Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An interview with Kelley Armstrong

Hello and welcome to Love Romances and More. Thank you for taking the time to talk with several of us from Love Romances and More Reviewers and our readers. We have thoroughly enjoyed several of your books and hope our readers will enjoy them as well. The questions we have for you today come from Gina, Dawn and Tammy.

One of the first things we at Love Romances and More and our readers want to know about your writing is how long have you been writing?

I don’t want to scare you, but I (Gina) have to tell you I’ve never been a fan of first person or werewolves. It was a major shock for me when I read BITTEN and was within the first few pages not only immersed but immediately ordered your entire back list. I’m a pretty picky reader so when something impacts me that much it’s pretty spectacular. So let me ask you, what draws you to writing first person?

In LIVING WITH THE DEAD you write third person for the first time. How was that for you? Did you have to stop yourself from slipping into the first person at any point?

Living with the Dead was the first novel I'd written that had to be done third person, because the story needed multiple points of view. I've done third person before, in some of my online work and lots of unpublished work, so I could switch to that form easily enough. The problem was that one of the narrators (Hope Adams) narrated the previous book, so as hard as I tried, I couldn't get her into third person. I had to write her parts in first person and switch them to third.

Do you think you’ll continue writing third?

I'll only return to it if a storyline demands it. I don't mind third person, but I know a lot of my readers are accustomed to first person in my series (and the genre in general), so I won't write third just for the sake of doing something different! But if I get another idea that needs third, sure, I'd do it.

Which came first, the concept of WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD or your own intrigue with werewolves? In other words, was there a specific supernatural you were attracted to (maybe like Gina is to Clay) and it just went from there or was it an attraction to werewolves?

I've been writing books with paranormal elements for as long as I can remember. I like werewolves--a combined love of animals and the paranormal--so I suppose it was my natural starting point for the series.

Where did the idea for Elena come from?

Elena started in a short story (Truth & Consequences, on my website) I needed to write a new story to present to my writing group, and I was watching the first season X-Files werewolf episode--typical blood-thirsty man-beasts--and thought "That's not how I'd do werewolves." So I sat down to write a werewolf story. Elena came from that.

BITTEN has so many wonderful layers to it. Elena’s conflicts, her epiphany that one of the things Clay has done for her was to give her a way to be who she really is. And to top it off, she is, in my opinion, the alpha of her relationship with Clay. In a world of alpha males, what was it like for you to write such a wonderfully strong female?

I don't know. LOL. I didn't set out to write a strong female. I never do. In this case, I was trying to write a woman who could survive and thrive as "the only female werewolf" without being a complete hard-as-nails kick-ass character.

Okay, I’m not too secretly “in love” with Clay. Really. He’s just a character, right? One that just saunters off the page and into our imaginations. When we first meet him, sitting by the gate, just waiting, Gina’s initial thought was that he was a tad slow, kind of a goober. Then as we see more of him, it becomes clear just what an amazingly special guy he really is. For us he demonstrates the epitome of unconditional love. Is he based on anyone you know in real life?

No, sorry! My husband is an amazing guy--completely supportive--but I've always been very careful never to base characters on people I know. It's like with the women, I don't want any of them to be "me" or my fantasy persona. With Clay, I wanted him to have bitten Elena without her consent. That put the conflict into the story--how does someone like Elena get past that? I had to build Clay to be a man she could initially despise and blame, yet also someone who could eventually win her back.

STOLEN was a darker story, especially with the cruel way some of the characters die. Were those scenes hard for you to write?

Actually, in a lot of ways, I prefer the darker stuff. My roots are in horror, so I like visiting the dark side. That said, I'm horrible at killing series characters. I have a bad habit of even letting my villains survive, after I've planned for them to die (Karl in BITTEN, Leah in STOLEN, that guy in PERSONAL DEMON--I won't tell his name, being a newer book and potential spoiler! If I enjoy working with a character, even a villain, I want to bring them back, as I did with Karl and Leah.

DIME STORE MAGIC and INDUSTRIAL MAGIC take readers into Paige Winterbourne’s world. In both stories you tackle some serious emotional issues, like children being killed. Was it as difficult for you to write as it was for us to read?

Killing children is always an easy emotional "push button," which makes it tough for me to decide to do it. If they're being killed just for shock value, then it's a cheat. If they're being killed because it fits the plot concept, then it'll still be seen as a bit of a cheat. With the runaway in DIME STORE MAGIC and the Cabal employees' kids in INDUSTRIAL MAGIC, I upped the age to teens to shift a bit away from that problem, but that didn't make it any easier to write those scenes. They're supposed to have an emotional impact--it's necessary for the plots--but it's still difficult to do.

