Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Feature: Interview with Rachel Caine

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Rachel Caine is the author of several books including the Weather Warden series and the Morganville Vampires series. She was also previously published under the alias Roxanne Longstreet Conrad and Julie Fortune. Her upcoming novels include Feast of Fools and Gale Force .

Hi! Thanks for doing the interview. First off, you have quite a repertoire (which means I had to do lots and lots of research!). Let's start with your music. What got you interested in music? In fiction? Why did you make the transition and what made it difficult?

I started out in music at the age of about 11 -- I think my parents did it to keep me out of trouble, but I really loved it and worked hard at it (insanely so, sometimes). On the fiction side, I've always been a huge reader (since at least the age of 7).

The transition came in about 1990, when I was working full time, playing in the Dallas Wind Symphony, and trying to also finish my first book. I finally realized that I just didn't have enough hours in the day, and I decided that I had to choose between two things I really loved: music, and writing. So I put away my music and focused completely on my writing. I don't really regret that, but it's a great thing that this year I'm picking up the music again.

How did your writing career start out?

I started out writing what I later found out was fanfic -- I wrote a short story based on a TV show I liked. After that, I wrote a lot of (bad) original stories, which I put in suitcases and hid until about 1990, when a friend of mine bought me a ticket and dumped me at a science fiction conference to "go meet some writers." Believe it or not, I did meet some writers, and I sold my first book from a contact I made at that convention.

Which is your "first" pseudonym? Rachel Caine or Julie Fortune? Come to think of it, how do you writers come up with your aliases? Any specialty or brand associated with one name and not the other?

My first pseudonym was Roxanne Longstreet -- which was my real (maiden) name. Because I changed publishers (and genres) in 1995, my agent and I decided that since I'd gotten married in the interim, we'd go with my married name, Roxanne Conrad. But the books I wrote under that name didn't do so well, so when I wanted to write fantasy I picked a new pseudonym: Rachel Caine.

Meanwhile, I was writing fanfic to keep myself occupied through the slow period, under the name of Julie Fortune, so it seemed natural to use that name on the Stargate SG-1 book that I wrote as well.

You're currently writing in various genres and age groups. Was it a conscious decision to work on say, fantasy, or is it more of a "I'll write whatever I want and it can be classified later" process?

The first incarnation of the book that became ILL WIND was more mainstream than fantasy, but it didn't find a publisher. I decided to rework it, adding the fantasy elements, because I thought it would work better that way. Looks like I might have been right!

What are you more comfortable with, writing horror or fantasy (if any)? Writing for young adults or for adults? Any particular difficulties? Any transitions that need to be made? Any favorite market/genre?

I tend to look at genres as tools -- I often mix fantasy and horror, humor and romance. In fact, I think by increasing any of the ingredients just a small bit, you can move a story out of one genre and into another, but it's still substantially the same story, so I'm really not bothered by what kind of title goes on the spine.

I do know that there are limits to the genres, particularly when you're talking about the young adult genre -- there are things that you have to think hard about, and take the potential consequences to your characters and to your readers seriously. In that sense, its not so much a difficulty as an extra dimension of things to think about. Despite that, I love writing both YA and adult fiction -- I always feel rejuvenated after a YA book, which helps keep me fresh for the adult fiction.

I've always wanted to be a fantasy writer, all my life, so I'm right where I wanted to be!

You're working with various publishers. Any particular difficulties/anecdotes or is it smooth sailing so far thanks to your agent?

My professional career has been surprisingly drama-free, I'm happy to say. Everybody I've worked with has been truly amazing -- from my first editor to my current ones. I can't leave out my agents, either; I've had amazingly good luck in the people I work with! I still think of them all as friends.

Here's the question that's either a hit-or-miss with some people. Who are your favorite authors or what are some of your favorite books? What do you think are your influences?

Ahhhhhh! Like most people, I think my influences are probably the books I grew up reading. Adventure stories like Robin Hood, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche, Men of Iron; science fiction authors like Roger Zelazny, C.J. Cherryh, Hal Clement, Ted Sturgeon; mystery stories by John Creasey and Rex Stout. Later on, I discovered great writers like Guy Gavriel Kay, Joe Lansdale, Barbara Hambly, P.N. Elrod, Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher -- dozens and dozens more. Let's just say that I had to buy a bigger house to hold all my books!

Let's talk about fandom. What are your current fandoms and anything you have to say about them (both old and new)?

Oh my, SO many fandoms for me! I think my current favorites are Stargate SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis, Torchwood, Doctor Who, Life on Mars, and Primeval. I'll always love Buffy, Angel, Highlander, Firefly, Harry Potter, Star Trek ... that's the great thing about fandoms. You can pick up new ones, but not lose the old ones.

