Friday, May 25, 2012

Kevin Hearne for Authors @ The Teague

When I introduced Kevin Hearne for Authors @ The Teague, I was the first to be able to introduce him as "New York Times bestselling author, Kevin Hearne." Kevin's latest book, Tricked, appeared at number eleven on the New York Times mass market paperback best seller list, and number twelve on Publishers' Weekly's paperback list.

Following the introduction, I gave Kevin his author's gift. I always give Cerreta's chocolates, and, this time, I found the perfect gift, a chocolate brain. When you read about the Double Dog Dare Gourmet Cafe in Flagstaff, you'll understand why a brain was perfect.

Kevin began by talking about urban fantasy, and what he's noticed about where it's been, and where it's going. Urban fantasy by its very nature is a mash-up. It contains monsters from certain traditions, werewolves, vampires, etc. It has the potential to take anything from any period or any conflict. But, urban fantasy tends to be in a rut right now. The books use the same few classes of characters over and over again. That makes for a lack of variety.

He gave us a sneak preview of some of the material he's going to talk about at Phoenix Comic Con. There are four big classes of fantasy antagonists in urban fantasy: demons, faes, vampires, and werevolves. Any one of them can be the villain. Protagonists are usually witches and wizards or some zombie-thing. There are some smaller groups, but everything else is "other."

Kevin examined the works of the three biggest hardcover bestselling authors, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, and Jim Butcher. All of them have one of the big four as antagonists. And, the protagonist is not one of the big four. Harris' protagonist is a telepath. Butcher's is a wizard. Briggs has a shapeshifter who turns into a coyote, not a werewolf. And, Harris and Butcher both had TV series. Patricia Briggs' success came without a TV deal, based solely on the strength of her writing.

Kevin's books came from an idea he had for a comic book. His protagonist would be a Druid because he wanted someone who could talk to a dog. He did a crude market analysis, and decided to try the idea as a book. He ended up selling the series, not just one book. The first three books came out last year, which allowed a fan base to get established. So, there were a whole bunch of people waiting to see what happened next when Tricked came out. That's why it hit the New York Times best seller list.

The mash-up idea has become popular. Steampunk is a sub-genre of urban fantasy. Gail Carriger's series is urban fantasy set in Victorian England with gadgets and steam or air. Her books have been New York Times bestsellers.

Cherie Priest's The Clockwork Century series is steampunk in America during the Civil War. She took a lot of flak for that. People said steampunk needs to be set in Victorian England. Boneshaker, the first in the series, has been picked up for a movie. Hearne thought the books were really cool because they were even printed in brown ink to give the feel of alternate history.

Kevin said there will be more mash-ups as we go. He's even seen an urban fantasy legal thriller. He has an ARC of it. Think of The Firm, and put vampires in it. There are going to be a lot of mash-ups with other genres. Hearne said they're so much fun to write and read. There's infinite potential for stories. Kevin and Patrick Rothfuss even blurbed a Japanese steampunk book by an Australian author. (Kevin said we didn't know how thrilled he was to say he and Patrick Rothfuss....) It's an alternate future Japan with ecological damage. There's a griffin in it, and a girl who stands up to the powers-that-be.

There have been some mash-ups that bur the line between romance and the paranormal. They all look the same, an unrealistic woman who looks tough in leather. They're designed to appeal to men and the romance market. The romance angles in urban fantasy came in so publishers could make more money. But, hardcore urban fantasy doesn't have much romance.

Kevin has been analyzing protagonists and antagonists. He's found that books with more than one sort of antagonist do better. If the protagonist has a human weakness, they do better than others. He couldn't think of anyone other than Anne Rice who has a vampire protagonist. Carrie Vaughn has a werewolf protagonist, but she still has a human side.

In discussing the origins of urban fantasy, an audience member said it's pretty much accepted that Emma Bull might have kicked it off with her book, War for the Oaks. It's urban fantasy with a romance at the heart of it. Laurell K. Hamilton's early books fit urban fantasy, as do Kim Harrison's.

When it came time for questions, I asked Kevin to tell the audience about the Double Dog Dare Cafe. He created that restaurant in Flagstaff in Tricked. It wasn't supposed to be the point of the scene, but everyone, including his editor, has asked about the menu. It's a place where you and your partner order for each other; you're daring your partner to eat whatever you order. There are waivers to sign. The foods are exotic foods that Americans normally don't eat. Atticus took Granuaile there to see if they could gross each other out. Barf bags are distributed because there's the chance people will be grossed out. For instance, goat brains are common in India. They look like chunks of cauliflower. One item on the menu was Rocky Mountain oysters. The food and restaurant were not the point of the scene, but people have been fascinated.

Asked how he did his research on skinwalkers, he said most of it came from the Internet. He used that as his base. He found some pictures online. And, they're just scary. They're witches who use corpses for power. Kevin said he finds the shamanistic system fascinating and frightening. It's a good foil for Atticus' magic system.

