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A Conversation With Kelley Armstrong
An interview with Alisa McCune
April 2004

© Kelley Armstrong
Kelley Armstrong
Kelley Armstrong
Kelley Armstrong is married with three children and lives in rural Ontario, Canada. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario with a degree in psychology, she moved on to study computer programming. She is now a full-time writer and parent.

Kelley Armstrong Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Stolen
SF Site Review: Bitten

Dime Store Magic

Kelley Armstrong is the author of the Women of the Otherworld series; Bitten, Stolen, Dime Store Magic, and Industrial Magic. Her breakthrough novel, Bitten, published in 2001, was groundbreaking with a focus on werewolves. Kelley Armstrong's werewolves are earthy, lusty, feral animals that still retain a small part of their humanity. Stolen, sequel to Bitten was published in 2003 and furthered the adventures of the werewolves. Dime Store Magic, third in the series released in May 2004, finds a new focus, Paige Winterbourne, a witch. Industrial Magic continues the adventures of Paige and will be published in October 2004.

The Women of the Otherworld series is an adventure into a world where the paranormal not only exists -- but is integrated into all our lives. Your neighbors could be werewolves, or maybe witches, or maybe even half-demons. You never know until something bad happens. And even then, you may realize as you are breathing your last breath.

While Kelley Armstrong is not yet a household name, we expect her to be around for many years to come. She kindly submitted to answering my questions in the following interview.

What is your background?  How does it impact on your writing?

I grew up in a mid-sized Canadian city, very middle-class, very WASP.  And I'm sure it shows in my writing, where my characters tend to be... white, middle-class women under 35, college-educated, professionally employed etc.  So far I've stuck pretty darned close to my comfort range, though I'll be branching out in book five with a narrator who's older than I am.  Hey, it's a start!  

What are you currently working on? 
I'm about halfway through my fifth book in the Otherworld series.  The narrator is Eve Levine, who was first mentioned in Stolen, the second book in the series.  We've never met her though... not surprising considering she died before Stolen began.  Book five will see her on an afterlife quest.

Will there be anymore books in the Women of the Otherworld series?
Yep, after book five, I've contracted through book six in the UK.  Will it stop after book six?  Only if my sales plummet and my publishers abandon me.  So far, I've set up an additional two potential narrators, and I have plenty of ideas for the future.

Please tell us about your story in Like a Charm.
Like a Charm is a 'novel told in voices', a series of interwoven stories about a charm bracelet that makes its way around the world, leaving a trail of murder and betrayal in its wake.  Karin Slaughter asked me to contribute a story, so I wrote one called 'Plan B', set in Nova Scotia.  Not a werewolf, witch or vampire in it, but it was lots of fun to write.  

On your web site you have three novellas; one about Clay's childhood, Jeremy's rise to alpha, and Clay and Elena's meeting.  Why did you decide to do online novellas? 
After writing Dime Store Magic, I hit a period of extreme boredom.  I'd recently quit my full-time job, only to have the publishing date for Stolen pushed back six months, meaning there was absolutely no rush to start writing book four.  I used the  free time to start my web site and decided to try my hand at a novella to fill the 'writing down-time'.  Well, the novella turned into a 300+ page novel, which I later split into two novellas.  It was so successful that, at the end of the year, the #1 question I received was: will you do another one?  So, in December I posted a poll to gauge interest in a 2004 novella, and gave readers a selection of subjects to choose from.  The overwhelming choice was: Elena & Clay's initial romance, leading to 'The Bite'.  That's the topic of my 2004 novella, and I now plan to continue the tradition, offering a free online novella each year.

Did something specific inspire the Women of the Otherworld series?
Nothing specific inspired the series itself, but the first book Bitten was inspired by an X-Files episode.  I was in a writing group, and I'd promised to write and read something new at the next meeting.  After a day spent struggling to come up with a story idea, I gave up and sat down to watch X-Files.  It was their first-season werewolf episode and, as much as I loved the show, I wasn't impressed with their take on werewolves -- your typical blood-crazed, murdering man-beast.  So I decided that would be my story idea -- that I'd write something about the kind of werewolves I'd like to see.  I wrote a short story about a female werewolf, and liked the idea so much that I eventually developed it into a novel.  

