with the notion of an underworld, at which point it occurred to me that hey, there’s actually a buried lumber town beneath the dunes a mile from where I live.  From there, I had the idea of relocating the Norse goddess of the dead to Michigan, and I was off and running.

SFFWRTCHT: Set in the Midwest, it’s the tale of a resort town run by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess with a hellspawn named Daisy Johanssen as her enforcer and liaison. Then a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. Tell us about Daisy and her dark nature. Unleashed it could mean Armageddon?

JC: One of the premises of the series is that an Inviolate Wall prevents the deities of the predominant contemporary religions from intervening directly in the mortal plane.  If Daisy were to invoke her birthright as a demon’s daughter, it could cause a crack in the wall, potentially unleashing Armageddon.  So she struggles to avoid the temptation; but it’s not always easy, especially since she’s got a bad temper, and bad things happen when she loses it!

SFFWRTCHT: Why the change to urban fantasy after so much time in the Kushiel world?

JC: Ever since reading Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks years ago, I thought the opportunity to view the contemporary world through the lens of the fantastic seemed like a tremendous amount of fun, and I think it’s important for artists in any medium to tackle fresh challenges in order to maintain their creative vitality.

SFFWRTCHT: In your mind, what are the key elements of a good urban fantasy?

JC: For me, it really comes down to the ability to evoke a familiar setting and imbue it with a sense of wonder, to convince readers to suspend their sense of disbelief.  The genre’s become quite large and diverse, but that’s one element that I feel remains a constant.

SFFWRTCHT: How long does a typical novel take you to write?

JC: About a year.

SFFWRTCHT: Outliner or pantser?

JC: Outliner, though I outline in my head rather than on paper.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about eldritches and the mundane?

JC: It’s really just the terminology I chose to differentiate between non-human (or not entirely human) characters and ordinary human beings.  I like the rather archaic connotations of the word ‘eldritch’ and playing with the idea of a diverse eldritch community, which has its own set of unspoken rules and codes.

SFFWRTCHT: How many books are planned in the series?

JC: Three.

SFFWRTCHT: Your Kushiel’s Legacy and the companion Naamah Trilogy have been quite successful. Where’d the idea for The land of Terre d’Ange and Phèdre nó Delaunay come from?

JC: Terre d’Ange was inspired by a combination of research into angelology and a trip to the south of France, where I fell in love with the landscape and the atmosphere.  As for Phèdre, I truly couldn’t say!  For me, where characters come from is a part of the writing process that’s a mystery in the oldest sense of the word.  I consider a character like Phèdre in particular, as unique and provocative as she is, a gift of the Muse.

A female spy and courtesan, Phèdre is a complicated heroine.  She experiences pain and pleasure as one, a challenging fate. You wrote 9 books in that universe, truly epic. What’s the challenge of writing such a long series and keeping it fresh not just for readers but for you as the writer?

Changing protagonists, especially when working in the first person, helped a lot; as the narrators of the three trilogies, Phèdre, Imriel and Moirin all have very different voices.  Toward the end of the first six books, one of the biggest challenges was the amount of backstory I had to incorporate, which is why I skipped ahead a couple generations for the last trilogy and chose a protagonist from outside Terre d’Ange, allowing me to view that world through new eyes, without thousands of pages worth of narrative baggage.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like—specific block? Write ‘til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?

JC: Before becoming a full-time writer, I wrote whenever I could find the time; in the evenings after work, during weekends.  Since taking the leap in 2002, I generally find my peak creative writing hours are between 3:00-4:00 pm.  I’m an edit-as-I-go writer, so I don’t pay attention to word count on a daily basis since a good day’s work for me may consist largely of editing yesterday’s output.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Something else? Do you write to music or does silence reign?

JC: No rituals, nothing fancy!  I use Word.  And yes, silence reigns!  Once I’m in the zone, I tune out everything.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

JC: As a self-taught writer, I can’t honestly say I received a lot of advice, good or bad.   One piece of conventional wisdom I did absorb to my detriment in the 1980s is that all successful commercial fiction must be written in clean, crisp, spare prose.  On the average, that’s not necessarily bad advice, but in my case, it led me to suppress my natural literary voice.

SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

JC: I just delivered the manuscript for the second Agent of Hel book!  Up next, volume three.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.