A Conversation With Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey is the author of eight novels, with more on the way. If you’ve read any of her novels, you will understand that calling them simply Fantasy Fiction doesn’t begin to cover the myriad elements of her work. Carey combines Alternative History, Epic Fantasy, Romance and Intrigue into her stories to make a very compelling read. She’s written two novels from the point of view of the “bad guys” that will make you question the whole good guy/bad guy thing, so add Philosophy and Politics to the previous list. Her main series, Kushiel’s Legacy, takes place in a society that follows a demi-god whose precept is “love as thou wilt”. We recently caught up with her on the final stop on her latest tour in Portland, OR and got to chat with her about several subjects.

PCZ: How’s the tour going so far?

JC: It’s been really good. It’s been a little whirlwind. This is actually my last official day.

PCZ: Do you get to stay in Portland for a little bit?

JC: No! I get to go home. I’ve actually had a little more leisure time than I usually do. I had a whole free day in Seattle. But by and large, they schedule us to the max.

PCZ: So, moving into the books. It is, especially in film and in some TV and books, a popular thing to do prequels. Is that something you’ve ever considered, showing us who these semi-mythical people you’re talking about are?

JC: That’s interesting. I’ve been getting the prequel question a lot, I guess because I’m ramping up a series. No, that falls into a broad spectrum of questions to which the answer is “never say never”. But I’m not planning on it at this point.

PCZ: We’re curious how it feels to be promoting Kushiel’s Mercy, being out there talking about it, while you’re back at home and writing at least one that we know of.

JC: There’s a little bit of a disjunction, but I really love Mercy. It’s a book I’m really fond of so it’s not any hardship to put my mind back there. Also I’ve been asking audiences everywhere I go how many people have read it already. It’s ranged from 80-85 percent at a couple venues to only a third at some so I’ve been asking people to keep their questions specific to that book spoiler-free. So I’m kind of getting a lot of “y’know when you did that thing with the thing, was it hard to make that shift from that thing to that other thing?”

PCZ: We’re curious about Santa Olivia, too. That’s written?

JC: It is. It’s written. It’s been through the editing process. I do now have a pub[lishing] date for it, and that’s May 2009, but because this is something that my publisher was so not expecting, it’s not like they had a slot reserved. It was completely unanticipated by them, because when I was working on it I called it my super-secret project.

PCZ: So then, why the pseudonym?

JC: It’s so completely different. My tag line to describe it is a post-punk desert border town fable, with boxing and cute girls in love. I can’t say it any better than that.

“My tag line to describe it is a post-punk desert border town fable, with boxing and cute girls in love. I can’t say it any better than that.” – Jacqueline Carey on Santa Olivia

PCZ: We’ve read that somewhere. We like it.

JC: I envision it as a graphic novel written in prose form. It is written in quite a spare fashion. It’s half the length, it’s like a normal book length I should say, so half the length of my usual books and the prose is…it’s not stark, but it’s pretty minimalist. It’s a complete stylistic difference. Soft science fiction, I guess.

PCZ: So the pseudonym keeps it separate from your other work?

JC: They just felt that it was so completely different that anybody picking up a Jacqueline Carey book who hadn’t read an interview like this or seen it on the website or heard me promoting would be like “what the hell, where did this come from?”

PCZ: Where did it come from?

JC: I wrote it after finishing Mercy. I had a long cushion of lead time for a while because of “The Sundering” being split – being sundered! – into two. It was intended to be one volume, and by the time I delivered it, it was long enough that Tor just didn’t feel…

PCZ: That would’ve been a lot of book.

JC: Yeah. The Science Fiction Book club did it, but they use that really super thin paper. So when that go split in two, it kind of pushed the publication date of the second Kushiel trilogy back because they don’t want to have an author competing with themselves in releases.

PCZ: That makes sense.

JC: Every now and then there will be a reason that books come out more rapidly, like if an author who has a seven book series that’s published in the UK but not in the US is picked up, they might release them more rapidly than they would otherwise. But on a regular publishing schedule one a year is considered ideal. And that’s another reason for the pseudonym – they can shoe horn it in there.

PCZ: Are you going to do a tour for [Santa Olivia] as well?

JC: Oh, I doubt it.

PCZ: How do you do a book tour for a pseudonym?

JC: I don’t know. I know we’re going to be promoting it as an open secret.

PCZ: Is this going to be a trend for your non-[D’Angeline] books, doing a pseudonym, or is this just a special case?

JC: I actually do want to write a sequel to [Santa Olivia] so if I continue in that vein it would be with that pseudonym. But, you know, I might branch out in some completely different direction altogether at some point.

PCZ: How far out do you have the D’Angeline time line mapped? You’re working on Naamah’s Blessing, that’s a little further out there, have you gone past that in your mind?

JC: Not really, this will be another trilogy, and I’ve changed the working title to Naamah’s Gift.

