Interview: Caitlin Kittredge

All right gang, you fine people are in for a huge treat. Recently I had the pleasure and privilege in conducting a a one-on-one interview with my dear friend, the beautiful, talented, prolific and always fun Caitlin Kittredge.

Kittredge is the author of of four (count em four) popular series: Nocturne City, Black London, Icarus Project, and Iron Codex. All of which I can’t recommend enough.

I first met Kittredge a few years back through our mutual good buddy, Cherie Priest: the priestess of steampunk and all things awesome.

Since then, we’ve all been Dragon Con crewmates who can usually be found racing from hotel to hotel.

During the one-on-one, Kittredge discusses her career as a novelist, fandom, and a couple of brothers on a little known t.v. show called Supernatural.

DRU: Caitlin, thank you so much for doing this interview. To say you have accomplished a lot at such a young age would win me the Understatement of the Century Award. You have not one, not two, not three, but four series under your belt. The latter we’ll be discussing in just a bit. There’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask you. WHERE DO YOU FIND THE TIME?!!!!! Seriously, I know full-time writers who haven’t churned out as much work as you have. What’s your secret?

[pulls out pen and pad and listens attentively]

CK: My secret is that for a couple of years, I didn’t do much except write. I didn’t date, didn’t have a social life to speak of, didn’t do much in the way of hobbies besides reading. I would occasionally emerge from my cave to go to author events or gatherings with other writers, but I was a bit of a sucky friend while I was churning out 6 books back to back. I realized I’d basically become a hermit, so now I’m a lot better about balance. I have a life again, and it’s nice. The tradeoff is I can no longer procrastinate–I gotta buckle down and work when it’s work time to meet deadlines.

DRU: What got you into writing? When did you know that this was for you?

CK: I had just graduated from college and was working this really awful, soul-sucking job for the state of Washington. I knew I could easily turn it into a career (well, at the time–they ended up canning me because I couldn’t muster the slightest bit of enthusiasm beyond showing up and not killing everyone in the office) but the idea of doing that for the rest of my life just wasn’t for me. I knew then I could have jobs–things to pay the bills–but that writing was my passion, and I needed to at least try to write and sell a book. I finished my first novel about 8 months later.

DRU: Now you have cited the likes of Raymond Chandler, Neil Gaiman, and H.P. Lovecraft as inspirations. What distinguishes these writers for you?

CK: Chandler for his economy of words. He always knew exactly what word was the right word, and he rarely wasted them. At the same time, he’s the king of telling details. In The Big Sleep he describes Philip Marlowe’s socks, and we know exactly what kind of guy he is from those couple of lines. That and he’s an oddly poetic writer–moreso than Hammett, who’s also a favorite of mine. Hammett’s stories are street beatings, and Chandler’s are boxing matches. He keeps the tension going until the last line.

Gaiman is simply a beautiful writer. I learned how to write evocative prose from him, to set moods, and to scare the hell out of people while still using the most elegant phrases imaginable.

Lovecraft isn’t as good a writer as either of the two above (put down your pitchforks! I still think he’s better than 90% of what’s out there!) but he’s the master of claustraphobic, dense horror writing. You can’t escape his prose. It wraps itself around you and makes you keep your eyes open until the story is done, and he’s not shy about downer endings, either. Most of his stories end with people simply going mad and giving in to forces beyond their control. There’s a kind of gleeful abandon about his stories that I find really fascinating.

DRU: Regarding writing, one thing I’ve noticed and admired about you is that you’re not afraid to branch out into various genres: dark fantasy, urban fantasy, YA, steampunk, superheroes. It’s clear you’re not one to simply stay with what’s worked and you’re willing to challenge yourself creatively. Is this a conscious decision, or is it because you’re a fan of these genres and you love exploring or a combination thereof?

CK: Really, I just write what I’m interested in. And I’m interested in a lot of stuff, so I tend to be a bit all over the place. The concept of author branding–you only write one genre or one type of story–is fairly new. Genre authors in the pulp era wrote all kinds of stuff, sometimes under assumed names, but your harboiled writer was your SFF writer was your romance writer. I think writing different genres keeps me versatile, and therefore marketable. Just my opinion.

