Thanks to retired reviewer Justin Blazier who recently caught up with Kevin Hearne at his local bookstore. Kevin is celebrating the release of Staked, the next installment in his popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. Leave a comment for a chance to win one of three paperback copies of Hounded, the first book of the series, or one hardcover copy of Staked. This giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada… And here’s Justin:
Last week, Kevin Hearne, author of THE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, was scheduled for a book signing in Crescent Springs, KY, which just happens to be about a mile from my house. I had just recently discovered Kevin’s work at that very book store, so meeting him there was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The store was absolutely packed with people. I had hoped to chat with Kevin in a quiet corner of the bookstore after the event, but the line for signing books ran way past closing time. We ended up going out for tacos and beer at The Pub. The first thing I wanted to ask was about how his teaching job affected his writing:
Justin Blazier: What skill from teaching English have you used the most? Mainly, I would think all the English skills, but maybe there is something a bit more surprising.
Kevin Hearne: English skills are certainly helpful, I guess. It is just the writing part of it, but having the background in the literature and so on has allowed me to throw in allusions to poetry and things like that in the Shakespeare geekery. A lot of that is my own geekery that I am imbuing in the character of Atticus. So that has really informed a lot of my writing in the literature kind of stuff.
I’ve certainly been a little blown away by the quotes — I am not a Shakespeare reader — and the way you’ve weaved them into the story has inspired me to look into actually reading Shakespeare a little bit more.
That is certainly the primary benefit of it. And then, when I do events — whenever I have to talk in front of folks like I did tonight, it is always pretty easy because I had a lot of experience getting up in front of groups of people.
You can kind of turn on teacher mode a little bit –
My father was with me here earlier, at the bookstore signing. He is a retired school teacher – when you mentioned that you miss the kids, but you don’t miss the faculty meetings, he applauded. He is also a Baptist minister too, which is funny as that’s a demographic you’d not be expecting to be in attendance. He is a big fan of yours. During your talk, somebody asked you which religious groups have come after you over your portrayal of religious figures and you answered it really, really well. You said something to the effect of, “The people that tend to complain about things like that are not going to be reading my books.”
[NOTE: Kevin also mentioned earlier at the signing that the only group that gave him any flack were some Scandinavians who took offense to his portrayal of Thor as a giant douchebag.]
One of the things that were interesting was when there was that hue and cry over the Harry Potter stuff, “Oh my God, it is witchcraft.” Well, you immediately found out that they never even read the books. They just heard that Harry Potter had penetrated popular culture to the point where they were aware that children liked books that featured wizards and witches. But they never bothered to read them. They never bothered to look at the moral compass behind it all. Just, “Oh, my God, the main characters are witches, therefore it must be evil.”
There is a video out there of Catholic picketers outside of a theatre for the movie Dogma and Kevin Smith has joined them with his own anti-dogma, and they have no idea that the guy who actually made the movie is standing out there picketing with them. They do not know who he is. They’ve never actually seen the movie or know anything about it.
It is sort of an unreasoning, unthinking response. If they do show up, what they are going to wind up doing is selling our books for me.
[NOTE: At this point the food arrived, and there was some conversation about my dad being a minister and still a huge fan of The Iron Druid, as well as some shared nerding-out over the Warmachine tabletop games.]
I want to talk about one of the IRON DRUID characters: Oberon, the faithful and lovable wolfhound of Atticus, the Iron Druid. Are you surprised by the reaction of your fans to him? He is, by far, the most popular character in the series. I see mentions of him everywhere.
I am not surprised anymore, but I was originally. I had no idea that he would be as popular as he became. I had a very serious thing in mind for him in the sense that he was going to anchor Atticus to the present. It was my editor who figured it out long before I did. As I was writing Hammered I said to myself, “They are going to go to Asgard, and one does not simply walk into Asgard. Somebody is going to have to start dying here.” And she [the editor] says, “Fine, anybody but Oberon,” and I‘m like, “Really? I can kill Atticus?” She’s like, “Yes, just do not hurt the dog.” And I am like, “Okay, all right.” So that was my first indication that he would be really popular. And when the books actually came out, he turned out to be the big selling point and the funny thing is, I didn’t even plot him. It is mostly my improv as I’m going along.
