Kelly Gay is an urban fantasy writer to whom I was introduced earlier this year. Her books were an interesting read as they showcased some of the best urban fantasy fare mixed with good characterization. I was curious to know more about her plans for her series, her writing style and her interests, read ahead to know more about Kelly's thoughts on the aforementioned topics. My thanks to Kelly for being so considerate and for agreeing for this interview midst her hectic schedule.
Q: Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer , what experience you went through in finding a publisher, how you ended up with Pocket, and anything else you’d like to share about yourself?
Kelly: Thanks for the welcome!
Hmm, let’s see… Well, honestly, I have no idea where the inspiration comes from, or why I’m compelled to make things up. I’ve been inspired to tell stories since before I could remember (so say my parents who recorded me on cassette tapes making up wild tales as a toddler). The need to delve into make-believe never went away, and by the time high school rolled around and college, careers, and the future came into play, I just always knew I wanted to have a career in writing. I remember reading Anne Rice in class, thinking, “God, I want to do this too. I can do this.”
At first I focused on plays and screenplays, but gradually switched over to fiction. And so began a long process of about fifteen years wherein I went from one job to another while writing, submitting, and getting rejected over and over and over again. In 2008, I landed my second agent and one of the places she submitted to was Pocket and I’ve been with them ever since.
Q: Could you explain how the genesis of the Charlie Madigan series occurred? How long have you been working on it and how much has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?
Kelly: Charlie came to me back in 2005/2006 as this full blown 31 yr old single mom with a complex personal life, and a stable job set within an alternate version of our world. Typical of her, I guess, to just show up ready to go like that! I gave a lot of consideration to the typical UF heroine tropes, and wondered if readers would be open to something a bit different, an older heroine, who already knows who she is, has been married and divorced, has a child, and has a stable background. I decided to go for it. I couldn’t let go of the idea of mother protecting her young, and how awesome that would be to see in a kick-ass UF heroine. To me, it made the entire venture more exciting and gave me so much to work with.
Charlie has definitely evolved since the first book, but this has been the idea from the very beginning. I wanted to start her out with still a few things to learn; a few things she needs to come to terms with and change about herself. I think it’s easy, especially as a person ages, to sink into habits and patterns without even realizing it. And that’s what’s happened with Charlie, and through the series, she realizes some things she’s been doing that aren’t so great. I wanted that to be very real, a natural progression of personal realization/growth.
Q: When you first began writing "The better part of Darkness" did you plan it to be the first book in the series or was it a standalone in which you saw further possibilities?
Kelly: Yes, definitely first book in a series. At first, I envisioned a trilogy and had a faint idea in my head about how the overall story arc would go. (It was all very vague at the time and didn’t turn out anything like I imagined it would!)
Q: In regards to book & series titles, whilst most series have a certain naming pattern like the Magic Series by Ilona Andrews or the Western movie titles for the Hollows series by Kim Harrison, yours doesn’t have a series title yet and had a pattern with the first two books but wasn’t the case with the third, why do you think this is so?
Kelly: For titles, I was okay with leaving the word ‘dark’ (and all its variations) behind after the first two books (that’s not to say that if it works in a subsequent title I wouldn’t use it). Our goal with each title is just to try and keep the same, or close to the same, syllables, rhythm, and evoke the same kind of tone the series evokes as a whole. And, of course, to bring some of the story out in the titles.
We’ve never officially named the series and just refer to the books as the Charlie Madigan Series or the Charlie Madigan Books. Which is okay with me. I don’t feel like they have to have a certain name. Before the second book, there was some talk about naming the series, but it never really went beyond that. I think everyone - me, my editor, and publisher - is cool with just having Charlie front and center as a series name.
Q: What was the reason/s for you choosing Atlanta as the primary setting for the books? And will you be exploring the world beyond the city in future volumes?
Kelly: Atlanta was chosen because I wanted a hot, southern city large enough to support a large population of off-worlders. The fact that there is an actual Underground sealed the deal because I was able to transform that into a new, expanded neighborhood for the beings from other worlds.
I plan to explore more of the worlds beyond Atlanta, for sure. A large chunk of the fourth book, SHADOWS BEFORE THE SUN, which comes out next July, takes place in Elysia. And I’d like to explore more of all three worlds in the future.
Q: Who are your literary idols and while growing up what books did you read which made you such an avid reader?
Kelly: Walter Farley, Tolkien, Mary Stewart, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne Rice. THE MISTS OF AVALON, an INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE really stuck with me, and made such an impact during my teenage years. THE BLACK STALLION was a huge one for me as a kid… and all those Time Life books on ancient civilizations… Good stuff. I still have those, actually. And Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy…
Q: You have a YA fantasy series under the name of Kelly Keaton of which the first book is out, could you tell us about it as well as what other ideas/books you would like to write about in the future
Kelly: The title is DARKNESS BECOMES HER and its set in a creepy version of New Orleans, which has been abandoned by the United States and sold to a private entity known as the Novem. Fast forward 13 years later where my character, Ari, enters the city searching for clues about her past and embroiling her in an ages-long war between the gods and the monsters they created. The sequel, A BEAUTIFUL EVIL comes out in Feb, 2012.
