Interview With Caitlin Kittredge – Part 4

Welcome back for the conclusion of our interview with Caitlin Kittredge, author of The Iron Thorn, among other series.

Part 1 can be read here.

Part 2 can be read here.

Part 3 can be read here.


Airship Ambassador: Caitlin, as we wrap up today, let’s talk about “Attack of the Lazy Brain!” While sounding like a great ‘50’s sci fi movie, this form of writer’s block can really put a dent into a writer’s day. How do you best recover from Lazy Brain?

Caitlin Kittredge: I try to blog a couple of times a week, and I found that writing a good blog is a good way to recover from lazy brain because you’re writing and you’re putting words down and it’s easier to transition from writing your blog to writing your story once you’ve already kind of gotten started. Sitting and waiting to get started is just  a way to say, “Screw it. I’m going to go watch some tv or go clean my bathroom,” or some kind of other procrastination activity.  Yeah my house is so clean when I’m procrastinating about writing a book.  It’s unbelievable.

I have terribly lazy brain, almost all the time, so I really have to trick myself into getting started, and then once I’m started I’m like, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.  I don’t know why we’re even worried about this.”  But then the next morning it’s like, “Gee, maybe we should just go refresh Twitter for 20 minutes.  We don’t have to write today.”  And I’m thinking, “Yeah, we do actually.  Sorry.”  I also try listening to character or scene-specific music, referring back to the playlists, if I come up with a song that kind of gets me fired up, I’ll just play that, on repeat sometimes, until I’m like, “OK I think I can write now.”

Sometimes it’s just like, “Ok, this is my day job.  I’ve got to do this or I don’t have any money to pay my rent or keep the power on for the computer.” Sometimes it sucks and you just have to suck it up, and that can be really hard especially if it’s not your day job, like if you’re just doing this on the side and you already have a day job, and you’re tired and you know your cat puked on the floor and your kids want something.  It can be rough, so I recommend trying, especially if it’s not your day job yet, I recommend trying the trickery version before the “Ok, just sit down and write,” but there has to be a certain element of that if you ever want to do this professionally where it comes time to just suck it up and do it even if your brain is feeling lazy. I usually try to bribe it or trick it first because then I’m usually less recalcitrant to be writing. If I’m happy to be writing I tend to write much more and if I feel like it’s a homework assignment I tend to just do my minimum word count for the day and then be like, “Screw it.”

I don’t want to be like one of those people who’s like, “Oh, when I write it’s like I’m in this mystical other place, and my muse is singing and….”  It’s great if it’s like that for you, but it’s never been like that for me.  It’s always been kind of hard to actually sit down and write even though I love it more than anything when I’m doing it.  Convincing myself to start is sometimes the worst thing in the world.


AA: Criminology as an interest and forensic investigation course in college. Both sound pretty intriguing and intellectually attractive. How did those impact and influence your writing for Nocturne City?

CK: I was really lucky.  I took a forensic class as a science for non-science majors class.  It was Intro to forensic investigation and it was great.  It was a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of physics, a little bit of this and that.  And we covered all the major disciplines like DNA, and ballistics, and blood spatter over the course of two semesters.  We spent a couple weeks on each.  Our professor was this huge, huge stickler for scientific accuracy. She would make us watch TV shows and read crime novels, and we would have to point out everything that they did wrong.  Our final was actually to watch an episode of “C.S.I.,” and she said, “There are 18 mistakes in this episode. The more you find, the higher your grade will be.”


AA: Ha, what a test!  You watch tv and…

CK: Yeah.  But it’s harder than you might think because you get caught up in the story and then you’re wondering, “Oh, did I miss something” and there was no rewinding or anything.  We had to just sit there and take notes, and she had given us a sheet with numbers 1 through 18 and we had to write down sequentially what they were.  I got an 80. I only missed two.