HAUNTED was a fun read because of Eve (Gina totally relates to Eve). There was this set up for her as troublesome in STOLEN, DIME STORE MAGIC and INDUSTRIAL MAGIC. In HAUNTED we learn just what Eve is really about. She’s an awesome character. How much of Kelley is in Eve?

Eve is my "character least like me." Sorry! The only thing we have in common is having a daughter, so that's why that part of Eve's life is such a critical element in HAUNTED. I could imagine what it would be like for Eve, dying and leaving her daughter behind, knowing she should let her go, but wanting to watch over her.

In HAUNTED you put Eve in a pretty untenable position—does she become an angel or does she spend eternity with the man she loves. That’s a pretty hard one for anyone, living or dead to confront. I can tell you if it were my choice, I’d take the man I love. What would Kelley Armstrong choose and why?

If I was me, I'd say take the guy. I wouldn't feel any particular need to become an angel. But then I'm not Eve--with powers that could really be helpful as an angel, and a past she feels she needs to compensate for (even if she hates to admit it)

BROKEN had me pretty darn happy because there was lots and lots of Clay in it. (Did we tell Gina’s in love with him?) The part where Elena talks about she, Clay and Nick going to the movies and how she and Nick wanted to see something Clay didn't and how she told him she was going to get popcorn and then actually went to a different movie made me laugh, but it also left me feeling bad for Clay. He is such a good guy. He’s honest—what you see is what you get. That’s one thing about your writing I really enjoy—that you can make me laugh, but at the same time, evoke a host of other emotions. Do you do anything special to get yourself to that place in your writing where you have a character do something so ordinary yet at the same time evoke myriad emotions from that simple act?

I wish I could say it's a talent that I work very hard at developing, but sadly, no... It just comes out that way. And with Elena and Clay, there's always that little extra edge to the humour. They've come a long way, but there will always be fireworks--that's just their personalities--though by the time we reach FROSTBITTEN, it's a bit gentler.

I liked how you worked out Rose – giving her, as a secondary character some interesting depth and personality. She’s a pretty grotesque character to begin with and gets more so. Did you need to do anything special to get in a place to write her or did she just flow?

Rose was one of those characters that would be easy to do as a caricature, and I had to try harder to see her as a person, and get a personality from her, so she wasn't just another rotting zombie whore. (I know, there are just so many of those in fiction)

How do I ask this without giving away a plot ending…so work with this if you want. Did you consider going in the other direction with Clay than where he ended up?

No, I knew that's how it had to end because it plays out in their future--how does Clay feel when Jeremy wants Elena to be Alpha, and Clay won't be the perfect bodyguard? I have this aversion to "temporary serious injuries," where characters are gravely injured in one book, then pop back in perfect health in the next one. So I knew how it had to end and that it wouldn't be temporary.

Which of your female characters, Elena, Paige, Eve, Jamie, Hope, Robyn or Nadia are most like you?

Elena is closest to me in what I call the "socio-economic factors." Same age, same educational background, similar careers (writing), grew up in the same geographic region... That made it easier for me. After that I branched out more. Personality-wise, though? We have some traits in common, but not a lot.

Which one do you want most to be like?

Hmm. Well, while I wouldn't want to be Paige, I wouldn't mind sharing her selflessness and commitment to her causes. Oh, and I want Elena's metabolism--can I have that?

Nadia Stafford from EXIT STRATEGY is perhaps one of the most intriguing characters we have seen in a long time. I’m a huge fan of Alexander Dumas and my favorite of his is The Count of Monte Cristo and in some ways Nadia reminds me of him…doing the right thing for perhaps the wrong reasons, after all, she does kill for a living. She’s an interesting study and I’m sure evokes some strong reactions from readers. How does one justify applauding a killer? Yet there are aspects of Nadia that I think most of us would like to have in a friend, perhaps even a best friend. What was it like for you when you were writing her?

Nadia is a lot of fun to write. I'm always looking for a challenge in characters--creating one who isn't necessarily the obvious, lovable heroine. That is indeed divisive for readers, though, so I always know I'm taking a risk. But I'm not really interested in the easy heroines. Ones like Nadia--with all her quirks and edges--are the most engaging for me.

Would you like Nadia as a friend?