PCZ: We’re not totally up-to-date on our reading.

JC: It’s alright, it’s a late-breaking change. I just told my editor. It gets hard to come up with titles that are appropriate. But that will contain one heroine taking place within a lifetime, and I don’t have anything beyond that mapped out.

PCZ: We’re curious if we get any payoffs in the new book from the open elements at the end of Mercy. Is there anything you can talk about from that?

JC: What elements are you curious about?

PCZ: Well, the Book of Raziel is out there. Imriel and Sidonie are talking about their legacy, their magic and philosophy academy. We’re curious to see how that plays out.

JC: You will see something with the idea of the magic academy. The book of Raziel, I have not fully decided yet. There are a lot of little things I do that, I think a lot of writing good books – good plots – has to do with building strong foundations. There are little foundation stones I’ve put in place along the way that I may or may not use. A lot of time they’re so unobtrusive that you might not notice it. This just happens to be a big, obtrusive one.

PCZ: There are a couple of things at the end [of Mercy] that gave us the feeling we should be paying attention to the details.

JC: I will play [the Book of Raziel] out at some point, but I’m starting to think not in [Naamah’s] trilogy. I’ve got a very good sense of the overall arc of what I’m doing, but there are certain chasms that I haven’t decided how to bridge and I was thinking that was going to be one. But I’m leaning toward not using that. It’s something I’ve always envisioned setting it up as a puzzle which I would later unravel, and I haven’t written the puzzle yet. The unraveling of it would be a whole quest novel unto itself. That just might not fit within my arc for [Naamah’s Gift], so it might have to take place later, which is okay.

PCZ: Your trip to China was research for [Naamah’s] trilogy, is that correct?

JC: Yep.

PCZ: Did you have an idea for a story ahead of time and did the trip to China change where you were going with anything?

JC: To be honest, I’ve always wanted to go to China. So, naturally I began to thinking about…

PCZ: How to write a book [based there]?

JC: Yeah. I’ve very much knew what I was doing plot-wise. I wish I could travel every place that I write about, but it just would not feasible.

PCZ: You do a great job making it sound like you have.

JC: Well thank you. I do a lot of research and I’ve done enough traveling that I’m able to draw on that experience to imagine landscapes I haven’t seen, but I was sort of starting to feel like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. China is so vast, and different, both in landscape and in culture, that I felt that it’s time for some serious re-immersion. I was writing up to the point of “and now we depart”. I took the three weeks off for traveling. While it’s not altering the plot, just the immersion in the landscape and the culture has very much altered the flavor and certain small elements.

At one point my girlfriend turned to me in this place called the Stone Forests, immense limestone formations, it was so striking, and she says [pointedly] “You are using this, right?” Whoa, yeah.

“At one point my girlfriend turned to me in this place called the Stone Forests, immense limestone formations, it was so striking, and she says [pointedly] ‘You are using this, right?'” – Jacqueline Carey on her research trip to China

PCZ: How could you not!

JC: I think it will probably show up in some of the second book as well. When I got back I really couldn’t begin writing for at least a couple of weeks because I was still processing so much. I just really got back in the swing of it, and then I had to go on tour!

PCZ: Did you purposely pick a pseudo-European setting to keep from being too familiar in what you’re describing? It would be easy to make it a New York City setting or something like that.

JC: It was a trip to the South of France that really inspired my choice of the home base setting. I just fell in love with the sights and sounds, the quality of the light. “The Exile’s Lament” that Thelesis says came out of my experience of being in Provence at twilight with the lavender blooming and the particular beauty to that.

PCZ: Pardon us if we’re not pronouncing everything just right. It’s hard when you’re reading something to turn around and pronounce it right.

JC: Well, there’s a real range. When people ask me how to pronounce things, within a certain range I like to say it’s whatever you hear in your head is right. I fall into Anglicizing the names a lot just because it’s more comfortable discussing them. It’s funny when I’ve been interviewed by French speakers from Montreal who speak English without a trace of an accent until they get to one of the French names and then it’s “So where did Joss-lehn learn to…” and I’m like “Joscelin?” And they’re correct. But it’s a little jarring talking about it.

PCZ: Kushiel’s Dart was your first published novel, is that correct? And that was seven years ago. So since then over [the Sundering series], two trilogies and about to start another what have you discovered about yourself as a writer and about the characters in the universe[s] you’re writing in?

JC: Characters and where they come from are still very much a mystery to me in a lot of ways. I think I’ve become more comfortable with the fluidity of the writing process and more aware of how I use the rhythm of language in my writing. Learning to mesh my research and writing processes a little more seamlessly and streamlined.