I love historical fiction and historical stuff. I’m kind of into costuming and such.  I was already a big stickler for historical accuracy, so I could really glom onto that the scientific way. When the Nocturne City books came out, I thought, “Ok, I want to make sure I get all this stuff really right,” even though I had to fudge a little bit because a lot of it was paranormal crime scene investigation and doesn’t exactly work the same way if you’re dealing with fictional fantasy creatures.

Like you can’t autopsy a werewolf the same way you can a person.  And I made some really elementary anatomy mistakes in the book that people still send me angry e-mails about even though I’ve apologized for it about four times on my website and said, “I know, I can’t fix it unless there’s a reprint of the book.  So I’m sorry. Yes, I know I screwed up.  I’m sorry.  I can’t fix it yet.”  But I wish, things get by you, no matter how good a stickler you are and that was the one that got by me.  I like to think that I basically did an OK job.

Doing paranormal crime scene investigation was actually really fun because I would take what I learned in the class and from reading other stuff on my own and I’d be like “ok how do I apply that to this completely fictional and fantastical setting.”  That actually was really fun.

I only once got the question about how do you deal with the conservation of mass with your werewolves.  And oh, it was it was that guy–you know that guy that’s in the audience of every sci-fi panel.  It was that guy who stood up and asked me this question.  And gave me this smirk like, “Girls can’t do science.  Of course she won’t know.”

I just looked him in the eye and I said, “Magic. Next question.”  Because I had actually thought about it when I was writing the book and I was thinking this is a really thorny issue. I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with this in this science fictional manner, so I was saying, “Alright, conservation of mass is dealt with by…magic.”  <laughs>  And if he had actually read the books, he would see in the second or third one there is actually an explanation of how there’s basically a spell attached to a werewolf’s DNA that allows them to transform into this big, 400 pound critter and then back into a 150 pound human.  So there’s basically magic in blood and I had this whole page-long discussion about this between two of the werewolves, so I covered my ass. I explained it.  I was telling him “You just didn’t read my books.”


AA: That’s a good way to start the answer.  “Well if you had read the book…”

CK: Well, yeah “on page 222…”  I was saying, “Yeah, I can be that guy too.”  I have to say that gave me fodder forever to tell that story at book signings and stuff.  When I ask for questions, I usually preface it with that story and say “Just don’t ask me that question.”  Because I don’t know enough about physics to deal with this in a science fictional manner, and I admit that.  You know, I’m a writer; math is hard.  <laugh>


AA: But criminology’s easy?

CK: Yes, there isn’t much math in criminology, so we’re good there.  I actually had thought a long time for my day job that I would probably go into some kind of law enforcement, but then I sold my book and then I didn’t have to.  I quit my crappy office job and that was that.  Well it wasn’t a totally crappy job.  It was a pretty good job actually.  I had thought in college that I would honestly actually probably want to do that as a day job, As odd as it sounds to say this about being in law enforcement, I was thinking that is a job that I could make my job and I would still have plenty of mental space left over for writing because I’m really interested in both and I thought it would be something I could do.

It was cool to be able to write about cops and stuff.  I had fun because oh my God, cops and law enforcement offices, they are some of like the weirdest, most morbid people you will ever meet.  They love to talk to you about it and try to gross you out.  They’re great; they’re like some of the best characters and I loved writing all the normal cop characters in the books. I loved writing their dynamics.  Like that was my favorite part of every book.

One of my favorite characters in the Nocturne City books is this real asshole cop named David, and he’s like the worst you can possibly imagine; like he’s covered in donut crumbs and my editor said he actually reminded her of Will Arnet from “30 Rock”, he’s just a jerk like that.  And I’m thinking, “Yeah, he is a jerk.”  But I had so much fun writing him because he’s just like this total, typical, crazy cop guy and those people are so much fun to write.

