We’d like to thank our March Featured Author, Carolyn Crane for supporting LitStack and for gifting all of her readers with such a remarkable Urban Fantasy series. Recently, we had the chance to sit down with her to discuss her Disillusionists series, her writer’s road and what motivates her dynamic characters. Be sure to check out our final review of Crane’s work, DEVIL’S LUCK, a novella set in the series, later this week.
LS: Urban Fantasy is a dense genre and there are many standards that have been repeated by a lot of authors. What drew you into UF and how intentional was your unique approach to the genre?
I was drawn in by books, of course! I’d read a lot of fantasy as a kid, but as I got older, I got into the classics and became an English Lit major, and I didn’t look at genre books for years—I felt like I’d sort of graduated out of them. But then, as an adult, I got a couple of them shoved into my hands at fortuitous times, and I felt like I rediscovered my love of reading, and my passion for writing. Rediscovering genre fiction was like a Renaissance in my reading and writing life.
When I started the Disillusionists series, back in 2006 or 2007, the UF field was not so dense. Publishing is such a slow process, however. By the time I sold the first two books (late 2008) I was paranoid the Urban Fantasy genre would wink out. My agent laughed at me for that, and she was right; instead, the genre exploded.
As far as whether it was intentional to be a bit different, actually, I didn’t want to be different at all! I wanted to fit. The Disillusionists is me trying to color in the lines. I’m not very good at it.
LS:Your characters utilize fear and excess as a means of power. Where did the idea of supernatural powers invoked through basic subconscious means come from?
The whole idea came from two intersecting things. First, I had just read Straw Dogs by John Gray, a hugely depressing sort of philosophical book that takes a super dismal view of humanity. It made me feel really awful, and I thought, if I had an enemy, I would give them this book as a gift, so that they could feel as disillusioned as I did. Then I thought, what if there were people who disillusioned other people for money? Hey, that would make a great book!
And, the other part of it was that, at the time, I had this friend who was slowly going insane—conspiracy theories, voices, the whole deal. It was really terrible, and sad. And whenever I’d hang out with him long enough, then afterwards, I’d feel a little crazy and wired, too, as if I’d soaked up his crazy energy.
So in a sense, I think zinging already happens on a very minor scale. You hang out with somebody who’s intensely angry or depressed or incredibly light and happy, or you are guilted or whatever, and it greatly affects you. I think we’ve all had that experience, on the good side or bad side.
Could internal darkness be weaponized? Could a person deliberately attack another person in that way? Probably not, but I think it’s more in the realm of the possible than a guy who turns into a demon. Not that there’s anything wrong with books about guys who turn into demons!
LS:Is hypochondria like Justine’s something you’ve had experience with? And how do you have such detailed knowledge on the various ailments/neuroses that are present in your trilogy? I have to admit that the Vein Star Syndrome scared me! Is it real?
Hah! Actually, most of the diseases in the trilogy are made up. I wanted this to be escapist fiction, and not remind people of real problems, or seem to make light of real diseases. (Even though it turns out there IS a disease called vein star, and I wasn’t that far off on it! A blogger pointed that out to me! I was shocked!)
I used to be mild hypochondriac – I trace my health fears back to a variety of things: the 70’s hit song Seasons in the Sun, that Willy Wonka movie where the heroine eats something and puffs up, a certain Brady Bunch episode. And, I’ve known quite a few hypochondriacs of different varieties. So I was comfortable going there.
LS: Loneliness and the death of her mother seems to have impacted Justine and probably led to the fears she has. Do you think that our pasts are an indicator of the caliber of people we become? And if that’s true, what made Otto tick? Where do you think his paranoia came from?
This is such an interesting and good question, and one I think a lot about as a writer creating characters. Specifically, how much of us is patterning created by family history? I don’t like to think it’s a big part of what a human is made of, but it can be a very easy fallback for a fiction writer. I use it, but try not to abuse it.
But then again, if you took away our pasts, our memories, we are nothing, at least as human characters go. That was a concept that was interesting to me in this series, both with Packard, relying on people’s patterning to predict their every move, and with Sophia the memory revisionist, and thinking about what she’s really stealing from a person.
[I’m answering the Otto part of your question below]
LS: Otto begins as such a caring, reasonable person. (Aside from his paranoia). Was his true nature always hidden from Justine or did the idea of her leaving him make him desperate to keep her at all costs?
Otto = built himself into a strong heroic person in spite of a harsh past – that much is true of him, and Justine sensed that truly (though all through the books he sees things in very black and white terms, something Packard criticizes in him.) But then events in DOUBLE CROSS put Otto back there in his horrible past and re-ignited his paranoia, re-traumatized him. In that re-traumatized state, Otto was desperate to keep her at all costs. He almost escaped his past, but he didn’t. Justine does.
