The OF Blog: May 2003

Friday, May 16, 2003

Jacqueline Carey Interview


Jacqueline Carey was born in 1964 in Highland Park, Illinois. After receiving B.A. degrees in psychology and English literature from Lake Forest College, she spent half a year living in London and working in a bookstore, traveling once the work permit expired. Upon returning to the U.S., she embarked on a writing career while working at a local college to provide a steady income and traveling when possible, thus far ranging from Finland to Egypt. She currently lives in western Michigan, where she is a founding member of the oldest Mardi Gras krewe in the state.

Her debut novel, Kushiel's Dart, was released by Tor Books in June 2001. Previous publications include various short stories, essays and a nonfiction book

1: First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this interview. What inspired you to start writing a Fantasy novel? How did writing a Fantasy Fiction book compare with the Non-Fiction work you had done previously?

I’d been writing fantasy and science fiction as a labor of love for a good ten years before I wrote Kushiel’s Dart, so this wasn’t something new for me—it was just that my work took a quantum leap in calibre, leading to a major professional breakthrough. Writing fantasy fiction is an infinitely deeper experience than writing nonfiction. There’s a level of immersion—in the characters, in the story—that’s truly gratifying. I enjoy nonfiction, but I don’t lose myself in the process the way I do writing fantasy.

2: What were your favourite reads as a child, and do you think the influenced your choice of genre? If so, in what way?

Oh, definitely. The earliest favorites I recall are C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. These instilled a love of fantasy in me at an early age, and in my teen years I went on to read J.R.R. Tolkien, of course, and Ursula K. LeGuin; also Terry Brooks, Stephen Donaldson, Richard Adams and Patricia McKillip. All of them wrote books that had that wonderful ability to open doors onto new worlds, which is so much a part of the fantasy experience. When I began to write, it seemed natural to want to create that same magic, both for myself as a writer and for other readers.

3: Did you set out to write a trilogy, with a set plan, or did the series just evolve that way? Did you know what you intended to write beforehand, or did you let the story take it's own course?

I didn’t plan a trilogy from the outset, but I knew the potential existed, so I deliberately left a door open at the end of Dart and took some time off to contemplate. Lo and behold, the concepts for both Chosen and Avatar surfaced, and the overall arc of the trilogy. All three were fairly thoroughly plotted in advance; at least, I knew all the main plot points. There’s too much intrigue woven too intricately for me to function without knowing where the story is going. I also do a lot of research in advance, so I need to have a pretty good mental road map of the territory I’m covering.

4: How much do you write on the average day? Do you set targets for how much you will write in a day, or a week?

I write anywhere from 2-6 hours a day, depending on my energy and inspiration. No targets, though. It’s a method that works for some writers, but not for me.

5: When working to a deadline, do you find this puts you under pressure? Do you think pressure is a good or a bad think for a writer to have on him/herself?

I’ve been fortunate so far in that I’ve been on a tremendous creative roll for the past five years or so, and I’ve been able to meet my deadlines without too much pressure. But it certainly can happen, and I suspect whether it’s good or bad, whether it’s a helpful kick in the butt or a paralyzing force, depends on the individual author and how their creative juices are flowing at that particular point in time. I don’t look forward to the day I find out which it’s going to be.

6: Do you read other authors from the genre? What are your favourites?

I do. In fact, I began reading Robert Jordan when I was out with a nasty flu, and a kind friend gave me the first few books in the Wheel of Time series. I was happily ensconced on my couch for days! Guy Gavriel Kay and George R.R. Martin are a couple other recent favorites; also, I enjoy some graphic novels, like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books and Alan Moore’s work.

7: Do these influnce your own works in any way?

Doubtless they do, although I try not to read anything too close to what I’m working on while I’m immersed in writing. As a result, the influence tends to take place on a subconscious level, so savvy readers may be quicker to note it than I am myself. On a conscious level, I’m more aware of influences like Mary Renault’s historical fiction or Alexandre Dumas’ tales of swashbuckling intrigue.

8: When you create characters, how do you go about creating their personalities. Are there any characters based on people you know in real life? Is there one based on yourself?

I honestly don’t know where characters come from. I do pay close attention to people—how they think, what motivates them, how they respond to one another, to events—but I’ve never based a character on a specific individual. Of course, there’s a part of the author in every character, it’s only a piece. Beyond that, it’s a bit of a mystery.

9: Do you think that when you have written a character for long enough, you get to know them as if they were real? Have you ever let compassion for a character influence plot development?

Yes to the first, no to the second. The plots are woven tightly enough that there’s simply not a lot of wiggle room. But I have felt really, really horrible about a few of the characters I’ve killed—and I’ve had my share of friends calling to say, “I hate you!”

Thank you for answering those about yourself, here are some questions about the plot (mainly for "Kushiels Dart" )

10: First of all, how did you go about choosing such a fascinating alternate history? Did creating the Euline Cycle take much thought, or did you already have an idea of what the worlds religious system would be?

