Monday, September 19, 2011

Kevin Hearne for Authors @ The Teague

Hosting an Authors @ The Teague program with a fantasy author is different than hosting a mystery author. Fantasy authors have SERIOUS fans, who read the books, can quote the books, and can give the author the answers when the author can’t remember what he wrote. I was all set to introduce the author of the series about a Druid who is twenty-one centuries old, but his fans knew about Atticus O'Sullivan. It was a treat to host Kevin Hearne, the author of The Iron Druid Chronicles. This was his first appearance for Authors @ The Teague, but, hopefully, it won’t be his last. Fans of his first three books, Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered, showed up to support him, ask questions, and chime in with comments. I’m sure many will be back when his next book, Tricked, is released in April 2012.

And, I learned fantasy authors who are terrific speakers take the ball in their own hands, and skip the introduction. Kevin already had the crowd eating out of his hand before the program would have officially began at 2 p.m. He was telling the audience that Atticus O’Sullivan’s occult bookshop in Tempe is actually located on Ash Avenue where his cousin’s comic book shop is located. He likes reality in his urban fantasy. Someone in the audience agreed, saying that’s why Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files are so good. They have Chicago right.

Hearne told us he teaches high school English in the east Valley. He teaches English Lit and American Lit, which is why there are nerd English jokes in the books.

Kevin said the first three books came out so fast it was bewildering. That’s how quickly books can come out in a series. Hounded was accepted in 2009, but the publishers wanted two more books to be published right away. Hearne had to write two more books in one year to meet the schedule. But, the publishers (Del Rey) thought it was better to get three books on the shelf immediately, so readers could dive right in, and really get involved. There were seven months between the books. The fourth book, Tricked, is due out in April. Kevin has started the fifth, Trapped. That’s due in Dec. 2012. The sixth book will be Hunted.

Asked if there will be more references to music in future books, and does Atticus play an instrument, Kearne answered that he does, but he's changed instruments in the course of his history. He was a bard at one time, and played the harp. Now he plays guitar. There's a lot that is backstory about Atticus that Kevin knows, but it's not in the story yet.
There's a great deal in Atticus' backstory. He's been working on him for so long. Kevin originally plotted out a bunch of short stories, such as he raided the Library at Alexandria. He met up with the Mayas in America. Hearne has had to make a timeline so Atticus isn't in two places at one time.

Kearne discussed the Druids for a little, saying the Romans and St. Patrick wiped them out. In Tricked, he's going to address the fact that as the last surviving Druid, Atticus was trained to tie the world together with oaks, so the Druids can't be trapped again.
Asked how he researches his books, Hearne said he starts with Wikipedia. He commented using Wikipedia is like a nuclear arms treaty, “Trust, but verify.” He starts there, but then checks the sources they use. 

In Hexed, there were numerous languages used. Hearne was lucky in that he had native speakers to consult from Poland and Germany. He had a German exchange student a the school who told him how to say things. And, he had a fellow from Germany who he corresponded with. He wanted to know how to curse in German, but then it wasn’t used.

When Hearne starts research, he begins with the easily accessible, and then digs in. The Fenian and Ulster cycles of Irish mythology are online via a University of Dublin translation. He says he has to be accurate, or he’ll hear about it.

He admitted he pokes fun of what he teaches. He has fun with literary jokes about Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens in his books.

Asked why he picked Celtic mythology, Hearne answered that he’s partially Irish himself. And, there wasn’t a lot out there except the same stories. The Morrigan and the Wild Hunt are used, and not much else. And, the Wild Hunt isn’t used  much in the Irish Celtic mythology. He’ll be back with more Celtic mythology in the fifth book, Trapped, when Atticus deals with more of the gods.

