This chat was originally published in Romantics, the newsletter of Toronto Romance Writers, in February, 2006.
This month, I’m chatting with “Otherworld” author Kelley Armstrong who we’re thrilled to have as a member of Toronto Romance Writers.
Hmm … Given the last two months of this column, anyone new to our group might think our members only write paranormals … but next month we’ll be going all medieval on you with HQN author Margaret Moore.
Maureen McGowan: Kelley, thanks for joining us and taking the time to answer a few questions. When did you first know you wanted to write novels?
Kelley Armstrong: I’ve been writing stories since I was holding crayons, but I never expected to make a career of it. In my family, writing was a hobby. Had I said “I want to grow up to be a novelist” my parents would have said “That’s nice dear...and what do you want to do for a living?”
MM: Sounds familiar … Tell us about your first sale. How many manuscripts had you written? Did you have an agent?
KA: I’d written a couple of complete novels before BITTEN, and countless partials. After years of “messing” with the novel that became BITTEN, I sent the manuscript to an instructor for his opinion, he recommended me to an agent and things happened very fast after that. So, yes, I did have an agent, who was a godsend. I have zero salesmanship ability and I’m willfully clueless about the business side.
MM: What did you do to celebrate?
KA: It was weird. I’d always thought I’d have some big celebration, but I was so worried it would fall through that I kept saying “I’ll celebrate after the next step”--after it sells, after the edits are accepted, after it’s published. When it came out, I took my family out for dinner. Oh, and with my first advance cheque I did what I’d always said I’d do with the first writing money I made: bought a laser printer. Yeah, I’m a writing geek.
MM: What do you think was special about BITTEN that clinched your sale?
KA: Never quite figured that out. Why this one rather than the others? Everyone told me BITTEN was unmarketable, that if I had to write “horror” at least I should write about vampires--there was a market for that. Of all the books I’d messed with, though, this was the one I loved, the one that I continued even when people said it wouldn’t sell. So if anything set it apart, maybe that was it--my passion was with this one.
MM: Did you think your books were going to be as big as they’ve become? Did your publisher?
KA: When BITTEN sold (1999), there wasn’t really a market for paranormals. They didn’t know how to market me--ended up trying to sell Bitten as mainstream fiction with a nice artsy cover. Impressive...but as soon as someone realizes it’s about werewolves, that whole “mainstream fiction” thing goes down the drain. So I’m as shocked as anyone at the way paranormals have taken off. Grateful, though. Very grateful!
MM: Chocolate or vanilla?
KA: Chocolate. Very dark chocolate. My kids won’t touch it--they say it tastes like unsweetened chocolate--so I can leave it lying around and no one even nibbles.
MM: Tell us a little about BROKEN. When is it hitting the shelves?
KA: BROKEN returns to Elena Michaels, the werewolf protagonist of my first two novels. She’s now pregnant, and having some trouble with Jack the Ripper's 'From Hell' letter. Stealing it was easy enough...until she accidentally triggered a dimensional portal into Victorian London, releasing zombies, disease, and maybe a notorious serial killer himself. It’s due out May 2006.
MM: It sounds exciting! I can’t wait. Do you write full time? What’s a normal writing day like?
KA: I call myself a full-time writer and parent, because with young kids, it’s hard to do anything else truly “full-time.” A writing day when my kids are gone is “send them off, then write/edit madly for 6 hours until they return.” A writing day when my two kindergartners are home is “answer e-mail & snail mail, do my accounting and other business stuff and maybe get a scene or two edited or blocked out”. Plenty of women can write with kids around, but I need chunks of uninterrupted time.
MM: I’ve heard BITTEN has been optioned for a film and that Angelina Jolie is attached to the project. What’s the status? Will you get to meet Brad?
KA: Warner Bros. was going gung-ho on it...then cooled right down after Catwoman tanked, and didn’t renew the option. So it’s back with the production company that originally bought it. I’m not sure whether Ms. Jolie is still attached, but I figure that between Brad and the babies, that woman is way too busy to be thinking about werewolves.
MM: At RWA Nationals in Dallas, every editor and agent seemed to be looking for a werewolf series. How does it feel to have started a new sub-genre?
KA: I think I lucked in on the ground floor more than starting something. I get a laugh when I see new werewolf paranormals, though. I remember the first editor who was interested in BITTEN and took it back to her company’s bean-counters, who looked up sales figures of the last werewolf novel and said “no way.” Times and tastes change, sometimes rapidly!
MM: Dogs or cats?
KA: I have both, but I’m more of a dog person. With our dogs, I can return from the grocery store and they greet me as if I’ve been away for years. With our cats, we feed them, pamper them, clean up their crap, and they still give the impression they’d be gone in a flash if they got a better offer.
MM: (Dogs rule!) What are you reading right now?
KA: In my reading basket right now? Stephen King’s THE CELL, Rick Mofina’s WHEN ANGELS FALL and “Magical Interpretation, Material Realities: Modernity, Witchcraft and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa” (research...obviously).
MM: What are you working on?
KA: I’ve had to pause writing book 7 of my Otherworld series to do edits on the first book (EXIT STRATEGY, available July 31, 2007) in a new crime series. The log-line my publishers use for it is: an ex-cop turned ethical hitwoman. I don’t know how the market is for hitwomen...but I guess I’ll find out!
MM: What’s your favourite thing about being an author? Your least favourite?
KA: Favourite? Easy. I still cannot believe people actually pay me to stay home and spin yarns about werewolves, witches and ghosts. It’s a dream job. Least favourite? The realization that my “dream job” isn’t like my corporate career, where unless I screwed up big-time, I could have my job until I keeled over in my cubicle (and maybe even after that.) It’s always sobering to consider how fast I could lose it if my muse or the market dries up.
MM: What do you know now that you wish you’d known before your first sale?
KA: Hmm. I wish I’d been better prepared for what it would feel like when that first book came out--the stress of giving interviews, worrying about sales, reviews, etc. In a way it was like being unprepared for giving birth--it was a milestone in my life that I expected to a time of unrelenting joy, and while there was plenty of joy, there were times when I was gritting my teeth waiting for that opening month to be over. But of course that didn’t keep me from enjoying the rewards...or doing it again.
MM: And the most important question: What’s your favourite drink?
KA: Cuba Libre. (sounds so much better than “rum and coke”)
MM: Thanks for chatting. I’ll buy you one after the next TRW meeting!
Check out Kelley’s website at www.kelleyarmstrong.com