I have a lot of fun writing the abnormal characters in my fantasy novel.  I don’t know why.  Luna’s this driven, super-serious straight ahead kind of lady, and he was only supposed to be a one off, just in the first book. I was going to move her to a different precinct, and he was going to go away and never be heard from again, but he showed up in the second book, and then he showed up in the third book, and he just kept kind of showing up.  I think it sounds super flakey when you say your characters take over, but it was totally one of those cases where he actually did take over. I needed a character in the scene to antagonize Luna a little bit and he just popped up and was like, “Hey.  Me.”  I mean, he’s so obnoxious, I couldn’t write him out.


AA: While your tales of the supernatural are fictional, you’d had a real encounter with something out of the ordinary. Would you share that with us?

CK: I can, Well, it’s not a ghost story, in the sense that I saw a ghost.  I keep referring back to Neil Gaiman. He also has a ghost story that is not really about anything really happening.  When he was younger, he saw a woman under a streetlight and when he looked back, she was gone.  He said, “That’s my ghost story because I’m absolutely convinced she was a ghost.”

I lived in this really kind of horrible, seedy apartment right after my freshman year in college.  Weird stuff would happen in there and my boyfriend at the time just said he got a creepy feeling whenever he was in our bedroom and I said well you’re crazy because we have no where else to sleep–it’s a one bedroom apartment–so kind of out of luck there. I just dismissed it.  He would have horrible nightmares when he stayed over and stuff, and I just kind of dismissed it because I thought he was a bit flakey and crazy, which is why he’s now my ex.

Until I was there by myself and I got up to get a glass of water at night and it was pitch-black.  We had one of those 70’s bathrooms where the toilet and the shower are in one room and then there’s a little alleyway with the mirror and sink. I was standing in the little alley which was maybe  three feet wide plus the vanity, and I was getting a glass of water and drying my hands off. I became absolutely convinced that something was standing behind me and that if I turned around I would see whatever it was and it would just like be the end.

I was absolutely convinced and it was pretty well-lit because the streetlight comes in the window but it got pitch-black dark while I was standing there. I thought “Where’s the light that should’ve been coming in from the bathroom? It just got black.” I had this thought I had to get back to my bedroom right now and if I look in the mirror, it’s all over because I’m going to see it and it’s gonna see me. So I turned off the tap, and edged slowly away from the mirror. I booked it down the hall to my bedroom and slammed the door.  I don’t know why I thought the bedroom would be any safer.

I thought about it the next day and was like, “Did I dream that?”  And then I was thinking, no, because my water glass was right there on the vanity.  I did get up and get a glass of water.  I moved out pretty soon after that, but I never really felt comfortable in there again.

So that was my experience:  there was a definite, malicious, inhuman presence that was there all of a sudden, and I’ve never felt anything that strongly again.  I’m definitely skeptic rather than a believer. My roommate, the one who won’t go into my basement, is very sensitive to places and stuff, and I told her “I wish you had come to that apartment because you would’ve freaked out because if I felt it, I’m pretty sure you would’ve just bled from the ears and ran screaming from the room.”

I don’t spook easily, and I’m not prone to stuff like that, so that’s why I tend to think it was probably real and not just me being half asleep.  I was definitely awake, and it got so dark and it was all wuhoooo. That apartment was really kind of creepy.  But I moved into a better apartment and everything was fine.  That’s my non-ghost story.


AA: And with a hot cup of tea for us, that’s a good note on which to end.

Thank you, Caitlin, for this very enjoyable conversation and for letting us get to know you better.

CK: Thank you, it’s been a lot of fun!


Iron Thorn is now available for your reading pleasure.

For more information, read more at Caitlin’s website.

Published in: on February 27, 2011 at 9:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Interview With Caitlin Kittredge – Part 3

Welcome back for Part 3 of our interview with Caitlin Kittredge, author of The Iron Thorn, among other series.

Part 1 can be read here.

Part 2 can be read here.

Airship Ambassador: Caitlin, you and Cherie Priest are friends and critique partners, and when you lived in Seattle you were part of “Team Seattle”. How has all of that been helpful in the various aspects of your writing?

