Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview with Kevin Hearne (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “HoundedHERE
(Photo Credit: Kevin Hearne)

Amongst the various genres which I read, I’m always fascinated by Urban Fantasy. I think it’s due to the juxtaposition of the magical with the mundane world which gives most readers—including me-a reading high of sorts. In this sub genre, things are often competitive as there are only so many legends and mythologies which one can utilize and so it is always fun for me to discover new authors who manage to subvert old plots with new twists and/or take upon lesser-utilized mythos. One such person is debut author Kevin Hearne who snagged my interest when his book series, The Iron Druid Chronicles, was announced last year. I managed to get my hands on the first three books in the series—Hounded, Hexed and Hammered—which I’ll be reviewing in the forthcoming weeks. I really enjoyed the novels and immediately wanted to know more about the author behind the books. So I’m deeply grateful to Kevin Hearne who graciously agreed to answer the questions amidst his hectic work schedule and to Robert Thompson for his help with some of the questions. Now onto the interview with the man whose vivid imagination has flowered quite a tale set in the Arizona desert…

Q: Thank you very much for agreeing to participate in an interview. To begin with, could you introduce yourself for our readers and tell us what set you on the path of a writer?

Kevin: I love to read and write; I teach American Lit for my day job. What got me interested in writing was Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was such a brilliant example of what can be achieved through point of view and voice. It spoke to me like no other book had done before, and I wanted to tell stories with a voice like that. All of my favorite books are first-person narratives with extraordinary voice—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and so on.

Q: You have set your series in Tempe, Arizona. I cannot say that I’m a seasoned Urban Fantasy reader, however I don’t think there is much Urban Fantasy set in Arizona. What prompted you to choose this particular setting besides it being your native state?

Kevin: Familiarity was certainly part of it, but since my main character is a Druid hiding out from the Fae, a desert seemed like a good place for him to hide. And I also thought readers might be ready for some stories outside of New York and L.A.

Q: Could you elaborate more on the journey you went through in finding a publisher, what you think of Del Rey, and what you think they saw in your book?

Kevin: I started writing in college and I’m “self-taught” in the sense that I never attended a writing conference or took classes. I must have begun three or four novels and never finished them. My first completed novel took me six years, and I kind of knew from the start that it wasn't very good, but I submitted it anyway and got rejected quickly. I shrugged it off as a training novel, because the hugely important lesson that I learned from it was that I could finish writing one. My next book was an epic fantasy; it was twice as long and only took me half the time. I actually got some nibbles on that one, but while it was out on submission I got the idea for Hounded.

I’d been reading a lot of urban fantasy and thought perhaps it would be fun to drop a Druid into the modern world. The odd thing was how fast I wrote it compared to the others; it took less than a year. I sent some queries out to agents, an intern found me in the slush pile, and I had representation in about six weeks. Once my agent submitted Hounded, he got very positive responses and we sold it at auction to Del Rey. Who, of course, are simply fabulous to work with; as far as what they saw in my work, my editor says what grabbed her was the voice, so that made me very happy.

Q: How do you plan on celebrating your first book which is published on the 3rd of May?

Kevin: I’m going into a bookstore and taking a picture of it on the shelf, because seeing something I wrote in a bookstore has been my dream for twenty years now. I’m going to buy it, sign it, and give it to the person working at the register. Then I’m going to go have a beer at an Irish pub. I’m having a launch party on May 9 at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, and the festivities after that will be a bit more extensive.

Q: Since Hounded is your first published novel, what did you think was the most challenging part about writing the book? What about the easiest or most rewarding?

Kevin: Anything involving police procedure is challenging for me, as are the fight scenes. I don’t watch crime drama and I don’t fight, so those bits take quite a bit of work on my part. The easiest bits (and the most fun for me) are slipping in allusions to literature.

Q: So when and how did the idea for The Iron Druid Chronicles first come about, how long have you been working on it, and how much has it evolved from its original conception (if any)?

Kevin: The idea was spawned in the spring of 2008. I was reading a lot of urban fantasy at the time and was trying to figure out a way to contribute to the genre that hadn't already been done. A male protagonist seemed like a good idea, since there weren't many males on the scene back then (and there still aren’t). And then, I confess, I wanted a hero who could talk to his dog, because I’m a dog person and I’ve always wished I could do that. Once that was decided, it kind of grew organically based on my own love for Celtic myth: My hero would be a real Druid who could tap the magic of the earth and talk to animals if he wished. So I did a wee bit of market analysis at the front end to find an unoccupied niche in urban fantasy, but this whole thing really snowballed once I put names to Atticus and Oberon.

Q: Speaking of the series, how many volumes are projected, how far along are you in the next book, and is there anything you can tell us about books 4 & 5?

Kevin: As of this moment, I’m not under contract for anything past Hammered. If the first three books do well, I’m shooting for either seven or nine volumes. Eight is simply impossible, so is ten, and eleven seems unforgivably long. I’m 40% through book four right now, hoping that people will dig the first three and tell all their friends. You can keep track of where I’m at on my blog; I keep progress meters on the sidebar (right hand side column). Book four will be called Tricked and book five is called Trapped.

Q: In the fantasy genre, cover art has always been a hot topic, especially how important it is in selling books. How do you feel about the covers for your books and what are your thoughts on the difference between Urban Fantasy covers from say “Paranormal romance”, et cetera?

