One of the cool things about SF/F/H fandom is that one can meet the most unexpected people at a con … and still not know who they are. At the Omaha Science Fiction Festival last July, I met Carrie Vaughn briefly, when everyone is moving from panel to panel, but at the time, I had no idea who she was. Dummy me.
Then, at World Con in August, I attended the Weird Tales magazine party, and here was the same woman I had met briefly in Omaha getting up to read her new Kitty the Werewolf story, and I was treated to a crash course in the popularity of Carrie’s work. When I spoke to her afterward, I had to confess that I hadn’t known who she was back in Omaha. What followed was a discussion that drove home just how small the SF/F/H universe can be, as she was invited to Omaha by none other than Matt Rotundo, another Omaha-based author and another interviewee around these parts. Some interviews later on will continue this thread about how small and close-knit the circle of authors is. Everybody knows somebody, and there are always unexpected pleasures along those threads of acquaintance. Carrie Vaughn is certainly one of them.
CV: It’s the usual story: I wrote a lot as a kid, started sending out (really bad) stories in high school. I attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 1998, and sold my first pro story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress Anthology a year later. I’ve sold about thirty stories since then. I started writing novels seriously in about 1995-1996, wrote several that didn’t work out so much. In 2004 I sold Kitty and The Midnight Hour, which is the fourth novel I tried to sell. Four years later, I’m still truckin’.
TH: What is The Story of Carrie? Is it a novel? A pulpy short story? An epic poem? A limerick?
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
CV: I’ve always written. I didn’t know that was what I was doing, or that I could make a career out of it, until the eighth grade. Then, in English class, the teacher gave us the coolest creative writing project ever. I was very excited.
Then I noticed the other kids groaning and complaining about it. I couldn’t believe it, and that’s when I realized that a) I could write, and b) other people couldn’t/didn’t. I saw this as an opportunity.
TH: Have you recognized any particular milestones on the road from excited (but unpublishable) high school student to now with four mass market novels, two more on the way, and thirty published short stories under your belt?
CV: Writing and publishing is kind of nice in that it has such recognizable milestones: the writing contests I won in college, the first professional publication, the first novel being finished, finding an agent, first sale to a favorite prestigious magazine, the novel sale, the bestseller list recognition (Kitty and the Silver Bullet was #20 on the NYT mass market paperback bestseller list).
I still have milestones I’m working for–there are still a couple of magazines I haven’t sold to that I would like to, a couple of short story editors I’d love to sell to that I haven’t yet, I’d like to place a story in a Year’s Best anthology, I’d like to get certain award nominations, win those awards, get even higher on the bestseller list, etc. etc. I think I mentioned that I still have lots of goals, and this is part of it, recognizing the milestones still out there.
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never a see the light of day. I’m talking about stuff that perhaps helped you learn and develop your craft, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
CV: OMG yes. Tons. I still produce work that will never see the light of day, unfortunately. That said, I’m really glad I wrote five novels before the one that sold, because the one that sold is better, and when I suddenly had a deadline for the one after that, I had the confidence to know I could write a novel–I’d done it so often before, after all.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
CV: I think I have not yet written my best work. I’m still working hard to improve.
TH: Do you write “organically” or do you have a plan/outline before you put finger to keyboard?
CV: Both. I always have noble intentions with outlining, and always write out the story on a page or two. I try to know the ending before I start so I know where I’m going. But the outlines I do are never enough, and I always make connections while I’m doing the actual writing. I’m always sitting down two or three times in the course of a story to rework the outline and figure out how to get from point A to point B. There’s an old cartoon with a couple of physicists standing before a chalkboard, filled with equations, except for one spot in the middle that says “Then a miracle occurs.”
That’s what my outlines end up looking like. I end up hunting for the miracle as I’m writing.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
CV: Music, the outdoors, really good movies and books, moments in my own life.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you?
CV: All of it. Well, at various points I either love it all or hate it all.