Hearne was asked if he received any flak about his use of Christian figures. He did receive one star on Amazon from one person who objected to it. But, he feels no one can actually attack him on his portrayal of Jesus. Jesus is just in a different form than usually pictured, but it's not a disrespectful portrayal. In fact, Atticus is the ultimate religious minority because he's the last Druid. And, Hearne wrote the books first to entertain himself. Religious tolerance is going to be a theme through the series.
Atticus wears an Iron necklace he uses for protection. Hearne was asked where the inspiration for that came from. He said he built it backwards. He wanted to write a book about a man and his dog, and he wanted them to communicate telepathically. How much easier would it be if you could tell your dog what to do mentally? So, he created Atticus and Oberon. His research indicated a Druid might be the type of magical being who could form a bond with an animal. And, he found out that Fragarach was the sword given to Conn of the Hundred Battles, but it was never returned. So, he created a story about what happened to Fragarach and how Atticus got it. And, he's been fleeing from Aenghus Óg because the god wanted the sword. So, he had to come up with a way for Atticus to have dodged him for 1000 years. Some gods helped him.

Then Kevin realized that iron elementals eat faeries. Iron is the opposite of magic. He decided to bind iron to Atticus' aura as his magical protection. Now, the story of iron defeating magic goes back to the Milesians arriving in Ireland, bringing iron, and defeating the Bronze Age society there. Atticus is immune to magic because of his iron necklace.

Hearne was asked how he makes himself writing deadlines, as an author with a day job. He said now he has to make himself write, because he does have deadlines. It took him eleven months to write Hounded, his first book in the series. But once he got the book deal and a deadline, he had to get motivated. He started Hexed at the end of summer, August 2009. He finished it New Year's Eve. That one, written in the shortest period of time, has received the best reviews so far. Hammered took longer. He had to skip around. Kevin outlines chapters, and then ignores them. 

Someone mentioned the group, The Hammers of God, that appear in Hexed. Kevin said they started as a joke, "A rabbi and a priest walk into an occult bookshop. . ." And, they became a good subplot.

He did say he writes 500 words a day. Other authors tweet, "I wrote 2000 words today!" Hearne's audience told him they don't have day jobs. But, Kevin said if he writes 500 words, he can write a 90,000 word novel in six months. And, it's helpful to have an outline.

Going back to The Hammers of God, someone asked, "What's up with the beards?" He said, "Have you seen Patrick Rothfuss' beard?" Rothfuss is one of Hearne's favorite authors, the author of The Name of the Wind. He said some beards just demand care and feeding. He found it fascinating.

Hearne told us Hounded was originally going to be a comic, but then he decided to make it a book. It does have some vampires and werewolves, but they're only in there as background, to make fun of them. There's no romance. And, he thought not many urban fantasies have male protagonists, other than Jim Butcher's books.

Since Oberon is an Irish Wolfhound, Kevin was asked about his dogs. He has a Boston Terrier named Sophie, and a Pug, Manley. He lives in a little house, and has no room for a Wolfhound, although he'd love to have one.

Asked if his students knew about his books, he said most of them have no clue, and he doesn't advertise it. A few of them know. But Kevin teaches in a conservative community. Half the school goes across to the street to a seminary for one class a day. And, Atticus is an adult who uses adult language and has a sex life. So, he doesn't push his books at school.

Since Atticus hangs out at Rúla Búla, an actual Irish pub in Tempe, Kevin was asked about whiskey. He said, "Red Breast, an Irish whiskey." Rúla Búla was the first bar west of the Mississippi to carry it.

Speaking of Rúla Búla, the release party of Tricked is going to be there on April 28. It's going to be on the patio from 3-6, and they're going to give away commemorative pint glasses with Atticus and Oberon on them. The public will be allowed in at 6. There's going to be Irish music played by a two man band. No bagpipes. Hearne will be selling tickets on his website, There will only be 100 tickets. When someone asked what would happen if they couldn't get tickets, he responded. "I'm Irish, in a bar. Where am I going?" The books will be sold even after the ticketed event is over that night.

Hearne never wanted to be a writer until he read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in college. He wanted to be able to write and move people like that. But, his writing isn't as deep. It's fun. But, he started writing after that. He never took a writing course. He said he never even talked to any of his professors about writing. Instead, he wrote the first forty pages of ten books. That took him ten years.

It took him six years to finish one book, The Road to Cibola. That was about a mess of stuff. There was the Russian mob, and Aztec treasure on a Hopi reservation. But, he learned he could finish a book. Finishing is the first big step. Many people think they can write a book, but they give up, and never finish. He considers that his practice novel. He'll never publish it, but he loves it for what it taught him.

