Talking with Ti
with Ti Mikkel
Q&A with Caroline Spector
TI: Dearest Caroline, I’m thrilled to talk to you one-on-one today. We met officially at a Wild Cards event in Santa Fe circa 2017, but we discovered we’re soulmates at Worldcon 76 over a vigorous discussion as to why nuts simply do not belong in ice cream.
CAROLINE: Indeed, they do not. The Nut Rule #2 — Thou Shalt Not Involve Nuts in Your Ice Cream unless it’s Rocky Road and then you know what you’re in for. Also, get those things outta my fudge. Basically, if it’s creamy, do not involve that stuff in it. Except pecan pie because, as I said before, you know what you’re in for.
TI: Exactly. Nuts should not come as surprises. Now onto serious matters or George will have my head. I’m always curious to hear everyone’s Wild Cards origin story and where they were when the King in the North called. What’s yours? How long have you known George?
CAROLINE: I’ve known George for about thirty years. We first met at an ArmadilloCon party that took place at my future husband’s house. I was trying to be very cool because I was a huge fan of his work. He was just lovely to me. As for my Wild Card call to “Come Up to the Bigs” from him, it came about fourteen years ago. A group of us were hanging out at Conestoga in 2005 (Bud Simons, Howard Waldrop, Barb and Brad Denton (who was Toastmaster), my hubby Warren, me, and George) and it was a super fun weekend. He dropped me an email a week or so later and asked me if I wanted to pitch a character and I said, “Why, yes. Yes, I would.”(And I must add that Brad’s Toastmaster introduction for George was one of the best things I’ve seen at a con and George loved it.)
TI: You live in Texas, right? George has a lot of friends in Texas. Why doesn’t George live in Texas?
CAROLINE: My guess is it’s too damn hot. It really is too damn hot. Also, George loves Santa Fe. And I can see why.
TI: I suppose I should ask where exactly in Texas you live. It’s bigger than…well it’s bigger than France and Spain.
CAROLINE: I live in Austin. I met my husband, Warren, here. The first thing I did after moving to Austin was go get comics at Austin Books. The owner of the store offered me a job the next week when I was making my usual comic book run. Warren and his best friend, Bud ‘Walton’ Simons, were customers there. We met geekily.
TI: J’adore. How long have you lived there?
CAROLINE: Except for two years in Wisconsin, I’ve lived in Austin since 1983. Those were two very long years. It’s really cold up there. Did I mention cold? Brrrrrrr.
TI: Let’s talk a little bit about character selection, which I’ve heard from many authors can be a particularly grueling process. Did you find that to be the case with Bubbles, Tiffany, or Ink?
CAROLINE: I panicked and couldn’t think of a character at first. I mentioned this to Warren, whereupon he said, “Oh, it’s so easy to make up characters. I can make up a slew of them right now.” I thought to myself, “Challenge accepted.” We sat down and, eventually, I came up with four characters, Tiffany, Ink, Bubbles, and another character with a power so obvious that apparently everyone else had come up with it, too. However, Bubbles came to me wholly formed and I instantly though she was great.
TI: She is pretty great. Question about Tiffany—You’ve said before that often people’s main character in Wild Cards is their idealized avatar. Tiffany isn’t your main character, but she can turn her skin into a diamond-hard substance. Are diamonds your favorite gemstone?
CAROLINE: I’m pretty slutty when it comes to gemstones. Diamonds are my birthstone, so I like them okay. I’m also a sucker for unusual colored gems just in case anyone would like to shower me with some. Just sayin’. I’m kind of a magpie.
TI: April baby? I’m June and get pearls. PEARLS. There was a pearl necklace designed for Elizabeth Taylor by Cartier that sold for $11.8 Million, but aside from that literally every other pearl in the world is worth two dollars. I digress…onto Ink. I adore her.
CAROLINE: Obviously, I need to do more with Tiffany. And maybe I’ll come up with a character named Pearl…
TI: For those who haven’t read INSIDE STRAIGHT, BUSTED FLUSH, or SUICIDE KINGS (*shame*), Ink has voluntary control over the tattoos on her body and can change their design and location. So Caroline my question is this: Do you have any tattoos? If yes, please tell us about them. If no, why not? And if you were to get a tattoo, do you have a design in mind?
CAROLINE: I don’t have any tattoos because I know myself well-enough that I would get one and then say, “Hmmm, I think I’d like something else now.” Until there’s nano technology that allows me to program whatever tattoo I’m in the mood for, my skin will remain pristine.
CAROLINE: As for what sort of tattoo I’d like were I to get one, I would love an Irezumi-style tattoo. (My concern would be being disrespectful of someone else’s culture or of cultural appropriation.) That said, I think a sakura or peony tattoo would be brilliant.
TI: Who has been the most challenging character you’ve created?
CAROLINE: In Wild Cards I really don’t have one. I love writing all my children. I have a character from my trunk novel named Emma Worthy who was very difficult to write.
TI: I’ve always thought it would be difficult to write for another author’s character, and you did exactly that in writing for GRRM’s Hoodoo Mama in three Wild Cards books (BUSTED FLUSH, SUICIDE KINGS, and HIGH STAKES) as well as one novella, “Lies My Mother Told Me”. You’ve written a blog post about the challenges you faced in doing that, so what I want to know is if there is another character, created by someone else, that you’d like to take on.
CAROLINE: Midnight Angel. She’s an interesting character, by that I mean really screwed up, and I’m always down for that. I liked writing Mr. Nobody in TEXAS HOLD ‘EM, though I didn’t get to do too much with him in that book.
TI: Let’s move onto the craft itself. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
CAROLINE: Writing isn’t writing, it’s rewriting. Editors are your friends. And books on writing are usually about how that author writes. No one should tell you the manner in which you should write — or how often. Seriously, fuck those guys.
