Caitlin Kittredge is no stranger to dark fantasy and magic. She’s probably best known for her BLACK LONDON series, gritty urban fantasy that follows the adventures of a woman police detective in that magical city. She also has a series called NOCTURNE CITY, some YA (The Iron Thorn is Lovecraft-tinged steampunk fantasy) and Coffin Hill, a comic book for Vertigo. The HELLHOUND CHRONICLES series is her latest, set in the American Midwest, and following the adventures of Ava, a hellhound, and Leo, who is a Reaper.
Kittredge manages to keep busy, but she took some time to answer a few questions for us. Marion interviewed her about her latest projects, regional magic, hellhounds, and the difference between prose works and comics. One commenter with a US address will win a copy of the first HELLHOUND CHRONICLES book Black Dog.
Marion Deeds: I am really enjoying the HELLHOUND series. What made you choose hellhounds? What traditions did you draw from to create the character of Ava?
Caitlin Kittredge: Thank you! When I started work on the books, I realized that almost every culture on earth has some form of black dog legend. The folklore in the Hellhound Chronicles is a mix of several traditions—probably it’s closest to the Welsh black dog story but it’s mixed with a healthy dose of Southern lore and some of it I created, specifically for the books!
In Black Dog, when Ava and Leo meet, he tortures her, and she isn’t the first hellhound he’s tortured. I noticed some Amazon reviewers had a reaction to that. Certainly, Leo and Ava live their lives at an extreme most of us never encounter (thank goodness). Did you get pushback from the torture scene? What were your thoughts as you planned to write it?
I knew some readers would probably balk, but that scene is true to the core of both their characters. They are, as you said, not people who have normal lives and normal reactions to extreme situations. Leo is a cold-blooded gangster and Ava is an inhuman hellhound, so contextually I felt the scene had different connotations than a more “heroic” protagonist torturing someone who turned out to be his love interest. It is, for lack of a better phrase, business as usual for both of them. That’s why Ava is able to move past it and why I felt it didn’t rise to the level of objectionable. Leo also does acknowledge that because of his background he has a deeply skewed view of what’s acceptable in the course of relationships of any kind.
Deeply skewed. Yes, Leo does make that clear. The idea of them both feeling their way toward a workable relationship was one of the things that made me root for them, even when I was flinching sometimes.
Black Dog is, at the core, a story about two extremely broken people coming together to take their power back from the people who’ve held them down and abused them. Leo and Ava are both abuse victims when they meet and I know their reactions are going to make some people uncomfortable because it’s not the “right” reaction to have on either end. But those feelings are real and they can happen when you have horrific trauma in your background. I will say that in Grim Tidings I keep exploring that theme of shaping a healthy relationship against a background of never knowing anything but abuse and manipulation. I knew going in I’d alienate some of the readership, and that’s okay. I would never tell anyone how they should react to something I wrote.
Tell us about your current project, or projects, actually, because you have a lot going on.
Currently, in addition to the second HELLHOUND book Grim Tidings just being released, I have an upcoming comic series from Image starting in July. It’s a spy thriller with science fiction overtones called THROWAWAYS, and involves two very different kinds of covert agents, one with telepathic abilities and one with preternatural combat skills, caught up in a modern-day MK-ULTRA project.
Okay, you had me at MK-ULTRA.
I started reading Coffin Hill and I enjoyed it very much. I’ve also been reading The Witches, Stacy Schiff’s nonfiction account of the 1692 Salem trials, and thinking about a few other northeastern writers. Very dark scary stuff tends to come out of that region. Do you imagine magic having a different feel from there rather than, say, the deep South or the Southwest? If so, why do you think that is?
I think the beauty of American folklore is it’s so vast and diverse. You have hundreds of traditions to pull from depending on region. I grew up in New England so it was a natural idea for me to set COFFIN HILL here, but I am a huge fan of Southern gothic stories and I used a lot of Appalachian and deep South folklore to create the world of the HELLHOUND CHRONICLES. Ava is originally from the mountains of Tennessee. Even though I’m a Yankee, I feel a lot of times Southern characters get the short shrift in fiction—it’s easy to turn them into stereotypes or play them dumb. I wanted Ava to be competent and tough coming from this very poor background that people outside of the region often dismiss as “hillbillies.”
How is the process of writing a comic different from a completely prose novel? Do you see a change in your internal process, between prose and a collaboration with Image?
I say it’s like apples and sandwiches—both technically food items but totally different things with different preparation. Scripting is very tight, very compressed, and very precise, and prose is (for me at least) a much more freeform exercise.
Who are you reading and enjoying right now? Do you have a writer in the field you want to recommend to us?
I can’t recommend The Wicked and the Divine, a fellow Image comic, highly enough. Written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie. As for books, I’ve been reading Adam Christopher‘s novels and really enjoying them!
Thank you. We’ll be on the lookout for those.
At Fantasy Literature, we always ask our authors if they have a favorite beverage. We’ve had answers ranging from cocktails named after their characters, to chili-spiced cocoa and varieties of tea. Do you have a favorite beverage you’d like to share with our readers?
I drink black coffee. Sometimes if I’m feeling fancy I’ll put some whole milk in there.
Whole milk? Why, you rebel!
Thank you for talking with us and sharing your thoughts on your work.
One random commenter with a USA mailing address will win a copy of Black Dog.