Those of you who read Dark Horse Presents #9 were treated to an 8 page introduction to Dark Horse‘s upcoming new ongoing; Alabaster. Alabaster follows 16 year old Dancy Flammarion as she journeys through the American south fighting monsters and demons. A number of things stood out to me about the introduction to the world of Alabaster, the first thing being that very simply, it’s creepy. The atmosphere, the dialogue, the characters… it all sent chills down my spine. Another thing that caught my interest, mostly because of how peculiar it is, is the main character. A 16 year old albino female monster hunter? That concept alone piques my interest in the book.
With as unique and interesting as this book is, when our friends over at Dark Horse offered a chance to interview the creative team , I jumped at it. This post features the interview I conducted with author Caitlin Kiernan, while the interview I conducted with illustrator Steve Lieber can be found here.
Rob The Wrecker: Caitlin, I usually like to start interviews with something of a generic question, because it’s usually one the readers are interested in. When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
Caitlin R Kiernan: Honestly, I think I’m still trying to decide if I want to be a writer. But I’ve been telling stories since I was a kid, and writing them down since grade school. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that I decided to try to be published, and I made my first sale in 1993. I think that by 1994 I thought of myself as a professional author. This is all a muddle of dates. What matters is that I’ve always been an avid reader, and being an avid reader left me thinking up and wanting to tell stories of my own. I actually taught myself to read when I was four, I so wanted to know what all those little black things on the paper were, those squiggles that commanded so much of the attention of my parents and other adults. So, I did. I sat down and taught myself to read. I think it’s all been downhill since then.
R.T.W.: Did you know then that you eventually wanted to write comics? If not, when did you decide you wanted to take the leap into the comic book world?
C.R.K.: I never set out to write comics. I didn’t even begin seriously reading them until I was in college. Back in high school I’d read a couple of titles, Howard the Duck and Cerebus. But then a friend was pretty insistent that I read Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman. So, just to get him to back off, I read The Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Ronin, and The Sandman (which was only up to #8 at that point, I think). Oh, and Alan Moore’s Bat Man: Year One and Moonshadow. It was The Sandman and Moonshadow that got me hooked. Not that I thought Neil Gaiman would ask me to script The Dreaming only seven years later. That didn’t happen because I wanted to write comics, but because I’d written a story for the prose anthology The Sandman: Book of Dreams, and Neil asked me based on that. But then, I did want to write comics. By then, I’d been wanting to write comics for years. I said yes before I was even told what I’d be paid. I think I’d have done it for free.
R.T.W.: What are some of your influences as a writer? Do you have any influences that are specifically comic book writers?
C.R.K.: I’m always wary of listing my influences, because the lists are so long that they become essentially meaningless. Who didn’t influence me? Everyone I ever read left a mark, even if I hated their books. Too few people realize they’re not only influenced by what they love, but by what they hate. Anyway, a handful of very important ones, from childhood, would be Ray Bradbury, Richard Adams, Anne McCaffrey’s early books, H. P. Lovecraft, Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Peter S. Beagle…these are some of the writers who made me love science fiction and fantasy, but I could go on and on, and, like I said, the list would become meaningless by excessive inclusion. As for influence by comic book writers, that’s easier. Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Jill Thompson, Grant Morrison, Ted Naifeh, Frank Miller, Dame Darcy, Phil and Kaja Foglio, and Mike Mignola. I think those are the four most important.
R.T.W.: You claim you’re not a horror author, yet much of your work seems to fall into the horror genre. Can you help our readers understand what you mean when you say that?
C.R.K.: No, I’m not a horror writer. Horror is really little more than a marketing category that a lot of readers have bought into, and unlike a lot of other “genres,” it really doesn’t make a lot of sense outside the industry definition, and maybe the expectations of a few readers. Westerns, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy – I dislike the concept of genre in general. I’d prefer to talk about good writing and bad writing and leave it at that. But people don’t want to leave it at that. They want all these neat and tidy shoe boxes. Which, in part, means they want someone to show them where to find what they like to read, because many of them have regrettably narrow tastes in literature. But horror is an emotion, not a genre. You read my stuff, and yes, it’s often – maybe even usually dark – fine. But you might as well call it terror, or awe, or wonder, or sorrow, or regret. Call me a regret writer, or an awe writer. Those emotions are equally present in everything I write. But they’re not industry categories. I resist the label “horror writer” because, not only is it inaccurate, it also gives readers an unrealistic expectation of what they’re going to get from my work. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard, “That wasn’t scary.” Not that I ever meant it to be scary. But that’s what a reader expected, because that’s what someone at this or that publisher slapped on the spine of the book. Readers treat that label like a drug. They want a fix of a particularly strong emotion – fear – and that’s what horror means in this context. But it’s simply not what I do. I don’t sit down and say, “I want to scare readers.” I never do that.
R.T.W.: You have quite an extensive back catalog of work, comics, novels, short stories… do you have a favorite medium to work in?
