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Interview with Patricia Briggs

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.


Patricia Briggs Fair Game1.  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” .

River Marked Patricia Briggs4. 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 ShadowRaven’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?

Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs9. 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 GameFair 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!

Hugs,

Patty

Josephine

Josephine is a professional bibliophile whose hobbies include reading and writing. She enjoys genre fiction in general, and romance in particular. She is especially fond of romances with Paranormal, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Urban Fantasy elements. Her list of favorite authors changes with her mood but she's always eager to read the next good book.

28 Comments

  1. Ruth (CO)
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 10:33:34

    I adore reading your books. I now have my sister-in-law hooked as well. Saying that, is there any possibility going back to some of your fantasy worlds? I read over and over Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood.

  2. Andrea2
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 10:43:00

    Josephine and Patty,
    Thank you both for this wonderful interview. You’ve given lots of information here and Patty has given tantilizing hints of future projects which will be eagerly received. I’m re-reading all the A&O book now, and will be happily diving into Fair Game by the weekend. I would finish earlier, but I have to work today and tomorrow! Why aren’t books released on Fridays, so work doesn’t get in the way of reading?

  3. Jane
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 10:44:49

    @Andrea2: I’ll be the first to say it. I really really want more A&O books.

  4. MarieC
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 10:49:50

    Thanks for the great interview and teasers! I love both series, and counting the minutes until I can get home and read Fair Game!

  5. Angela
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 11:07:59

    Great interview!

    I really want more A&O books too. I just read them for the first time late last year because I thought they couldn’t possibly be as good as the MT series, but I was so wrong.

  6. Josephine
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 11:31:50

    @Andrea2: I totally agree with you on the book release days. When a book I’ve been waiting for comes out on a Tuesday, I end up sleepy at work the next day because heaven forfend I should have to wait any more time than absolutely necessary to read it. I am looking forward to more books in both series, so I guess there are a few more sleepy Wednesdays in my future.

  7. Lady Jaye
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 12:24:17

    Thanks for this interview. It was wonderful.
    I fervently hope we get a book on Sam- I adore him to bits!

  8. ms bookjunkie
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 12:24:39

    I loved (<3 <3 <3!) FAIR GAME and look forward to any and all future Patricia Briggs books! Also, smooches to your new assistant, I love her already. :)

  9. Berinn Rae
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 12:50:02

    Can’t wait for my next A&O fix. And can’t wait to meet Patricia in person at this year’s Demicon (for us lucky folks in the midwest U.S.)!

  10. Christine M.
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 12:58:09

    Thank you for such a lovely interview. Ms Briggs is one of two authors I buy in HC and I’ve never been disapointed to spend my dolalrs on her book. Plus, she seems like such a lovely lady.

  11. Janine
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 13:30:19

    Wonderful interview!!! Thanks so much, I so enjoyed reading that.

  12. erinf1
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 13:59:00

    Oh wow!!! Awesome interview!!! Love Ms. Briggs all her series are on my autobuy list and like Josephine, I haunt Amazon and such to find release dates and count down until I get them into my greedy little hands. I love all her books, especially in rereads b/c it seems like the story gets better every time I read it.

    Very excited to hear that there will be more Mercy Thompson and I’m really hoping to have more A&O. I’m anxiously awaiting my copy of Fair Game so this interview and review is killing me ;)

  13. Mara
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 14:09:17

    I love this. That’s all.

  14. joanne
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 14:44:30

    Wonderful interview, thank you.

    I loved Fair Game and I wanted to add that it contains the BEST prologue ever. Ever.

  15. Merrian
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 18:23:02

    I love Charles and Anna and how the world looks from their eyes. I am very much looking forward to reading Fair Game. I also share the love and respect for Andre Norton as a formative YA SF and fantasy writer. The Witch World books live in my heart. Interesting to hear too about the approach to writing that you have (pantsing not plotting) and how understanding/owning that is so important to enjoying the process of work. I was also thinking about writers as small businesses and how you can’t do everything because there are not enough hours in the day and skills (as I wait for the aircon guy to get back to me with a quote). There is so much involved in getting the book into the readers hands.