Hearne took pictures of Tuba City so he could see where Atticus would die. Tuba City, Arizona is build on the solid rock of the Colorado Plateau. There are stunted trees, a few cottonwoods in washes. Because of the flash floods, there are deposits of earth down in the washes. They are so deep you can't see what is in the washes from the road. There's a hidden world down there. There are people making a living in the arroyos down below, and they get out quickly when the flash floods hit.

Kevin said the editors have trouble with some of the Southwestern words in the books. They wanted to make Palo Verde one word. He told them everyone in Arizona would laugh at us. It's two words. He also had a little trouble with javelinas. They told him that word doesn't exist. He said Arizona is very alien to people outside our region. It's very exotic stuff for some people.

Hearne used skinwalkers in Tricked. There's no redeeming version of them. They're western Native American from the Navajo tradition. Skinwalkers are very territorial, connected to the land. The First World spirits are very territorial in the set of myths dealing with the emergence pattern. They have four boundaries, four big mountains around the territory, so they have no reason to leave the area.

In the Coyote stories, he was originally very handsome. He was often having dinner with Badger or another animal. But, Coyote always screws up. He's a trickster, but more bumbling in the Navajo tradition. He's sharp and mean in other tribes' traditions.

Asked how many books were planned for the series, Kevin answered that he had it planned out to nine. Irish cycles are done in nine. He hasn't outlined the last three books yet. His current contract ends with book six.

Kevin will have a novella out in August. It will be Iron Druid Chronicles 4.5 as an e-book. Atticus has to heal his hand. He said the Morrigan can do that, but how? What happened to Thor's hammer and Odin's spear after Hammered? Those are loose ends he wants to wrap up.There's a twelve-year gap between Tricked and the next book, Trapped. Hearne wanted one story in the middle to help people make that transition. So, it will be at the six year point. He's never published anything as just an e-book before. Trapped will then be out Nov. 27.

He does have other things he wants to write. Del Rey approached him with a science fiction idea. That will be out next year. Hearne also has an epic he wants to write.

When does he do his best writing? Whenever he can find time, weekends, summer vacations. He's done with schools at the end of May, and he is finished for good. He's doing well enough that he's quitting.

I asked him about Oberon wanted to be called "Snugglepumpkin". Kevin said Oberon is his outlet for all his silly theories. Oberon just shows up. Kevin has a great time writing him. He's a one-dimensional character who likes sausage and poodles, but everyone loves him.

He's able to be more obscure with Atticus. He hides things in the book for others to find if they're so included. Hearne and his editor have contests to see if she can find his allusions.

Asked about school, he said he didn't enjoy English until his senior year. Then he had a great teacher who showed him why literature related to his life. Before that, his teachers overdosed them on Russian literature. Then, when he was in college he read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That's the book that made him want to be a writer.

Kevin said he was recently invited to Utah to speak at a romance writers' conference. He said, I don't write romances, but they said they wanted him there to speak about character development. Kevin said he spends little time on physical characterization. He emphasizes dialogue and they way his characters speak. Language patterns and dialect define them as they speak. Language defines us. Hearne uses dialogue as a tool to develop characters. The characters don't depend on physical appearances. Kevin uses dialogue and action, the stuff he wouldn't skip while reading.

Kevin Hearne ended by saying he's just trying to be entertaining. He hopes people enjoy the characters. He wants people to wonder how Atticus is going to get out of this mess.

Kevin Hearne's website is

Tricked by Kevin Herne. Del Rey. 2012. ISBN 9780345533623 (paperback), 352p.


Bev Stephans said...

What a wonderful discussion. Of course you know how much I enjoy Kevin Hearne's books, but getting some background is always useful. I'm pleased to see there will be an in-between book to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, it's an ebook, and I'll have to read it on my computer. I still haven't purchased an ereader, and am not sure if I will. As usual, great post!

Mike Briggs said...

Kevin is a huge breath of fresh air in Urban Fantasy. LOVE the books, the sly humor, and the careful attention to detail. This was an awesome interview, and a chance to meet the mind behind the books. Thanks!

Lesa said...

I have a kindle, Bev, but I'm not fond of reading ebooks. I guess I'll have to, though, for Kevin. I do want to read that book in-between. Thank you!

Lesa said...

I'm with you, Mike. LOVE these books, too. You're welcome. It's always fun to share what the authors have to say when they come to the library or Poisoned Pen. And, Kevin is always fascinating. This was totally different from his first appearance at the library. Fun!

Beth Hoffman said...

This was incredibly fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing Kevin with us, Lesa! I wish I could have been there.

Happy weekend and hugs to you and the kitties!

Lesa said...

Wasn't Kevin's analysis of urban fantasy interesting, Beth? I really enjoyed it. I always wish you could be here!

Happy weekend to you as well! My cats are having a great one because I'm spending most of it reading at home. That's just what they want, a relaxing weekend.