Kevin: I love my covers, and Del Rey was an absolute dream to work with in that regard. My editor and I actually put together a piece on the creation of the cover for Hounded. Here’s the link for it if you’d like to check it out. I think UF covers tend to feature more weapons and slightly more clothing than paranormal romances do, and I definitely pushed to make sure Atticus was fully clothed on the cover.

Q: What are some activities or hobbies you enjoy?

Kevin: I collect comic books; I paint canvases and miniature models; I catch Shakespeare plays whenever I can; and I hug trees, both literally and figuratively.

Q: Your world is a melting pot of multiple mythologies; usually most books are centered on a singular mythology. What was the thinking process behind this move?

Kevin: It’s easy for people to point at someone else’s beliefs and say, “Hey, somebody just made that up a long time ago,” but not so easy for them to admit their own beliefs were made up too. The idea here is that yes, all the gods are made up, but that means that they’re all equally real, all equally valid. And I’ve been having tremendous fun playing with the idea that just as governments derive their powers from the governed, so do gods derive their powers from their worshippers. The true power is on the worshippers’ side. But if all these gods are real and still kicking today, why don’t we see them? Because on a fundamental level, we don’t believe we can. The gods are supposed to stay in Asgard or on Olympus or wherever, and so they do. Whenever they walk the earth, we filter it out because it simply can’t happen. Our faith is truly powerful—both in terms of what we believe in and what we don’t.

Q: You once mentioned that you have a secret affection for hand drawn maps. Can you tell us a bit more about this fascination for maps and will you be making one for your books?

Kevin: I do love maps, and if I ever whip my epic into shape it will have a map, by golly, a proper map. For now, there is a hand-drawn map of Asgard in Hammered, presented in-text as something Atticus draws for the benefit of others. I am not afraid to share that I’m geeking out about it. It’s just a little thing, but I did it myself, and I love it.

Q: Atticus’s tale seems a bit contained in just three books. What are your plans to take the story forward from there?

Kevin: Oh, there’s plenty more story, believe me. While the story arc involving a certain Norse thunder god is resolved in Hammered, it creates a bevy of new problems for Atticus, and he’s warned about those problems by a couple of different deities. Right now I’ve plotted through book six. He stays in Arizona for book four, but after that he’s out of the U.S. and hopping around the world quite a bit. What causes him to do that I’ll have to keep secret for now!

Q: As you mentioned, you are a big comic book fan and that was apparent throughout the anecdotes in your books. Which comics are your favorites?

Kevin: Growing up I was a huge Spider-Man fan. But somewhere along the way Marvel came out with fifteen different titles or so and I couldn't keep up, so I dropped it. I also might have matured a wee bit from age seven to twenty-two, I don’t know, and I was looking for more than dudes in tights. So when I returned to comics after a hiatus in college, I discovered The Sandman and saw how comics could be relevant for adults and even hold literary merit. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns remains a masterpiece, for example. And damn, just look at what Alan Moore has done. These days I read Northlanders and Chew.

Q: In your Suvudu post about “Considering the audience” you have listed Tabasco, freckles and strawberry lip gloss amongst the list of things you dig but rarely see, so what fascinates you about these three?

Kevin: Merely their rarity in most urban fantasy. I’d be equally fascinated by a game of cricket in urban fantasy or maybe a main character who was gay or lesbian. My point was that there are many things in our urban lives that we see and love and deal with on a daily basis, but only a small percentage of those things have made it into stories so far. Leather pants, for example, seem to be represented disproportionately to their actual existence in life. So I’m trying to insert a few things I haven’t seen much of yet, and I admit it’s mostly for my own entertainment, but I hope others will be entertained as well.

Q: As a writer are you interested in branching out into different media (comic books, television, movie scripts, videogames, etc.) or trying out a genre besides urban fantasy? If so, what and why?

Kevin: Writing a comic would be a blast. If there’s anything I’ve wanted to do more than write novels, it would be putting together a comic. That’d be nerd heaven for me. I’d also like to finish my epic fantasy, and maybe try some other genres if inspiration strikes me. But in terms of television and film, nah, those don’t hold any allure for me right now.

Q: You have included various mythologies in all three books along with some phonetics on your site. How did you go about your research? Did you find any quirky things amidst your research? If so could you list the top three amongst them?

Kevin: There is an awful lot of extant material on mythology out there on the net. Much of it I trust only a wee bit. I like to confirm things with human beings who have degrees in those fields of study. That’s not always possible, but I do what I can. One of the interesting things I’ve noted is how different the Irish pantheon is from other pantheons. You see a lot of similarity across pantheons, but the Irish equivalents are always different; they’re truly unique as a pantheon. For example, the huntresses in Greco-Roman tradition were virgins, but the Irish goddess of the hunt, Flidais, has a well-renowned appetite for sex. The deity of love in many pantheons is female, but for the Irish it’s male. And the gender reversal continues: the Greco-Roman gods of the forge are male and disfigured, but the Irish version is Brighid, who’s quite beautiful and the deity of poetry to boot.

Q: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer these questions, are there any parting words you'd like to leave for your readers?

Kevin: Well, feel free to say howdy, because I don’t live in an ivory tower—it’s more of a squat stucco box. I love to see comments on my blog and get involved with the discussions. I have an author page on Facebook, contact emails on my website, and while I don’t follow many people on Twitter, I do respond to the @ mentions as often as I can. You can follow me @kevinhearne. Mostly, I hope you’re entertained by Atticus and Oberon. Thanks so much for having me, Mihir!