Interview with Kelley Armstrong by Helen C. Murphy

(Editor’s Note: these interviews date 2001-2009, so some information may not be current)

Titles: (List updated 2009, though perfectly sure I’ve missed some!)

The Awakening, Frostbitten, Men of the Otherworld, The Summoning, Made to be Broken, Living with the Dead, The Reckoning, Personal Demon, Bitten, Stolen, Broken, No Humans Involved, Dime Store Magic, Haunted, Industrial Magic, Exit Strategy.

HCM: Elena reflects the growing trend for strong female characters in horror / science fiction. She is a thoroughly modern woman, albeit one who regards society with bemusement. What influenced her creation?

KA: My writing has always tended toward strong female characters. I don’t deliberately create characters with an eye to making them ‘strong’, and I’m often surprised when readers comment on their strength. For Elena though, her physical strength was definately premeditated. I tried to create a woman that I thought, could survive–and thrive– in the rough-and-tumble male world I’d created. Physical strength and athleticism seemed important for that….a woman who could fight back and could truly enjoy the werewolf’s increased physical abilities.

HCM: Are you planning to feature Elena in any other books after ‘Stolen’? Will we see a long-running series, or are you going to concentrate on other characters?

KA: After ‘Stolen’, I do switch narrators, but I’d love to come back and do another Elena book or two. I have a few plot ideas in mind, so it’s not that I’ve run out of ideas, but simply that I felt it was wise to branch out to other narrators early, before readers come to expect a full series of werewolf books.

HCM: Your werewolves are very down-to-earth characters, without so much of the pretentionsness that affects other examples of the genre. In particular, the mix of human and wolf traits is very interesting. How did you go about structuring the Pack and its resident unique personalities, like the singularly psychopathic Clayton?

KA: The idea for ‘Bitten’ arose from a short story I’d written, and the short story was prompted by a whim to create a more wolf-like werewolf. I’ve always thought that the more common portrayal of werewolves as generic monsters is a waste of a fascinating concept. If you’re going to create a being that is half-wolf, it should really be a true human/wolf hybrid with real wolf characteristics. For Clay, I imagined a werewolf whowas bitten so young that he forgets ever being human. Clay is the purest representation of a wolf-in-human-form that I could come up with. He’s devoted to his pack and his mate….and he has little regard for anything else. He jokes that he’s the neighbourhood psychopath, but he’s very different from any of the human killers I portray. If a human threatens his Pack, he kills without compunction, but he’d never consider killing anyone for any other reason. Instead, like a wolf, he prefers to shun humans and live amongst his own kind.

HCM: Will there ever be a happy-ever-after for Elena and Clay? Any cubs? Or do you think they’ll bicker their way into posterity?

KA: By ‘Stolen’, Elena and Clay are settling in pretty happily. They worked out their biggest conflict in ‘Bitten’, and I didn’t want to ‘create’ one for the sequel. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t bicker, but it’s taken on a more teasing tone. As for cubs….. well, there’s a hint at the end of ‘Stolen’ about that one.

HCM: ‘Stolen’ deals with sorcerers and demons. Will the other big legendary creature, the vampire, ever make and appearance? If so, will they be as ‘natural’ as the werewolves, or more supernatural?

KA: Vampires are tougher to make natural, namely because there are so many more otherworldly abilities attributed to them (immortality, flight, regeneration etc) plus the whole ‘undead’ issue. When I wrote ‘Stolen’, I seriously considered leaving vampires out of my otherworld, both because these overtly supernatural qualities and, frankly, because vamps have been done so often and so well that I felt a bit intimidated. Still, it did seem odd having a supernatural world with everything except vampires, so I included them.

I did tweak the accepted vampire mythology to make them as ‘natural’ as possible. They can walk around in the day, they’re long-lived but not immortal, and they aren’t frightened off by crosses and holy water. That last one has always bugged me. Why is it that vampires are frightened off only by Christian symbols? Does that mean only Christianity can overpower evil? Sorry, that’s just a pet peeve of mine. Anyway, I haven’t made any changes that other authors haven’t made before, so I’m certainly not breaking new ground.

HCM: Do you think the werewolf and vampire genres are petering out? Or are they evolving into and all-new modern icon, removed from the stereotypical monsters of old?

KA: It would seem to me that the old idea of werewolves and vampires as ‘scary monsters’ is petering out. Your average serial killer is more frightening than a vampire, if only because people know that serial killers do exist and therefore pose a real threat. For the past couple of decades, writers have been moving more toward writing vampires and werewolves as more ‘human’, as a fantastical part of human society with both good and evil elements. I don’t foresee the market, at least for vampires, ending any time soon. I’m constantly astonished by the quantity of vampire fiction out there, yet it never seems to reach a saturation point, We’ve been fascinated by the vampire for centuries, and it seems will continue to be for a while yet.

HCM: In your opinion, which is the greatest werewolf and vampire story ever written, and why?

KA: For me, ‘the greatest’ would mean the ones that had the most influence on me. For vampires, that would be Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat, my favourite of her vampire books. Her novels really were the first depiction of monster-as-protagonist I’d read where the concept didn’t seem, well, corny. For werewolves, The Howling had the biggest influence on me, probably because I’d read it at far too young an age. That was the first book I’d read where the werewolves turned into actual wolves, and because of that, it was the first werewolf book I liked.

HCM: If Count Dracula popped in one night and offered you immortality, would you take it?

KA: I know my view may be in the minority, but I’ve always considered immortality to be a curse, rather than a gift. What would be the good of staying young and living forever if everyone around you always grew old and died? I’ve always seen a tragedy in that. So no, I wouldn’t accept immortality.

HCM: If Clay popped up and offered to bite you, how would you respond?

KA: As i’ve portrayed werewolves, there are ‘downsides’, but I think the advantages outweigh them, if only for the opportunity to change forms and experience life as something other than a human. So, sure, I’d take it.

HCM: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

KA: My biggest piece of advice, drawn from my own experience, is to write the story you want to tell. Sounds glaringly obvious, but the truth is that writers who are actively trying to break into the business often write what they think will sell. I spent years writing ‘Bitten’ and and off, mostly off, because I was certain that if I sold something it wasn’t going to be a werewolf novel. At the same time I was messing around with other genres, which I considered easier to break into. Elena’s story, though, was the one I genuinely loved telling, which is why I didn’t abandon it when I deemed it ‘unmarketable’. I wrote it because I wanted to, not becauseI thought it would launch my career. In the end, though, it did exactly that … and the novels I considered more marketable are still in my closet, and will remain there. My passion was with the werewolf novel and I think that showed through in the story.

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