Dime Store Magic, Stolen, and parts of Bitten take place in the United States.  Why did you pick these locations?
When I began the series, I decided most of my North American supernaturals would live in the USA.  As a Canadian, I'd love to place all my books up here but, given the population difference between the USA and Canada, it seemed far more plausible that this supernatural world could exist, undetected, in the USA instead.

What kind of research did you do for the series? 
I don't do any research on my supernatural types.  Growing up, I had an intense interest in the paranormal, so I know the basics of werewolf lore, vampire lore, witch lore etc.  From that, I take what works best in the world I've created.  Most of my research is in other areas.  For example, for Dime Store Magic I visited the Boston area for the setting, plus did research on the witch hunts, the Salem trials, Satanic cults, magic ritual, necromancy, and child custody law.

All of your female characters have distinct and strong personalities.  Did you model them after anyone in particular?  Also, how do you keep their 'voices' separate?
They aren't modeled after anyone in particular.  As with all my characters, they're a potpourri of my own personality traits, traits of people I know, traits of people I've met, and traits I've just plain made up.  Working into a new voice is the toughest part.  With the first book of a new voice, the initial hundred pages probably get rewritten 3-4 times as the character and the voice develops.  So far I've done four voices -- Elena, Paige, Clay and now Eve.  For book six, I'll return to Elena.  I was worried about that, whether I could pick up her voice again, but when I started the 2004 novella (told partly in her voice), it came right back.

On your web site you mention that you never intended to start a series and where very surprised when you where asked to write a sequel to Bitten.  Why did you choose to accept?  Why did you decide to switch from Elena and werewolves to Paige and magic?
I decided to accept because, to be honest, I wanted to write another Elena book.  The only thing holding me back was a fear that, if I did so, I'd be branded as a werewolf author, rather than a general paranormal/dark fantasy author.  If I did continue writing about werewolves, I'd be out of a job in less than a decade.  I have no doubt of that -- by then I would have run out of storylines for them, and started recycling my own ideas.  Although writers certainly can switch tracks at any point in their career, I've seen too many writers try to make a mid-career switch... and have their loyal reader's revolt.  So, I decided that if I was going to write a series, I would branch off from werewolves right away, before I had a 'loyal readership' to worry about!  In Stolen, I laid the basis for a wider supernatural series and then immediately after that, jumped to witches with Paige.  Will I return to werewolves?  Absolutely.  They're scheduled to return in book six, which I've already begun plotting.  And, instead of saying 'oh no, not another werewolf book', as I might if this was book six of a werewolf series, I'm raring to go and eager to start writing.

The werewolves in Bitten and Stolen are very earthy, feral, lusty creatures.  They are not inhibited by humanities hang-ups.  Was it difficult to write about Clay and Elena as people with feelings? 
It was easy with Elena, because she was coming from a human background with human sensibilities.  With Clay, while I'd worked out his background and the rationale behind his personality, it was very difficult to show that through Elena's eyes.  In Bitten, she has every reason to want to see him as a monster, and, being a first-person narrative, I couldn't jump in and explain why he is the way he is.  That had to wait for the novellas, where I could tell his story.  

Was it hard for you to write the more sexual scenes, especially when combined with violence? 
When it comes to sex and violence, I write it as the story and the characters dictate.  With the werewolves, we have a very physical, instinct-driven race who, as Elena says, spend a large amount of their time engaged in the three Fs of survival: feeding, fighting and... reproduction.  This was how I saw them, so the sex and violence came naturally and sometimes melded together.  With the witches, it changes.  There I'm dealing with the more cerebral spell-casting races and a main character who abhors violence.  In that context, sex becomes more playful, and the violence is almost always initiated by others.  Will I ever write a book without sex or violence?  Sure, if it has no place in the plot, it won't appear.   

Why werewolves?
While vampires are usually the favored race, I've always had a soft spot for werewolves.  As someone who grew up loving the paranormal, canines and nature, my choice probably isn't surprising.