Caitlin Kittredge: Cherie is a kick-ass writer and is much better than me and pushes me to try to be better even though I know I will probably never be as awesome as she is.  I think you want at least one friend like that when you’re a writer, you want one friend who you can look at and say, “Ok, some day.”  because it motivates you and it pushes you.  If you’re at the same level, then you’re kind of feeling your way through the woods together, and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I think, I firmly believe that you should befriend writers at all different stages of the process because you can all learn something from each other.

It was great being a part of Team Seattle, and I’m still an auxiliary member–I’m the East Coast contingent.  It was great having a circle of friends who understood the frustrations and the triumphs of the writing process and we’re all in different points in our career and we all had different stuff to contribute.  It was a good little circle to be in, but yeah Cherie is consistently amazing, so I’m just kind of content to sit back and be amazed and just say, “Wow, you’re great.  Maybe some day I can be like you.  Maybe I can be you when I grow up.”  Yeah, that’s the take-away quote from that.  I would like to be Sherry when I grow up.

AA: Let’s talk about rejection and some of the things that you’ve posted on your website in response to other people about rejection. Rejection is about the book, not you. It’s not personal. Some people consider their work, whatever it is they do, to be fully representative of themselves, and rejection is personal. Other people clearly mark out a boundary between self and “work”. How did you handle and resolve rejection? Do you ever look back and laugh, or be thankful for a given rejection or are you alternately thankful for that rejection, that it led to something better or different?

CK: I’m definitely one of the boundary people.  I have my 10 minute rant about, “How could they be so stupid.  Clearly I’m brilliant.  And I hate them all, and I’m going to go eat a gallon of chocolate ice cream,” and then just get over it.  I would say the best way I’ve found of dealing with rejection is allow yourself that 10 minutes.  Obviously don’t post it on the internet and don’t say it to anyone who can get it back to the editor or the agent who rejected you.  You can rant to your cat if you have one, or your husband or your wife, or you can just do it alone in your cubicle and let your co-workers think you’re nuts.  But yeah, give yourself that 10 minutes and just get it all out and then get over it.

That’s my best advice, because, yes, especially in big commercial publishing, editors and agents really aren’t rejecting you, they’re just making a business decision and it’s not personal, and if it is personal, then that’s their issue, it’s not yours.  If it comes across as personal, and if they seem to have some kind of vendetta, you know what, they’re human, too, but again not your issue.  Probably not your writing’s issue either if you get a crazy rejection letter that’s just clearly beyond the pale. I haven’t gotten one myself but I’ve seen some of them and it just makes me go, “WHAT?  WOW!”  And I told the people who kept them, “Do you really want to work with this person who was so unprofessional?

Dealing with rejections will teach you professionalism really fast, if you hold onto stuff and you come across as bitter and or crazy, you’re probably going to have a lot harder time getting agented and published.  If you come across as someone who’s able to say, “Ok I understand.  Business decision.  Not a good fit right now.  I will a. revise or b. keep trying to find something that’s a better fit.”  It’s going to teach you how to just kind of you know take it down a notch and divorce the business side of writing from the artistic side of writing.

The artistic side of writing is very dear to me, and the only bad reviews I get upset about are when somebody picks on something that I was really specifically trying to do or that I was really specifically proud of writing-wise or character-wise, or something.  That will get me down for a little bit.  But if someone’s like, “I just didn’t like the book.  It didn’t work for me.”  I’m thinking, “Ok, that’s fair.”  If somebody doesn’t want to buy a short story of mine, I’m like, “Ok, not a good fit.  That’s fair.”  But if you can keep the business side as business and keep the creative side close to you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being personally invested in your work.

I think great writers are personally invested in their work and have a little bit of their soul in everything that they publish, and I think that’s what makes writing great.  And, yeah, you do have to just build a wall against the bad reviews that pick on that side of it, but the rejection side, the business side, don’t even worry about it  is my advice.

