Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite authors, and today I get to interview her on topics including her forthcoming novel, her best-selling series, and her scary, scary fairies. You can read my review here.
1. First off, let’s talk about your newest novel! Fair Game, is the latest entry in your Alpha and Omega series. This series began with the novella, “Alpha and Omega” published in the On the Prowl anthology, which left lots of people, me included, clamoring for more. Did you always intend to create a series around Charles and Anna?
No. It was supposed to be just a novella. If no, what elements of their story and characters made you return to them? What elements keep you writing about them? It made for a nice break to switch from first person (Mercy) to third person (Alpha and Omega). That helped to keep me from feeling like I was writing one book for years <grin>. It also allowed me to get inside the head of people I wouldn’t never be able to tell readers about otherwise – like Bran or Charles, himself, because Mercy is pretty intimidated by Charles. I also wanted the chance to explore the wolf packs from the inside. And finally, I loved both Charles and Anna, loved the way their chemistry worked together. He is the old wolf and she the new one; he is the dominant and she the omega – which should have skewed the power balance all to heck and yet because neither of them allowed it, it didn’t. I love the self-determination of Anna, her decision that she will not give in to what people expect of her. She is a more challenging character for me to grab hold of than any of my protagonists before, but for that reason I find her very interesting.
Your Urban Fantasy has a strong romantic element—especially the Alpha & Omega series—and is a big hit with romance readers. What’s your theory on why these books have such a wide crossover appeal?
As much as I’d love to take credit for the crossover – I think that the credit belongs to Laurell K. Hamilton and Joss Whedon. When Urban Fantasy (this current version – with vampires, werewolves and other traditional horror monsters all wrapped up in the hopefulness of fantasy rather than the hopelessness of horror) gained a foothold on the bestseller lists, it was Laurell K. Hamilton leading the way with her awesome “I’ll drag you by the scruff of your neck all the way through this story” voice. As I recall, Blue Moon was the first to hit the bestseller list, followed by Obsidian Butterfly in hardback. She widened her audience from just fantasy readers to romance readers.
On the TV was Joss Whedon’s wonderful Buffy the Vampire Slayer series created from the campy movie of the same name.
Both Whedon and LKH brought monsters into romance, which seemed to be an original thing — but actually was a very old and beloved romance trope. I call it “The Black Stallion” effect — romance readers might be more familiar with it as “The Beauty and the Beast” effect. In Walter Farley’s YA series, The Black is a fierce and violent stallion (a monster) who kills his groom (and later his breeder). He hates everyone and everything — except for Alex Ramsay. Everyone knows what happens in Beauty and the Beast. This isn’t the only key element in the appeal of the Anita and Buffy stories, but combined with really good storytelling, it drew romance readers in with the fantasy buffs.
So we had a huge group of people willing to try some urban fantasy and Moon Called came out in 2006.
Mercy, Charles, and Anna live in a land peopled with monsters, and they are (I hope) pretty scary monsters. The plots are driven by the fantastical elements, which keeps the books clearly in the urban fantasy genre, rather than paranormal romance. But the stories are character-driven (just like romance), hopeful (like fantasy – and romance) and they all have romantic subplots. This is because I like character-driven fantasy stories with romantic subplots <grin>, but it also means that a lot of romance readers are pretty happy with my stories.
3. Both the Alpha and Omega series, and your best-selling Mercy Thompson series feature werewolves, but the heroines of both series operate outside the pack dynamic—Mercy is a coyote shifter, and Anna is an Omega wolf. What’s the appeal of wolves and why did you choose outsiders as the lens through which to view your wolves?
Wolves are beautiful animals who are fierce defenders, mighty hunters – and gentle and playful within the pack. I have always loved them. When I was a kid, my friends and I used to pretend we were animals. Usually it was horses, I have to admit, but when it wasn’t horses it was wolves. Werewolves were a natural extension of that. My favorite comic back then was Werewolf By Night. I liked it much better when the human side of our beleaguered werewolf was able to take control of the wolf. I might add here that I never really liked the man-wolf concept, wolves being much more beautiful <grin>.
As to the second part of your question, the view from outside is a better place to examine a society. That said, in the case of Mercy, she is both an insider and an outsider. She is not a werewolf – but she is a part of the greater supernatural community. Her position of not werewolf, witch, fae or vampire makes her an effective liason – both between all of the supernatural groups and the humans – and between the readers and the world of the Other.
Anna (although different) is a member of the pack. Most useful to me as a writer is that because she is coming into Bran’s pack without knowing much about being a proper werewolf, she gets things explained to her – and that explanation is passed onto the reader. I have to say here, that had I planned on her becoming a protagonist in a series of her own, I would have made her less “special”. I think that would have been a mistake, because playing with the Omega has been a lot of fun. Some of my favorite things come from such “mistakes” .