I just finished up the fourth Charlie Madigan novel, and that was the last book in my contract. So the future is wide open right now. I’d like to write more Charlie, but that depends on my publisher. I can say that I’ve been itching to write a book about Pendaran, the Druid King (a character in the Charlie books) and will probably do so regardless – he’s a fascinating character and has a story to tell...
Q: Both your series have strong female protagonists. Was it by choice or just an aspect of your writing which suited the story to be seen through a female perspective?
Kelly: A bit of both. I seem drawn to the strong female archetype, to heroes and warriors, whether they be actual warriors or warriors at heart. There is the nobility and honor factor, the sacrifices made, the ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, and all the things within that character’s life that made them this way or that propels them to keep fighting, and to keep fighting when all is lost. It’s funny because even in gaming, I always end up picking the warrior classes, always want to be the tank and jump in swinging. I’ll give other classes a try, but it never feels right, and I always go back to the warriors and physical fighters…
Q: It has been mentioned that you love ancient history, mythology & pre-Raphaelite art, I share a couple of those interests with you. What specific areas in history and mythology have you besotted?
Kelly: Oh, yes, a huge lover of all things ancient – Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Celtic. I also love the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages…. But those first four have had me enthralled since I was a kid.
Q: All three titles in the Charlie Madigan series are written in the first-person which is very common for urban fantasy novels. Why do you think this is and what do you feel are the differences between first-person and third-person narratives?
Kelly: Well, I think first person really gives a reader deep access to a particular character; it can really grab you and feel very immediate, right in the thoughts and actions... And it works well in UF because it’s all about the main character’s journey, so seeing everything through their eyes fits very well.
There are limitations, though, which makes third person very attractive because you can get inside the heads of multiple characters if you want and you can tell a story from a more omniscient POV. In the fourth Charlie book, I wrote some scenes from Charlie’s partner, Hank’s POV– in third person. I had so much fun with it and it was nice for me, and hopefully for readers, to get a peek inside of Hank’s head during a very traumatic time in his life. In this case, I felt in was necessary to the plot and character development to allow a few scenes of Hank to be shown through his eyes.
Q: You have this fascinating concept of twin worlds which have opened up to Earth and its denizens, the names Elysia & Charybdon seem to be very similar to certain Greek mythological terms, was that the case?
Kelly: Yes! I can’t help it; the Greek influence is strong in me…
Q: You currently have two vastly different series ongoing, how do you go about writing them [do you delineate different time periods for writing them or do you write depending on how you feel each day] could you explain your writing methods? And particularly about the discipline required to produce 2 books an year!
Kelly: There is no method to my madness. I’m terrible at delineating anything. I would love to work on whatever story I felt more creative about at the time, but I don’t manage my time well enough to do that. So I end up working on whatever book is coming due and it’s usually a mad dash to get to the finish line.
My actual writing method is all over the place. I write each book however it wants to be written. I can’t seem to write a story in the same way as far as plotting, outlining, writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants... I’ve written scenes out of order, endings first, etc… Things are very cyclical with me. It used to be that I loved writing rough drafts and hated editing. Now I hate rough drafts with a passion and cannot wait to get to the editing stage. It’s always changing and it might sound schizo and chaotic, but my process (or lack thereof) works for me.
I often work on more than one project at once – usually rough drafting one while doing revisions or copy edits on another, which I don’t mind. Last year, my schedule ended up with me writing two rough drafts at the same time, both due within two weeks of each other. That wasn’t fun.
Q: Even though your series embraces a number of urban fantasy tropes, you also have made a rather strong effort to twist reader expectations and keep them entertained. What are your thoughts on these tropes in general and how did you decide what tropes you wanted to utilize and which you didn’t?
Kelly: I don’t really give too much thought to tropes or conventions when I’m working and creating; twisting things and doing the unexpected is more of a natural preference than conscious effort, if that make sense. I get a lot of satisfaction out of writing the unexpected, and bringing new things to the table in terms of world-building and characters. That’s what makes creating so much fun for me personally.
There are genre tropes and parameters, sure, and they help define the genre. I see tropes and tried-and-true genre conventions as basic spring-boards that can launch an idea into a gazillion different places. I think to compete in this genre, you have to make a trope/convention your own, you have to twist it in some new way, in order to grab readers and give them a reason to stick with you. There is a fine balance here though because (I think anyway) readers want something fresh and unique, but they love the genre, too, so they want to see this uniqueness happen within some familiar genre boundaries.
Q: In closing, what are you working on now and any parting words for your fans?
Kelly: I am working on . . . nothing - yay! :-) Revision notes for SHADOWS BEFORE THE SUN will be coming soon, so I’ll have those to contend with. Then, I’ll probably fool around with some ideas that have been on the back burner or start working on The Druid King.
Parting words to my readers? It’s difficult to put into words knowing the crazy ideas and stories that come out of my head actually entertain people. They actually care about the characters and the journey as much as I do. Knowing that is just about the coolest thing on earth. Having fans invested and engaged, supporting the series, and giving the books a chance—Gods, I love you, readers! Thank you! :-)