Photo credit: Vancouver Library 2015
Describe your latest book.
I love genre.
I’ve loved fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and all the genre geekery adventure film and video game stuff you would imagine from a child of the ’80s. Urban fantasy, that mix of the fantastical with the real world, was a natural fit for me. Urban fantasy, by its very nature, doesn’t take itself too seriously; as a genre it likes humor. It also likes darkness; it’s a reflection of our real world and often paints an accurate likeness. Somehow that mix gives us permission to have conversations about real world things we typically shy way from, and that’s the kind of novel The Voodoo Killings
ended up being. Something a little dark, a little mysterious, and written with the kind of humor I always find myself reaching for to survive the days when we need to laugh darkly at something.
The Voodoo Killings
is about Kincaid Strange, not your average voodoo practitioner, who lives in Seattle with the ghost of infamous grunge rocker, Nathan Cade. The two of them spend their time running seances up at the university for students desperate for guitar lessons and with more money than sense. Despite that, she’s still broke. She’s still licking her wounds from being fired as a consultant for the police department over other people’s politics and prejudices.
Things take a turn for the worse when a stray zombie shows up outside her neighborhood bar: one Cameron Wight, an up-and-coming visual artist with no recollection of how he died or who raised him. Worse, she soon discovers he’s somehow tied to a spate of recent murders, all of which the police refuse to investigate.
And then Kincaid becomes the killer's target. As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours, especially in Seattle.
What was your favorite book as a child?
As a young teen I loved King Rat
by James Clavell. I also read The Song of the Lioness
series by Tamora Pierce more times than I can remember.
When did you know you were a writer?
Not until graduate school when I was writing up my PhD thesis and realized I loved the research but didn’t want to spend the rest of my life writing grants… or papers. I wrote an urban fantasy instead, alongside my PhD thesis, and the rest is history.
What does your writing workspace look like?
Honestly? Wherever I can get a free moment to open my laptop. Coffee shops, sky trains, planes, kitchen tables, bed — I also spend a lot of time writing and plotting in my head while I’m walking and driving.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Peter Clines's Paradox Bound
and The Fold
. He does sci-fi in a way that makes it accessible to everyone and he knows how to plot. Try the audiobooks — the narrator, Ray Porter, is fantastic.
What's the most interesting job you've ever had?
I was a geneticist and cell biologist for a good decade, so up until recently I was doing all kinds of fun experiments on fly cells and using all sorts of very cool technology. Beyond that, I once worked as a porpoise researcher’s assistant in my undergrad days, where we camped out and followed porpoises around in a zodiac…There may also have been a very cool crossbow involved that was specially designed to collect genetic samples. I promise, there were no animals harmed!
What scares you the most as a writer?
Arriving at a time in the future where I either no longer want to write or am unable to. Of course, I also think every author fears disappointing fans in second and third books — but that’s more of a daily back-of-the-mind thing.
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
“Look, Kid — I’m not raising a zombie so you can send it to buy beer. Now hang up or I’ll track your parents down.” — The Voodoo Killings
Describe a recurring nightmare.
Zombies. I swear to God, the only dreams I remember are the scary ones, and they always end with zombies. In the middle of a dream where I’m living out my high school rock star/comic book/space cowboy/superhero fantasies? Know how every dream ends? Zombies.
It’s actually getting a little disconcerting… I mean, maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something?
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
Here’s something you won’t hear the majority of authors freely admit: My grammar sucks. I’ve never met a comma I can’t misplace or a participle that I can’t dangle. Paragraphs? I’ve always considered the starting and finishing as more of an arbitrary, artistic choice than a rule. Copy editors grab for the whisky when my novels peek out from underneath their stack. It all started when I took the science track in university. You see, science students back in the ’90s were told that they really didn’t need to learn how to write… so most of us didn’t — not past the basics to complete a lab report or stumble through a paper. And since very few of us actually knew what proper sentence structure looked like, well, you can see where checking each other’s work became a moot point.
But here’s the thing that gets to me when authors start talking grammar: Grammar isn’t storytelling. You can tell a fantastic story and have beautiful prose without having an eye for perfect punctuation. Copy editing is important when it comes to the final draft, but good grammar doesn’t make a great novelist. People get so caught up on something they can grade, something purely technical, that they forget or ignore the less tangible things that go into making a story, the parts that grab a reader’s attention and drag them in, sometimes kicking and screaming late into the night.
So what’s my biggest grammatical pet peeve? Pretending with new writers that grammar is a bigger part of becoming a storyteller than it actually is.
Do you have any phobias?
I never used to, but with all the zombies that keep popping into my dreams… I mean, the ONLY dreams I remember are the ones with zombies.
I do have a fear of heights, though I think that one was more learned while I was growing up, as my dad had a prominent fear of heights. Going over bridges is always a bit nerve-wracking and my legs have shaken a number of times when I’ve been climbing to high places.
Now, stick a zombie behind a steep ridge I’m hiking over, and you’ve really got the makings of a serious complex.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
Video games. Hands down, video games.
It’s always bugged me just how often video games get left out of discussions on storytelling. They shouldn’t be; some of the best storytelling is now done through video games. One all-time favorite is The Witcher 3
, a game from Projekt Red studio in Poland based on a famous Polish fantasy series. The in-game writing and storytelling are nothing short of glorious. There’s no shame in admitting I completely fangirled when I met the game writers at PAX (Penny Arcade Game Expo, a giant video game convention). It brought back memories of all my Slavic fairy tale books from when I was a kid. There’s something to be said for fairy tales where the choices aren’t necessarily good or bad — more like bad or worse. I highly recommend the game and the novel series that inspired it. Other games on my permanent replay list? Final Fantasy 13
(an oldie), Dragon Age
(1 and 2), the Mass Effect Trilogy
(one of the best pieces of science fiction made in the last 20 years), and the Uncharted series, which play like an Indiana Jones movie. I also have a special place in my heart for the opening scene to Far Cry 4
and the villain Pagan Min. If you’ve never seen it and love a good villain, YouTube it.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Writing by committee or consensus to try and please a crowd often results in a project that isn’t offensive, but which also doesn’t break any ground or touch any hearts.
My Top Five Books From the Last Six Months.
I will read almost anything. As a writer, I think it’s critical to read across the genre spectrums, otherwise you start writing yourself into a very narrow box. With that, here are five of my favorite reads from the past 6 months that span from mystery to sci-fi to comedy. I highly recommend you put them on your reading list now:
by Peter Clines
Time travel through history as adventurers chase the American dream.
The Ghost Bride
by Yangsze Choo
A young Malay woman is thrust into the world of the dead when a family asks her to become the ghost bride for their deceased son.
Crazy Rich Asians
by Kevin Kwan
He’s the Southeast Asian answer to Carl Hiaasen
The Widows of Malabar Hill
by Sujata Massey
It’s Miss Fisher
in 1920s Bombay! For fans of murder mysteries.
The Couturier of Milan: The Triad Years (Ava Lee #3)
by Ian Hamilton
One of my favorite series, it follows Canadian Chinese forensic accountant Ava Lee as she traces money gone missing in Southeast Asia.
÷ ÷ ÷
is the author of Owl and the Japanese Circus
and Owl and the City of Angels
and the first book in the Kincaid Strange series, The Voodoo Killings
. She has a background in archaeology and a PhD in zoology from the University of British Columbia. She has worked as a scientific adviser on projects such as fantasy and SF writer Diana Rowland’s series White Trash Zombie
, and is the cohost of the Adventures in SciFi Publishing
podcast. She lives in Vancouver.