4. Another compare & contrast question: Your Mercy Thompson books are written in first person while the Alpha and Omega series is written in third person. How did you choose the voice for each series? First person for Mercy happened because, at the time, all of the Urban Fantasies were first person (because of the whole Noir Detective dash thrown into the mix). I liked it. But when I decided to write “Alpha and Omega”, which was a lot more of a romance than the Mercy books, I wanted to be able to tell the story both from Anna’s and from Charles’s viewpoint – classic romance style. The happy side effect of this for me, is that there is a distinct difference between the books. I find it refreshing.
Is it difficult to switch between them? I haven’t had any problem with it so far <grin>. Knock on wood. It is more difficult when I once started a book in third person and then switched it to first because it wouldn’t work in third (Dragon Bones). It’s more than a switch in pronouns, it changes up everything from grammar to the way the story examines the world. Do you have a preference? It is more about what the story demands, I think. First person is more limiting because all of the story has to take place with the protagonist present. Also, in my experience as writer it is more difficult to let readers feel they have a firm grip on the first person protagonist’s personality without going oatmeal (as in Du Mauier’s Rebecca) or extremely odd (think “The Tell-Tale Heart”). It requires a little finer control of craft to do it well, and a little more attention to small details. But done well, it give an immediacy to the tension in the story that is more difficult (but not impossible) to capture in third person. I am happy to switch back and forth.
5.You started with more traditional fantasy with books like Masques and Dragon Bone, but are now better known for Urban Fantasy. What inspired you to write Urban Fantasy, and what are some challenges of the subgenre vs. traditional fantasy?
I picked up LKH’s Guilty Pleasures on the day it came out and had been reading Tanya Huff’s Blood books and Fred Saberhagen’s terrific Dracula take-offs (beginning with The Dracula Tapes) for years. I was hooked My editor, Anne Sowards, and I are both readers and we shared our best finds with each other. The demand for Urban Fantasy grew while virtually every other genre was crashing, and one day her boss asked her if they didn’t have someone among their writers who could write one. So she called me because she knew I was a big fan.
I wrote Raven’s Strike (which is still my longest book) in three months because I’d been stupid and hadn’t noticed the second date in my two book contract for the Raven books. I’d taken six or seven months to revise Wolfsbane, the then unsold sequel to Masques, after writing Raven’s Shadow. Raven’s Strike was the first book I’d sold on an outline (and the first outline I’d written for an unsold book) and I’d been feeling pretty unenthusiastic about writing it, because I already knew how it ended – which is why that was also the last outline I’ve written for a book. I was on page 50 or so when my editor pointed out that it had been due the month before, and they had decided to reprint all of my old titles to coincide with the release. I’d never written a book in under nine months, at that point, but I buckled down and wrote Raven’s Strike. By the end of it I could hardly write my name and would burst into tears at the thought of describing another room (okay, that last is an exaggeration. It happened while I was writing Raven’s Strike and it was about 4am.)
And then Anne called me and asked if I would consider writing an urban fantasy. I got off the phone and began writing with the enthusiasm of a dog after a meaty bone. Like magic, writing was suddenly fun again.
Traditional fantasy is more work to do right – mostly because of the world building. There is a reason that a lot of TFWs (Traditional Fantasy Writers) write multiple books in each of their fantasy worlds. That very thing, though, also gives the TFW an advantage. The world runs the way the TFW says it does – Urban Fantasy doesn’t work that way. As an example — in Iron Kissed, Zee is arrested for murder. Never having been arrested myself, I had to call the Kennewick Police Department and ask them things like “if you arrested someone for murder – what would you do with them?” That’s not to say that there isn’t research for a traditional fantasy (just ask me about crossbows, I dare you). But most of the research can be done in books or on the Internet, and for someone who has issues bothering people I don’t know on the phone, books and Internet is a much easier way to do research.
6.One of the things I enjoy about the world of Mercy and the Alpha and Omega series is that I feel like it doesn’t exist just to tell those two sets of stories, but at any point there might be dozens of other stories going on outside the scope of the novel I’m currently reading. Good! That’s what I’m trying for.
What features do you think are requirements for that sort of strong world-building? Internal consistency is part of it. Things that begin in one book, progress and continue one thing. That means that all of the characters have to feel like they have their own lives that continue while they are off stage, not just the main characters. I try to really ground the stories in the real world – which is one of the strengths of Urban Fantasy where there really is a real world. So my characters grumble about traffic or the weather. They have to work and pay taxes and get pulled over for speeding tickets. That kind of thing.
Do you have any plans to set other stories in the same world? I’m in the early stages (because I’m really working on the next Mercy book Frost Burned) of writing a few more short stories set in Mercy’s world so that I can put together a collection. That way people can find all of the short stories in one place, instead of hunting them down and getting crabby when they miss one <grin>. It also allows me to tell stories about some characters I know a lot about and readers have barely met (like Zee’s son Tad), center-stage a reader favorite character or two (like Bran or Ben), and tell the story of Samuel’s romance from Samuel’s point of view instead of Mercy’s.
