Carrie Vaughn on Kitty, strong women, and more

Carrie Vaughn, the New York Times bestselling author behind the Kitty Norville series, was kind enough to let me steal her away for a quick interview at Comic-con to talk Kitty, pet peeves, and more.

Byrt: At the “Damsels in Distress” panel you were talking about some of your pet peeves in urban fantasy – what are your pet peeves in urban fantasy?

Carrie Vaughn: I have a whole list (and I’ve blogged about it). And I know we talked specifically about some of the physically strong heroines who end up being emotionally dependent and kind of angst-ridden – and may I even say whiny in some cases? Not to- I hate to be negative but I do have pet peeves. And I think, to keep it short, what I keep coming back to is there are so many models of strong women in the real world, and my heroes are people like Jane Goodall and Amelia Earhart and Madeline Albright and Sally Ride, these amazing, amazing women who have just gone out and they’re not people we think of as physically strong, but the strength of their convictions, and the strength of their beliefs, and the strength of their will… And that’s what I look for in a strong woman character, in a kick-ass woman character.

And you know, along the same lines, I’ve actually read blog comments or forum comments from people who say that they can’t respect a heroine who is stronger than her significant other, and that kind of ticks me off a little bit. I would like to see my heroines in partnerships, you know? Have them be in relationships where their significant other isn’t intimidated by them. That’s important to me. That’s the kind of relationship I like to see. I like to look to the real world rather than these kind of idealized models that may have seamy undersides that we don’t- I mentioned in the panel yesterday the comment I once got from a reader about Kitty turning into an opportunistic slut and all I could figure was that Kitty initiated sex. And that made her a slut.

Byrt: That’s horrifying.

Carrie Vaughn: And I don’t understand that. And I would like to see more male and female characters on more of an equal footing – in all respects, not just the physical.

Byrt: And as someone who also writes YA, would you say- I’ve become concerned somewhat about the romantic relationships that seem so prevalent in YA (The Girl who is Helpless in the face of her Love – no matter how terribly he treats her, she’s still hopelessly in love with him…) Did you think about that at all as you were writing your YA?

Carrie Vaughn: It was huge in my mind. My favorite books are ones where she picks up the sword and goes off and saves the world. And maybe she has a boyfriend, and maybe she doesn’t. And you’ll notice in both my young adult books the heroine has to come to a decision. Is she going to save the world? Is she going to do what needs to be done, or be with the guy? And you know, you find out – maybe the guys aren’t the most important thing in the world. And that’s really important to me, to have books where girls are having adventures, on their own terms. And the adventures in themselves are important, and not necessarily getting the boyfriend. Especially when you’re sixteen! There are really many important things in the world when you’re sixteen.

Byrt: Your first love isn’t necessarily the end of your life.

Carrie Vaughn: Exactly.

Byrt: Now speaking of YA, will there be a sequel to Voices of Dragons?

Carrie Vaughn: I hope so.

Byrt: Or Steel?

Carrie Vaughn: Probably not Steel. That had a pretty definite ending in my own mind. But Voices of Dragons I definitely would like to write the sequel. Unfortunately I don’t have a timeline for that yet, so I can’t be any more concrete than that, I’m afraid.

Byrt: Speaking of strong women, someone mentioned at the panel that they really appreciated the evolution Kitty went through in the first book, in terms of starting out as the lowest member of her pack and then coming into her own. Were you at all concerned, at first, that you were basically writing about a woman in an abusive relationship who kind of was trapped – her need for her pack trapped her in that situation.

Carrie Vaughn: On the contrary, I thought it was a story that needed to be told. I did not even think about it until people started asking me about it. It didn’t even occur to me that starting out with a woman in an abusive relationship would be at all controversial because I wanted to show her breaking out. I wanted to show her learning to stand up for herself and I can’t… It bothers me a little bit that people think that’s an unusual story, because it’s- I’ll share a- I got an email a few months ago from a woman who said, I read the first Kitty book and I thought to myself, it couldn’t be that easy to just walk away from an abusive situation without looking back. And then she said, it turns out it is. So this was somebody who was in that situation herself, and she read the book, and was able to- I feel like everything I’ve done in my life is justified by that one email that I got. And it does kind of blow my mind that people don’t see that as a good story. Not everybody, but I do get comments sometimes about that. But it was the natural story, it was absolutely the natural story.

Byrt: It goes to show how one-dimensional the idea of strength is. The problem is- it’s like, if you’re not beating people up, you’re not a strong person.

