Friday, May 27, 2011

Author Interview: Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey, the author of the beloved Kushiel series, is an author who is as beloved by her fans as the heroines and heroes in her novels.  In the Kushiel series, a young girl abandoned by her mother and marked by one of the pantheon of angels is trained in the art of pain and secrets by a loving Master.  Thrust into a world of politics and deadly games, she finds love and adventure across a trilogy of exquistly written novels.  The world of Terre d'Ange continues through another 2 trilogies and descendants of the vibrant characters brought to life in Kushiel's Dart.  Through wars, death, love, and betrayal, the generations of characters Jacqueline brings to life in her novels have an uncanny way of worming their way into your heart.  Just ask her adoring fans who keep them alive even beyond the ending of the books!
I was very honored that Jacqueline agreed to let me ask her a few questions and post them on my blog.  Please visit her website and check out some of her novels.
Thanks for reading!
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Andrea: I wanted to open by saying that I have never identified with a heroine in a book as much as I identified with Phaedre. Shared experiences with her were brought to life when I read your descriptions. In fact, the Kushiel series was the first time I’d ever read anything that I would call remotely “romantic.” Is there something of you in Phaedre? Which character from any of your books do you see as being most like you?

Jacqueline: There’s a bit of me in all my characters, really. As a divinely ordained masochistic courtesan who’s also a genuine heroine, Phèdre is unique in the annals of epic fantasy, and truly a gift of the Muses. Some readers have accused me of being as diabolical as her antagonist Melisande for the complex plots and emotional torments to which I subject my characters! It’s hard for me to be objective, but people who know me well have said the character who most reminds them of me is Sidonie, whose very controlled exterior belies a passionate interior and a somewhat wicked sense of humor.

Andrea:  In other interviews I’ve read, you’ve said that to write, one has to write, which involves a lot of sitting and writing. I was wondering how much your travels have made easier the job of sitting and writing. Do you think you would have been able to weave such a real world in the Kushiel series without your time in London and traveling around the world to exotic places?

Jacqueline: The traveling that I’ve done definitely informs my writing! And no, I don’t think I could have brought my alternate world to life without having a deep well of marvelous and visceral experiences to draw on. Sitting and writing is crucial to developing and honing the craft of writing, but I believe that the more one experiences in life, the more one has to bring to the process.

Andrea:  The very rare bit of fiction I’ve read that centers around the same themes that Phaedre experiences in her own personality and personal life, with submissive female characters dominated by aggressive men, the writing is quite lacking in detail and written more like a Penthouse letter. With the Kushiel series, Phaedre is more than her desires and the life that destiny has given her to live. What research, if any, did you do to be able to create such a real and human character in a world of bondage and slavery?

Jacqueline:  I did a lot of research into the contemporary BDSM community. One of the reasons that consensuality is a sacred tenet in D’Angeline society is that it reflects the level of respect and responsibility that exists in the actual BDSM community. Also, I wasn’t setting out to write erotic fiction; I was writing epic fantasy with a subversive heroine. Phèdre’s sexuality is the most provocative aspect of her character, it’s her strength of will and her refusal to be a victim, her ability to resist despair, that ultimately make her a memorable heroine.

Andrea:  The world that you brought to life in the Kushiel series and that is still going forward with Imriel’s trilogy and now with Naamah’s Blessing is so detailed and dependent on its own unique history, pantheon, and customs. Over the span of so many lengthy novels, what methods do you use to ensure that you don’t contradict something from one book to another or leave out some important element? Have you ever found after a few books that there was an element you wish you had added in from the start?

Jacqueline:  I can’t think of an instance of the latter. As to the former, I wish I could say I had a method, but the truth is that my head is a very crowded place! I do often have to refer back to earlier manuscripts in the process of writing to make sure I’ve maintained consistency.

Andrea:  What methods do you use when you get stuck on a section while writing, or to combat writer’s block?

Jacqueline:  First, never try to force it. That just doesn’t work for me. I’ve been writing long enough to know when I need to step away and get some distance from the problem. I find I do a lot of my best creative mental work when I’m in motion – walking or jogging, or even driving. Although I remember fellow fantasy author Sara Douglass saying she swore by hot baths to cope with writer’s block, too. Whatever works, works!

Andrea:  How much of your writing comes from your life experiences and how much comes from fantasy? I’ve never written what I would call fantasy, but I’m sure it’s different from writing something more contemporary, or even a straight historical novel. Afterall, you have to invent the locations, you can’t go visit them.

