World Horror Convention 2013 GoH Interview #2: Caitlin R Kiernan

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(Photo of Caitlin R. Kiernan by Kyle Cassidy)

The New York Times recently called Caitlín R. Kiernan “one of our essential writers of dark fiction.” She is the author of various dark-fantasy novels, beginning with Silk and followed by Threshold, Low Red Moon, The Five of Cups, Murder of Angels, Daughter of Hounds, and The Red Tree. Her ninth novel, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, was released in April 2012.

In 2011, Subterranean Press released Two Worlds and In Between: The Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan (Volume 1), a retrospective of her short fiction from 1993-2004 (a second volume is planned for 2014). Publisher?s Weekly declared the collection one of the six best F/SF works of 2011. Two of her novellas have appeared as short hardbacks: In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers and The Dry Salvages. She has also worked in comics, scripting thirty-eight issues of the DC/Vertigo comic The Dreaming, along with two mini-series: The Girl Who Would Be Death and Bast: Eternity Game. In April 2012, she returned to comics and graphic novels, writing Alabaster, which features her albino monster-slayer, Dancy Flammarion. Her next novel, Blood Oranges, will be released in 2013. Illustrated versions of The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl: A Memoir will be published in 2013 and 2014.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Kiernan was raised in the south-eastern US, and now lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her partner.

HWA President Rocky Wood said, “Caitlín R. Kiernan’s reputation increases with every novel, graphic novel and short story she releases. She has received multiple Bram Stoker Award®, British Fantasy Award, World Fantasy Award and Shirley Jackson Award nominations. She is a worthy Author Guest of Honor for World Horror Convention and we look forward to her sharing more about her career to date, the importance of dark fantasy and her plans for the future.”

Please visit Caitlin’s website at

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Over the course of the coming months leading up to the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend Incorporating the World Horror Convention 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana, I will feature a series of interviews with each of the Guests of Honor.

Darkeva: Although you’re mainly known for your powerful and dark novels such as The Drowning Girl, The Red Tree, Silk, and Low Red Moon among many others, you’re also a prolific comic book writer, most notably for Alabaster, but also with Vertigo for The Girl Who Would Be Death and The Dreaming, spin-offs of sorts from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels. Tell us a bit about how you came to write for these series, what you enjoy (or least enjoy) about writing for comics, and if you have forthcoming comic projects.

CRK: I began doing comics back in 1996, after Neil called to ask if I’d like to do a three-part story arc for The Dreaming. I was actually in Eugene, Oregon at the time, attending the WHC. I was a great admirer of The Sandman, so, naturally, I said I did. The series’ sales had been pretty abyssal, certainly not what Vertigo had expected after the wild success of The Sandman. But there was an increase in sales with my arc, so I was asked to do a second. Eventually, I was offered the opportunity to be sole writer for the comic. I wanted to do it, and the money was good. And it was great for a while. But after a year or so it became a grind. I was relieved when the series finally ended. And yes, while writing The Dreaming I also did The Girl Who Would Be Death, but I’ve all but disowned that, due to interference from DC editors who demanded changes I refused to make until they threatened to have someone else rewrite the last issue. It was ugly. A year or so I did one last mini-series for Vertigo, Bast: Eternity Game, also a Sandman tie-in. It was intended as a four-part story, but was cut to three after I started, which ruined it. And which left me with no desire ever to work for Vertigo again. Or, for that matter, in comics.

So, almost a decade went by. Oddly, I was in Oregon again, as Guest of Honor for Portland’s 2010 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, when Dark Horse approached me about doing a creator-owned project. And that was the only reason I went back to comics, the condition that whatever I produced would remain one-hundred percent mine. After discussing several ideas, we settled on a graphic novel featuring a character – Dancy Flammarion– whom I’d first introduced in my 2001 novel, Threshold, and then again in a 2006 collection of Dancy short stories, Alabaster. Actually, the comic is a sort of reboot. Dancy is older and more worldly. She’s not so sure about all this “red right hand of God” folderol. I titled the first mini-series Alabaster – Wolves. Honestly, I didn’t expect much to come of it, but the critics loved it. So, for now, the stories are continuing in Dark Horse Presents, a second series called Alabaster – Boxcar Tales. I’m very much enjoying working with Dark Horse. And it’s not just been me making this project work. Not by a long shot. Steve Lieber, the artist, and Rachelle Rosenberg, our colorist, Greg Ruth, whose done the astounding covers, and my editor, Rachel Edidin. She and Mike Richardson have both shown so much faith in the book, it’s been wonderful, and Dark Horse, they’ve removed most of the bad taste DC/Vertigo left me with.

Darkeva: Many people were thrilled at the announcement that the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend and World Horror Convention would be combined this year and take place in the Crescent City. What are some of your favorite things about New Orleans?

CRK: For a while, I spent a lot of time in New Orleans, back in the mid and late nineties. I traveled a lot more back then. I went for inspiration and wound up setting a number of my earlier short stories in the city – “Breakfast in the House of the Rising Sun (Murder Ballad No. 1),” “Lafayette (Murder Ballad No. 2),” and “Spindleshanks (New Orleans, 1956)”. I wanted to write about New Orleans the way that a lot of earlier writers hadn’t. Not Anne Rice’s romanticized image, but closer to, say, Tennessee Williams, John Kennedy Toole, and William S. Burroughs. I was always trying to get away from the way the tourism trade wanted to sell New Orleans and look at what was genuinely there. Still, I look back at those short stories and they seem naïve. I had never lived there, and I think it was arrogant, believing I could capture it faithfully. Even I’d bought into a different hype, that reputation of the city as a haven to voodoo and ghosts and creepy cemeteries haunted by grave robbers. I’d just failed in another direction. It’s not that those are necessarily bad stories, but they surely fell short of what I’d hoped to accomplish.

