Carrie Vaughn is the author of the popular urban fantasy Kitty Norville series. A Hugo Award nominee, Vaughn has published over fifty short stories in various magazines such as Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, and Asimov's, as well as in several anthologies.
Now Vaughn has a Kitty Norville story collection out, entitled Kitty's Greatest Hits. The book showcases Vaughn's storytelling skills and provided a good opportunity for Omnivoracious to catch up with this talented and extremely knowledgeable writer"¦
Amazon.com: Your body of work is much wider than "urban fantasy" but you are best-known for the urban fantasy Kitty Norville series. Do you like the label and do you ever see it as a constraint?
Carrie Vaughn: I have to admit, I'm a bit ambivalent about the label. On the one hand, it's a great identifying mark, and the audience who loves these books has really embraced it and celebrated it, and it's nice being part of such an energetic community. On the other hand, I get frustrated because the label means so many things to so many people, and I spend a lot of time answering questions about where books that used to be known as "urban fantasy""”those by Emma Bull and Charles de Lint, for example"”fit into all this. (I think they've been relabeled "mythic fantasy," but that just goes to show you how mutable labels ultimately are.) And I do think authors run the risk of being constrained by the label, from a couple of sides. Some readers won't read anything that even resembles urban fantasy, no matter what (and their comments about it online are downright hateful). From the creative side, I've talked to authors who think that in order for their books to be considered urban fantasy, there has to be a love triangle, or epic fight scenes, or a tortured heroine, etc. Really, though, I think "urban fantasy" ought to mean "fantastical elements in a modern world" and that's it. The more broadly we can define the label, the better for all of us.
Amazon.com: What are the joys, pitfalls, and challenges of writing the Kitty books?
Carrie Vaughn: The joys, there are many. I never had the experience of having a character "take over" a story until Kitty came along, and it's a huge amount of fun following her around to see what happens. I sometimes don't know what's going to come out of her mouth until I've written it, which is weird and fascinating. I also love taking on the tropes of the genre and screwing around with them. I write in genre that's all about "vampires and werewolves in the real world," and my favorite part of that is "the real world." Reality TV, Senate hearings, werewolf Army vets, faith healers, and so on. The radio show platform means I can take on just about any topic I want to, and establishing Kitty as a celebrity means I can put in her any number of situations as my on-the-ground observer for my supernatural thought experiments.
Now that I'm so far into the series"”I'm working on the eleventh novel now"”I'm running into more pitfalls and challenges. I desperately don't want to repeat myself, which is surprisingly easy to do, right down to the level of conversations. My manuscripts are now littered with bracketed notes that say things like "check Bk 4 for this" or "have they said this before?" It's in response to this sense of dÃ©jÃ vu I get when I'm writing. There's only so many ways to write a confrontation with an evil vampire, or shapeshifting under a full moon. I just need to work to come up with new ways.
Another challenge is reader expectation. I've seen what happens when I take the story in a direction that some of my readers disagree with. That doesn't mean I'm listening to my readers "“ I've got the story plotted out two or three books farther than what anyone else has seen, and I can't change direction just because of a few bad reviews. I'm determined to stick to my guns, but we all want to be liked.
Amazon.com: What are some of the most interesting responses you've gotten to the series from readers and reviewers?
Carrie Vaughn: My favorite is probably "I don't normally like this sort of thing but I really liked your books." In reviews this usually shows up as "surprisingly [adjective]." I like this because it validates the effort I've put into making the characters feel like real people who could exist in our world.
Very occasionally I get emails from people demanding to know where I got my information on vampires and werewolves because mine are so accurate. This somehow doesn't surprise me. (I once spoke to one of the authors of the White Wolf "Vampire: The Masquerade" game who warned me to expect this sort of thing.)
I also get quite a few heartfelt and touching emails from people who relate to Kitty and her weaknesses, and who say that reading about her helped them be stronger and stand up for themselves in tough situations. Those always make me feel great. Like I've earned my oxygen.
Amazon.com:Kitty's Greatest Hits should confirm for readers of your novels that you're also an excellent short story writer. Do you have any favorite short stories or favorite short story writers that have influence your own short fiction?
Carrie Vaughn: Ray Bradbury, of course. The master. As a teen I read The October Country over and over again, but pretty much all his stories had an impact on me. If I had to pick a favorite"”"Homecoming." Also as a teen I read dozens of science fiction anthologies that my parents had on their bookshelves"”all the classics, "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame" stories, and so on. I'm also going to confess to being a big fan of Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game." That was probably in every literature textbook I had from grade six on, and I ate it up every time. So I grew up on short stories, and I still read as much as I can. I just finished the Peter Beagle collection Sleight of Hand, and loved it.
Amazon.com: Is there anything about the Kitty Norville series that readers might not know?
Carrie Vaughn: People may not know how long it took for the first story to develop. I remember bringing a rough draft to the Odyssey Writing Workshop when I attended in 1998 and having my roommate Rita Oakes read it for me"”I wasn't confident enough to show it to anyone else, but she also wrote about vampires and werewolves and I knew she'd give me a fair reading. I finally managed a draft of the story that I was confident enough to send out a year or so later, and "Dr. Kitty Solves All Your Love Problems" sold to Weird Tales around 2000 (and appeared in the magazine in 2001). I'm not sure people realize just how long this character's been living in my brain.
Amazon.com: You've written stand-alone novels as well. Do you have a favorite?
Carrie Vaughn: It's tough to pick a favorite, because I love them all for different reasons. I'm proud of my YA books (Voices of Dragons, Steel), because I think I succeeded in my goal of writing about girls having adventures without needing a boyfriend by the end of the book. I'm proud of Discord's Apple because I'm still kind of amazed it all came together. But After the Golden Age is the most recent of them, and I'm very, very pleased with how it turned out. I still grin thinking of it. Celia West is so different from any of my other protagonists, and that makes her charming to me.
Amazon.com: For beginning writers who love urban fantasy and are looking to break into the market, do you have any advice?
Carrie Vaughn: Follow your heart. Seriously. If you're writing the urban fantasy book you think publishers want, you're going to end up writing what everyone else is writing. You need to put your own spin, your own loves and hates"”your own heart"”into the story if you want it to stand out from the substantial UF slush that's out there. What do you love about UF? Put that in. Is there something you hate about UF? Put that in, too.