DRU: With many writers, I’ve noticed that you tend to find common themes or elements in their work. For example: powerful alpha heroines, attention to historical detail, a certain style for dialogue? With four series, have you found those themes and elements in your work? Something that makes you say, “Yep, this wouldn’t be my work if XY and Z were in it?”

CK: Probably flawed protagonists, unresolved issues with family, and lots of references to and plots revolving around music. That and lame jokes about Batman.

DRU: Steampunk has definitely established itself as a genre, subculture, and fandom in recent years. Iron Thorn back, a steampunk YA (which has been getting some excellent buzz) and the first of the Iron Codex series was released earlier this year. Any thoughts on steampunk as a genre? Any trends that you’ve noticed?

CK: I think steampunk is a great sub-genre, but I do think a lot of aspiring writers see it as very rigid. Some purists may want to keep it Victorian, British, whitewashed, whatever, but really–it can be more than that. Steampunk settings are pretty easy to mesh with a variety of historical periods, and a variety of cultures. You can even throw straight-up fantasy elements like magic and Fae in there. I did. Sure, I got some people saying it wasn’t “real” steampunk, but that’s such a disingenuous thing to tell people. Is it only “real” if it has a dirigible? If that’s the case, WATCHMEN is steampunk. Only real if set in Britain during a fifty-year period in the 1800ds? How boring! Only “real” if people have gears on their hats. Well…to each his own there. My good friend Cherie Priest (who writes what are probably the best modern steampunk novels out there–set, incidentally, in the American West and South during the Civil War) said it best: this genre is supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re restricting yourself, and you need to let yourself explore all possible stores in the genre. Don’t listen to internet debates–write what makes you happy!

DRU: Tell us about the Iron Codex series and how that came to be?

CK: The Iron Codex series is a steampunk series with Lovecraftian overtones, set in an alternate 1950s where giant steam-powered war machines won

WWII instead of the atomic bomb. It follows Aoife Grayson, a girl who’s doomed, like her mother and older brother, to go mad on or around her sixteenth birthday. Aoife’s brother has vanished, and when she discovers he’s been stolen by the Fae, she leaves the totilitarian world of McCarthy’s America behind and finds a hidden world full of clockwork houses, maneating fairies and the hint that her madness may be a link to a much greater power.

DRU: In terms of other steampunk works, what do you think distinguishes the Iron Codex series?

CK: It incorporates fantasy elements, it’s set in an alternate 1950s instead of the Victorian era, and it’s definitely a blend with horror–I want some scares along with my steam!

DRU: And when is the next book in the Iron Codex series due out?

CK: Valentine’s Day, 2012. A day for love AND tentacle monsters!

DRU: Switching gears from steampunk, I also know that your’e a fellow noir fan. Your favorite noir media. Works that you love and works that you would recommend?

CK: I’d recommend the Philip Marlowe books by Chandler, Red Harvest by Dashielle Hammett (which is much better than the Maltese Falcon in book form), and the early Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer books for classic noir. Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels are slightly less hardboiled but incredibly dark, complex character studies, if you like villain POVs more than heroes. As far as modern noir, Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro private eye mysteries are great, as is Shutter Island (the film takes away all of the really good parts of the ending.) Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels are magical Brit noir, and Ed Brubaker’s graphic novel series Criminal is the best modern noir I’ve ever read, in any format.

DRU: There’s another serious topic which I’ve been wanting you to weigh in on for a long time. I know your insight on this issue would be invaluable. Supernatural. The Winchester brothers. Team Dean or Team Sammy? Personally I’m Team Nerd Angel but where do your allegiances lie?

CK: I was firmly Team Dean for the first three seasons, and then he lost all of the things that made him charming and became whiny and unlikable. I’m definitely Team Trenchcoat Angel now.

DRU: Dean, Sam, Bobby, Castiel. Which one would you marry, frak, kill, and keep around?

CK: Kill Sam, just because his constant self-involved complaining would give me a headache. Marry Castiel, because he seems like a pretty reliable dude when he’s not all flaming sword on people. Dean, obviously, is the hot one. And I’d keep Bobby around because he’s more useful than a Swiss army knife, plus he’s got great taste in music.