Wait until you’re published and you get really crappy reviews from major media outlets and then you can freak out and go rant to the heavens.  But don’t worry about it when you’re just trying to get published.  When somebody writes you a review and says, “I don’t even know why this person continues writing.  The world would probably be better off if they didn’t,” which has happened to me. then you can get a little more upset. So don’t get upset about rejections, get upset about horrible reviews and don’t ever read your Amazon reviews. Oh my God.  If you want a quick trip ticket to the nuthouse, go read your reviews on Amazon.

As far as personal rejection, I can’t remember any when I was trying to get published that really upset me and there have been some after I was published, that were certainly disappointing.  I wouldn’t say they had to do with prose writing, but stuff I’ve tried to pitch in other media that hasn’t gone over so well with people I really would’ve liked to have worked with. It was just very disappointing that it didn’t work out, obviously, but what I took away from it was that I should probably rewrite and improve and come back and try again because it’s not like the door is closed forever.  Because I didn’t flip out and say, “Don’t you know who I am?  How could you pass this up?”  The door is still open, so I just have to be better next time and try again.  So that’s what I take away from most of that stuff is to just be better.

It’s about the fit, it’s about the quality, it’s about the timing.  It’s so many things, and if you try to perform rejection alchemy, you’ll just drive yourself crazy.  Bad reviews–Yes.  Rejection—No, in terms of freaking out.

And I can’t stress enough, if you get a bad review, don’t post about it on the internet. Again, just talk to your cat, if you’re upset. You don’t want the sour grapes going out to everybody.  Just be professional.  I never respond to bad reviews.  I may occasionally respond to good reviews and say, “Hey, thanks.” That’s it.  Anything beyond that either way, good or bad, can get you into some really sticky situations, so it’s just better, keep your lips zipped for bad.  Say, “hey, thank you” for the good.

AA: Good advice for a lot of life’s business situations. That leads me to your comment, or directive, to “grow as a writer” In what ways have you grown as a writer? What are the biggest changes that see you over the last several years?

CK: I think that I’ve grown in every way as a writer; at least I hope I have.  I think I’m much better writer on most levels than when I started.  I’m certainly better technically than when I started because I’m able to create stories with many more layers, and I think that once you can just kind of forget about the technical side of things and just know that you can put out good sentence level prose that is decent, then your brain frees up to kind of worry about like story, theme, and layering, and you know whether all your scenes are doing all the work that they should be doing, and just stuff that’s a little more cerebral than actually writing stuff down.

Although I still spend 10 minutes on one sentence sometimes just trying to find the right word and, “Umm, how about this. No.  Delete.  Maybe this.  No.  Delete.”  When I draft my books, I have so many place holders that say “Put something cool here” because I’d be a terrible stand-up comedian; I’m not good at like on-the-fly stuff so I just have to sit there and think about it for like a half an hour sometimes. Then I come back to it at the end of my writing session and be like “Oh, I should put this here.”  That will have given me time to work it out subconsciously. I used to just straight, flat-out write.  And they were fine, readable stories, but I think they weren’t as deep as I would’ve liked them to be.

I think around the time I started writing the London books, I kind of started to figure that out, and my advice for growing as a writer is write the stuff that you’re afraid to, because fear is a big indicator that that’s probably something you should try to take a leap into, if you’re afraid that you’re not good enough to write this story, just try it. You may not be good enough to write it yet; it may crash and burn, but you will know, you will have tried it; you will have learned something.  So, my advice absolutely is try, take that leap.  Write what you’re afraid to write. I still do that, there’s still thoughts like “Oh I could never write that.  I’m not good enough.  How would I ever?  It’s so complex–how could I ever incorporate it?”  And I’m thinking, “Ok, well I’m going to try.”  And I have crashed and burned with stuff like that.  I’m like, “I’m not capable of doing this justice,” and I have shelved it, and I have stuff that’s still shelved.

I read this quote from Neil Gaiman in one of his short story collections were he said, “I came up with the idea for this 17 years ago, I just wasn’t good enough to write it until now.”  And I’m saying, “Good on you for realizing that,” But I’m the proponent of ‘better to have tried and failed than to have been afraid to ever try it at all.’  That’s more my philosophy.

