New York Times Bestselling Author Kelley Armstrong is a born storyteller, one of those kids that invariably dismayed her teachers. “If asked for a story about girls and dolls, mine would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls,” she says. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed. Even now, today, she is locked away in her writing dungeon, spinning tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves. You know, the fun stuff.
With four books, three novels and an anthology, being released in 2014, she is cranking out the word count, and still found time to talk to us.
TH: What is The Story of Kelley? An urban fantasy monster-fest? A mythical, childlike adventure?
KA: I was born in Sudbury, Ontario, moved to London, Ontario as an infant and grew up there with three younger siblings. I attended the University of Western Ontario for a BA in Psychology, then Fanshawe College for computer programming. Sold my first novel “Bitten” in 1999, but continued working as a programmer until I sold the second novel. Live in rural southwestern Ontario with my husband and three kids. Yep, pretty normal!
KA: Honestly? I don’t know. I’ve been interested in the paranormal since early childhood. I often jokingly blame Scooby Doo, but that was probably my first exposure to werewolves, vampires and things that go bump in the night.
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skills?
KA: Lots! Besides countless short stories, I have three completed novels that I’ll never publish and many partials that I’ll never finish. Of course, at the time, I thought they were perfect. Now I know they were crap. They were practice work that helped me improve my craft until I was ready for publication.
TH: Every writer has things they would like to accomplish, e.g. first sale, next sale, first novel sale, first bestseller, etc. What accomplishment are you striving for right now?
KA: Maintenance. I’ve gotten to a place I’m very happy with. It’s a good balance of success and stress. I’ve learned that (at least for me) success brings stress—increased pressure, expectations etc—and I’ve hit the perfect balance. My mission now is how stay in the sweet spot.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
KA: There isn’t any part that I dislike, but if I had to pick my favourite, it would be writing the first draft. It’s the creative process of seeing an idea unfold into a story that I like best. That’s the most fun and most appealing. Next would be editing, because I really appreciate that chance to polish the story!
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as an writer? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
KA: I’m often asked at what point I felt successful. It’s never been a point, but rather a process. I thought when I first sold a book, I’d have that “I made it!” moment. Then I worried something would go wrong and it wouldn’t come out, so I thought I’d get my moment when it hit the shelves. Then I worried it wouldn’t sell and I’d lose my chance at this great career, so I thought it’d come when I reached a bestseller list. Then I… You get the point. That makes it sound like I’m constantly worrying and dissatisfied with my progress, which isn’t the case at all. I’m extremely happy with my career, more so than most authors I know. I definitely feel like I’ve made it, yet there was no defining moment.
TH: Some say that artists have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
KA: It’s tough to talk about branding and commodities as a genre writer. When I do, it makes it sound like I’m pumping out product, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I know what would make my books more marketable, yet I don’t make those changes because they interfere with what I want to do creatively. I absolutely love storytelling, and I would never sacrifice that passion for profit. That said, though, when I consider a new endeavour, I do look at how it fits my “brand”—i.e. what the market and my readers expect from me. I weigh that against my excitement for the project. If there are two projects to choose from and I’m equally excited about both, but one is more suitable as a “Kelley Armstrong” project, I’ll take that one. It’s just good business sense, and there needs to be a little of that in my long-term plan if I want to keep feeding my family!
TH: What are the most effective ways you have found to promote yourself?
KA: I think the most effective thing an author can do promotionally is write the next book. Nothing should interfere with building a backlist, because it will pay off—it certainly has in my case. Otherwise, I believe we should be aware of all the various ways we can promote our books, try as many as we can, and stick with the ones we find both effective and enjoyable. For example, I don’t blog because I can’t help but think of a blog as “500 words I could have used telling a story.” So instead, I write e-serials, which I offer free (and later put up as e-books) Is that effective as promotion? I don’t know, but I love doing it and readers seem to appreciate it, and that’s what matters for me.
TH: Can you recall a moment when a two or more influences or inspirations came together and smacked you with a cool idea?
KA: My next book—Sea of Shadows—is a perfect example of that. I’d wanted to write a YA horror and epic fantasy crossover for years, but when I’d never had a clear-cut plot. I just knew the genres. When I watched the first season of Game of Thrones, I was struck by that very first scene in episode one, with the massacre in the woods. I wanted to stick to that, but of course the story moved elsewhere quickly. Then I was talking to someone about Japan’s Sea of Trees, and I watched a video of volunteers going into the forest to retrieve the bodies of suicide victims. The two things—that video and the Game of Thrones opening scene—collided and gave me an idea for the inciting incident for Sea of Shadows.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as a writer?
There have been so many. I’ll give one that stuck with me…for good and for bad. The day Bitten was released, my husband and I were out for dinner, and I wanted to stop by this tiny book store. I doubted they’d have it—first day of release for a debut author—but I had to check. They had two copies on the new-fiction shelf, and I was so thrilled. I told the clerk that I’d written them and asked if they’d like them signed. I’m an introvert, so it was tough to work up the nerve to do this, but I managed it. She just gave me this look like “Why would we want you to sign them?” She said I’d have to speak to the manager. I wrote down my name and number and said I’d happily come back to sign them. I never heard back, and I got the feeling she trashed my number as soon as I walked out the door. It was very . . . humbling. Let’s just say it was many years before I offered to sign a store’s stock again!
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
KA: Lots! Sea of Shadows comes out in April. Then in May it’s Odin’s Ravens, book 2 in my middle-grade Blackwell Pages middle-grade trilogy (co-written with Melissa Marr.) The second in the Cainsville series (Visions) comes out in August. I still have a few Otherworld projects on the go, due out late this year (an anthology, a graphic novella and a prose novella.) I’m currently writing an e-serial novella for my “completed” YA series. I’ll start posting chapters from that in May.