DRU [checks list]: Great minds. Yep! Supernatural has been on for a number of seasons but one thing I’ve noticed is that the shirtless scenes with the brothers Winchester have been abysmal, n’est pas?

CK: Well, the last shirtless Dean scene I can remember is when he was turned into an old man, so…yeah. Not a happy camper over here.

DRU: I foresee a letter writing campaign in my immediate future. Now I know you didn’t think we were going to get through this interview without me picking your brain about comic books. I know you’re a fellow comic book geek as evidenced with your Icarus Project series that you co-wrote with Jackie Kessler which by the by, if you haven’t read it yet, go get the books NOW! Anyway, you know I got questions. Your favorite comic book series?

CK: Locke & Key by Joe Hill, hands down. It’s amazing on every level, from the story to the art to the fact that it’s the only comic book ever to give me the willies. So creepy. So good.

DRU: Favorite comic book writers and artists?

Ed Brubaker, Paul Cornell, the aforementioned Joe Hill, Marjorie Liu…all safe bets for awesome. I’m ashamed that I can’t name off more artists but I tend to notice bad art way more than beautiful, seamless good art. I do like Ben Templesmith and Sean Phillips because they have such unique, graphic styles.

DRU: Favorite comic book characters?

CK: I really love Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, where he’s more of a spy who happens to have superpowers than some jingoistic dude with wings on his head. X-23, Renee Montoya (as a detective and the Question), the Baroness from GI Joe, the Joker, John Constantine, the Black Widow, Dr. Strange and his pimped out bathrobes–they all have a special place in my heart. And of course, Batman. Goes without saying.

DRU: What titles are you currently reading?

X-23, Locke & Key, Criminal, House of Mystery, Greg Rucka’s Punisher, Avengers Academy, and Captain America & Bucky Barnes

DRU: What would be your dream comic book film adaptation?

I’d love to see a decent adaption of Hellblazer, but thanks to Keanu Reeves, that’ll never happen. Makes me sad. Failing that, Preacher as directed by Robert Rodriguez, or that Dr. Strange movie people keep hinting about. Or Power Man done as a gritty modern noir, making sure there were decent parts for Jessica Drew and Misty Knight.

DRU: What would be your dream casting for a comic book movie?

CK: For Stephen Strange, I’d pick Jon Hamm from Mad Men. Strange is an arrogant jerk, and kind of stays that way even after his “valuable life lesson”. Weird how infinite magical powers don’t calm your ego…anyway, I think Don Draper and Strange are a lot alike, and Hamm could totally pull it off.

DRU [scratches chin and ponders]: Yes! I would go see that movie! Now as I’m sure you’re aware, there’s been a lot of debate in the past few years about diversity and respectful representation of minorities in comics: women, POCs, LGBTQs, etc. Not only with comic book characters, but with diversity in the industry and recognizing minorities in the fandom. It’s no secret that some people believe that the only comic book fans are cis straight white males. And the two of us are living breathing proof to the contrary. As a woman, a comic book fan and as a professional writer in the industry, what are your thoughts on minorities as fans, writers, artists and our treatment and representation, not only in comics but in the media in general?

CK: I think any time you stop and try to show off how you’re WRITING A MINORITY, you’ve already lost. The stigma only goes away when creators–whether POC, female, queer or not–normalize minorities in their fiction and show them as characters rather than HEY, A BLACK WOMAN or HEY, A GAY MAN. I’ve always gone the “it’s not a big deal” route with my characters of color, women, gay characters, what have you. They are what they are, it’s PART of who they are but it’s not what makes up their entire personality or life or defines their relationships beyond what you’d experience in the real world dealing with race, class, orientation, etc. Yeah, sometimes those interactions suck, people are jerks, they say shit that makes you so angry. And showing that in your fiction is a good thing, but on the flip side of tokenization, I also don’t believe minority characters exist solely as PSAs. That’s just as minimizing, even if the intent is good rather than negative.

