Rachel Caine e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (February, 2004)
She's written stories based on role playing games, horror fiction, and also non-fiction essays about some of today's most popular television series like Star Gate SG 1 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now Rachel Caine (Roxanne Longstreet Conrad) has broadened her creative horizons with a brand new fantasy series featuring humans who can control earth, water, wind or fire, and in rare cases, all four elements. In Ill Wind, the first in her Weather Warden series, Rachel Caine melds a kick-butt heroine, plenty of action, plot twists, and the many moods of Mother Nature into a nifty brew with all sorts of future possibilities -- a few of which she comments on here.
Q: Your Weather Warden idea germinated from a short story -- can you tell us a bit more about how the story and then the series branched out and grew?
A: Sure! The original idea was very simple -- quirky, funny female character who is haunted by bad weather wherever she goes. (Even the storm chasers threw her out, eventually.) The biggest difference was that when I expanded it into a novel-length idea, the main character was suffering from leukemia, and was looking for her long-lost brother to provide a bone marrow transplant. (The weather elements added a kind of magical realism element to the whole affair.) I really liked the energy of the story and the character, but we kept getting the same feedback from publishers, over and over: it's great except that we can't have a main character with cancer! (I even explained that she doesn't, die, but actually recovers, but that didn't seem to reassure them.)
So, eventually, I sat back and looked at it with fresh eyes and reset the universe into a fantasy context. The cancer became a *Demon Mark* -- still potentially fatal, still debilitating, but no longer something so real-world as to cause fainting spells in the marketing department. It worked great with the weather theme that I'd had all along, and before you know it, the crazy world of the Wardens, complete with Djinn, was back out on the streets looking for work. Which it found almost immediately, to my surprise!
Q: The Weather Wardens are born with the power to control the negative aspects of the Earth's climate and are trained by the Wardens Association to use their special skills to harness or lessen the fury of Mother Nature. Have I got your concept about right?
A: Just about right, yes! What the Wardens do basically boils down to manipulation of the world at the subatomic level. They could potentially use that power for either good *or* evil, but -- lucky for us -- their stated goal is to make Mother Nature behave herself. (In the Warden's world, Mother Nature is, in fact, a heck of a lot meaner than we've come to expect. That we survive at all seems to owe a lot to the Wardens -- the thin line of defence between "us" and "her.")
Q: Your Wardens are very powerful individuals in their own right so why add the Djinn? They're even more powerful, yet like the fabled genie are in the service of and (according to the laws of your world) must remain loyal to their masters. Did you feel you needed some sort of balance or control mechanism for the Wardens that goes beyond the Association? Or do you see the Djinn as a sort of wild card?
A: You'll find out a lot more about the Djinn in the next two books. The Djinn are, indeed, very powerful, but on their own -- without masters -- they're restricted to the level of power that the best of the Wardens have, and they're extremely vulnerable. The Wardens have spent many years thinking they "own" all of the Djinn there are, and using them with ruthless abandon.
Q: How do the Djinn feel about that?
A: Well ... let's just say that the Wardens might have stepped on a few toes along the way, and they'd better hope that it doesn't come back to bite them. (But you know it will).
Q: Sounds like Joanne and David (the stars of Ill Wind) are making a return appearance -- can you tell us what sort of calamity they'll face in Heat Stroke?
A: Without giving away too much from the first book, I can tell you that Joanne's coping with a whole new set of rules in Heat Stroke -- learning how to master an entirely new range of powers and limitations. She and her new beau David will run up against a few very dangerous people, but mostly, they'll discover that there are some pretty severe consequences to breaking the laws of nature. Even for the purest of reasons.
Q: Chill Factor is the third in the Weather Warden series -- what's this novel about?
A: Chill Factor puts Joanne and David squarely in the cross-hairs of two feuding organizations -- three if you count the Djinn! We also get to have a lot of fun in Las Vegas, which is hardly prepared to become the bad-weather battleground of the world. Oh, and there's (of course) romance -- I'm really enjoying the developing steamy (stormy?) relationship between Joanne and David.
Q: Any plans to create a series focusing only on the Djinn and their origins and adventures?
A: I think their interaction with -- and friction with -- humanity is what makes the Djinn interesting. Like tigers, they're both powerful and vulnerable creatures, and when you add in a deadly fascination with humanity, that's a very potent combination. Anything's possible, but I believe that they'll continue to have their adventures within the context of the Wardens universe ... at least for now!