Well, I like him. I listened to the audiobooks, too. Luke Daniels does the voice of Oberon. It’s like Scooby Doo on crack.
I’ve got a four-year-old girl, and I read her bedtime stories, and I make up Oberon stories for her to go sleep. The fact that you mentioned that you are going to do a novella with just him — I am looking forward to that. I need more fuel for my Tales of Oberon. She enjoys the Oberon stories a lot. There could be a line of children’s book in there for you.
I suppose there could. I have just never really thought about writing specifically for that audience. I have always been writing for adults and some sort of younger folk eventually pick it up and enjoy it.
So what does the term “urban fantasy” mean to you?
I have always enjoyed its mash-up quality. We take mythologies or religions or creatures from folklore and mash them into our contemporary urban world and then see what happens. And the possibilities are endless. I think that because of what the sales leaders were at the beginning, it kind of pushed a lot of people to write more vampire and werewolf stuff than anything else, when there’s so much more that can be explored.
There’s a large chunk of it that’s space stuff too. And then there’s a large variation among fake creatures. So, I think that more can be done. I think that the market got oversaturated really quickly with vampire and werewolf stuff. It’s harder to launch now as a new urban fantasy writer, and they’re not really acquiring as much new stuff anymore.
Urban fantasy still does well, but it’s folks that have already been established like myself and Jim Butcher and so on. And not so many risks are being taken on newer authors. Unfortunate but true. But I think the popularity of TV shows prove that there’s a great hunger for urban fantasy. Jessica Jones on Netflix, for example. Yes, it’s a comic-based show, but that’s an urban fantasy comic, you know?
Absolutely. Is that mostly what you read?
I read a lot of it, yes. And I read science fiction. I love the THE EXPANSE – love it – by James S.A. Corey. I also really enjoy a new author named C.A. Higgins, Caitlin. She’s a physicist who graduated from Cornell. Her first book was called Lightless and her second book is called Supernova. It’ll be out in this summer. And it’s set in our solar system.
[NOTE: Our conversation was interrupted by the waitress delivering a platter of bourbon shots, purchased for Kevin by a fan. He seemed genuinely surprised and it was a cool moment. I think it’s a good sign that you’ve made it as an author when someone buys you shots of whiskey while you are being interviewed, am I right? We spent a significant amount of time now discussing the various aging processes of whiskey and which ones were indeed yummier than others. I have spared the readers.]
Let’s talk a little bit about the process of becoming a published author. A lot of people don’t fully understand all the steps it takes. They think you mail your book to a publisher, and if they like it, then you get published. That does happen sometimes, but way more often than not, the road to publishing leads through an agent.
You touched upon this during your talk at the signing, and I thought that it was very well said, and it’s advice that often isn’t listened to. I mean, I write a little bit myself, but I’m at a point now where I am having hard time finishing a book. I have never actually finished a book. And that’s a problem that a lot of authors struggle with, just getting that book done. How did you do that?
That was a long struggle for me, just finishing that first book. I wrote for nineteen years before I actually got published. I started at age nineteen, and I didn’t finish stuff. I started a whole bunch of different novels — never finished them. Then I got one going. It took me six years but I finally finished it; it was called The Road to Cebola, and it was just terrible. It was full of all kinds of clichés, and it will never see the light of day, it’s not salvageable. But I learned so much in the process of writing it; the primary thing I did learn was to say that I can finish a book. It’s just having that confidence that this is something you can do and this is a mountain to which you can reach the summit. That is a huge confidence boost.