But mainly: when you tokenize something, either because you haven’t experienced real-life relationships with people of different backgrounds or you’re trying to get a cookie for being “diverse”, you’re doing it wrong. I’d almost rather some writers (who shall remain nameless) didn’t try rather than give us painfully caricatured, racist, sexist, homophobic representations of minorities. I always try to get it right, and if I screw up (as a cis white female), then I’m always willing to own it. All creators owe it to their readers to try and get it right, as hard as they can. Anything else is just contributing to the problem.

DRU: And the church said, AMEN!!! Now Devil’s Business is the latest installment in the Black London series which is AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW. For the three people on the planet who have been stuck in a time vault and need to be brought up to speed, why don’t you give them a crash course in the world of Black London and the characters of Pete and Jack.

CK: Pete Caldecott: former detective with the London police, who met Jack Winter, psychic, exorcist and trouble magnet. Together, they fight…well, anything and everything, really. Ghosts, demons, old gods, poltergeists…but along the way trouble has been brewing, and Devil’s Business finally finds Jack’s enemies moving all their game pieces into position for the actual Apocalypse. Jack can’t have that, since after Armageddon there will be no place to buy cigarettes and cheap liquor. Plus there’s the small matter of a demon owning his soul, and having his own plans for Jack in the end times…

DRU: So where does Devil’s Business find our protagonists?

CK: Los Angeles! After the events of Bone Gods, the previous book, it becomes necessary for Jack and Pete to take a mandatory vacation to avoid various magical hit squads who have their number…but LA might be just as dangerous, if not worse. Jack gets mixed up with people he shouldn’t, and finds out they’re trying to bring about the actual, biblical Apocalypse. And that they’re succeeding.

DRU: For your Black Londonites, any hints on what surprises are in store for them?

CK: Big news on the cliffhanger Bone Gods ended on (you know what I’m talking about.) The return of everyone’s favorite suit-wearing demon. New, disgusting monsters I had a ton of fun writing, and Jack’s utter puzzlement at why everyone in Hollywood is so short.

DRU: With all of the books you’ve written is there any character or story that holds a special place in your heart. Obviously all of your works are your babies but is there anything that’s distinctive for you?

CK: I really do love Jack and his world. And I’m terribly fond of Iron Thorn as a book–I definitely think it’s my best.

DRU: Obviously your schedule is about to be busy promoting the novel. Any appearances or other events in the not-too-distant future?

CK: I’m excited to announce I’ll be at New York Comic-Con Saturday, October 15th, and at YALLFest in Charleston, SC in November. I’ll also be a Comikaze, a west coast con at the LA Convention Center, in November. November is busy…

DRU: You have certainly achieved a level of success that most writers would kill for. And you certainly aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Now while every author’s journey is unique, what do you think has been key in your success?

CK: A stubborn refusal to give up.

DRU: Knowing what you know now, if you go back time and give Novice Author Caitlin any advice what would it have been?

CK: To chill out about things you have no control over (sales) and work harder at growing your career in the direction you want.

DRU: When I was in Seattle about a year ago, you and Cherie gave me some sage advice which well….Hollowstone wouldn’t be a reality if it weren’t for you two. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

CK: Aw, that makes me so happy to hear. My advice for aspiring writers is threefold: first, you have to put in the work. Write as much as you can. Make a schedule and stick to it. Finish what you start. Second, you need to be passionate about your stories. Write what you love and worry about the market later. Third, trust yourself. You don’t need to compare yourself to other writers just yet. Be willing to be humble and accept crits and advice, but don’t get on the bandwagon of constant self-denigration. You’ll never finish a book that way.

Everything else is details, in my opinion.

DRU: Caitlin, thank you for taking the time to sit down and do this interview. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go order some books of yours.

CK: Thank you! Order two! (Just kidding.)

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3 comments on “Interview: Caitlin Kittredge

  1. I absolutely found this interview fantastic and informing. I’m so interested in steampunk, but it’s not something I can tackle right now. And I love hearing about the writers and stories that inspired Caitlin. I’m inspired by many of those same authors, but she’s given me some new stuff to add to my already long list of stuff to read. Excellent work, D!

    Thanks for this wonderful, eye-opening interview. Keep ’em coming!!!

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