C.R.K.: I think I’d probably rather be writing short stories than anything else. They’re not so burdened by plot. I’m not a big fan of plot. I’m much more interested in theme and character and mood. To quote Margaret Atwood, plot’s really nothing but “just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.” One thing after another, that gets dull after a while, and novels tend to be ruled by the Tyranny of Plot. So, yeah, short stories. I do like doing comics. I like doing them a lot, and in part that’s because I can leave so much of the tale to the artist, entrust them to communicate a lot of what I usually manage through description, exposition. There’s a brilliance, seeing it on the page, what I might have said, only here it is in this wonderful visual medium. I envy the artists I work with for that ability, especially since I can’t draw. I do paint, but it’s very abstract, expressionist stuff, not the illustration we get in comics.
R.T.W.: Lets get down to your newest work, Alabaster. Where did the idea for this book come from?
C.R.K.: The protagonist, an albino girl named Dancy Flammarion, she actually first appeared in my second novel, Threshold. These days, I’m not too fond of that novel, but my love affair with Dancy never waned. After that novel, I kept writing short stories about her. A teenaged monster hunter wandering a sun-blasted, monster-haunted Deep South landscape, driven by a seraph that might be real and might only be a product of her imagination and insanity. In 2006, a collection of those stories were compiled in a book called Alabaster. Ted Naifeh did illustrations for the book, and I believe that’s when I started to envision Dancy as a comic book character. I never thought it would happen, because after bad experiences at DC and Marvel, I’d walked away from comics and meant never to go back, unless it could be a creator-owned project with virtually no editorial interference. Which is what Dark Horse offered me.
R.T.W.: The main character is a fairly unique young girl. Will her unique characteristics have some effect on her role in the story?
C.R.K.: Yes, definitely. The character is the story, in many ways. This is Dancy’s story, so there’s no way that who she is can’t be the driving force behind the book. Though, I should point out, I approached this project as sort of a Dancy Flammarion reboot. I wanted to set aside a lot of what happened in Threshold and Alabaster – the collection of short stories – and ask myself a sort of “what if” question. What if Dancy had taken another path? What if she went here, instead of going there, and what if other things happened to her, and what if her feelings about herself and the seraph were different. So, that’s what I did. I also aged her, from fourteen going on fifteen, to sixteen going on seventeen. This is an older, wiser, and tireder Dancy. She’s tired of slaying monsters. It’s become a burden more than a crusade, and she regrets ever having begun. But she can’t stop, and the story proceeds from that premise.
R.T.W.: Whats your relationship with Dark Horse? How did Alabaster come to be published through them?
C.R.K.: As I said, I was pretty much disillusioned with comics, and I never thought I’d go back. My last contact with a comics publisher had been with Vertigo in 2005, when they asked me for a pitch, and I gave them one, and then we spent months during which they tried to turn it into a different sort of story. I finally told them to forget it, and went back to a novel I was working on. Anyway, in 2010, I was Guest of Honor at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon, and Rachel Edidin from Dark Horse and I had a great meeting. I was assured whatever I did would be entirely creator owned. We decided we wanted to work together, then spent about a year trying to figure out on what. At some point, I showed her the Alabaster collection and she and Mike Richardson became very excited about the character. That must have been in June of 2011, and they asked for a Dancy pitch. They loved it, and so Alabaster: Wolves was born. Actually, first there was a pitch for Dark Horse Presents #9, a short piece called “Bus Fair”, and then they asked me to expand it, and it became the first eight pages of Alabaster: Wolves. It really has been a weird story, getting to this stage.
R.T.W: Is there anything you can tell us about the book that wasn’t in Dark Horse Presents?
C.R.K.: Well, like I said, that was only the very beginning of a story, which we hope will go on for quite some time. In this story, Dancy finds herself on her own for the first time, and there are a lot of werewolves, but a lot of other bad things, as well. A bayou and ghost town and the ruins of an antebellum plantation haunted by monsters. And she can’t turn around and leave. She’s trapped and has to fight her way out, with only the ghost of a werewolf and a blackbird for backup. In the end, this is a story about a lot more than werewolves. It’s a gateway into a sort of Lovecraftian universe. What you saw in DHP, that was a great introduction, I think. But there’s so much more to come. And it’s hard to characterize the book.
R.T.W.: Are there any other projects you’re working on that you want to tell us about?
C.R.K.: My seventh novel, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir came out a few weeks ago, and it may be the best thing I’ve ever written. We did a wonderful book trailer that people can see via my website. It’s entirely different from what I’m doing in Alabaster: Wolves. I have my next short-story collection, Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart, due out at the end of July. I just made a three-book deal with Penguin for a trilogy, the first of which is a novel I finished last August, Blood Oranges. Now, those three books will be a lot more like Alabaster: Wolves. Essentially, the trilogy is a spoof of the “paranormal romance” thing, and response to what its done to urban fantasy. And it’s funny. I don’t do much funny. Although, there’s quite a bit of humor is Alabaster: Wolves, too. Blood Oranges will be out sometime in 2013. I’ll be writing a science-fiction book called Dinosaurs of Mars soon, illustrated by Bob Eggleton, a project we’ve been talking about since 2007. I’m busy with a lot of short fiction. And Dark Horse is keeping me very, very busy, as well. It seems like I’m living my life at the keyboard these days! But better too much work than no work. I’m feeling very lucky.
I would personally like to thank Ms. Kiernan for taking the time to talk to me about her thrilling new comic. As always Alabaster and all Dark Horse comics are available at your local comic shop on on our digital store here.