When I wrote my second book, it was twice as long and it took me half the time. I got an epic fantasy done in three years. Well, after all that it was also full of clichés. It was me trying epic fiction for the first time and when I got that done, I was like, “All right, this is… Let’s see if I can write something a little bit more — I don’t know — original. Let’s write things that — it’s genre, but at the same time it’s going to kind of touch all my geek buttons.” So that’s why I was writing Hounded, really, to entertain myself, because I wasn’t trying to follow some formula or what has been done before necessarily.
Write something that you want to read yourself.
Exactly, I was writing the book I wanted to read, because nobody was really writing about the Irish pantheon. You would get vaguely Celtic stuff, but nothing really fleshing out characters beyond the Morrigan. So I said, “This is kind of being ignored, so maybe I can explore that a little bit more.” So yes, I got Hounded done in eleven months. When I got it done I was still having mixed feelings about it, I thought nobody else would really be interested in the same things I was, but I was wrong. And yes, I sent that out to an agent, got one, and then he sent it out to publishers. And four of them bid on it, out of nine, and everything kind of just went from there. That was only two weeks from when he sent it out to when we got bids. So that was super-fast compared to nineteen years of nothing happening.
I read an article you wrote on Suvudu — which I think is a Del Rey site — and you wrote about the cover making process. I believe it was for Hounded. Is that something unique to Del Rey? How did you manage to get that much say on the cover? It was a wonderful article and very interesting about that whole process. You had quite a bit of input on how it looked and felt. They seemed to have a direction they wanted to go in, but they had you involved in everything.
I think they wanted me to be happy. Having a happy author is a good thing, but I think also maybe the editor was fairly new at the game at that time. I don’t know if she continues to do that with all of her authors or not. I think it was just a different character and they wanted to kind of get it right and see if — make it match up to what I had a vision, and I think they did a great job.
I asked similar questions of Jim Butcher once and he basically had very little input at all on the cover. Harry Dresden has a cowboy hat on all the covers, which is not something Dresden ever wore. But the covers are still cool, and they’re done by Chris McGrath. I also had a chance to talk to Chris McGrath about the Dresden covers from the artist’s perspective. He said, similarly, that he gets notes from the publisher and doesn’t have much interaction with the author.
It’s the same thing on my end. I don’t get to talk to the artist. The publisher wants to go between, right? They keep it separate. I’ve never had any contact with the actual artist who does my stuff; all the directions come from their art department. Sometimes the authors and the marketing/sales department have different ideas of what works. In this case, I think I got a lot of input because we both agreed that we wanted this to be the character being featured. So they asked me: what should his character look like, and so on. I don’t know if it was more design based or, you know, here’s a symbol or a logo or something — I might not have had that much input into it, since it was the character.
At what point did you know you’re going to be doing this full time — that you didn’t have to teach anymore?
After Tricked hit the New York Times list and I had a year’s salary in the bank, I figured it was safe to risk it. That was basically when I realized I actually had a fan base. Then I continued to build up.
I know for some authors, it’s a slow process, like, “Okay, it’s purely a financial decision.” They’re at a point now where they could just move off the regular job. For others it’s a bit more sudden. It’s always interesting to me to hear how that comes about.
Basically, at some point, if you’re able to stick around to the business long enough, you have a backlist of books that can generate some base royalties for you to live off of. Whenever that’s there, that helps out. You keep coming up with new books and that usually sells more backlist. That’s basically how you can get along.
I think you have an amazing cast of characters in THE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES and your style of writing is very appealing to a wide audience.
Like I said, the large part of my audience is audio books because Luke Daniels is so damn good. To a larger extent, I think that is normal — of course, I am speculating. My audio readers, if that’s the right word, I have a quite a large number of them perhaps compared — I guess proportionally — compared to some other authors. Of course, there are some authors who don’t have audio books at all. Luke Daniels has apparently made a huge difference in the audio format taking on. That was entirely just a lucky thing.
