Interview Jacqueline Carey

Phantastik-Couch.de: Jacqueline, could you please tell our readers shortly about yourself?

Jacqueline Carey: I started writing when I was sixteen and bored in school.  I kept up the hobby for years, but it wasn’t until after college, when I was living in London, working in a bookstore and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, that I realized my addictive hobby was a serious calling.  After that, I began writing and submitting work in earnest.  I have several unpublished novels that will never see the light of day.  Ten years later, I began the first Kushiel novel, knowing it was by far and away the best thing I’d ever written.  And voilà!  A ten-year overnight success.

Phantastik-Couch.de: Your first Kushiel novel is quite explicit, I would rate it almost „X“ if it was a movie. What were the reactions, especially in puritan American circles?

Jacqueline Carey: Surprisingly, the overall response was quite positive.  The initial reviews were great and reflected the fact that the more provocative elements weren’t used in a gratuitous or exploitative manner, but deliberately subverted the heroine-as-victim cliches present in a lot of contemporary culture.  That helped set the tone.  Also, the descriptions aren’t as graphic as it may seem at first glance; it’s the psychological impact that makes them seem more explicit than they are.  That said, I’ve racked up my fair share of scathing reviews on Amazon.com!

Phantastik-Couch.de: What were your favorite comments back then?

Jacqueline Carey: My favorite comment came from my 87-year-old great-aunt Harriett, who was an avid reader and a big supporter of mine.  I was nervous about letting her read the book due to the erotic content.  As soon as she finished, she called to tell me she thought it was wonderful.  After going on for some time, she said in emphatic tone, „;And I hope people realize it isn’t just a sex book!”  When I won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, I thanked everyone on behalf of great-aunt Harriett.

My favorite negative comment was from a reader who gave the book two stars.  She was offended by the content and would have given it one star, but she conceded that the language was lovely.  She said, more or less, “;However, you can gild a pile of feces, but it’s still a pile of feces.” That made me laugh. 

Phantastik-Couch.de: Do you like to provoke other people?

Jacqueline Carey: Not for the sake of mere provocation, no.  But I like to create work that provokes thought as well as entertains.  It makes me happy to hear people debate whether or not Phèdre, my protagonist, is a feminist heroine …especially when they decide she is!  As an often-repeated line in the book says, ";That which yields is not always weak.”

Phantastik-Couch.de: So, was it difficult to find a publisher in the first place? And for a German edition?

Jacqueline Carey: After my ten-year drought with earlier work, I was fortunate enough to acquire an agent who was passionate about this book, and we had a number of publishers in the U.S. interested in it before we accepted a preemptive bid from Tor Books.  As I recall, the German rights sold quite quickly; but then the book didn’t sell as well as hoped and it was dropped.

Phantastik-Couch.de: Why do think the first German edition of „Kushiel“ didn’t perform too well?

Jacqueline Carey: Two words:  Cover art!  Also, the market has changed a lot, even in a short time.  Recent years have seen the rise of paranormal romance, and I suspect the potential readership for books that combine epic fantasy with eroticism has grown.  ";Kushiel” may seem tame after the epidemic of werewolf and vampire sex that’s been unleashed!

Phantastik-Couch.de: How do you think the German speaking readers will react? Or the relevant media?

Jacqueline Carey: Honestly, I have no idea.  I hope they’ll forgive me for playing the Northern barbarian card.  In epic fantasy, someone’s got to be the villain.

Phantastik-Couch.de: According to the encyclopedia „Kushiel“ is an angel that punishes people in hell for their sins. That is quite the opposite of Terre d’Anges religion of „love as thou wilt“ and the fact that the heroine is subject to physical pain, isn’t it?

Jacqueline Carey: Well, I put a revisionist spin on it.  In my theology, the angel Kushiel was chastised for loving his charges too much.  He – and seven other angels – are apostates who abandoned their posts to follow Blessed Elua, a deity born of the mingled blood of Christ and the tears of Mary Magdalene, whose precept is ";Love as thou wilt.”  Phèdre, my heroine, is Kushiel’s Chosen, divinely ordained to experience pleasure in pain.  So it does have its own internal consistency …in my fictional world, anyway.

Phantastik-Couch.de: Without being indiscreet: How much of Jacqueline Carey is in Kushiel?

Jacqueline Carey: Just enough!

Phantastik-Couch.de: Would you say that the novel is Historical Fantasy with a strong erotic tinge or Erotic Fantasy with a Historical frame?

Jacqueline Carey: Definitely the first.  It’s a big story filled with intrigue and adventure.  The erotic element is only one facet of it.

Phantastik-Couch.de: „Kushiel“ is very rich in detail – could you imagine it as a movie? Who would you want to see acting as the main character?

Jacqueline Carey: Oh, yes! Although I think it would be difficult to adapt, because it could be done badly a thousand different ways.  Every other year or so, I’m approached by a passionate young filmmaker with a grand vision, but no connections or clout.  And I have to admit, I’m not good at playing Cast-the-Movie.  If it were ever to happen, I’d prefer to see a relatively unknown actress playing Phèdre.

Phantastik-Couch.de: Alright, who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list at the moment?

Jacqueline Carey: One author I admire and always recommend to my fans is Guy Gavriel Kay, who writes historical fantasy with a strong use of mythology and emotionally adult characters.  The author who’s influenced my work the most is Mary Renault, who wrote historical fiction set in ancient Greece.  My reading list is ecclectic because I’m always doing research and I read almost every genre.  Right now, it includes „;Trash Sex Magic,” which is contemporary magic realism; “;A Nail Through the Heart,” a mystery; Patrick O’Brian’s re-released „;The Road to Samarcand,” and a book on foraging in the wild called “;Stalking the Wild Asparagus.”

Phantastik-Couch.de: You are currently working on the second Kushiel series. What’s next?

Jacqueline Carey: I plan to do a third trilogy set in the same milieu.  And I’ve written a bonus project:  „;Santa Olivia,“; which I’m calling a post-punk desert bordertown fable, with boxing and cute girls in love.  It’s totally unlike any of the Kushiel books and will be released under a pseudonym that will be an open secret.

Phantastik-Couch.de: Any plans to come to German-speaking Europe in the near Future? Anything you would like to let your readers know?

Jacqueline Carey: No plans at the time, I’m afraid; but hopefully some day!  Readers can always check my website for listed events and appearances – and of course, the infamous tattoo gallery.

Phantastik-Couch.de: Thank you for this interview, Jacqueline!

Jacqueline Carey: My pleasure, and thank you!