What's your stance on fan fiction since I read that you started with fan fiction?

I think writing is writing, and you can write fanfic just as well or just as badly as any original story. I don't much care about a story's provenance, if it's a good story. If we're talking about fanfic based on my books, I'm sure it's out there, but I've never searched for it. It wouldn't bother me if I did come across it, though.

I know there are a lot of authors who really hate fanfic, but that's very baffling to me. I've always liked good fanfic, and always will.

I read that you do your writing in a coffee shop. Care to elaborate? Also, when you listen to music while writing, do you listen to instrumentals or does that include songs with vocals?

I used to go to the coffee shop by my house, which opened at 5:30 in the morning, so I could get in three hours of work prior to going to my day job. I don't have to do that so much anymore, because now that I'm writing full time I've fixed up a nice writing area in my house. I still go to the coffee shop at least a couple of times a week, though, just to mix it up and feel like I'm going to work.

Music -- I'm obsessive about it! I have a different playlist for each project, and the style of the songs changes accordingly. It's never bothered me to have lyrics in the music, but it's almost impossible for me to start a book until I have a few songs together to get me on track!

Let's talk about your books. Care to elaborate on the various books you're currently working on? Which is your biggest priority right now? Do you think you're more popular for your Weather Warden books or for your Morganville Vampires (or perhaps some other work of yours)?

I've just finished the first book of a new four-book series called OUTCAST SEASON; it is the story of a Djinn named Cassiel, and it's set in the universe of the Weather Warden series. I'm working right now on the fifth Morganville book, LORD OF MISRULE, and then it's on to book eight of the Weather Warden series. Sometime in there I need to also do some proposals for new books, too, so I'm fairly busy these days. I've also been doing more short stories, working those in here and there as I get time.

I think I used to be more popular for the Weather Warden series, but the Morganville Vampires series seems to be selling very well, so I'm not really sure these days!

In 2005, I read that you struggled with breast cancer. What were some of the difficulties you faced? How has it affected you as a writer?

Well, obviously, cancer throws off your concentration a bit. :)

I was extremely lucky -- I suspected something was wrong, and I went in to check it out, and the problem was detected very early. However, there's no doubt that I had a somewhat rough time of it, mainly because following the first surgery I came down with a drug-resistant staph infection, and then had to go back into surgery for a second time because the doctors detected additional cancer.

That took about three months out of my life -- from May through July. I went back to work in August full time; my publisher Roc, meanwhile, allowed me to postpone my fifth Weather Warden book for six months to try to get through the worst of things. I did daily radiation treatments from September through early November. Radiation is a tricky thing; some people have no problem with it, but I ended up very tired and weak, and it was a struggle to finish WINDFALL on time.

I don't think I was really back to full strength until about March of the following year, and of course being behind on writing made it hard to get back on track, but my day job and my editors were all very supportive and kind to me. So were my friends, family, and fans!

All in all, was it fun? No, not really (although parts of it were strangely funny, who knew you had to get tattooed?). But it was definitely valuable experience, and I hope that I can continue to help spread the word about the importance of breast cancer screenings and early detection.

Any advice you have for writers?

Oh, I don't think we have enough space! But really, the most important thing is to write. Just sit down and do it -- stop finding reasons why you can't. Write daily if you can manage it, and finish what you start, because if you want to become professional, that finishing thing is pretty much required. :) I hear a lot of aspiring writers say they'll "find the time" someday. Trust me, that time is never just lying around like quarters in the couch cushions ... you MAKE the time. You make it by cutting other things out of your life, whether that is sleep, time with friends and family, movies, video games, whatever it may be.

And don't get discouraged. It's not easy to succeed at writing, but honestly, I don't think it ought to be. Here's my musical background coming back: nobody expects to pick up a musical instrument and be playing Carnegie Hall in a year, but somehow, everybody expects to be an instant success at writing. The principles are the same: you have to learn the fundamentals, and you have to work hard.

But that makes it better, in the end, for the struggle.

What are your upcoming projects or things in general you'd like to plug?

FEAST OF FOOLS, the next Morganville Vampires book, is out in early June, and GALE FORCE, book seven of the Weather Warden series, is out in August. I'm also a contributor to a great charity anthology called TEARS OF THE PHOENIX, a book that will benefit the New Orleans public library system -- this wonderful thing is being put together by some great people in the Harry Potter fandom, but it's an original fiction anthology and I'm so proud to be part of it.

There's also a great anthology coming up later in the year called STRANGE BREW, and I expect there will be another Morganville book out around the first part of 2009, as well as the first book in the new OUTCAST SEASON series.

I will also be working on proposals for a new Stargate book shortly!

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk to you.

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