Yes, because he’s good. There are a few times when an audio book is made where the narrator embodies the character so well. I’ll bring up Butcher again, but his narrator is now inseparable from the character — I don’t know if you’ve listened to THE DRESDEN FILES or not?
I’ve never listened to them, but I’ve read them.
The narrator is a guy by the name of James Marsters. In my head now, when I read THE DRESDEN FILES, I hear James Marsters as the voice of Harry Dresden.
[NOTE: The checks arrived and I decided to let Kevin go. I wished him well on his travels. I did ask for a selfie for the road…]
Thanks again to Kevin Hearne. Staked was released on January 26, 2016. If you haven’t already checked out this series, then you are truly missing out. Any fan of Jim Butcher or Urban Fantasy in general cannot go wrong by reading this series. It also helps that the author is a genuinely awesome guy.
Readers, comment for a chance to win a paperback copy of Hounded, the first book of THE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, or one hardcover copy of Staked. This giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. or Canada.
Very interesting guy. Love to read his books.
What fun, Justin!!
I love the audiobooks too, and yes, Oberon is my favorite character.
Great interview. I’m working my way through the series. I love the characters and world building.
Great author, I had Staked on pre-order, and read it asap.
I love his books! His were also the first time I found Audio books that didn’t put me to sleep. Luke Daniels is amazing. The covers are perfect. Even now that I read mostly on my Kindle, covers matter. I can’t say enough good about these books. Really looking forward to the Oberon story.
I’ve read some reviews of the series and was intrigued. This would be a great way to get started on them.
Also, interesting interview. :)
Best Q &A: At what point did you know you’re going to be doing this full time — that you didn’t have to teach anymore?
Oh my I love these books, they are funny and full of adventure.
what is Kevin Hearne like in real life.
Came across Hearne when finished Dresden. Love how he has fleshed out mythologies that don’t get a lot of attention. While I am sure it give him a lot of liberty, he keeps it grounded in the basics of what most of us know. Highly entertaining. Glad to see he stopped by a KY bookstore, grew up in Lexington myself.
I have had the fascinating opportunity to work with Kevin and he is an amazing person and treat to the world at large. His tales of fiction bring joy to my family and I and we genuinely love the guy. His books are fantastic and I would recommend them to the world because under the lining of the stories there is a subtle yet potent message that, if you try, harmony may just find you.
Just finished Staked. As an owner of many and sundry Wolfhounds I’m happy to tears with the ending. The rest was also good. Thx
My tweet to Kevin at 12:30 AM a couple days ago. Reading it again this weekend.
I am such a big fan of Kevin Hearne’s! A copy of Staked would make my year. I think the phrase fuck puddle has become my new favourite, and that is all thanks to him.
Luke Daniels is the perfect narrator for this series. I have often broken out in laughter listening to the books. These books are a fun way to escape from the world and I’m always sad when I come to the end. I don’t like waiting. That being said, it brings me a bit of laughter knowing that Kevin may be wearing fuzzy socks as he writes. :)
Love the series and love Oberon. Great interview
I love how humble and friendly Kevin Hearne is. Such a trickster as well. Look out Luke Daniels!! I hear that Kevin is out to get you while on tour. Lolz!!
It’s going to be challenging to come up with a question Mr. Hearne has NOT heard before when next I attend one of his events.
But I’m going to try.
I’m a big fan of Kevin Hearne’s personality. Seems like such a great guy. Planning on reading his stuff soon!
Kevin seems like a very cool down to earth kind of guy, I feel I learned alot just from this article on the craft of writing. Great interview Justin!
Love love love love love IDC-it’s great to get some insight into how/why authors write. Thanks for the interview and please, Kevin, keep writing!!!
These books make me grin all over my face every time I pick one up!
Elesha, if you have a US or Canadian address, you have won a copy of STAKED.
Von Berry, Jas Marshall 6, and Allie, is you have a US or Canadian mailing address, you have won copies of HOUNDED.
Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!
Love the books