Saturday, November 7, 2009

Kelley Armstrong Q & A

I present to you, this morning, the questions you sent me and the responses from New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong. She is the author of the Nadia Stafford mystery series and the Otherworld series of novels. Frostbitten, the 10th book of the Otherworld series is available now. Her YA urban fantasy novel The Reckoning, third in the Darkest Powers Trilogy, will be available May 2010. For a little more background on Kelley, and my request for questions last month, you can link to my previous post here.

The cover illustrations of your books, especially the latest, Frostbitten, are beautiful. I'd like to know if you have any input into their design or are given a choice of covers. Or is it out of your hands?

I don't choose the art. In fact, with most of the covers, I don't see them until they're done. This is common with the "big" publishers. It's only with small publishers (or really big names) that the author gets a significant say in the cover art. It's a marketing decision, and I leave it to the pros.

Was there any commercial reason to start writing conventional crime fiction, as opposed to your established modern fantasy books? Did you pull your existing fans along to the new series or have you had to establish a new fan base?

I started Exit Strategy after my third Otherworld book was written and there was some concern because the first two hadn't sold as well as the publisher hoped. I was about halfway done the book when I sold Dime Store Magic and everything took off. A few years ago, my agent asked if I wanted to finish Exit Strategy, and I did. I read a lot of crime thrillers, so it would be my second choice of genre to write in and makes a nice change of pace.

I would like to know how easy it was for you to find a publisher for your werewolf series. Were you already published when you wrote them?

In my twenties I started working on novels, and would sporadically send out query letters and sample chapters, but never got anything more than a form letter rejection. So I gave up and concentrated on improving.

When I finished Bitten, I had an instructor look at it, to see how well I was progressing. He offered to recommend an agent, and things happened very quickly from there. Within a couple of months I went from being unpublished to having multiple book contracts. So it was a long empty road, with a very quick stop at the end!

What techniques do you use as an adult to capture the teen mind when writing YA fiction such as the Darkest Power Trilogy?

I don't simplify the story lines or the characterizations at all. I think that's important. Teens understand and enjoy complex characters, dark themes, etc. I do tweak the language, not for the audience, but to suit the younger narrators. In my first trilogy, there's no sexual content. Again, though, that's a reflection of the main character, who hasn't even dated yet, so it's not an issue. In short, then, to write for young adults, I just use a young adult main character and make sure she really is a teen--in her language, in her way of thinking, in the issues that concern her and the tools she has at her disposal.

The biggest challenge was that I'm a whole lot older than my main character. As a teen, I hated it when adults tried to write in a teen voice and it was painfully obvious that they were on the wrong side of thirty. Having a daughter in the right age group made that easier--I had a living subject to study and a built-in focus group.

When you were doing your degrees, were you writing? What did you put in place to give you the time to write?

Growing up, I never thought 'writer' was a valid career choice, probably because my parents didn't. They fully supported it as a hobby, but didn't think it was something you should plan to make a living at. So I went to university for psychology. As I was preparing for graduate school, though, I realized I was heading into a career that would leave me no time to pursue a dream of publication. So I switched gears and went into computer programming, which gave me a 9-to-5 job that paid the bills while I took writing courses, joined writing groups, and worked at improving my craft. I sold my first novel in 1999 (it came out in 2001) and started full-time writing in 2002.

Everyone talks about needing to have a web presence as an emerging writer. It seems to me that the most successful writers worked on their writing, got the book deal, and then worried about a web presence. What do you think?

For promotion, I'd urge them to find what they enjoy and do that, rather than taking everyone's advice on "what works" and spending a lot of money. Other than having a decent website (which is always worth the cost) nothing has been proven to absolutely increase your sales. So you do what you enjoy. Most of all, though, you work on the next novel. That's what will advance your career far more than any promotional efforts.

I would like to thank Kelley for taking time away from her busy schedule to provide in-depth answer to some really insightful questions. For more information about Kelley Armstrong, or her novels, please visit her website here. If you're interested in reading a PDF version of her Fall, 2009 newsletter available on her website, you can click here.


Cate Gardner said...

Fantastic interview, Alan & Kelley.

Aaron Polson said...

Thanks for this. Always nice to see what someone who makes a living with words has to say.

Rebecca Nazar said...

Very informative. Thanks, Kelley and Alan.

Fox Lee said...

She looks like Joan Jett : )

Katey said...

Really good stuff-- I was particularly interested in the thing about writing for YA. I used to get really annoyed about that same thing when I was a teenager, and I always wonder how people do it, now that I'm creeping up on 30 myself (and notice my MCs getting older). Very cool stuff!

BT said...

Excellent - thanks to both of you. Darkest Powers Trilogy book one an two have now been ordered. By the time the third one gets here, I should be ready to read them all back-to-back!

I agree with Katey - the YA question was brilliant advice - what an insightful question...;c)

Danielle Birch said...

Great interview, Alan and Kelley, thanks for sharing.

Alan W. Davidson said...

I'm glad that you liked it...Natalie, I hope Kelley has read this post, I'm sure that she'd find the Joan Jett thing cool...

K.C. Shaw said...

Excellent questions, and interesting answers! Thanks for the interview!

Erin Cole said...

This was an excellent interview Alan & Kelley. I found the questions valuable, inspiring, and well addressed. I hear it is talent and persistence to succeed as a writer - it is clear Kelley has both. Congrats to you.
Thanks for this Alan.

Alan W. Davidson said...

KC and Erin - Thanks...and thanks, also, to the folks that contributed the great questions for Kelley (You know who you are ;)

Laurita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurita said...

Fantastic interview! I became aquainted with Kelley's work when a friend absolutely insisted that I read Bitten. Bitten I was. Thanks so much for this.

For those who don't know, Kelly's website is fantastic, with lots of writing tips. Check out the link.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Thanks, Laurita. You're right about her website. I thought that it was great and packed with useful stuff.