Talking with Ti
with Ti Mikkel
Q&A with Carrie Vaughn
TI: Hello, Carrie! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions today. I like to start with everyone’s WILD CARDS origin story. Yours begins in 1993 when you sent George fanmail and received a reply! I wrote to him in the early 2000s, well before he hired me, but I never heard back. So I must know—what did your letter say?
CARRIE: At our first big plot break meeting where we started working on INSIDE STRAIGHT, George actually found and brought my letter. It was pretty fannish, I was just asking a lot of questions about the books and potential movies. I think the film rights had been optioned at the time, but nothing came of that particular round, and the book series had just switched publishers to Baen, and I was curious about it all. I think that may be why George wrote back, just to answer all those questions. He was very kind about it! These days of course we’re just tickled that we had that exchange a dozen years before we met in person.
TI: Where were you when he asked you to be a part of the series? Did you pitch characters straight away?
CARRIE: Seriously, I think I asked him before he ever asked me. I’d met Daniel Abraham, who encouraged me to come to Bubonicon, Albuquerque’s science fiction convention, so I did in about 2003 I think, and I met George, Melinda, Walter, John, Gail, that whole crew. To my credit I think I said, “Hi, nice to meet you,” before I said, “So, what’s up with Wild Cards and do you need more writers?” But that was a close second. My timing was good – I had sold a few short stories of my own and was just about to sell my first novel, so I had credentials as a pro writer, and they were just starting to pitch a new series. So for the next couple of years, whenever I saw George I’d ask him about Wild Cards and he’d tell me to be thinking of characters. Finally, a couple of Bubonicons later, I had lunch with George and Melinda and they told me about their ideas for the Committee Triad and asked me to pitch characters. I live near Boulder, Colorado, about a seven hour drive from Albuquerque, and I spent pretty much the whole drive home thinking of ideas to pitch.
TI: That’s mighty bold and brilliant of you, Carrie. And I’m glad to hear Bubonicon isn’t a convention celebrating the swollen lymph nodes that accompany bubonic plague. Do you attend any other cons?
CARRIE: Iattend quite a few cons every year. I’m usually at MileHi Con, Denver’s local convention, and I’m often at Worldcon. Whatever other conventions I get invited to or can arrange to be at.
TI: You were born at the Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento and moved a lot as a kid. Tell us about some of those places.
CARRIE: I grew up in California, Florida, Colorado, North Dakota, and Maryland. All of them are very different in terms of culture, climate, and landscape. So on the one hand it took me a long time to feel at home anywhere – we never spent enough time in one place for me to get comfortable. On the other hand, I’m very grateful I was exposed to so many different places and people. I wouldn’t trade those experiences.
TI: Did your parents encourage your writing?
CARRIE: Yes, they did. I like to joke that they’ve never suggested that I get a “real” job. My parents read most of what I publish.
TI: Your father served on a B-52 flight crew during the Vietnam War. Would you say the military impacts your writing?
Carrie: He was a pilot, yes. It does, usually indirectly. I don’t often write directly about the military, but I’ve had other people point out that when I do have military characters, I handle them with a lot of sympathy. They could all be my father, you know? When I do write about war and the military, I tend to write about its impact in other ways – on military families, on the setting and culture, and so on.
TI: You studied abroad at the University of York, correct? How did that come about? What were you studying at the time?
CARRIE: I studied English literature as part of a study abroad/exchange student program through my college. The usual thing. As an anglophile, getting to live there for a year was a great experience. I still have friends I made when I lived there and try to go back to visit every few years. To this day I love jaffa cakes, and I still haven’t found any place in the U.S. that does fish and chips right. At least the U.S. has finally figured out hard cider.
TI: Oh my gosh that’s so true! Fish and chips here leave a lot to be desired. Hopefully you can get your hands on a decent Bloody Mary, though. The west coast hasn’t managed to sort those out, either, in my experience.
Carrie: Good fish and chips need to be at least a little bit greasy. Here, they tend to be light and fluffy and crispy, and it’s just not right.