  16. Lindsey
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 18:42:58

    LOVE Patricia Briggs. She’s one of my few autobuy authors, and I have yet to be disappointed by any of her books. I’m currently rereading the Alpha and Omega books (despite having read them a few months ago, I just love them), and after that, I’m diving right into Fair Game. I’m also so very excited about a collection of short stories in the Mercy universe. :D

  17. Nicole
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 20:48:20

    Oh I love Ms. Briggs’ books. I’ve got a original copy of Masques that I had signed when the last book came out and will not let go of it! Hell, I’ve sent home a box of books to my mother to get Patty to sign them when she did a local signing in her hometown. I just love seeing my hometown, the Tri-Cities, in print and in such a wonderful world. I feel like a Patricia Briggs stalker, sometimes. Sadly, I might even fall under fangirl status.

    I was up late last night reading Fair Game and although it wasn’t my favorite in the series, it’s definitely still a great book and addition to the series and world at large. I can’t wait for the next Mercy book to see how the ending of Fair Game impacts everything.

    I didn’t know about Demicon! But it fall on a week that I have other obligations, so sadly can’t go. And Des Moines is so close. *pout* Patty, you could just drive a couple hours to Cedar Rapids for a signing, right?

  18. Kaetrin
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 21:23:10

    thank you for this interview. I will admit that it is a rare thing for me to read an entire author interview but this was fascinating.

    I love the Mercy books and the A&O books and I’d love to read more of either and/or books set in their world. I’m pretty excited about a story from Samuel’s POV actually and stories about Ben, Tad and Bran (and even Asil) would be great too.

    I have Fair Game on my TBL (I have it on audio) and will be listening to it very soon – I know I’m going to love it. :)

  19. Josephine
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 22:07:37

    @joanne: I love the prologue, too.

  20. JenM
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 22:23:00

    I think I’d burst into tears if I thought there would be no more A&O books, but I guess I’ll make do if the next book doesn’t feature them as long as they are at least included as side characters. And, if they aren’t featured, can I place a vote for Asil? Also, is there anything I can do to help you out so that you will write faster????

  21. deslivres
    Mar 09, 2012 @ 03:34:49

    Patricia Briggs has been one of my finds for 2011, and is now an auto buy. She interviews delightfully. Can you get her back and just talk about anything whatsoever?

  22. Lada
    Mar 09, 2012 @ 08:15:34

    Great interview. Patricia Briggs ended up being one of my best gloms ever…one of those when I’m downloading the next book well before I’m done with the one I’m reading. So satisfying for a book lover!! Love that sly sense of humor that bleeds into the books, too.

    “A book set in Mercy’s world” sounds like a fabulous thing and so does that pack of short stories. I’m saving Fair Game for vacation and can’t wait!!

  23. Roslyn Holcomb
    Mar 09, 2012 @ 14:50:00

    I love the prologue of Fair Game too. I remain awed by Briggs’s ability tomaintain two simultaneous series in the same universe. I had a helluva time writing a sequel that occurred at the samevtime as the first book. The continuity issues are a nightmare! I eould love to ask her about that from a purely mechanical viewpoint.

    I love the set up for Frost Burned. I vowed no more Mercy books after River Marked, but I fear I’m being sucked back in. I want to see how they handle the events in Fair Game.

  24. B
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 05:00:51

    [...] Bei Dear Author gibts ein sehr ausführliches Interview mit Patricia Briggs. [...]

  25. Shannon
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 15:42:54

    I absolutely LOVE your books. I buy so many books in ebook format these days, but yours are still must haves for my shelves. Your world building just draws the reader in. I even got my boyfriend to start reading your Mercy series. :)

    I feel a series reread coming my way. Thanks for the great interview!

  26. Week in Review - March #2 | Book Exhibitionism
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 22:40:47

    [...] This Fair Games inter­view (Dear Author) was really good. Btw, as I read Fair Games I noticed how much bet­ter it was than the first two install­ments. Then I thought back and noticed that I read them and a few of the Mercy books in Ger­man. Now I’m con­vinced that it’s all because of the trans­la­tion and plan to reread the books. XD [...]

  27. Claudia Martinez
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 19:19:20

    No wonder I enjoy the Mercy series. My mother was an elementary school teacher and read to me most nights. My favorite selection, after Black Beauty, was Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I just loved the bloodiness of Cinderella and company. I recognized that atmosphere in the Mercy Thompson books, and it absolutely sucked me in. While I enjoy Charlaine Harris’ books, I am much more satisfied by the evilness of her fae and vampires. They are really scary. That said, that skanky looking girl on the cover put me off buying the books for the longest time.

  28. Shawn
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 21:44:20

    I love Mercy Thompson series and I hope that she will continue on writing more books on Mercy and the Werewolves. Maybe someone should up the contract and offer more money!

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