I don't think that would be safe, all things considered (I'd be terrified of saying the wrong thing to her!) She'd be an interesting person to know, but friends? No. At this stage in her life, she's a little too volatile for me.

Or were there times you just wanted to have the killer take her down?
Ha! No. Readers might have that reaction to some of my heroines, but I have some affection for all of them. If I ever created one I'd rather see dead, you'd never see the book--I'd put it aside.

Was it hard to take someone who is doing the wrong thing (killing) and make them likeable?

It was a challenge, because I don't share Nadia's value system. But that made her more interesting as a character--I had to build up a backstory for her that would explain those values to my own satisfaction. I think the harder thing, actually, was not to make her TOO likeable. In the early drafts, I went a little too far that way, stripping away some of her edge. I had to remind myself "she's a hired killer--she's not supposed to be the good guy" and put that edge back in.

Jack or Quinn? Which one would Kelley Armstrong like to come home to at night?

Um, neither? With fictional guys I think they'd be fun or interesting on a temporary basis, but they aren't someone I'd choose to build a life with. That's particularly true for Jack. Coming home to Jack would be coming home to an empty house most of the time. Quinn is far more stable, but still, neither is exactly "get married and raise a family" material. But Nadia isn't either, so it all works out!

NO HUMANS INVOLVED is Jamie Vegas’ story. It was synchronistic for me that I finished reading it on the day the Las Vegas jury found OJ Simpson guilty. Gabrielle’s is reminiscent of Nicole Brown, but her killer isn’t named and the paradigm of the afterlife as seen through Jamie’s eyes doesn’t make for disclosure of who the killers are. Did you ever consider naming them?

No. With the Brentwood murders/deaths of NO HUMANS INVOLVED I used some real stories and some fake, my criteria being that if the ghost actually appeared, I fudged the story and the names. It doesn't seem right (or wise!) to make living people into characters. I did something similar with HAUNTED. If the people were still alive, the names and stories were changed. If they were long dead (like Lizzie Borden) I used the real stories and names.

WHAT were you thinking making us wait for Jamie and Jeremy to consummate their relationship? Ack! I thought Clay and Elena were a hot couple. They are but mere embers next to Jeremy and Jamie. Did you do anything special when you wrote their love scenes to get in the mood?

No, just the same rather boring thing I always do--consider the characters and their situation and personalities, and try to come up with the best scene for them...preferably not like a scene I've done for another couple.

Are we going to see more of them as a couple?

I do plan to do more Jeremy and Jaime. I have a few planned narrators in store (Elena and Savannah), but they top the list to return after that.

PERSONAL DEMON brings back werewolf Karl Marsten and we learn why he deviated from the pack. When you introduced him in BITTEN, did you know he’d be back and on the path with Hope?

No, he was supposed to die in BITTEN, at first near the beginning, then at the end. But I decided he was a character I could work with, so I kept him, though it was 6 books before I found another spot for him.

We meet tabloid reporter Hope the first time in NO HUMANS INVOLVED and she has her own story in PERSONAL DEMON. I’m curious, given who her father is, why there wasn’t at least a cameo appearance by him. Did you consider it? I’m curious why not.

Do you mean her dad or her demon father? I haven't introduced demon fathers for any of the characters so far (I think). I've established that they don't have contact with their offspring usually, so it would need to be a big deal if one did. As for her human "dad," he just hasn't had a place in her stories yet.

LIVING WITH THE DEAD is your most recent release and part of the Women of the Otherworld series. The ending was for Gina one of those ones where she wanted to reach through the pages and yell “Kelley WHAT are you thinking!?!?!?” Once that initial reaction was under control, the possibilities had me rubbing my hands together in glee. Finn and Damon are so cool. Is there a chance for Finn and Robyn?

Actually, the ending isn't intended as a cliffhanger, and I got a bit of a shock when readers started interpreting it that way. It's just Hope reflecting on the past and the future, and what that future might hold for supernaturals--but a distant "over-the-course-of-the-series" future, the same way her reflections on the past cover a number of books.

As for Finn and Robyn, I'm really not sure what will become of them. The reaction to Robyn was what I feared--so many of my readers are big paranormal fiction fans that they had little interest in a human character who seemed unlikely to become a supernatural. I think she's a nice addition to the series, but she'll probably stay in the background, unfortunately.

And it was good to see Eve again for even just a few minutes.

Every time it seems like you have run the gamut in characters another one pops in with all kinds of possibilities. Do you have a cast of characters all worked out or do they come to you while you are writing?