I think that’s the big secret to growing as a writer is to take risks and write stuff that you might be afraid to write and just go for it, as cliché as that sounds.  Take the plunge.  As you go on, you’ll know when something’s not working and when you need to backpedal or maybe try something else.  But again, you won’t learn until you’ve tried and failed a couple times.

AA: Talking about spending ten minutes on a sentence, I’ve done that when I’ve written a chapter and then decided at the end that it wasn’t really what I wanted. Then I would scrap it and write something that was totally different so it’s not even similar.

CK: Right, and I’ve actually reached the point where I’ll start to get migraine headaches if the story isn’t working.  Like when it becomes physically painful to write something, I realize I have gone off track somewhere and I need to go back and figure out where that was.  So yeah, that’s my weird little writing neurosis.

We’ll take a break here in our interview with Caitlin Kittredge.

Join us next time when Caitlin concludes with her thoughts about writer’s block and criminology. Until then, read more at her website.


Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4


Published in: on February 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Interview with Caitlin Kittredge – Part 2

Welcome back for Part 2 of our interview with Caitlin Kittredge, author of The Iron Thorn, among other series.

Part 1 can be read here.

AA: Caitlin, you were just sharing some of the writerly angst which came as quite the learning experience between Nocturne and London, and it can only make you better as a writer. Hopefully, other writers can learn from you, too, to spur their own growth. I’m always keen to share, or push, new books and stories with nieces and nephews to show them that they really can be anything they want to be when they grow up, and their options are unlimited. What are some things that I can point to in Luna Wilder from Nocturne City, and Aoife Grayson in Iron Thorn, as a role model for them?

CK: Oh gosh, Luna’s not a very good role model at all actually. She’s got the worst temper and is just so stubborn. I wanted to smack her a lot when I was writing the books because she just has this tunnel vision and refuses to see anything except “her way or the highway.”  I would say the anti-list that they can take from that is that you know especially if you’re growing up and especially if you’re a woman in a profession that is not necessarily female-oriented or you know in that kind of world where things are challenging because of who you are, because Luna’s world is very challenging because of who she is because she’s a werewolf and she’s also a police detective and you know it’s very hard for her to exist in the world of the books and be who she is.

I’m just saying you have to stay true to who you are but you also have to be willing to accept input from the outside world. Not just the bad but you have to know the difference between good and bad input and don’t let it change who you are but maybe consider other people’s opinion once in a while. Don’t like just go off and yell and rant if someone says something you don’t like because that happens a lot in Nocturne books.  People were often saying “Oh, she’s such a typical angry urban fantasy heroine,” and I saying “Honestly, if you were her, you would be angry too.  Come on. I know she’s angry.”  Then they’d ask, “Well is she like you?”  and I’d reply, “No, I don’t generally fly off the handle and punch people in the face.”

For Aoife, I think she’s probably a better example because she starts out basically with nothing and being very afriad, and very, very invested in the status quo because she’s an orphan and she’s a scholarship student at this fancy government-run school. If you step out of line in her world, you disappear and you’re never heard from again.  She’s an orphan and having a mother who got sent to a mental institution and having a brother who’s on the run from the government.  There’s a lot of pressure on her in the beginning to tell a lie and don’t make waves, and she learns through the course of the “Iron Thorn” that sometimes you have to make waves in order to do the right thing and the right thing isn’t always the easy thing.

The over-arching message for her and the thing she had to learn in the “Iron Thorn” was that sometimes you’ve gotta make waves and doing the right thing can be really scary and difficult and going against your peers is scary and difficult, but you know what the right thing is.  You don’t have to look externally to try to figure out what it is.  And you don’t have to listen to your totalitarian government regime or your friends or anything like that.  Chances are, when it comes to that kind of hard decision, you will know what the right thing is, and you have to be able to say, “Ok, I know what it is, now I have to do it even though it’s not easy.”