Jacqueline:  In terms of worldbuilding, because I’m writing alternate history, I draw extensively on my own experiences. I can’t visit the City of Elua in Terre d’Ange, but I can visit Avignon in the south of France. I can take in the quality of the light as dusk falls over Provence, with the scent of lavender in the air, and find it achingly beautiful. In terms of the characters and plot, well, that’s pretty much entirely a product of my imagination. Obviously, I’ve never been a courtesan, a spy, or a swordsman in real life. I’ve never been abducted and enslaved, never had to make a daring escape, never enduring the fate of an entire realm riding on my shoulders. But I get to do it all in my imagination. That’s what makes writing – and reading – so much fun!

Andrea:  What is your most valued research tool when you’re building on the world in the Kushiel books and its following series?

Jacqueline:  I’d have to say my local library network, which is wonderful. I do a lot of old-fashioned book research, and while I’ll buy some volumes, the library allows me to do extensive background reading without breaking my budget or my already over-crowded bookshelves.

Andrea:  You’ve written Santa Olivia which was a departure from the sort of fantasy world that is Terre d’Ange. Are there any other genres or subgenres you think you may dabble in some day?

Jacqueline:  Oh, for sure! I’m currently working on a new project that’s more of a contemporary urban fantasy, and I suspect some day I’ll tackle a piece of straightforward literary fiction.

Andrea:  Who is the most influential person in your life where your writing is concerned? A friend or family member or teacher who was a motivator or influence on your drive?

Jacqueline:  My biggest supporter was my Great-Aunt Harriett, who passed away a year or so after “Kushiel’s Dart” was released. She’d read earlier, unpublished work, but due to the erotic content, I had a lot of trepidation about letting her read this one. I remember coming home to a message on the answering machine telling me she thought it was absolutely wonderful, adding in an acerbic tone, “And I hope people realize it’s more than just a sex book!” When it won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 2001, I dedicated the award to her.

Andrea:  You are on Facebook and you have a wonderful website. Do you feel that social media has made publicity for your work much easier? What influence do you feel that the ease of interaction with fans across the internet has had on your writing life?

Jacqueline:  Let me say up front that I’m fortunate in that I enjoy it, and I have a funny, thoughtful, wonderfully diverse group of fans with whom it’s a pleasure to interact. Social media absolutely affords writers a platform that didn’t exist before. That said, there is a downside in that it’s shifted the burden of publicity further onto the writers. We’re expected to utilize social media to promote ourselves and our work to our utmost capacity. It can be a real struggle for writers who aren’t comfortable with it, who are more private and introspective, or simply lack basic techno-savvy. And as much as I do enjoy it, it can be time-consuming, taking away from precious writing hours. It’s a balancing act.

Andrea:   If someone said they were going to make a movie based on Kushiel’s Dart, who would you like to see play the main characters?

Jacqueline:  I’m no good at playing the casting game! I’d rather see who my readers choose. If it were up to me, I’d probably want to go with a bunch of incredibly talented unknowns who don’t bring any media baggage.

Andrea:  With the increase in self-publishing thanks to the popularity of ebook readers, how do you feel about the new tools available to writers to get their work out there? Many writers who would never have been published are able to self-publish and publish via ebook. The downside of that is that there is a lot of less than stellar stuff to sift through if you’re looking for a good, new read. Do you see this as a viable option for beginning writers?

Jacqueline:  As of this writing, I’d say yes, if you’re good at marketing and self-promotion. There have been a few amazing success stories. However, the ebook market’s still in a state of flux. If traditional publishers decide to lower the prices on ebooks to be more competitive with self-published writers, I think that will limit their opportunities. Not that I’m sure it’s going to happen; I just don’t think the market’s really found its base level yet.

Andrea:  Now that we’re devouring Naamah’s Blessing and a new trilogy, are there any other projects you’re working on?

Jacqueline:  There’s the aforementioned contemporary urban fantasy – which is really a small-town fantasy – but it’s not in a place where I’m ready to divulge details yet. And I just finished proofreading “Saints Astray,” which is the sequel to “Santa Olivia,” coming out in November of this year.

Andrea:  What do you consider the best piece of advice to aspiring authors?

Jacqueline:  I’m going to cheat and crib from my own FAQ on, because I put a lot of thought into this one, and I don’t think I can top it: It's hard to give advice on writing, because the best way to learn is through doing. No two writers work the same way, and everyone has to find their own path. So… write. Write a lot. Build a world and explore it. Create characters and break their hearts. Take risks, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Experiment. All the methodology -- whether to outline in advance or wing it, write in a linear fashion or skip around, follow a rigid schedule or go with the flow of inspiration, edit as you write or worry about it later -- emerges with experience. As you write, you'll discover what works for you.

Andrea:  Is there anything else you would like to say or information you would like to give?

Jacqueline:  Thanks for reading!

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