I’d been thinking about it for a while before I began Kushiel’s Dart. I got to do a lot of research while working on the Angels nonfiction book, reading apocrypha and pseudepigrapha and a good deal of Jewish folklore. That really helped my nebulous ideas take a more concrete form. In the figure of Blessed Elua, I wanted to combine aspects of Dionysian wandering fertility gods with the Judeo-Christian messianic tradition. The chthonic and the celestial, as it were.

11: Is there any reason it is based in a medievial Europe setting, as opposed to a completely fictious one?

For me, it’s fun. I love history, I love research, and I hate footnotes. As a reader, I enjoy those “Ah-ha!” moments of recognizing familiar signposts in the mist; as a writer, I enjoy weaving the real and the fantastic into a seamless new whole.

12: What would you say to the accusation that the D'Angeline's are a "perfect race" is a leaning towards the Nazi ideals of WW2?

A challenging question! The D’Angelines are terrible snobs, no doubt about it. They have a marked superiority complex, and over the course of the trilogy I tried to make it evident, in subtle ways, that this worldview is neither necessarily deserved nor shared by other peoples. It derives from the fact that they’re the youngest nation in their world, with founding deities who spread their divine genetic materials and knowledge around with unprecedented generosity. That’s loosely based on a Biblical account referenced briefly in Genesis, related in detail in the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch—fallen angels getting mortal children, teaching them profane arts… like using cosmetics, believe it or not! So yes, I gave my D’Angelines a touch of supernal physical grace, but that’s as far as it goes.

In a sense, despite their sophisticated aesthetic, they have a lot of growing to do. And in their defense, the worst the majority of D’Angelines are guilty of is vanity and insufferable condescension. Those deeply concerned with maintaining ethnic purity in the lines of succession are definitely among a villainous minority.

13: Obviously, sex plays a central role throughout the entire series. Did you worry that your books might be considered pornograpic? How did you go about writing the sex scenes? Many authors are quite timind when it comes to sex scenes, (Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind), whilst others are quite "in your face" (George R.R. Martin), whilst other still seek the middle ground; Steven Erikson, for example, doesn't shy away from sex scenes, but doesn't make a big thing of them. How would you describe your sex scenes, compared to some other authors? Sex is integral to the plot, but I found most of them relatively understated. Would you agree with this?

So many questions under one header! I didn’t worry about the books being considered pornographic, but I did worry about the potential for their being considered deliberately sensational or exploitative. I tried very hard to walk a fine line here. The sex scenes are integral to the plot, and I sought not to give them a disproportionate weight. The level of description and the pacing should remain consistent with everything else that happens. While the impact may be intense due to the edgy content, the scenes are not, in fact, terribly graphic as such things go. So yes, I’d tend to agree.

14: One of the most amazing things I found about "Kushiel's Dart" was the ammount of action you managed to put into 900 pages! (I purchased it when I was in New Zealand a month ago, and it kept me going for quite a while!) How did you manage to keep such a pace going, whilst at the same time managing to fill it with so much detail?

This is another one where I’m not quite sure myself. From the beginning, it was simply a Very Big Idea, and it gathered its own momentum as the threads of the plot unspooled. However, I’m aware of paying a price. The capacity of my memory for everyday data seems to have grown less acute, edged out by all those massive chunks of plot in there!

15: Do you have any more ideas in the pipeline for future books? Will they be based on the D'Angeline world again, or will you create some new worlds?

I actually just delivered a new manuscript with the working title Elegy for Darkness. It’s a standalone novel set in new world. Epic fantasy, very much in emulation of Tolkien, with one twist: It’s a tragedy, written from a perspective sympathetic to the ‘minions of the Dark Lord.’ No sex scenes in this one! J.R.R. was many things, but a sexy writer, he was not, so I didn’t feel it had a place here. All in all, it will be interesting to see how readers respond. Beyond that, I’m considering another D’Angeline trilogy, though with a different protagonist. A lot of readers who have finished Kushiel’s Avatar have already figured out where my thoughts are headed.

16: Do you have any suggestions for our members as to how to go about writing a novel? Many of them (including me ) are aspiring Fantasy / Sci-Fi authors, and I am sure they would benefit from any advice you would care to give them.

This is always a tough question, because no two writers share the same process; what works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for you or other members. I do a lot of advance plotting and research, character development, contemplation of central conflicts and underlying themes. For the most part, I work without notes. Some authors write detailed outlines; some work with index cards or flow charts. Others simply pick a starting point and go, discovering the story along the way. Some benefit from workshops or critique groups; others work better alone. There’s no right or wrong way. Whatever works for you, works. Ultimately, it all boils down to the same thing: The only way to learn how to write a novel is to write a novel.

Best of luck to you and all the aspiring writers out there! With passion and persistence, all things are possible.

Thank you very much for answering these questions, and I look forward to reading your forthcoming works!
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