Q: What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
Jacqueline Carey: Versatility. I love all aspects of the writing process — character development, plotting, world-building and handling language. I think it allows me to write with the depth and richness I crave as a reader, while still telling a compelling story.
Q: The world of your Kushiel novels is clearly modeled off of our own. What were some of the primary difficulties in building such a setting for your story? What were some of the benefits?
JC: Research, research, research! Writing alternate historical fantasy, I’m not held to a standard of unrelenting accuracy, but there is a high standard of plausibility. I may be picking and choosing among different cultures, nations and histories – cafeteria-style world-building, one of my readers dubbed it – but I have to weave all of it together into a plausible whole that aficionados of history will enjoy rather than disparage. On the upside, it means there’s a wealth of great material out there for me to draw on to find the perfect details to bring my world to life.
Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write KUSHIEL’S SCION in the first place?
JC: I’d had the idea since I first conceived the overall arc of the previous book in the series, Kushiel’s Avatar. Imriel, who’s a boy when it ends, is a character with so much baggage and dramatic potential. I thought it would be fascinating to continue his story, to see how he overcomes the trauma of the past and wrestles with unwanted desires and unfulfilled yearnings.
Q: What are some of the challenges to coming back to a world, and a set of characters, with a new series?
JC: For me, the primary challenge was making the transition to a different protagonist’s mind and looking at a very familiar world through a new set of eyes. It’s a big switch, especially since I was going from the POV of an adult woman to an adolescent boy. I very much wanted Imriel’s voice to be authentic and his own.
Q: Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters do you find the most unpredictable to write about?
JC: I know that’s true for many writers, but I’m a stern taskmistress. There’s not a lot of wiggle room in my plots, so I keep my characters on a tight leash. That said, Imriel’s villainous mother, Melisande Shahrizai, is always especially fun to write because she unsettles everyone around her without losing her composure.
Q: From when Kushiel’s Dart was first published until now, have you noticed any change in the popular reception to your books in terms to some of your themes and content?
JC: Not to my books specifically, but in the five years since Dart was released, the subgenre of paranormal romance has grown tremendously and gotten more adventurous. Elements that were unusual and subversive in my work, like the strain of dark eroticism, are a lot more commonplace now.
Q: How do you approach writing about Politics in a fantasy setting? Is there a place for current politics or social issues in your writing?
JC: Oh, absolutely! Everything I’ve written since Avatar has been against the backdrop of war out there in the real world. The Sundering duology came out of my desire to question the implicit acceptance of dualism that’s prevalent in epic fantasy. In my own way, I was writing about the need to “win hearts and minds” before America’s invasion of Iraq turned it into a media catchphrase. At one point, Kushiel’s Scion ponders the question of whether it’s necessary to destroy a thing in order to save it.I think it’s important not to write pedantically, but rather let the issues emerge organically from the story itself. Once an author climbs onto a soapbox, s/he often ceases to entertain. And I don’t always have the answers. Sometimes it’s enough to ask the questions.
Q: What made you choose to write in the fantasy genre? Were there any perceived conventions you wanted to twist or break?
JC: I’ve loved fantasy since I was little. The first book to really make me think was Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander, from the Prydain Chronicles. The protagonist Taran tries his hand at a multitude of skills – shepherd, weaver, smith – and finds he has a knack for all of them, except the one craft he falls in love with: pottery. He finds the thing that makes his heart soar, and he’s denied it. At ten years old, that was a “Whoa!” moment for me. You don’t always get what you want in life, you don’t always get your heart’s desire. The fact that a children’s fantasy novel could teach me a profound life lesson got me hooked.
But yeah, I do like to overturn conventions. In The Sundering, I rewrote epic fantasy as high tragedy. In the first Kushiel trilogy, I took all the heroine-as-victim tropes and tried to turn them inside out.
Q: In past interviews, which question that you were asked surprised you the most? Why?
JC: The one that comes to mind is “Would you consider Phèdre to be a Christ-like figure, especially in terms of being a ‘pain-bearer’?” It surprised me because I’d never considered it; and yet one could make an argument for it. Some parallels – themes of faith, sacrifice and redemption – are certainly there to be drawn. But I was so wholly immersed in my own mythos, it never occurred to me.
Q: If you could offer a word of advice to first time readers of your novels, what would it be?
JC: This may sound odd, but I’d say, “Don’t work too hard.” Especially if they start with Kushiel’s Dart. It’s heavy with intrigue and it has an intricate plot and a huge cast of characters. Some twists I set up don’t play out for hundreds of pages. I’ve heard from readers who found it daunting at first that once they stopped worrying about keeping everything straight and just focused on the protagonist’s journey, it began to flow and everything fell into place. I think the second trilogy, Imriel’s story, is actually more accessible.
Q: Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?
JC: Show me the money! Seriously, peer accolades are a wonderful affirmation and I’d be delighted to win a WFA award, but this is my livelihood, too. And while I’m honored whenever a fellow writer admires my work, none of them have ever moved me to tears. My fans have. I’ve heard from abuse survivors who found self-acceptance in Phèdre’s story; from a mother who found a few hours of respite reading beside the hospital bed of a seriously ill child; from a lonely military husband stationed in the Middle East who felt closer to his wife reading my books; from a young woman who told me they helped get her through the grief of her mother’s death.Being able to do what I love for a living is a huge gift, but having people share these stories, whether they found something resonant in my work or just a much-needed escape from a harsh reality, makes it all the more worthwhile. It’s humbling. And more sales means more readers. So yes, for reasons pragmatic and personal, I’ll take the bestseller.
Q: Have there been any challenges, external, to writing a fantasy series with strong, intelligent, sexually realized female lead character? Has this, in your opinion, affected your readership?
JC: No, I was fortunate, I think the timing was good and the climate was right for it. A lot of girls who grew up reading fantasy are now adults eager for books with strong female characters, books that reflect the whole of human experience including, yes, sex. As are a lot of men, for that matter.
Q: Honestly, do you believe that the fantasy genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
JC: I hope so. I think the fantasy genre’s growing and expanding in all different directions, and so is its readership and its perception in popular culture. But when I look into my Magic 8-Ball, I get “Reply hazy, try again.”
Q: What author makes you shake your head in admiration? Many fantasy authors don’t read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?
JC: I try to keep up with the genre, although I read widely outside it, too.
I admire Guy Gavriel Kay, and he’s the writer I recommend most to my own readers. There are a lot of fantasy authors I read for pleasure and to keep tabs on what’s happening in the industry, but when it comes down to the ones who make me shiver, it’s often books I read in my early teens. Richard Adams’ Shardik bowled me over with its world-building and religious themes that were at once fantastic and familiar. Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy showed me what lyrical writing could be. My all-time favorite is probably John Crowley’s Little, Big, which to me is seamless and perfect.
I think it gets harder to reclaim that effortless sense of wonder as one gets older. I also think the desire to do so is a large part of what drives me to write.
Q: Without giving too much away, give us a taste of the story that is KUSHIEL’S SCION.”
JC: Angst! Sex! Adventure! Intrigue! Philosophy!
Anyone interested in learning more can check out this link (http://www.jacquelinecarey.com/scion_synopsis.htm) for a synopsis and this one (http://www.jacquelinecarey.com/scion.htm) to read the first chapter.
Interview by Patrick