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WesternSFA
A Chat with Kelley Armstrong
by Catherine Book
July 2013
Kelley was a participant at the 2013 Phoenix Comicon this past June and I was so pleased she agreed to an interview; especially since she lives in Canada and who-knows-when I’ll ever see her again.

My first question was how important she felt social media to be for her career.  As a computer programmer, by trade, Kelley always felt comfortable with technology but when she first started in 2001 it was rare for a writer to have a website – presumptuous even - with only one book published so she didn’t have a website until her second book.  These days you’d want to have one as soon as that first contract is signed – if not before.  Publishers’ expectations of authors have changed a lot too.  It’s gone from “it would be nice if you have a page” to “we want you to have….”  And the list might include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Pinterest.  But it’s Kelley’s opinion that you should pick just those with which you are most comfortable and what you enjoy the most.  If you use Twitter, for example, but aren’t comfortable with that format, it will show.  Kelley isn’t very fond of Twitter or blogging, its 140 words that could be her writing, instead.  She’s had to step back from some things; she got an assistant to help with her email.  She does still read every single email but most responses come from her assistant, all her Twitter is Kelley, but Facebook might also be coming from her assistant – but, in every instance, her assistant will identify herself as such.

How long has Kelley been writing?  She’s been writing all her life, her first sale was in 1999.  She hasn’t had a day job since the second book came out; and it’s not that she was making that much money, it was more a matter of too much on her plate.  But she’s happy with that choice and has never had to go back.

What were her influences?  Stephen King.  She said there wasn’t much in YA speculative fiction so she fell into King pretty easily, particularly because she loved horror.  King taught her how to make the supernatural seem natural.  He also taught her the importance of characters.  In most horror, the characters aren’t well-developed because they are usually doomed to be killed off.  But King can make the most insignificant character important or memorable so that when he finally kills him/her off, the reader has an emotional reaction. The other, obvious one, was Anne Rice.  She showed Kelley that the monster could be the protagonist. 

I then was interested in knowing what Kelley thought was most important in her writing – plot, setting, characters?  She answered characters, definitely.    She always starts with characters and builds a plot around them.

Kelley used to have a routine of writing in a quiet room but as life progressed – children, travel, etc., she found that she needed to be more flexible or she wouldn’t be writing as much.  She’s a morning writer, rising about 5am to start writing.  Later in the day she’ll do editing and business tasks.  She’s a quick first drafter creating a first draft in about two to four months.  She used to write a little, edit a little, write a bit more, edit a bit more.  She learned that, for her, it was best to get it all out quickly while it was fresh and edit later.

Kelley has an impressive publishing schedule this year – five books:  The Rising in April 2013, Loki’s Wolves came out this past May, Spellcasters Omnibus came out in June, Omens in August 2013, Wild Justice in Nov 2013 and, not to mention, a couple short stories in anthologies.  Most of them were written over a year ago.  She’s currently about 40,000 words into the third book of the Cainsville series (Omens is the first) due in Summer 2015; so she’s writing well ahead of schedule.  Book two (still untitled) is at the publisher and it should show up on bookstore shelves in Summer 2014.  She’s not sure exactly how many books will be in this series, it may depend on how the characters develop; she started it as a trilogy but she thinks it may end, ideally, with five or six.  Cainsville is a very strange little town with a murder mystery but a great deal of the story will take place in Chicago.  Her Age of Legends series first book Sea of Shadows, will be out in spring 2014 and the second book in 2015.  She’s pretty confident that story will be finished in a trilogy.

Does Kelley write in two books/series at the same time?  No, she answered, although she can be writing in one and editing in another.  Each story/series has a different voice that comes out of the story time and location and they don’t mix well.  Is there a favorite of hers?  It’s whatever she’s working on at the time because, after all, if that isn’t what she most wants to do, maybe she should be working on something else.  Is there anything of which she’s most proud?  She’s pretty proud of her Otherworld series.  She did what she wanted to do and she ended it at the right time and she got all her characters at the point she wanted.  Of course, there’s always room for short stories….

Exciting news: the Otherworld series has been picked up for a new TV show by a Canadian station called Space Channel.  It debuts in early 2014.  If you’re a fan, you may want to check your local provider and see if they offer the channel…and if not…write a letter.  I asked her how much involvement she expects to have in the project.  None, she laughed.  She doesn’t know anything about TV and there are plenty of people in charge who do.  She’s very happy with the scripts and the characters and she thinks if she stuck her fingers in she’d just make a mess.  She does see the scripts but acknowledges there is no guarantee what direction they may take the show.  They are focused on the first book, Bitten, for the first season.  But, as with Charlaine Harris’ series, it may end up in a different place.  She did say she was glad the series is already done so there won’t be any influence on her writing.  No one can expect her to alter her stories to fit something in the TV show.

How did Kelley enjoy her collaboration with Melissa Marr on Loki’s Wolves, the first in their middle-grade series The Blackwell Pages?  This is a planned trilogy.  In fact, since Melissa was also attending Comicon, they got together to plot book three this weekend.  Book two is in copy editing right now.  Interestingly, she and Melissa actually get together physically to do their writing.  It’s a very intense process that works well for them.  Kelley writes in the morning, Melissa gets up at lunchtime and they spend the afternoon brainstorming, plotting and editing so that when Kelley is on her way to bed, Melissa is just settling down to write.  They get a lot done. And these books actually have titles:  Odin’s Ravens and Thor’s Serpent.

I observed that Kelley is pretty much all over the map with her work.  She hasn’t picked one successful series and just stayed there churning out stories in the same world.  She has so much variety I imagine there’s something there for just about anyone.  She agreed that it is very tempting to stay with something that works when sales are still growing and fans are still happy.  So, to end her Otherworld and her YA series Darkest Powers was pretty scary but being able to write something different was so exciting for her.  And she’s doing it again with her Nadia series, the third book Wild Justice coming out in November is going to be the last one.  And it’s not that she wraps everything up, much will still continue after the story, Kelley is just ‘moving away’ from it.  And I have to admire that.  I know there have been times when I just got tired of my favorite writer never producing anything new and fresh.  I think some writers lose readers who go looking for someone different.  I predict that Kelley’s fans will be as all-over-the-map as her stories and will know that when they come back, she’ll have something new and different for them.

Thank you, Kelley, for a most enjoyable interview.  I look forward to future opportunities to meet you; but will, in the meantime, watch you through your stories.

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