TI: You graduated with a Master of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Boulder is a stunning place. You get to call it home now!
CARRIE: I do. I actually live in a small town about ten miles north of Boulder. But I love this area. I live exactly halfway between Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park, so I can have the city or wilderness pretty much whenever I want. I love having access to both.
TI: There are over fourteen novels in your “Kitty Norville” series, and you’ve written more than 60 short stories. Where do you find the time?
CARRIE: I think I’ve hit 100 on short stories by now.
TI: Good heavens.
CARRIE: There are 14 novels in the Kitty series, but I’ve published over 20 total. That’s also over the course of 20 years so I’ve been doing this quite a while. I don’t know about finding the time, I just make the time. I love writing. I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of ideas and I’m constantly working on new things and have the ability to do this for a living. It’s just what I do.
TI: Do you write seven days a week? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
CARRIE: I try to write a little bit every day. Some days it’s not very much, or just making notes or outlines. But yes, at least something every day. When I get blocked it’s usually because something in the story isn’t working, and I need to go back and figure out where the story went wrong. Often, I’ll work on a different story or project for awhile. That’s part of why I’m prolific, working on several things at once is part of my process.
TI: Tell me about some of your hobbies.
CARRIE: I once joked that I collect hobbies. I knit, I sew, I ride horses. I bird watch. I try to get out and hike in the wonderful Colorado outdoors as much as I can. I like making things and doing things.
TI: Do you ski or trail run? I ran the Estes Park Marathon in college and it near broke me. The first time you run downthe mountain, you think, “Ahh, at last.” The second time your knees start screaming, and you pray you can run upagain.
CARRIE: I’m afraid I don’t ski or run. I can ski under duress, but I’d much rather take my time and enjoy the scenery. Leisurely hikes are where I’m at.
TI: What kind of wildlife, aside from birds, have you happened upon? Do you have to watch out for bears or snakes where you are?
CARRIE:Rocky Mountain National Park has elk herds, as well as deer and the occasional moose. Big horn sheep are common if you know the right places to go. I’ve been lucky enough to spot beaver and river otters a couple of times. And yes, bears, though I think I’ve only seen one the whole time I’ve lived in Colorado. We’re well trained not to leave trash out. Rattlesnakes are a big deal in some areas. I was once horseback riding, and my horse heard the rattle before I realized what was happening and just about teleported out of there. Most of these critters, if you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone.
TI: Hah. If you were a latent Wild Card that would have been the moment your card turned. Outside of your own creations and Dr. Tachyon (who appears in your story “Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan), is there a character you’d like to write for in the future?
CARRIE: I’ve enjoyed writing just about every character I’ve tackled. A lot of times I don’t pick, it’s just who needs to be written about for that particular story, but I usually have a good time with it. I think I’d love to write Peregrine or the Turtle, but I might have to move backward in the timeline a bit for him.
TI: In 1997 you and your brother attempted to cosplay as Peregrine and Mark Meadows for Denver’s MileHi Con masquerade. You put in time, you put together costumes, you burned yourself with a hot-glue gun. And then you got snowed in and couldn’t leave the house. I’m crying laughing.
CARRIE: To be honest, getting four feet of snow that day might have been nature’s way of telling us our costumes maybe weren’t ready for prime time. Still, I really wish we’d made it to the convention. My brother’s now a theater professional – he’s the technical director for the theater department at Linfield College in Oregon – so I keep thinking maybe someday we’ll be able to collaborate on another project. We’ve both learned a lot since making those costumes.
TI: But in the years since you’ve at least managed to make it to a few other cons and cosplay as other characters. You were Galadriel for one, I think. Favorite book in Tolkien’s LOTR Trilogy?
CARRIE: It’s all one story, I can’t separate them out. But I’d love to see a TV series tackle some of the stories from The Silmarillion.
TI: I think you’ll get your wish. Did you enjoy the movies? Extended editions? Bonus features?
CARRIE: I did enjoy the movies a lot. I own the extended editions so that’s what I usually watch. I’m not fond of The Hobbit trilogy – too much extraneous padding there.