TI: You’ve authored computer game hint books and also published three novels. Do you do any research for your writing?
CAROLINE: Definitely. It really depends on the book how much I do. And a lot of time you don’t directly use the research, but there in the back of your mind. I feel much more confident writing a period piece, for instance, if I’ve done a fair amount of research on the topic. And it’s much easier to research nowadays. Boy, howdy.
TI: Do you write seven days a week? Do you prefer the morning or evening?
CAROLINE: I don’t write seven days a week, usually five. When I’m on a deadline, it’s more. I’ve written at various times over the years. Use to be I’d write late at night, but now I fall asleep at 8:30 p.m. so that’s right out. I’m a morning-early afternoon writer now. But what really get me going is deadlines. That focuses me like nothing else.
TI: Have you ever faced writer’s block?
CAROLINE: I don’t think so. I usually have a crisis of confidence when I’m working on something. Basically, I think whatever I’m writing is shit until about six months after it’s published. Then I go back and think, “Oh, this wasn’t that bad.” I have had difficult moments when I’m struggling with a piece and have to figure out what that’s about, but I don’t think it’s writer’s block. For me it’s more of figuring out the source of the not-writing.
TI: Do you run or do yoga? I find when I’m stuck going to the gym or simply walking around my block helps. Can you do that in Texas, or would you die of heat stroke?
CAROLINE: I do Pilates and West Coast Swing dance. My instructor for West Coast is highly-ranked in national competitions. I feel very lucky he’s cool with me as a student. I call it my dance date, and Bud Simons says that I really shouldn’t call it that. I’m not sure why, but I’m an innocent thing. Oh, and he works around my vertigo. Too many turns in a row and I fall over. I should be walking, but I’m lazy.
TI: Brilliant. The dancing part — not the falling over part. Though I’m sure that has its charms. Of course I tend to get ideas just as I’m falling asleep. Speaking of falling asleep, what’s on your nightstand right now?
CAROLINE: I’m trying to finish up “A Natural History of Hell” by Jeffery Ford and THE VICTORIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD by Chris Woodyard.
How about TV–binge watching anything interesting right now?
CAROLINE: Oh, what am I not binging? I just finished “The Umbrella Academy” on Netflix. Watched “Vanity Fair” on Amazon the other day. Re-watched, “Pride and Prejudice,” the one with Colin Firth. (Yes, I’m a sucker for costume drama.) “BoJack Horseman” “Glow” There are more.
TI: What did you think of the Keira Knightley “Pride and Prejudice” adaptation? It’s my favorite.
CAROLINE: It was a lovely adaptation, but I think too short. She was terrific in it.
TI: Do you have a favorite author?
CAROLINE: I don’t have one favorite author. I like Walter Tevis, Michael Bishop, Bradley Denton, George, of course, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and I’m an Oz fan, so Frank L. Baum needs to be on the list. And I shouldn’t forget Ursula Le Guin, Dorothy Parker, and Madeleine L’Engle a childhood fave. I’m certain there are more, but no one else is springing to mind.
TI: Tell me a little bit about where you grew up. What was your childhood like?
CAROLINE: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and Houston, Texas. My childhood was complicated. My parents divorced when I was six and my biological father is, not to put too fine a point on it, something awful. I was an only child until I was thirteen. Mom remarried and started a family with my step-father (who is amazing). He adopted me. I spent a good chunk of my childhood alone because I was an only child and I’m pretty introverted. I read a lot as a kid.
TI: Did you know when you were a kid that writing was the job you wanted?
CAROLINE: What I wanted to be was a cellist. I started playing when I was eight and that was my goal until after my first year in college. I went to the High School for Performing and Visual Arts and had a music scholarship for my first year in college. After that first year, I decided I really wasn’t good enough to play professionally, so I changed to Radio, Television, Film. It was in college that I thought that maybe I could be a writer.
TI: Were your parents members of the creative class? Did they encourage your writing habits?
CAROLINE: My parents are both scientists, but they also have terrific creative talents. My father (my step-father that is, I consider him my real father) plays piano very well and Mom does wonderful art work. My grandfather, Max Bachofen, is a pretty well-known painter.
TI: George R. R. has been a part of the genre fantasy community for years. Do you consider yourself a convention-goer?
CAROLINE: Hell yeah! I have my con family who I only get to see at cons, but keep up with all year long thanks to FB. Mostly, I see friends and play music at cons. I still do panels, but after about thirty years of cons, I’ve done most of the topics more than once. Though I still like being a trouble maker on panels…
TI: Wait, wait. You play music at cons? Cello? How have I missed this?
CAROLINE: I play bass with Bland Lemon Denton. We play blues and rock n’ roll covers as well as Denton’s originals. I have two very-snazzy basses, one is a Rickenbacker 4003s the other is a Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray with double humbuckers. The Rick is new and my dilemma this year is which to bring to cons because only one will fit in the car after all the gear and stuff is loaded.
TI: You’re rad. Any interesting projects in the pipeline?
CAROLINE: I think so, but I can’t really discuss any of them.
TI: Rats. Okay one last question, and I’ll let you go. In your Q&A with Ty Franck you list mushrooms as the thing you find most fun and interesting. Expand on that, if you would. What’s your go-to recipe? Do you fancy yourself a mushroom hunter?
CAROLINE: I did a Q&A with Ty? I have no memory of this. OTOH, I’m not known for my great memory. I did do a series of smart-ass responses to a Q&A many years ago. Is this that Q&A?
TI: Yeah, probably.
CAROLINE: Ye Gods. See, this is my punishment for being such a snarky smart-ass. Questions about mushrooms. Which we all know are best when there’s a caterpillar involved.