INTERVIEW: Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn is the author of the bestselling series about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio advice show. She’s also written for young adults (Steel, Voices of Dragons), the novels Discord’s Apple and After the Golden Age, many short stories, and she’s a contributor to George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. When she isn’t writing, she collects hobbies and enjoys the great outdoors in Colorado, where she makes her home.

Tell us a bit about your story, “Strife Lingers in Memory.” What’s it about?

“Strife Lingers in Memory” is about what happens after the epic is over. The king marries the princess, the land is at peace, they live happily ever after. Except it isn’t, because they have to keep paying the price for their happiness over and over again. To put it in the simplest terms, this story is about an epic hero with post-traumatic stress, and his wife who is trying to keep them all moving forward, and to put on a good face so everyone else believes in the happily ever after.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I’ve read The Lord of the Rings twice in my life. The first, I was about 15 or 16, and the most significant thought I had about it was, “I want to be an Elf.” The second time I was about 28, in preparation for the release of the Peter Jackson movies. My thought that time was, “All these people are going to need lots of therapy.” Ah, the impact of age and experience. Of course, they’re not going to get therapy, but I wanted to write a story about the psychological impact of the epic battles on the main characters. Especially the perfect elvish/magical princess, who it seems would be saddled with a lot of the stress in the aftermath.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It was an organic story to write, so it was challenging in that sense. I did a lot of stream-of-consciousness brainstorming before trying to put it all together. In another sense, a lot of the hard work had already been done – most readers are going to recognize the back story, so I didn’t have to spend much time explaining what was happening. I got to spend most of the story inside my main character’s head, and in talking about story in general.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I’m always fascinated by the characters who don’t get a lot of stage time, yet seem incredibly important for the story. These characters often seem to be the women, the Arwens and Guineveres, who are obviously the prizes for the heroes – but they’re also lynchpins, they hold the world together. But what are they thinking? Epics take for granted that there’s going to be a beautiful woman for the hero to hook up with, but I’m intensely interested in how these women feel about it, and the deeper roles they play that maybe haven’t been examined. It’s personal for me in that yes, as a woman, of course I’d be interested.

I suppose this might be another place where my background as a military brat has seeped its way into my writing without me realizing it. I’m often less interested in the battle and the fighting that I am in what happens when the soldiers come home, and how they and their families deal with the aftermath. That’s my personal experience with war and the military, so of course I’d go there.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Not much at all. This really did grow out of my reading The Lord of the Rings, and all the other fantasy and medieval epic I’ve ever encountered. Its roots are literary rather than realistic.

What is the appeal of epic fantasy? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write it? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

You can’t get much larger than life than epic. If mythology is the root of human storytelling, then epic is the thing that really seems to make myth relevant. Yes, it deals with magic, gods, kings, armies, the shape of the world, the blowing up of our minds. But epic puts a face on it in the form of its heroes. Epic is about identifiable people whom we can relate to and admire taking on all that myth.

What are some of your favorite examples of epic fantasy (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

I’ve got two that I’ll talk about: Robin McKinley’s Damar stories, especially The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, but she also has numerous short stories and references to Damar throughout her work. It’s a living world, with amazing characters, and it’s the one fantasy world I’d really love to spend time in myself. Some people might argue that the stories aren’t big enough or world shattering enough to be epic. But really, there are demon armies, knights and dragons, kings and their loyal followers, individuals fighting to save their worlds – what else are you going to call it but epic?

The other epic series I’ve loved is Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. Ten books and a million or so words about apotheosis. I was talking with some people about this just this weekend, and came up with a couple of things – this series is weird and mind-blowing because it’s almost stream of consciousness, and yet manages to contain an immense amount of history, mythology, action, characterization, etc. Also, given that people either love it or hate it, it may be this generation’s Gormenghast. The series finished last year and I’m still processing it.