He learned balance. To write a series, you have to consider the market. Kevin writes for himself, but he considers the market. He wrote an epic fantasy, 200,000 words. He finally went to a writing conference, and was told that's just too big for a first novel. Now, people can join online writing communities, but he didn't know that. He chopped that novel to 114,000 words, and sent it to agents. It was rejected by all of them, so he decided to go the direct route, and send it to publishers. Two weeks later, he received a response from one saying he'd passed the first round. But, he didn't hear anything again for a year.

However, Hearne was so encouraged that he started Hounded to keep him busy while he was waiting to hear from the publisher. He sent Hounded to twelve agents. You're lucky if the response is that they want to see a partial or full manuscript. It was rejected by all of them. So he made further adjustments. And, he sent the query letters to twelve more agents. One asked for a full manuscript. Then, he said he'd work with him. 

At the time, Kevin thought there was no one else writing about Druids. It turns out, there was one other author, Mark Del Franco, but his Druid is nothing like Atticus. Hearne hoped a Druid would stand out from all the books about werewolves and vampires.

Kevin let us in on a secret. His agent asked him to make a change. When the witch, Emily, comes into the store asking for a potion, the original potion was to cause an abortion. But, the agent wanted him to get rid of that potion. Hearne had intended to show that Atticus provides services for women because, as a Druid, he doesn't have the same feelings modern society has. However, the change was to a potion to humble a man, and the scene was funnier with that.

Hounded was sent out on Sept. 9. Two weeks later, he had a deal. It went to auction with four publishers. Kevin told the audience you definitely want an agent. 

He chose Del Rey as his publisher.They have option clauses for his next three books, which they've picked up. And, they have an option on his epic fantasy, if he ever finishes it. He has to show it to them first, and they have the right to first rejection.

How did he come up with Atticus' powers, such as his ability to shape-shift? Hearne said the stories of the Druids agree on some of the powers they were supposed to have. They had the power to change into animals. You have to remember, anything written about the Druids was written by their enemies. They only had an oral culture. Shape-shifting, teleporting, and some ability to control weather were agreed upon traits. And, they had an affinity with animals.

Kevin Hearne's answer to the final question was perfect, before the crowd lined up for autographed books. He was asked why he set the books in Tempe. Kevin grew up in Scottsdale, and spent lots of time on Mill Avenue. You can run across anyone on Mill Avenue. It's not segregated, like many cities in the Valley. There would be a nerd, like Kevin, next to a yuppie, next to a gang banger. You might even run into gods there.

Lined up for autographs

Kevin Hearne's website is

Lesa Holstine and Kevin Hearne


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

That *is* a crowd there! Sounds like a lot of fun. I think 500 words a day is perfect if you're juggling a day reason to get frustrated with writing by trying to write more. Getting a deal in 2 weeks is fantastic!

Lesa said...

It was a lot of fun, Elizabeth. And, getting that deal in two weeks was fantastic, but based on Hounded, he deserved it. I invited him to appear at Velma Teague because I was so impressed with his books.

Liz V. said...

Have picked up Druid based books from time to time but never a series. Interesting.

Lesa said...

That's what Kevin said, Liz. He didn't really see anything out there similar to what he wanted to do.

Bev Stephans said...

I have to admit I'm not a Jim Butcher fan, but Kevin Hearne sounds interesting. Is his world anything like Marion Zimmer Bradley's? I really liked her books and haven't found anyone like her.

Lesa said...

No, I'm afraid Kevin's world isn't like Marion Zimmer Bradley's. He writes urban fantasy, so, although his protagonist is a Druid, they are set in contemporary times. In his case, they're set in Arizona.

Karen C said...

As usual, another excellent report. I don't normally read fantasy, but still found this very interesting.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Karen. I enjoy doing the recaps. Simon Wood will be at the library on Wednesday, so there will be another recap about Friday or so.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this - I love the Iron Druid Chronicles - my favourite series this year!

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

Lesa said...

Isn't it a wonderful series, Shelley Rae? I'm glad I could share it!