She has to leave behind everything she knows and she becomes a wanted criminal. Terrible things happen to her in the course of the Iron Thorn, but it works out alright at the end because I didn’t want to just punish her and punish her and not reward her at all as a character.

I think that’s Aoife’s real lesson is not so much learning how to do the right thing but learning how to know what the right thing is and learning that sometimes what’s accepted isn’t the right thing and sometimes you have to look outside your particular status quo, or your particular peer group, to figure out who you are and figure out where you belong in the world. Aoife is a lot more like me than Luna is.  She’s very like me at 14 or 15.

AA: My nieces and nephews will have plenty to think about when they read these books! You mentioned that you make music playlists for most of your novels. Is that to set the mood while writing, or more of the soundtrack for the novel? How does music influence your writing?

CK: Oh, I love music.  I’ve been playing and listening to music since I can remember actually and so I couldn’t imagine writing without having stuff playing in the background.  When I make playlists, a lot of times it is just to evoke mood and kind of get me into the right mindset to work on the specific book because my books are vastly different in tone, so I can’t just flip from one to the other as easily as some might be able to.

At least in the Black London books list the ??street magic and demon bound?? and all that the male main character Jack is actually an ex-punk musician so I have a lot of stuff that I actually thought he’d listen to on the playlists. I thought that really helped a lot with the writing and with the mindset. I reference a lot of music that they’re listening to in the text, so if I reference a song in the book, I try to put it on the book playlist and I put them up on my website and people really seem to like it.

For the other music, it’s more just for me, it’s more stuff I think reminds me of a character or a particular scene or particular situation.  I actually listened to the soundtrack for Sweeny Todd on repeat while I was writing the Iron Thorn. There’s no cannibalism in the story, at least not by people.  People do get eaten but not by other people, more by monsters.  But there’s just something in the mood and tone that’s just perfect. It’s very grim and gritty and kind of industrial, dark, lots of strings and building music and songs about baking people into pies. It struck just the right dark note.

I also listened to a lot of early 50’s pop music, like a lot of Buddy Holly and stuff like that just because I was writing about teenagers in the 50’s. There’s still a lot of pop culture even if it’s slightly less like drive-in’s and dinners pulp culture, and little more like pulp magazines pop culture. I’ve listened to a lot of the pop music from then, because pop music from any era is a great insight especially into the youth of that era and I got a lot of ideas for how people talked. Especially for Aoife’s friend, Calvin, because he’s a total pop culture nerd. I hesitate to say he’s the Ducky from Pretty in Pink, but he is one of those guys who wants very much to be popular but doesn’t know how to do it, so he makes a lot of missteps. It was nice to have a bit of comic relief after all the satanical monsters, and government regimes and what not.

That was kind of an odd combination but those were my two playlists for the Iron Thorn – the Sweeny Todd soundtrack and then a lot of Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and that kind of stuff.


AA: Very different selections to create very different moods. Your books are young adult fiction. What guidelines do you have in writing scenes with sex, violence and language, and what challenges did you have to overcome?

CK: It varies from editor to editor and from publishing house to publishing house, but my YA editor actually told me I could make my love scenes raunchier if I wanted to in my YA book.  And I said, “Well, Aoife is still very new to all that, and I don’t think that’s going to happen at least in the first book,” and I wanted to deal with it in a sensitive way obviously because teenagers are going to be reading it. They are full of hormones and they get crazy about that stuff at that age so I didn’t want to just go off and have some like crazy Twilight-esque vampire love scene.  At least not in the first book.

There’s some stuff I write, particularly in the London books that I wouldn’t put in a YA book just because it’s extremely, extremely dark. I found out about that stuff when I was a teenager but I found out about it from adult novels as well, and if teenagers really want it they’re going to find it. If the Iron Thorn had gone that dark naturally then yeah, I would’ve gone there and my editor would’ve said, “Tone this down,” or “This is fine,” and we would’ve gone back and forth.