Carrie Vaughn: Yeah, and that was the whole point of the book, is that Kitty’s radio show is the thing that gave her the strength to stand up for herself. You know, as soon as she had something to fight for, she learned how to fight. And women, I don’t know too many women who are born knowing how to fight. Just about every strong woman I know went through a process of learning how to do it, learning how to break out of the societal expectations. And that’s huge. It’s a huge thing we all have to deal with, I think.

Byrt: And Kitty’s fights keep getting bigger and bigger.

Carrie Vaughn: Yeeep.

Byrt: You’re kind of setting up the big showdown with Roman – is that something we can look forward to in the next couple of books?

Carrie Vaughn: Eventually, yeah.

Byrt: Is a big war brewing on the horizon, or…?

Carrie Vaughn: Book ten is Kitty Steals the Show. That will be out 2012. And she goes to London for the first international conference on paranatural studies – so at that point she’s going to be meeting vampires and werewolves from all over the world, and we get to see how big the issue really is, I think.

Byrt: Now in your last book you kind of took Kitty on a romp through Chinese mythology. What inspired that? Were you watching a kung fu movie one day and thought – yes, The Monkey King! I should do it!

Carrie Vaughn: I will confess that I am a big fan of the Monkey King. You know, the great thing about writing the Kitty books is I really can include just about anything. There’s no rules, no holds barred. And I’ve been wanting to write about non-Western mythology – a particular non-Western mythology – and this is kind of how the ideas for the books come together: I wanted to write about the Monkey King, I wanted to write about a non-Western mythology, so I did some research on the Chinese mythology, and figured out how to make it work.

Byrt: And is that the last we’ll be seeing of Anastasia? Is she pretty much done?

Carrie Vaughn: I haven’t decided yet. This is the thing, I’ve got this great cast of secondary characters, and if she needs to come back, she’ll come back. I haven’t decided how that’s going to happen yet. But you know, never say never.

Byrt: Never say die. Now are there any other mythologies you kind of have in the back of your mind that you want to play with in the future?

Carrie Vaughn: Oh, so many. All kinds. I haven’t done a whole lot with demonology. The Christian – it’s still a Western mythology, but the whole demonology side of things I haven’t really done a whole lot with. I’ve had djinn. I’ve had all kinds of shapeshifters. And this is the interesting thing – you know, every culture has a shapeshifter myth, or a set of shapeshifter myths, and how do you work those into the mythology I’ve already established? And that’s something I’d like to do more with as well.

Byrt: You’ve also mentioned that you’re planning a Cormac spin-off series?

Carrie Vaughn: It’s a definite possibility…

Byrt: Will he keep his dual mind? His passenger will be along for the ride?

Carrie Vaughn: When I do it, I’m looking at it as a buddy detective story with one of the buddies being disembodied. We’ll see how that works.

Byurt: So, any tidbits you can give us about what’s coming up for Kitty next? Any hints you can drop? So there’s a big conference… Will she and Ben still be happy ever after? Will there be any kind of problems with the pack?

Carrie Vaughn: There is such a fine line between hint and spoiler, I don’t know how far to go… I am working on book 11 right now, and that one is domestic. It’s set in Denver, it’s her dealing with the pack and the family. It’s another comment I get a lot, is people wishing they could see more of the werewolves and more of the pack, and that will come in book eleven. We’ll get that. I don’t have a title for it yet…

Byrt: Do you have a sense of where it’s all going to end? Do you know what the final scene is going to be?

Carrie Vaughn: I do. I know what the last book looks like. But I keep getting ideas in the meantime. so…

Byrt: So we’ll be reading Kitty for a long time! Do you have any other projects on the horizon? Any more YA coming our way?

Carrie Vaughn: I’m working on a YA idea; I’m working on short stories. I’ve always got something going on in the back of my mind. I’ve been on about a two-book-a-year schedule. They haven’t all come out two books a year, but that seems to be my natural writing schedule, so I’m hoping I can keep that up for a good long time.

Byrt: And my last question, because we are at Comic-Con – have you had a good geek moment? Is there anything you’ve seen or done …?

Carrie Vaughn: Oh gosh. I did get to see a glimpse of Chris Evans signing at The Avengers booth… I got into the J. Michael Straczynski panel – I’m a big J. Michael Straczynski fan.

Byrt: I go to his every year if I can. I love him.

Carrie Vaughn: I didn’t think I would get in and I did, and it was fabulous. I just love listening to him. Yeah, I always have a great time. You know, I just love walking around and seeing what surprises are out there.

Byrt: Alright, well thank you so much, Carrie, for taking the time!

Carrie Vaughn: Thank you!

And thanks again to Carrie for chatting with me!

For more on all things Carrie, you can find her website here.

And you can find our review of Kitty and the Midnight Hour here.