TI: You’re a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, so I’d love to hear your tips for aspiring writers.
CARRIE: Write as much as you can. But also read as much as you can, and analyze what you read. What do you like, what do you not like, what works, what doesn’t, all so you can work to improve your own writing.
TI: Did you know when you were a kid that writing was the job you wanted or did that come as a surprise?
CARRIE: I’ve always loved writing. I did a lot of writing in school, and I started trying to get published pretty early on, when I was about 16. So yes, I always had the idea that this is what I wanted to do. For awhile I thought something else might come along, some other job that I’d like to do just as well. But nothing ever did, so I just kept writing.
TI: George R. R. Martin has been a part of the genre fantasy community for years, and I see from your website that you have a handful of appearances coming up over the summer. Do you ever get to attend just as a fan?
CARRIE: I started attending cons as a fan when I was in high school. In the late 90’s I switched gears and focused on going to cons as a “professional” which was quite a bit different. More serious, appearing on panels, doing readings, that sort of thing. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to get back to my roots. I try to give myself a day, or at least an afternoon, to just be a “fan” at conventions I go to.
TI: You emerged from the world of sci-fi and fantasy but are often promoted as a romance writer. What’s that like? Any advice for writing steamy scenes?
CARRIE; It’s mostly the Kitty series that gets cross-promoted to romance, but it really isn’t romance. That was kind of a quirk of marketing when the urban fantasy genre was really popular. The Kitty books don’t really include steamy scenes and don’t even include that much romance. But I have found that romance readers really appreciate *any* book or series that focuses on women characters who are really active and powerful. So that’s where the crossover comes in.
TI: Reading anything interesting right now? Watching?
CARRIE: I’m catching up on “Mr. Robot,” which I love. I think it’s one of the best cyberpunk things ever done. I’ve also been throwing myself into research of 12th and 13th century England and Robin Hood for some stories I’m currently writing, and reading a lot of historical fiction from the period to see how others handle it. It’s fascinating. I’m on the Ellis Peters Cadfael stories right now. The TV show with Derek Jacobi is great.
TI: Speaking of research, where do you go for that, aside from Google? I often go down the research rabbit-hole and lose sight of actually writing the story. How do you manage to avoid that trap, personally?
CARRIE: I usually start writing before I start researching, so I have at least some idea of what I’m looking for. I also remember that I don’t have to know everything about a topic – I just have to convince a reader that I do. I usually go to books. I look for good, well-researched, definitive books, not necessarily academic but also a step up from basic popular takes on a subject. I also look for more quirky things, memoirs and first person accounts. When I can, I like to travel to the locations I’m writing about but that isn’t always possible.
TI: Two of my favorite characters are your creations: Earth Witch (who has the ability to shift earth and sand with her mind) and Curveball (who can increase the kinetic energy of anything she throws). How did you come up with them?
CARRIE: Way back when I was nagging George about writing for Wild Cards, one thing he said he wanted was more women characters, in particular women characters with powerful aces, which Wild Cards had been somewhat lacking up until then. I told him I could *definitely* create some really powerful women aces. Those two are the result. First, Earth Witch, because Wild Cards had never had an earth-mover power, even though it’s a really common power in comic books. I made her a Latina from New Mexico because again, it’s something we hadn’t really seen in Wild Cards. Curveball I imagined as a typical all-American suburban kid, very ordinary in some ways but also really powerful. I was inspired by some of the great women athletes we just don’t see enough of in pop culture – soccer stars like Mia Hamm, collegiate softball players who are total badasses. I wanted Kate to be like that.
TI: Any interesting projects in the pipeline?
CARRIE: I’m working on a couple of collections that bring together some of the short stories I’ve written set in the world of the Kitty novels. Collections like this are a great way to get stories out to fans who might have missed them when they were individually published. I also have two novellas about Robin Hood coming out from Tor.com Publishing next year. I’m having a great time playing in that world. And of course, I have a couple of Wild Cards assignments in the works that you’ll hear about soon, no doubt.
TI: I can’t wait! Thanks so much, Carrie.