They come to me as I write. A lot came in with STOLEN, and I've slowed down the character creation since then, but I try to add a couple of potential permanent characters with each book. Then I see how readers react to them.

You are working, I understand, on a new series geared towards young adults. Was this something you’ve been wanting to do? I know I’ve spoken with other authors who are known for say historical romance and they want to cross over into romantic suspense and their agents and editors will tell them to hold back a bit. Is that part of your move into straight thriller like EXIT STRATEGY and your new Summoning series?

Yep, THE SUMMONING came out in July and has done very well (in part because of the success of TWILIGHT and interest in young adult paranormal stories) I've wanted to do this novel since I thought of the idea with STOLEN. I'm very fortunate in having both an agent and editors who are very open to me trying new things. I suppose with the Otherworld series they've come to expect me to mix things up (different narrators, different tones, different types of narration) In Canada and the UK I have the same publisher (and the same editors) for all my books--Otherworld, Nadia and Darkest Powers.

How many books do you see for this and will we get a glimpse into the world of Chloe Saunders?

The Chloe books were sold as a trilogy (the Darkest Powers trilogy) and it's a true trilogy--one big plot over three books. I've recently extended that contract to six books, but there's no stipulation that they be Chloe books or even Darkest Powers books, so I haven't decided anything yet.

If you were given a choice of one book to be made into a movie, which one would it be and why?

Honestly, I don't know. If I had complete freedom, I'd probably do HAUNTED because it offers a lot of what I like in movies, and would have the opportunity for a lot of eye candy. It'd probably also be the most expensive one, though!

Who would you cast as the lead?

Oh, well, to be honest, I suck at this game. I get a kick out of hearing readers' ideas for casting, but I have a hard time matching the face I envision with an actor. If we're going with HAUNTED, I'll say Demi Moore. She had a good "Eve" look in Charlie's Angels, with the long dark hair and athletic build.

Want to know who Gina would see in some of the guy’s roles? Just kidding. (Brad Pitt as Clay, Adian Quinn as Jeremy, and Keanu Reeves as Karl. Okay and I can see Adian Quinn as Jack or Quinn). 
Do you have anything you’d like to add?

I don't usually add a plug for my next release, but this one is special. The next book (February) is MEN OF THE OTHERWORLD, which is actually three former e-serials and one new story--on Jeremy's birth, Clay's childhood, Jeremy's ascension to Alpha and Jeremy (finally) finding out his mother's supernatural race. The special part is that all my advance and any future royalties, world-wide, go to World Literacy of Canada.

Reviews of Kelley Armstong's Books:
BROKEN: Women of the Underworld, Book 6
EXIT STRATEGY: Nadia Stafford Series, Book 1
LIVING WITH THE DEAD: Women of the Underworld, Book 9
PERSONAL DEMON: Women of the Underworld, Book 8
PERSONAL DEMON: Women of the Underworld, Book 8


Anonymous said...

Great Interview and I love Ms. Armstrong's thinking. :) Thanks for this.


Estella said...

Your books sound great. You are a new to me author and I'm going to check your books out.

Dianna F said...

I just wanted to stop and let you know how much I have loved reading your Women of the Otherworld Series and am looking forward to reading the Men of the Otherworld soon. I also have read The Summoning and am intending to purchase another copy to give to my teenage daughter for her 17th birthday in March. I am hoping she will like it as well.

ddurance said...

I love the sound of the Summoning and am looking forward to reading it.

What do you change about your writing and mind-set to write in the YA genre?


Cheryl M. said...

I'm so glad you didn't kill Karl off Kelley! He's my favorite character and I was so excited that he and Hope got their own novel. I'm hoping Savannah gets her own story someday too, any plans for that?

Kelley Armstrong said...


I'd replied before the weekend, but my answer apparently got lost in cyberspace! You asked what I changed about my mindset and writing for the YA.

For my mindset, I had to remember what it was like to be 15. That worried me--I'm a long way from there! But once I got into it, I realized it wasn't that different from recalling what it was like to be 22 or 28 or any other age I've given my characters.

For writing, I cleaned up my language. That's not a necessity these days, but my protagonist is on the young side for YA, meaning the books can pull in readers as young as 9. While I'm sure they've heard profanity, some parents/teachers/librarians prefer to think otherwise :) It was easy to clean it up and use "He swore" instead, to keep it somewhat realistic.

All the best,

Kelley Armstrong said...


Yep, there are definitely plans for a Savannah book. She's next on the list--book 11. I'll be starting that one in about a month.

All the best,