LS: I saw Packard as somewhat of an anti-hero. The readers know he’s manipulating everyone, but we still root for him and especially want Justine to choose him over Otto. (Or that might just be me). Where did the inspiration for Packard come from and did you always know that he was who Justine would end up with?
Part of my inspiration for Packard was Sam, the bar owner from Casablanca, who wouldn’t take sides, was always out for himself. And in the end, he had to make a choice. Well, that, fused with other tropes. As one reviewer quite brilliantly put it, “Whereas Justine sees people as they could be, Packard sees them as they are—literally.” And he abuses that power of insight for most of the trilogy.
The name actually, Sterling Packard, was significant to me. He’s a man who is tarnished on the outside but that’s not his true nature inside. And, yes, I’d always meant for him to be with Justine. I wanted Otto to be a decent contender, of course. It would worry me when people would pull too hard for him, because I knew they’d be disappointed.
LS: I could read an entirely new series about Fawna and Simon. I love the dynamic of their relationship and you exhibited that so wonderfully in Devil’s Luck and, more subtly, in Head Rush. What do you think happens to them after Devil’s Luck and would you consider a new series or new stories with them or other Disillusionist in the fray?
Oh, thank you! I so love that you say that, and I really had fun writing about Fawna and Simon! It was sort of a breathless experience for me. I think I may do another spin off novella, likely with Shelby, and an author friend recently made a very persuasive case to me for keeping the Justine/Packard story going one or two more books. Though, I am currently working on three other series right now. You know, as a writer, I never want to get stuck in a 10-book series. I like variety.
LS: What characters in the Disillusionist trilogy did you find the easiest to write? Who was the most difficult?
Shelby is definitely the easiest. I think all our characters contain a part of us, and I find that dark view easy to flip to. I’m a total optimist in real life—I’m very, very much a Cubby, but it’s easy for me to access my grim Shelby. The hardest is Carter, the rage-aholic ex-cook. I worked with a lot of Carters, but he’s so alien to me inside.
LS: Every writer struggles with rejection. Can you tell us about your road to publication?
My road to publication was so, so long. Depending on what you want to consider a finished novel, I wrote 2 or 3 finished, fully polished novels, projects that took years to write, and they were always so close to being picked up.
It’s heartbreaking to put years into a novel and then have to finally tuck it away into a drawer. It’s such a cliché, but sticking with writing is really what got me published. Also, I tended to write books that were neither fish nor fowl—the coloring in the lines problem, as noted above. Even before I rediscovered my love of genre, I was writing literary fiction that was not quite literary fiction, yet not quite mystery or romance or sci fi…not quite anything.
When I was finished with Mind Games, I cold-queried an agent, Cameron McClure at Donald Maass. She told me cut the first 100 pages down to 50 and she’d consider repping me. I thought it was tough, smart advice, so I did it. And she took it and sold it. She’s amazing!
LS: The scope of the publishing industry is changing. What is your opinion of the evolution of the e-book and self publishing and their impact on the industry?
These are such good writerly questions! And honestly, I think about this all the time. I go back and forth in my mind. I wish I had a crystal ball!
One thing for sure: self publishing has been heaven for people who enjoy working in short forms. I have self-pubbed those two novellas spun off from my series (Devil’s Luck, and the Sophia novella in Wild & Steamy anthology, pubbed with two author pals). Those stories would not exist without the ereader and self-publishing.
Also, it’s a good time for authors. We have more choices. More power. For example, projects in my mind these days fall into two categories: those that are right for a NY publisher, and those more quirky ones that I might bring out on my own. Ten years ago, I would simply not have considered the more quirky ones. But the quirky ones are the books of my heart as much as my other ones.
So, it’s created a wider array, a greater diversity of fiction. There is a lot of crap being self published for sure, but I think there are also a lot of smart, good books, too. It’s exciting!
LS: What are you reading right now? And what’s your favorite “guilty pleasure” read?
I’m about to start WHAT ANGEL’S FEAR by C.S. Lewis, a mystery I’ve been eyeing and hearing about. In a way, all the books I read are guilty pleasures now. I’m so done reading for anything but pure pleasure. Done! The most pleasurable of my pleasure reading: books by Megan Hart, Meredith Duran and Kresley Cole.
LS: Since the trilogy is complete (unfortunately), what’s up next for you? Will your readers be getting a new series?
Yes, definitely! I’m writing a slightly supernatural thriller/spy romance that takes place in rural Minnesota, and also an urban fantasy adventure series, which is more on the humorous side, and takes place in northern Wisconsin. Kind of a rural gothic. The third series I’m doing is super secret. I have no dates on any of these, though I hope to soon.
Hey, thanks so, so much for having me here. What fun to do this interview with you, and I’m just so honored to have been here as featured author this month!