PCZ: We’ve read before that for you the story is first and the characters fit the story and you keep them on kind a tight leash. Is there any time when a character really wants to go somewhere and…

JC: I’m by and large a tight leash writer. You hear other authors will say “Oh, this secondary character that I didn’t think was significant stepped forward and really took the plot in a different direction.” All of [my] big epic books are too tightly plotted to allow for that. Writing in the first person, as all the Kushiel books are, makes it harder for secondary characters to muscle anybody off-stage. But having said all of that, I will say that in Santa Olivia, the ending is slightly different than I envisioned it and it does have to do with another character stepping up.

PCZ: We’d like to hear about your response to all of the fan art! Your support of it is fantastic. [As an example] We’ve run into a salesperson in Best Buy who had Phedre’s marque on the inside of her wrist and when we mentioned it, she lit up! People have this incredible loving response to the characters and to your authorship. How does that feel for you?

JC: It’s really wonderful! I don’t take it very personally because I think once you’ve written something and released it into the wild that these books belong to the readers as much as they do to me and nobody reads the exact same book. The experience is so subjective and it requires so much participation by your own imagination that everybody’s bringing something different to it. I think it’s wonderful that there’s enough in the books that it’s struck different resonant chords for so many readers, but I’m aware it really is different. The people who’ve gotten the tattoo – for some it’s a mark of emancipation. I know some who’ve got it graduating from college. For some, it’s a statement of affirmation and pride in their own nature. Reclamation. I hear from quite a few people who are survivors of childhood abuse that have found the books to be a positive influence. And there are a couple of people who’ve said “Yeah, I just really like the design. I haven’t actually read the books yet.”

PCZ: We want to know what the inspiration was for the guy who did the racing lawnmower!

JC: I know! That was one of my favorite fan things ever! Nothing says divine love like a racing lawnmower!

“That was one of my favorite fan things ever! Nothing says divine love like a racing lawnmower!” – Jacqueline Carey

PCZ: That’s pretty inspired! So, going off in a totally another direction, We’ve read you somewhere talking about as a Fantasy reader wanting more “intellectual substance and adult emotional sensibility” in Fantasy fiction. We’re curious how that is informing your own writing. We can see where it is as a reader but, we’d like to hear from you about it.

JC: I think it did from the get-go. I think it’s true of me as it is of many writers that we write what we want to read. When I began writing in 1997 there just wasn’t a lot out there wasn’t kind of fluffy in some way. What was out there that wasn’t fluffy tended to be uber-gritty, testosterone-y.

PCZ: Or a little bit didactic.

JC: So I wanted rich and sumptuous, but also thought-provoking. Y’know, epic, but sexy too.

PCZ: Or asking the hard political questions, like “The Sundering” series.

JC: That’s one of the pleasures of writing it, that challenge very much was an intellectual one.

PCZ: We could see in “The Sundering” “can we just assume someone is evil because they are doing something we don’t like” and we could see where that’s going on [in the wider world]. The political thing seemed to echo itself a little in the second Kushiel series also. What’s that like with the real world going on over here and the creative world going on over here and how are you balancing them and bringing them together?

JC: It’s weird to me that so many of [my] books have been written against a backdrop of war. I think the invasion of Afghanistan began when I was writing Avatar, if I’m remembering my time line right. These are issues I think about. In “The Sundering” I very obviously wanted to make the point that good versus evil comes down to who’s best at PR. I try not to get on a soapbox, but [“Sundering” is] a philosophical work. In the second Kushiel series, there are questions like “Is it worth destroying a thing to save it?” which comes up in the first one. I think often as authors playing in the Fantasy sandbox we use things like war and battle for the adrenaline thrill of it without ever trying to examine the horrible aftermath. I’m always trying to get a little horrible aftermath in there.

” I think often as authors playing in the Fantasy sandbox we use things like war and battle for the adrenaline thrill of it without ever trying to examine the horrible aftermath. I’m always trying to get a little horrible aftermath in there.” – Jacqueline Carey

PCZ: You don’t seem to be shy about punishing your characters a little bit.

JC: This is true.

PCZ: Does that ever get difficult? Coming back to how you think of your characters, do ever just really know you’re going to write that something happens to someone and you really don’t want to?

JC: Yeah. Yeah, there have been a few where I’ve been like, “Sorry!” Sometimes, if it’s in service of a plot, and hopefully it’s always in service of a plot, but there’s an additional facet in that when you’re writing from the first person that unless you’re going to pull some really fancy narrative tricks, it’s pretty obvious to the read that the narrator survives at the end. So, in order to maintain suspense and a sense of genuine jeopardy, having everybody else be in danger – having the reader know “she could kill someone at any time” – it’s important for maintaining that sense.

I had a friend tell me just before the end of Avatar, she called me and was like “I just want you to know, if Joscelin doesn’t make it to the end of this one… you remember that Stephen King book, Misery?” and this is a friend who means it.

Thank you very much to Jacqueline Carey for taking time out before her last appearance to talk to us. Also, thank you to her publisher, Hachette Book Group USA for arranging everything.

Comments are closed.