Kristi Charish’s debut novel, Owl and the Japanese Circus, is a supernatural archaeological thriller, with more than a hint of Indiana Jones. We invited Kristi over for a chat about her work and influcences.
Rachel Cotterill: What was the first book to get you hooked on speculative fiction?
Kristi Charish: Alanna, The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. I think this was one of the first examples outside McCaffrey’s work where a really strong, young female protagonist was showcased. Every teenage girl who read the series didn’t just want to follow the adventures- they wanted to be Alanna, me included!
RC: What are your top three favourite books by female speculative fiction writers?
KC: Only three? Ooo, this is going hurt…
Kelley Armstrong’s Haunted (hard to pick one out of this series but I adore Eve)
Kim Harrison’s the Undead Pool (I love the series but the 12th is a stand out for me)
Cherie Priest’s Hell Bent – her one and only foray into urban fantasy and I loved it.
Other female spec fic authors whose work I devour: Patricia Briggs, Anne McCaffery, Diana Rowland, Richelle Meade (Succubus Blues), Carrie Vaughn.
RC:And which fantasy or sci-fi world do you most wish was real?
KC: Marvel…and I get to be an X-man, right…? Failing that I’ll take the Firefly universe. I’m a sucker for a good space western.
RC: Incidentally, I’m now imagining an amazing X-men/Firefly mashup. But let’s talk about Owl. First, how did she get that (nick)name?
KC: It’s actually a play on her last name, Alix Hiboux. She needed a code name and thought that one would do. There’s also another play on the name that’s a little more subtle. In Japanese culture, owls symbolize luck and offer protection against suffering… something Alix needs and kind of what this whole thieving career is helping Alix escape. I wasn’t nearly that clever when I came up with Owl but I like the accidental reference.
RC: As a grad student myself, I love the idea of a respectable academic institution being a front for a huge cover-up. How much of Owl’s academic experience is based on your own?
KC: I was worried what would happen if/when my old lab read this! Though some of the details about how the academic machine works are coloured by my experiences, on the whole my time as a grad student was pretty great. In fact, I’m still working on finishing a paper with my old lab and visit regularly.
But there are stories supervisors tell their students. About labs where experiments go awry for no reason and controls disappear overnight. Where grad students are pitted against grad student. Those stories, always whispered in confidence at conferences, are what I based Alix’s academic experience on.
RC: Online gaming is another huge part of Owl’s life. Did you have to do a lot of difficult research for that part?
KC: Let me put it this way. I’m checking the game clock as I write this and I’m now 89 hours into Dragon Age Inquisition. I’m only 89 hours into DAI because we keep trading off the PS4 so my counterpart can get a few hours of Far Cry 4 in and I won’t miss the cut scenes…Why, oh why did Bioware and Ubisoft do this to me? Release two blockbuster games on the same day? We only have one PS4…
So, in answer to your question, yes. Hours and hours of torturous research. ;-)
RC: How did you pick the locations? Which came first — plot or mythology?
KC: Plot always comes first when I write, and after that comes the mythology. In a lot of cases I tried to match the plot to mythology that made the most sense (such as in Bali). Once the major plot points were in though the mythology helped tighten the edits on the second pass.
And as far as locations go, I picked them by my own interest and places that I thought would be interesting and make sense for Alix to travel to.
RC: And what would your first actions be, if you found yourself trapped in an ancient temple?
KC: …Is check for treasure an option? (It’s possible I play too many video games with a loot option.) I think if found in an ancient temple I’d go with the first rule of the Indiana Jones school of archaeology: check for snakes. Then hope I find the door release…not the trap door release, or the release for the giant bowling ball of doom…
I have the option to get out of the temple with the loot, right? :-)
RC: Are there more Owl stories in the pipeline? Any hints as to where in the world she might be going next…?
KC: Yes! The sequel called Owl and the City of Angels is already handed in to my publisher. I can’t give you too many details, but there is some definite globetrotting in Owl 2. As far as hints go, locations include one of the most famous archeology locations in the world (and the location of one of my favorite movies).
RC: Thanks, Kristi! I for one can’t wait to read more.
Owl and the City of Angels is due out in October, and already available to preorder.