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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Author Interview: Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel's Legacy Series)

I would like to start by thanking Ms. Jacqueline Carey for agreeing to take the time to participate in this interview. Her latest book is Kushiel's Mercy, an alternate history/fantasy/romance book that completes the Imriel trilogy, which is the second trilogy within the Kushiel's Legacy series. I absolutely loved the book (all the books!!!), and look forward to reading the next trilogy.

If you haven't read my review of Kushiel's Mercy, click

I understand that writing as a newer author requires a lot of self-confidence, as not all your work gets published or even acknowledged. How has your attitude about writing and being published changed since becoming a well-known author?

I don’t think it has, really. I still love the process of writing and take tremendous joy in it. With a great agent on my side and a contract in hand, I no longer have to agonize over the prospect of getting my work published, which is a blessing, but I’m well aware that this is still a very tough industry for a newcomer. Being an established author has its own set of concerns, like marketing and publicity, how to maintain and grow a readership, but I’m able to maintain enough perspective to know that I’m fortunate to be in a position to have these concerns.

While you are working on a book, do you find yourself entering the world you are writing about? If so, do you do anything in particular to prepare yourself for your writing?

I spend a lot of my waking hours immersed in the characters, world and story I’m creating. For some reason, being in motion stimulates my creative process. In the old struggling writer days, I did a lot of my best thinking commuting to and from work. Now, as a full-time writer, I do much of it walking, jogging or running errands. I’m able to work out scenes in my head, so that by the time I sit down to write, it’s just a matter of finding the right words to bring what I’ve envisioned to life.

You have written both Kushiel trilogies in the first-person (first Phedra, then Imriel). I have really enjoyed reading the series this way as it lends an intimacy with the character. As the writer, what challenges do you face when writing in the first person?

The primary challenge is that you’re restricted to your narrator’s point of view in the first person. It can be tricky to get expository information or bits of cunning foreshadowing across, since the reader’s knowledge is necessarily limited to what the protagonist knows. A good example is the mystery of Melisande’s whereabouts in “Kushiel’s Chosen.” It was tough to drop enough hints along the way so that it was an “A-ha, of course!” moment when revealed, yet not enough that the reader was able to figure out the mystery well ahead of time.

I fell in love with the names of the characters and places in your book (well, most of them!) – Imriel, Sidonie, Ysandre, Phedra, Joscelin, Terre d’Ange, Carthage . . . what was your inspiration for the names in your book? Are these names that were pre-existing, or did you create them?
Almost all the character names are pre-existing ones; the Mahrkagir is the only exception that comes to mind, and that’s a title rather than a proper name. I use a variety of approaches to place names. Some are entirely invented, like Terre d’Ange or Vralia. Some are actual pre-existing names, like Carthage or Lucca. Others are plays on history or geography, like Tiberium (derived from Rome’s Tiber River) or La Serenissima (an actual nickname for Venice). In any instance, character or place, it’s a matter of finding a name that clicks and feels right to me.

From my viewpoint as a reader, I see that you write characters with a lot of strength, spirit and will. What has drawn you into creating such great characters? (When I write this, I think of Phedra, who overcame great odds to become a spy, a courtesan, the Queen’s confidante, etc. Joscelin, who breaks just about all his religious vows to remain with Phedra, and who goes through his own personal challenge when rescuing Imriel with Phedra in Darsanga, Imriel, Sidonie, Alias, the list goes on and on – all great characters, all very strong!)

I write characters I wish existed. It’s pretty much as simple as that! Everyone needs heroes, even imaginary heroes. I try to create vivid and unusual ones.

You have created such a wonderful fantasy world within the books of the Kushiel series, including religions, social classes, different ethnicities, quests etc. They are full of intricate details and cultural aspects. What do you do to ensure that as you write the stories you maintain the truth as you have created it? [In my mind, I see a story-board type wall in your office full of detailed pictures of people and places within each country you have created]

I wish I had some kind of wonderful, extensive organized system, but alas, I don’t. I have shelves with various research books, paper folders with scribbled notes and print-outs, and lots of folders with bookmarked sites on my browser. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and ultimately, I rely a great deal on my memory. For specific details, I often have to refer back to earlier text.

One of my favorite parts of reading your books is figuring out what culture/country is being explored. I purposely do not look at the included map, so I can drink in as much of your descriptions as possible, which makes it more fun to learn about your new cultures and compare them to what I know of in the real ones. It is obvious from details within your books that you have put a lot of research into the cultures of the places you write about. How do you do your research?

Once I know the basic ‘itinerary’ of a book, I do a lot of research up front to develop the culture and flesh out the setting, finding those little details that will bring it to life. After I’m immersed in the writing process, I do research on the fly to resolve whatever additional problems arise. I also love to travel, and while I can’t possibly visit all the places I write about, I do as much as I can and draw on those sensory memories to fuel my imagination the rest of the time.

