Kelley Armstrong is the #1 New York Times and internationally bestselling author of more than 30 novels. These include the 13-book urban fantasy Otherworld saga and the recent Casey Butler books (City of the Lost, A Darkness Absolute) as well as a YA standalone, Missing. Her newest, Rituals (available August 15, 2017), is the fifth and final entry in her popular Cainsville series, also comprised of Omens, Visions, Deceptions, and Betrayals. Ms. Armstrong makes her home in southwestern Ontario, where she writes from her locked basement dungeon.
Recently, the author generously entertained questions about crafting satisfying conclusions, balancing creative ambitions with reader expectations, and maintaining a sense of realism in her supernatural storytelling, among other curiosities.
Rituals marks the conclusion of your Cainsville series. What are the greatest challenges of bringing a multi-book saga to a satisfactory close?
The biggest challenge really is to make it satisfying. Not every reader will get exactly the resolution they want—that isn’t possible! But even if they were hoping for something different, I’d like them to finish the book with a sense of satisfaction. I don’t try to wrap up every loose end, but I do make sure that the major issues are all resolved. Smaller ones provide fodder for future short fiction!
Do you ever find it difficult to balance your own creative ambitions with reader expectations? If so, how do you endeavor to balance the two?
I’ve found that when it comes to reader expectations, the biggest one I deal with is romance. I always have a romantic subplot, and that’s what I’m most likely to hear about—I want character x and y to end up together. In the past, I’ve had YA series where I know readers are “shipping” a couple other than the one I intend. That’s tough. But I know which pairing makes sense for the characters. Beyond romance, I apply the same principle and stick with what works for me creatively. I know if I started trying to fulfill all reader expectations, it would become novel-by-committee, and ultimately, no one would be happy!
Olivia Taylor-Jones is made to reckon with a past that she was once blissfully unaware of. How has this allowed you to play with the notion of families made vs. families given? Also, in what ways does this knowledge influence her development as a character?
The concept of family has always been a big theme for me. Olivia isn’t the first of my characters to discover that “family” can be something other than biological (or even adoptive). Finding it may require broadening one’s definition, and while Olivia herself isn’t consciously aware of that, it’s what she’s done. She’s lost her adoptive family and had a complicated reunion with her biological one, but she’s found her family of choice in Cainsville.
Discovering that she was adopted made a huge difference for Olivia. As much as she loved her family, she always felt that she didn’t quite fit their lifestyle. The excuse to break out of that was freeing for her. Discovering that her biological parents were convicted serial killers … was not quite as easy to deal with! But it did explain aspects of her personality that she was then able to accept and deal with.
Speaking of Olivia, she finds herself in a love triangle. How do the dueling affections of Ricky and Gabriel add to the complexities of her character, and what have you found to be the key(s) to maintaining a sense of relatability without risking alienating readers’ sympathies?
With Cainsville, I got to play with the trope of the love triangle and make it not about the protagonist’s love life but about her divided sense of self. Gabriel and Ricky represent two parts of her, two sides to her heritage and identity. While there is, of course, a romantic pull to both men, her friendship with them is more important—as is their friendship with one another. It’s three people discovering their own hidden backgrounds and learning to come to terms with them while also realizing that they are stronger when they stand together, regardless of how the romance plays out.
Cainsville itself can be considered a character within the story arc. How does setting enhance narrative, and in what ways does location affect how a person acts?
This is another theme I love playing with—it’s the central one in my new series, Rockton. Unusual settings can influence the main character and free them to become the person they’re meant to be. The town of Cainsville is initially a mystery to be solved—what is its secret?—but then it begins to influence Olivia.
The concept of family has always been a big theme for me.
In Cainsville, she finds a place where she’s truly comfortable, and yet, it's a place that could consume her if she’s not careful. She needs to find a balance there, where she can enjoy the freedom she has in Cainsville—freedom to be who she is—and yet exert her own control over its influence.
These books incorporate the supernatural. What are your thoughts on utilizing suspension of disbelief, and how important is it to you to maintain an undercurrent of realism despite these otherworldly elements?
I very strongly believe in maintaining that undercurrent of realism. I’m a former programmer. I think very logically. So as much as I love fantasy, I need to be able to still say, “That makes sense.” That if I can suspend my disbelief to accept these supernatural creatures, the handling of those creatures flows logically for me. For example, if there were people who lived for hundreds of years, how would they make a living? How would they keep others from realizing they don’t age? Those are mundane concerns, but that’s what makes or breaks fantasy for me—whether I feel that the writer has considered all the angles and made it believable.
Leave us with a teaser: What comes next now that Cainsville is a wrap?
I started my next series early, so I already have two books out in that. It’s the Rockton series, a non-supernatural mystery set in a hidden town in the Yukon where people go to disappear. It started with City of the Lost last year, and the third book—This Fallen Prey—comes out next February.
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Kelley Armstrong is the internationally bestselling author of the thirteen-book Women of the Otherworld series, the Nadia Stafford crime novels and this series set in the fictional town of Cainsville, Illinois, which also includes the novels Omens, Visions, Deceptions and Betrayals. She is also the author of the hit crime novels City of the Lost and A Darkness Absolute, three bestselling young adult trilogies, and the stand-alone YA suspense thriller, The Masked Truth. Her Otherworld characters also inspired the hit TV series Bitten. She lives in rural Ontario. The author lives in Southwestern Ontario.
John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.