Note: The following interview was conducted in March 2008 as part of a graduate fiction class project surrounding FOR A FEW DEMONS MORE. It has been posted here with Kim Harrison's permission.
Q: Let's start with a fairly obvious question and one you've most likely faced in the past. When and how did you first "come up with" the idea for Rachel Morgan and the Hollows?
Actually, the idea was born in desperation. I had been trying to break into print in the novel market, having no luck, so I took a year off to try to get some publishing credits in the short story market to put on my cover letter. At the time, there was some really weird stuff making print in the SF/Fantasy magazine market, and I knew I couldn't match it, so I thought, "You want weird, I'll give you weird. A pixy, a vampire, and a witch walk into a bar. . . " and the Hollows was born. The first chapter of DEAD WITCH WALKING is pretty much the short story that I came up with. It didn't sell either, and I shoved it into a drawer and went back to working with novel-length fiction. But the characters wouldn't get out of my head, and I eventually developed the short into DEAD WITCH WALKING.
Q: All of the Rachel Morgan books are written in first person, from Rachel's point of view. In my fiction workshop class, we discuss point of view a great deal. Two questions we are taught to ask ourselves when approaching a new story are "Who's story is it?" and "What point of view will serve to tell it best?" What made you decide to write Rachel's story in first person as opposed to third person?
When I first sat down to write a detective/PI character, I decided that though I would be spending time with relationships, the plot of solving a crime or discovering a secret would be tantamount. That sort of story lends itself perfectly to a first-person point of view, where the reader discovers the clues right along with the protagonist. I've since fallen in love with the first-person point of view, liking the challenge of trying to tell the reader what's really going on without making the protagonist look stupid for missing the obvious.
Q: Another question regarding point of view. I've noticed that many urban fantasy authors seem to prefer first person point of view. In my own work, I've written in both first and third person POV and feel comfortable using either of them. What advantages do you think first person POV gives an author working in this genre? What are some of the disadvantages?
Much of it is personal taste, but urban fantasy is usually a blend of action and attention to relationships. First person point of view allows the reader to truly get into the head of the character, and that is a clear advantage when emotions play a large part of the storytelling. I enjoy it because I can put in a lot of private thoughts. It's sort of a literary shorthand that helps speed things along that third person would take a lot more words to convey.
Disadvantages? Well, having come into writing from a purely layman's standpoint without a lot of preconceived notions, I have found there's a bewildering snobbish mentality from a lot of people regarding first-person point of view. I truly don't understand it. What tells the story best, tells the story.
Q: Another hallmark I've noticed with this genre is that urban fantasy novels can either be simplistic in their story structure or incredibly complex. FOR A FEW DEMONS MORE, like the other Rachel Morgan books, is fairly complex and is full of twists and turns and tons of intrigue. Because of their complexity, when starting a new book, do you plot out the major turning points or do you follow the "write by the seat of your pants" philosophy?
One of the wonderful aspects of urban fantasy is that it can encompass so many writing styles and genres. It's the characters that define the genre, not the writing style. Most of my early reading was science fiction and fantasy, and I think my work carries a shadow of the tight plotting, complex world development, and an intricate story line that these genres are known for. I have been watching the way I create a story change from book to book, fascinated by how it's been evolving. DEAD WITCH WALKING was written mostly by the seat of my pants with minimal plotting, but from then on, it's been a workable mix of plot and free-flow imagination. I always have a highly detailed outline to work from, showing the chapter by chapter flow, but usually by page 100, I have to change it when the accumulated tiny shifts skew the plotline in a different direction. Generally I rewrite my outline several times during a rough draft to take advantage of surprises that crop up. But I always have an outline. I don't work efficiently without it.
Q: When the series first began with DEAD WITCH WALKING, Rachel was a fully realized, three-dimensional character who was prone to some rather impulsive decisions that often had drastic and humorous consequences. As the series has progressed, she's grown more mature in her decision making process but still retains some of that impulsiveness that readers have come to love. Did you plan a character arc for her that encompassed the entire series or has this growth been mostly organic?
No, I didn't plan the story arc with any character growth. The character growth just grew from the character experiences. Character emotions, growth, and relationships are one area that I do not ever script out beforehand. Emotions are too subtitle to try to predict, and one phrase can shift love to dislike, and it's those surprises that keep me interested as a writer.
Q: Now for few questions regarding your experiences with publishing. Urban fantasy readers can be some of the most vocal when expressing both their support and displeasure for authors and the choices we make regarding who lives or dies in the story. Rachel's boyfriend, Kisten, is murdered in FOR A FEW DEMONS MORE. Kisten had been a fixture in the series from the beginning and had garnered a fan base of his own. Where you at all concerned about reader backlash when the decision was made for Kisten's demise?