In Kushiel’s Mercy, Ptolemy Solon tells Imriel that Happiness is the highest form of wisdom. That comment (and its repeat throughout the book) is something I have given a lot of thought to over the past few weeks, even venturing to ask some close family and friends what they thought. Almost everyone freezes in whatever task they were doing, thinks for a few moments, then smiles and says that they agree. What purpose did you have in adding that theme to the final book of the Imriel trilogy, and if you could expand on it, what would you tell your readers?

I think part of the beauty of that philosophy is its very simplicity; it really does say everything it means. But I’ll try to expand! I’ve thought for a long time that for as much as we humans purport to seek happiness, we don’t value it enough on its own merits. Being able to appreciate those simple, lucid moments of happiness, whatever the cause, adds a great deal to one’s quality of life. And I think being able to do so is indeed a form of wisdom akin to the Buddhist notion of mindfulness. I incorporated it in Imriel’s story because he’s a character that’s had happiness yanked away from him so many times, and I wanted to allow him to cherish his happy ending.

If your book was being discussed by a book club, or a few friends meeting over coffee, what about the book do you think would drive the most discussion (particular character, event, theme)?

Hands down, Phèdre’s character in the original Kushiel trilogy. It’s epic fantasy with a masochistic courtesan heroine! A lot of readers have asked me over the years if I consider Phèdre a feminist figure. I do. Despite everything that befalls her, she refuses to accept the status of victim. She triumphs through perseverance and will. Everything about her journey is intended to subvert the heroine-as-victim trope. But not everyone agrees with this interpretation, so I imagine it would spark a pretty lively discussion.

I’ve heard rumors that you are adding another trilogy to the Kushiel books, starting with Naamah’s Blessing, and that it takes place a few generations later, involving some of the magics in Alba and the Maghuin Dhonn. Can you give us any peeks into the story-line?

Sure! The final title of the first book is Naamah’s Kiss (working titles are often subject to change). My new heroine, Moirin, is born to the bear-witches of the Maghuin Dhonn and raised in the wilderness by her reclusive mother. Upon coming of age, Moirin learns that her father was a D’Angeline priest sworn to Naamah’s service; and that she has a destiny that lies somewhere over the ocean. She sets out in search of her father, and ends up on a quest that takes her to the far side of the world.

On your bookshelf: Is there a particular book or author that you find yourself returning to from time to time? If so, what keeps you coming back?

There are a few. Mary Renault’s novels set in ancient Greece are the first ‘grown up’ books I read, and the first that brought to life a world that no longer exists. I love them for the lyricism of her writing, and her ability to convey a genuine sense of the numinous. For similar reasons, Richard Adams’ Shardik is another favorite. It was the first fantasy I read with an element of gritty realism that also wrestled with complicated issues of destiny and divinity. Although I continue to read extensively, it’s often the touchstone books of my youth that influence me the most.

Lastly, do you have any last thoughts or questions you would like to share with readers?

My readers are awesome! They’ve done so much to promote the books by word of mouth, recommending the books insistently, buying copies to give away. I appreciate everything they do, and I’ll do my best to keep writing books that engender so much passion.

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Again, I would like to say a huge thank you to Jacqueline for agreeing to be interviewed! I had a great time chatting with her, and learning more about her book!

If you would like to visit her website, click

This interview has been added to the About the Author Index! Click here to read more author interviews.


KyleeJ said...

Wendi, thanks so much for this interview! I have been a fan since Kushiel's Avatar. I still have to read Justice and Mercy (well I have to get my hands on them first).

I love knowing that she gets as lost in creating her books as much as we (as readers) get lost while reading them. Her books always stick with me for weeks/months after I finish.

kalea_kane said...

Wendi! Great interview. I really appreciate it! I have never read Jacqueline's work, but I certainly will look for it now! Reading about her creative process makes me more than curious!


The Bookworm said...

wow, great interview! I'll have to to add her books to my wish list.
I really like these book covers too.

Memory said...

That was a very interesting interview. I've read her first trilogy and am really looking forward to digging into the Imriel books. I think I'll probably wait until KUSHIEL'S MERCY is out in paperback, though; as enjoyable as her books are, I don't relish the thought of lugging such a heavy hardcover around with me everywhere!

-- Memory

Elizabeth said...

Great interview! I love this series, and reading her thoughts on its creation was fascinating.

Jay Miller said...

Jay Miller
Inspirational Writer of Children Literature
All God’s Critters Series
All my reviews are on the All God's Critters link.
My latest book is Opal, Herby, and Squeaky

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