Anyway, my favorite things about New Orleans? I’ve not been back to New Orleans since Katrina. In fact, I haven’t been there since 1999. So, I can only work from memory, and I understand that a lot has changed. I love the French Quarter, but I loathe the tourists and the way so much of the Quarter caters to them. A city can murder itself that way. I see it here in New England. So much of New England has become a sort of Disneyland version of itself, hoping to lure in the tourists. I do love New Orleans cemeteries, and the architecture. Jackson Square. I love the city the way I love everything that’s good about the South, which means seeing past all the old and present evils of the South. The live oaks and Spanish moss, the land, the river. For me, that’s a lot of what’s there to love. Sweltering summer nights. Those I love. But I must confess I hate Mardi Gras.

Darkeva: There has already been some fantastic buzz about your newest novel, Blood Oranges, which just released, and marks a break from your usual material, veering into urban fantasy but also shaking up the subgenre’s usual tropes and conventions at the same time. What inspired you to write this novel?

CRK: The novel began as a joke. I have been very public about my hatred of paranormal romance and how it’s co-opted the term “urban fantasy.” Tramp-stamp covers for the same stupid, silly story repeated over and over and over again. These writers who’ve made money dressing up necrophilia and bestiality is a weirdly white-bread normative glamour. Actually, that part’s pretty funny. All these faithful “UF” readers who’d never for a moment consider themselves perverts, or sexual “deviants” in any sense, get off on tales of making love to vampires and demons and werewolves. But like I said, Blood Oranges began as a joke on my LiveJournal. I made some quip about writing a story about a “werepire.” I thought up a supremely absurd story, and we all had a good laugh.

Then I wrote the first chapter, just for shits and giggles. Then I let my agent read it…and she loved it. I mean, she really loved it. I was flabbergasted. I think I was even a little annoyed. She wanted more, a whole novel. A junkie lesbian who gets bitten by a vampire and a werewolf on the same night and finds herself forced to be a sort of anti-Buffy Summers. This foul-mouth runaway who’s speaking directly to the reader, and who says, again and again,
“I don’t care if you believe this, or if you like what you’re reading, or if you like me.” There’s hardly a drop of romance in the book. Once I decided, sure, I’ll write this, all of that became very intentional. Do it all backwards. Break every cliché of ParaRom I could find to break, while still trying to write a good book. Satire, yes, but it couldn’t just be this seventy-thousand word joke. That would have become horribly tiresome immediately. So, the humor had to be woven into a tale about this fuck-up of a character who was, to me, a real person. As I say up front, in the book Blood Oranges is me stealing urban fantasy back from the “UF” fetishists. Reminding people what it used to be.

And it was a fun book to write. Not easy to write, but fun. I’d never before even come close to enjoying writing a novel, but much of the time I did with this one. All along, I was telling myself, what if a Joss Whedon screenplay were directed by Quentin Tarantino? A sort of neo-noir dark fantasy, something takes itself seriously without ever taking itself too seriously. A popcorn sort of novel, but the sort of story that would leave readers with a punched in the gut feeling they probably didn’t expect going in. Anyway, so Penguin liked to book, and I’ve ended up contracted to commit that thing I swore I never world, a trilogy. Right now, I’m working on the second novel, Red Delicious, which will be out in 2014.

Oh, and the pseudonym [Kathleen Tierney]. A lot of people want to know why I chose the pseudonym. On the one hand, it’s part of the joke. I’m not trying to fool anyone into thinking I didn’t write these books. But, on the other hand, I am saying, look, this thing I’m doing here, I want it seen as a separate endeavor from my serious novels, books like The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl: A Memoir. The pseudonym seems to have confused, and even angered, some people. But it’s no different than members of a band taking time off to pursue a side project.

Darkeva: What part of being a Guest of Honor at the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend Incorporating the World Horror Convention 2013 are you most excited about?

CRK: I don’t know. Mostly, I think, because it hasn’t yet happened, I don’t know. I’m looking forward to seeing a few people I’ve not seen in over a decade. There’s that. Also, this is my first WHC since 1999 in Atlanta, so there’s also that. I’m an entirely different person and a very different writer than I was back then. Frankly, I probably feel more trepidation about doing this than excitement. I don’t think of myself as a horror writer. I’m very public and open about that. But my fiction is very, very dark fantasy and science fiction and, increasingly, something that I don’t think can be classified in a genre. I was surprised when I was asked to be a Guest of Honor. Pleasantly so, but still surprised. Then again, I’m always surprised by that sort of thing. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see, in retrospect, what I’m most excited about.

Darkeva: What other projects do you have on the horizon?

CRK: Too much. As I said, I’m currently writing the next novel [sequel to Blood Oranges], Red Delicious. I’ll be writing the third in the series this summer. I’m doing a science fiction novella this year – The Dinosaurs of Mars – a sort of collaboration with Bob Eggleton, which we’ve been trying to get around to since 2007. This year, I promised it’ll get written and it will. It’ll be published in 2014 as a hardback standalone book. Speaking of Subterranean Press, they’ll be releasing my next short-story collection, The Ape’s Wife and Other Stories, this summer. And there are the ongoing projects, Alabaster with Dark Horse and my monthly subscription-only e-zine, Sirenia Digest, which just published its eighty-sixth issue.

A huge thank-you to Caitlín for agreeing to be part of this feature. Be sure to visit her website here. You can follow her on Goodreads, Twitter, and her blog. Just a reminder that Blood Oranges, her most recent novel, is available for sale in bookstores and online.

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