Blithely innocent. I was blithely innocent when I killed Kisten off. As the writer, I could see ahead to the positive things that might come of it, and the hard realization that to keep Kisten around wouldn't help the future story lines. So I took him out trying to keep his character honorable and true to himself. Characters are always dying in science fiction and fantasy, and I was following that pattern. What I hadn't realized at the time was that much of my readership was romance based, and killing off the love interest is a big no-no in this genre. I did find that when I spoke up and explained why I did what I did, that the readers accepted it. Will Ithink twice before killing off another supporting love interest? Yes, but I will always follow my writing instincts and do what needs to be done to maintain the story.
Q: FOR A FEW DEMONS MORE is the fifth book in the Rachel Morgan series and the first to be printed in hardcover. Some authors have reservations about making the transition from paperback to hardcover for various reasons (established audience may not follow to new format, higher cover price may discourage new readers, etc.). Did you have any of these concerns while making this transition or did you view the change as a positive one for the series?
I viewed the change as a positive. My publisher has worked hard to make the hardcovers available at a reasonable price. It may say 24 bucks on the cover, but with pre-orders and discounts, a new copy is readily available for the cost of two paperbacks. The artwork is fantastic, and the book feels good in your hands., Solid and substantial. There's a lot of pages in there. Going hardcover is also a strong statement in the publishing community that my work is valued, and most readers know that and are cheering for me. Eos did not push me into hardcover willy-nilly, but carefully, with a lot of thought behind it and fantastic publicity support.
Q: You recently were on tour to promote the sixth book, THE OUTLAW DEMON WAILS, which debuted on the NY Times Best Seller List at No. 5. (Congrats!) I've heard authors say there are pros and cons to book tours. Some of the most frequent arguments I've heard have been that while they enjoy connecting with readers face to face, it takes away valuable time from their writing schedule that may or may not result in increased sales. Do you find promotional tours to be a useful marketing tool or do you not worry so much about the numbers and simply enjoy the opportunity to connect with readers?
Do I find promotional tours useful marketing tools? Yes. But that is only the smallest of reasons as to why I'm out there. I try to stay close to my readers, and I have a fantastic time getting out and talking to them. I'm not just signing books, I'm going to see people I've exchanged emails with, talked to on the Yahoo! groups and replied to posts on the post page. It makes a difference, and the long hours, exhausting air flights, and the scanty sleep mean less when you know you're going to see some familiar faces in the crowd.
Q: Just a couple of more questions of a lighter nature. I've heard other authors talk about hitting the best seller lists for the first time. They're reactions have ranged from hysterical laughter to nearly fainting. You've made the best seller lists several times now. Think back to the moment when you learned you'd hit the lists for the very first time. What was your initial reaction to the news?
I was in Seattle, dead tired and on tour. When the call came in, it was about three in the afternoon, but I was trying to sleep. I really don't remember much. (grin) Shock was probably the best description. I never imagined to hit that high. I knew the books were loved, but to me, writing them was the important part, not where they fell on a list.
Q: I've attempted to explain the burning bunny concept to my classmates, and I don't think I succeeded. Please explain what the burning bunny stands for and how it came into being.
Oh! The burning bunnies. I came up with the idea for burning bunnies years ago, trying to describe where the drive to write comes from, the responsibility, I guess, for making sure quality, not flash, ends up on the page, something that someone else can build on. Burning bunnies are how I think of ideas. Soft cuddly ideas that seem so innocent and sweet. I take them in and feed them carrots. I pet them and talk to them. They look so cute sitting on my desk. Until they flame up and start procreating into more ideas, which I frantically chase about my office until I corral them with pen and ink, jam them in a box, and ship them off to New York. I don't know what New York does with them, but they end up proliferating even more until there is no choice but to bind them in paper and send them everywhere to get rid of them. Unsuspecting people see them sitting on the shelf. They look so sweet and innocent, and they're taken home where, if they're lucky, they're fed carrots. If luck stays with them, even more ideas are born. And that's pretty cool.
Q: Okay, last question. Is there any parting wisdom or advice you'd like to give to writers who are just starting their careers?
I have one favorite piece of advice I like to give to those people who have already committed themselves to writing. Write like you've already got the contract. And by that, I mean with purpose and intent. Don't spent a week on a chapter, write the chapter and move on to the next, realizing that it's a rough draft and you're going to edit it again later anyway, and probably to someone else's specifications. Making your vision and their vision one is what a good writer does, not sit in an ivory tower and say my way or no way. When I first began to want to make a living as a writer, I started acting like I was one already. I sat in my chair and wrote, even when I didn't feel like it, putting words on the paper until they started to make sense. Because that's what a writer does.
Thanks, Kim, for sharing your views.
Next writer for the "hot seat" will be Carolyn Haines, author of the Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series and recipient of a 2009 Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. Check back soon to see what Carolyn has to say.