But it just, it never quite got there. There are horrific scenes of people getting eaten by monsters in the Iron Thorn but a lot of the horror in that is less of its role and is more psychological because I find totalitarian governments totally horrifying. That’s the scariest thing to me in that book, the regime that everyone lives under until Aoife breaks out and goes on the run. That’s totally the scariest part for me when the fact is that everyone’s lives are so controlled by this small group and that if you dare speak out, you disappear, or get tortured. That they can make up an excuse just to drive you out of the house and never be seen again.  That’s always been scarier to me than monsters popping out.

AA: It borders on a lot more realism. What could happen has happened.

CK: Right, and then in the Black London books, they’re very gritty, kind of pulp horror based, so there’s a lot of more seedy stuff going on.  Like there’s a scene in the first book that I actually laughed myself to death writing which I don’t know what that says about me, but it’s set on an underground porn set. It’s like supernatural porn, and they go to talk to one of the guys who works there and it’s just like a scene dressing but some of the stuff I wrote in that scene just cracked me up, and obviously that wouldn’t go in a YA book but it was played for comedy. Because it was an adult book it could be played for comedy, and so I got away with it.

There are horror-esque novels and there are dead bodies and bad stuff pops out, but again I think some of the most frightening stuff in those books are people who are just human. There’s a group of religious fanatics in the Black London books called the Order of the Malleous and they were built by Cotton Mather back in the 1700’s. They were all over the world; they were witch hunters.  They’re just normal dudes but they’re religious fanatics and they want to kill you and pull out your finger nails if you do magic. They were way creepier to me than any of the monster characters in the London books, and I had fun writing them too.  They were not played for comedy; they were played as “Hey kids, religious fanatics–probably not your friends.”

AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent, their feedback, and your writing?

CK: I wouldn’t be a professional writer if I didn’t have an agent because I don’t possess the wherewithal to try to go out and get a publisher on my own.  I think I would just collapse in a heap and cry and eat a block of cheese and decide that this all wasn’t worth it. My agent is my total sanity check and I believe for an aspiring writer in your first outing you should probably need to find an agent before you try to go at this alone because it’s an incredibly complex and unforgiving industry, at least on the commercial publishing side.

When you’re with a big publishing house, and even with some of the smaller presses like Subterranean Press and Nightshade press, it does behoove you to have an agent to deal with them. You don’t have to have one, but I think it’s a better idea than trying to do it on your own.  My agent’s great.  I love her, and she used to be an editor so she gives me good feedback and tells me when I’m on crack and that this probably won’t work, and always in a nice way.  But when you do get an agent, you do want one who’s not afraid to criticize you. I will say that also, with your agent, you don’t want one that will just blow smoke and tell you everything’s wonderful because then you probably won’t get the best deal you could have with the best book you could have written. Some agents don’t give a lot of feedback but some do, and I personally would want one that does.

You have to decide what works for you, but I think at least try to get an agent before you go it alone because you will pull your hair out unless you have a law degree and have specialized in contract law. Looking at a publishing contract will make your eyes cross and there are some terms in there that aren’t necessarily abusive but are very unfavorable to authors, and an agent can get that changed for you.  Every publishing house has what they call a boilerplate which is their standard contract, and then it’s an agent’s job to negotiate something more favorable, and if you don’t know, then you can’t negotiate. For that reason alone, my agent earns her 15%. So, yes on agents.

AA: How did you find your agent?

CK: Oh, just a query letter.  Just a total standard slush pile story.  I sent her a query letter and a sample chapter; she said, “I’d like to see more.”  I got a phone call a couple weeks later, and said “Hey, I’d like to represent your book.”  So there’s no trick.  I did not employ any tricks.  I did not know anybody.  I did exactly what everyone else tells you to do.  So, take heart, if you’re querying, it can be done.

We’ll take a break here in our interview with Caitlin Kittredge.

Join us next time when Caitlin shares her thoughts about Team Seattle and story rejections. Until then, read more at her website.


Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4


Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 10:01 am  Comments (1)  
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