In Dime Store Magic, Paige disparages Wicca and its followers.  Why did you decide that the true witches of the Women of the Otherworld series should not be Wicca?
Ack, no!  Paige doesn't disparage Wiccans.  I'd better be darned clear on this, because I know wonderful people who are Wiccans, and I in no way intended to disparage them or their faith.  In Dime Store Magic, there were initially several Wiccan scenes but, in the editing process, all but one got left on the cutting room floor -- and that 'one' was the least complimentary of the bunch, unfortunately.  It's made clear, though, that these Wiccans were from some obscure splinter group and Paige says that she knows other Wiccans who are fine people.  One reason that I decided not to make my witches Wiccan is because I do respect that faith and I feared that if I made mine Wiccan, I might take them in directions that would disparage, offend or insult true Wiccans.  

What are you currently reading and why? 
At this moment I'm reading Brandon Massey's vampire thriller Dark Corner.  I don't read a lot of supernatural novels, for fear of unconsciously 'borrowing' from them, but this one came highly recommended so I chose it as the May selection for my web site's online book club.  And that means I'd darned well better read it before May!  

Please tell us more about your online Book Club.
Earlier this year I launched an online book club on my web site discussion board.  Through the club, I try to introduce readers to relatively new authors in the supernatural genre.  Three of our selections so far have been by first-time novelists: Rachel Canine's Ill Wind, James Reese's Book of Shadows and Steven Wedel's Shara.  Upcoming selections are Brandon Massey's Dark Corner, and Kim Harrison's Dead Witch Walking.  We'll also be discussing the  occasional book by a well-established author -- April's selection is Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark.

What inspires you to write? 
I've always been inspired by the desire to tell stories.  I love to read but, even as a child, longed to create my own stories, to tell the tales I wanted to read.  I started doing it then, and never stopped.

Do you attend any writing groups?  If so, how did your participation enhance your writing?
I'm currently in a couple of writing groups.   Sadly, though, I'm finding my participation decreases as my publication schedule speeds up!  In the past, however, I've found them invaluable, and strongly encourage any writers who aren't in one to try to find one (and find one that suits them, which can be the more difficult task).  How did they help me?  First, by providing  high-level feedback on my writing.  It's great to have family and friends point out a typo on page 22, but it's even better when another writer can point out a plotting problem in the middle act.  Second, writing groups are a great source of support.  For most writers, it's a pretty lonely hobby/business.  It really helps to have others who can commiserate over rejection letters, bouts of writers block, etc.  

What made you a science fiction, fantasy, and horror fan?  What are your favorites and why?
I've been reading fantasy and horror for as long as I can remember.  I think it was the attraction of the fantastic -- a chance to imagine worlds beyond our own.  Favorites?  Well, I tend to have favorite writers rather than favorite books.  In fantasy that would be Guy Gavriel Kay.  His historical fantasy novels are that rare combination of beautiful prose and gripping drama, and I love all his work.  In horror?  Here I have to go with the most obvious choices: Stephen King and Anne Rice.  King because he can make the ordinary extraordinary, and Rice for first showing me that the monster doesn't always have to be monstrous.     

Are you planning on attending any conventions in the near future?
No.  Right now I stick pretty close to home.  I have young children, and it's very difficult to get away on anything longer than a day-trip.  In the future, I hope to be able to travel more, and would love to attend Cons.  

What do you enjoy doing when not writing? 
Ah, hobbies.  I vaguely remember those.  Not much time these days for anything not related to writing or child-rearing but when I can find the time, I enjoy cooking, hiking, movies and, of course, reading.

Any movies you particularly enjoyed?
Lately it seems most of my choices have been bad ones... the kind where you sit there, watching the end credits and thinking 'I can't believe I just wasted two hours of my life on this'.  The last movie I saw that I really enjoyed was Big Fish.  I'm a huge Tim Burton fan.  Plus, any movie about storytelling that also manages to squeeze in a werewolf has my stamp of approval!  

Please tell us about the potential movie based on Bitten.
Warner Bros. has optioned it, with plans to make it into a movie starring Angelina Jolie.  They've done a few drafts of the screenplay and, last I heard, they were still working on it.  So it's 'in development', where it has been for a  few years now.  But until they tell me they've shelved it, I have my fingers crossed!  It would be a huge boost for the series.

Copyright © 2004 Alisa McCune

Alisa discovered science fiction at the tender age of eight. She devoured The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and never looked back. She lives in Chicago with her husband, cat, and 5000 books. For more information please visit her web site at

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