But the best part is when the story I’m working on starts coming together, I can see how it all fits into the big picture, and I can start to guide all the words and sentences into that big picture.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
CV: I’m not very good at this side of it. Networking at conventions has actually done very well for me–I have a good time talking to people about SF&F and writing in general, appearing on panels, etc. I think that comes through and gets people interested in my work. Grass roots word of mouth has also been really really good for me, but that’s the kind of publicity you can’t buy. My publisher has given away many copies of the books at places like the World Fantasy Convention and San Diego Comic Con, and that’s been invaluable for getting my work out there.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
CV: I haven’t made it, as far as I’m concerned. I’m writing full time, which was always my big goal. But my new goal is to be able to KEEP writing full time, so I’m working hard on that. It’s never ending, which is how I want it. If I ever think I’ve made it and stop working for it, I’ll be finished, so I never want to feel like that. As I said, I don’t think I’ve written my best work yet, so I’m striving for that.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
CV: I definitely look at it as a business. If I had to say what my brand is, I’m not sure I could. I know my publisher sees me as “Kitty,” but I have lots of other things I do as well, and a lot of my readers see that.
Mostly, I’m trying to always write the best story I can. And treating this as a business keeps me focused, organized, and financially stable.
TH: Are there other genres you would like to try writing? Mystery, romance, thrillers, etc. Would you use a pen name?
CV: If I ever use a pen name, it’ll be more for marketing reasons, to have a different identity. Here’s the thing: I’ve used aspects of all those genres in my books. My novels are classified as fantasy, but they have mystery storylines, some of them have thriller moments, there’s a little bit of romance mixed in… I don’t think those genres are that separate.
It’s all just story.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
CV: I have a couple of standalone novels I’m shopping around. I have more Kitty novels in the pipeline–the next two are due out February and April 2009. I’m one of the contributors to George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series, and the next volume, Busted Flush, is out in December. I’m always working on something new, and more Kitty adventures, and short stories, so stay tuned.
TH: Do you think the market is saturated with werewolf and vampire fiction?
CV: Well, I kind of think it is. When bookstores are starting to create entire sections of “vampire fiction,” I think it’s a bit much. Take a look at the “new mass market” table at your local book store, and count how many of the covers have sexy women with vampires, wolves, etc. It’s a fairly significant proportion these days. I always like to see a little more diversity.
But I’ve been saying the market’s been flooded with these books for years.
And yet, they keep selling, and the publishers keep putting them out, and the audience can’t seem to get enough. I have no idea what’s going to end up being “too much.” I know I still have ideas for more books in the genre, so I have to hope the trend continues.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
CV: I’m not sure I could even say, there’ve been lots. Here’s one: recently at World Con, I lined up at registration with my parents, who were at the con with me. The guy at registration looked up their names, and my mother told him to go ahead and look up my name as well since I was right there. The guy’s eyes got really big, and he said “Carrie Vaughn, the writer? Will you sign my book?” and he pulled out a copy of Midnight Hour. That was cool, but my mom completely gushed and gave me a big hug–she got a huge thrill out of seeing her daughter, the writer, at work.
Another really cool thing is having writers I admire tell me they’ve read and loved the books. That’s mind-blowing to me.
TH: How did your parents respond to your writing urge/aspirations? Did they get it? Or did they just humor you until you could support yourself with fiction?
CV: My parents have been incredibly supportive. When I was 15 and told my mother I wanted to be a writer, she went to the library and brought home a stack of “how to” books on writing and publishing. My brother’s in theater, so that just shows you how supportive my folks have been of unconventional artistic pursuits. The motto in the family was it didn’t matter what you did with yourself as long as you could pay the rent. I’ve had day jobs the whole way, until last year.
Also, my parents are both avid science fiction readers, so they really get it. If I ever win a Hugo they’ll be more excited than I am.
TH: Fifteen years from now, looking back on your career, what will you hope to have accomplished?
CV: I hope to still be making a living at it 15 years from now. I’ve already accomplished a lot. My motto now is “onward and upward.”