Also, in my next set of contracts, a “book set in Mercy’s world”. That might be another A&O – but I might try my hand at someone new or someone who hasn’t had a book before. At any rate, it will keep me entertained to play with ideas for a bit.
7.And while we’re on the topic of great world building, I love your scary fairies. The fae in your books are alien and dangerous, and they often embody the ickier elements of traditional folktales. What inspired them, how much research do you do, and what is your current favorite scary fairy from folklore?
I grew up on fairytales in a way that most people don’t anymore. My mom read them to us, my older sister used to read me two from her huge book of fairy tales every night. My mother was my elementary school librarian and I read every book in the 800’s that they had (that is the Dewey Decimal number for folktales/fairytales) and they had quite a lot – and we had more at home. Then when I was in college that same sister put me on to a scholarly book by Katharine Briggs (no relation, not even to my husband’s family) called The Encyclopedia of Fairies. So it’s not a matter of doing research, usually, it is a matter of picking through the jumble in my head and then going out and trying to figure out where I found a story or fable twenty years ago.
I’m sorry to be predictable. The Dark Smith of Dronheim (Zee in my books) is my current favorite. Dangerous, thin-skinned, bad tempered and useful, he’s hard to beat. Though he doesn’t have that “icky” factor that some of the better fairies do J.
8.Who are your writing inspirations? This is kind of the problem with reading as much as I do. Mostly I deal with it by going back to the writers who I was reading when I started. Andre Norton is the reason I survived being thirteen. She was able to say more with two sentences than some authors say in whole chapters – I think that she is the reason that my books tend to be pretty tight. Barbara Hambly’s characters are so well drawn that it wouldn’t surprise me to meet them on some street in California. I like that, and try to make my imaginary friends feel real, too.
It should be said that Laurell K. Hamilton, Tanya Huff, Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong and Kim Harrison shaped and formed this genre within a genre that is my current playground. If that isn’t inspiration, I don’t know what is.
Do they differ from your favorite authors? I have many favorite authors, how could I pick just one? Or even ten? And when my well of creativity is dried up, I find that curling up with a good book is the second best cure. The best cure is watching Lord of the Rings, but I’m afraid some day it will lose its magic so I only do that sparingly <grin>. Good storytellers are the best inspiration. If so, why and how?
9. How far in advance do you plot your books? Do you have an endpoint in sight for either series?
As I learned from Raven’s Strike, if I plot too far in advance, I don’t feel the need to write the book. So I begin most books with an idea. For example Fair Game began with the idea that I was going to send Charles and Anna out to hunt down a serial killer. It is my habit of plotting this way which sometimes takes me into deeper waters than I would have braved on purpose – as in Iron Kissed.
However, I will admit that I do have “things” I know about that aren’t yet in the books. Some of these “things” are world-building, others are about the characters. So although I didn’t know which book it would happen in, I have always planned on waiting until we’d gotten a good grasp of Mercy’s world – and then things would happen to change it. If I’d been planning it, I might have tried to put it in a Mercy book instead of Fair Game, where it belonged. Planning is a little too strong of a word for my “things”, but I’m not as totally in the dark as I sometimes claim.
10. Lastly, can you tell us what books you have slated for publication after Fair Game, and what books you have on the drawing board?
Frost Burned is the next Mercy book and it takes place hard on the heels of Fair Game . Fair Game has changed some of the rules, and that change has a huge impact on the pack and the microcosm of the Tri-Cities supernatural communities. Adam is being blackmailed by a government agency to kill a US Senator. While he is stalling and doing what he can, it is up to Mercy to figure out how to neutralize the threat. This book is scheduled for March 2013.
After Frost Burned, I have a contract for two Mercy books and (as mentioned before) a book set in Mercy’s world. Please note. This does not mean that there will be no more A&O books. My publisher would be happy to see more, I am happy to write more. But I wanted to open my schedule up to the possibility of something different . I don’t want to get bored and I especially don’t want readers to get bored.
I am hoping to shorten the time between books quite a bit and have made several changes. First, my husband and I have vowed that should the words “home improvement” especially if accompanied by words like “just a little addition” cross either of our lips, it is immediate grounds for divorce. We have pinky sworn. Second, I hired a long time friend of mine who has been a bookkeeper for twenty-five years and a voracious reader for longer than that to be my assistant. She does all things I find stressful (like bookkeeping, taxes and scheduling and not answering email) and gives my rough drafts a pre edit.
Her help was invaluable while I was writing Fair Game (after we fired the Contractor from Hell) and she seems to be continuing to really speed up my writing process by removing obstacles and inserting enthusiasm.
Thank you so much for this opportunity – and for the chance to ably demonstrate why it is that I have a lot more novels than short stories to my name – brevity is not my strong suit!