Q: Do you and your publisher have a set number of stories mapped out for the Weather Wardens or do you see many more plots developing in the far horizon?
A: I'm already working on the next book; I have at least three more mapped out, and I can certainly see the stories continuing on, if readers are patient and kind. My publisher has been really great at delivering excellent packaging and support for the books, and I'm optimistic that we'll be able to continue this adventure after these three books.
Q: Your theme for this series says you have a certain fascination for the weather and some of the havoc it can wreak. Why aren't you a meteorologist or at the least a storm tracker?
A: Frankly, time! Any storm chaser will tell you that you spend a lot of time cruising around in impending bad weather, looking for the right combination of events to witness something extraordinary. And meteorology also contains a lot of math, which is something of a horror for me. I love physics, though. Big physics freak, me!
Somewhere down the line, probably in book 4, I'm going to introduce Joanne to TV meteorology as a job choice, so I expect I'll become more familiar with that than I ever thought possible. And what the heck ... if I happen to run across some spare time, I'll probably spend it driving around looking for a good solid storm.
Q: Is there a big difference between writing fantasy and horror? Or would you rather not be categorized as a genre writer? Are you working on any new suspense or horror stories?
A: I actually don't have any issues with being a genre writer - the genres are the lifeblood of the publishing industry, and it's a good, honest place to be. I'm not certain that many of my books fit neatly inside the genre lines, as I tend to introduce non-traditional elements in nearly everything I do. That frustrates those poor marketing folks no end. (I seem to be hard on them!) But I'm very proud to be a mystery writer, a horror writer, a vampire writer, a fantasy writer. And I do continue to write virtually anything and everything. I'm working on a new short story right now that's definitely both science fiction and horror, and I'm mapping out another (semi) straight mystery novel, as well.
Q: You're also a musician and have worked with Henry Mancini, Peter Nero and John Williams. What's it like working with these legendary gentleman? Is writing a natural progression for you? Which form of artistic expression do you prefer?
A: I still love music; I lived and breathed it for more than 15 years, the last five professionally. I do miss it, deeply, and if I ever am fortunate enough to be able to have the time again, I'd love to take lessons and practice my way back up to professional status, so that I could play in orchestras and small groups again.
Working with those musical legends was such a special -- if terrifying -- treat. As a newly-minted professional, there was nothing more horrifying than walking on stage, being introduced to Henry Mancini, and finding out that I'd be playing the E-flat clarinet solo in Baby Elephant Walk with no rehearsal and no glimpse of the music beforehand, at a concert two hours away. And E-flat clarinet was not my usual instrument.
As to making choices, I'm sure I'd still choose writing as my calling. The writing has made my life so rich and wonderful, and introduced me to so many great people.
Q: You've contributed non-fiction material for Star Gate SG1 and have added your name to anthologies for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, the Angel television series. Obviously you're a fan of all three fantasy programs; why do you think these series were and still remain so popular?
A: I love shows that play against expectations. All three of the shows you mention ground themselves in irony and use it to create a world indistinguishable from our own; they also feature characters who aren't just real and compelling, they're actually likable. They're extremely well-written, with a wry self-referential humour that never underestimates its audience. That's a winning combination for any genre.
Although I love police dramas, ultimately, those are the same sort of stories in a very familiar universe each week. In Star Gate, Buffy and Angel, that world is never the same, week to week ... there are always surprises, revelations, upheavals. It's the purest form of myth-making, and it's paid off ... while Buffy might never have delivered the ratings of Survivor, it's seeped into our popular consciousness, much as the X-Files has done. You don't often find a television show that can do that, and I think that when one arrives, we should all take notice. Sadly, most people dismiss these shows as juvenile, which is a huge mistake; I watch a lot of television, and it isn't the genre that determines whether something is worthwhile or not; it's simply quality.
In a time when so much of what's out there is derivative, I think originality will always draw a crowd. Maybe not as large a crowd as it deserves, but ten years from now, you'll still find these shows alive and pulling in new fans. I don't think you can say the same for reality shows, or for many of the very derivative, topical dramas and sitcoms.
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you aren't creating fictional worlds?
A: Um, there's something else to life ...? Kidding! I read constantly - both fiction and nonfictions -- and I watch a lot of television and watch a lot of movies (obviously!). Bowling, although I'm awful at it ... and I love to fence (swords, not split rails). And I love spending time with my friends and family and pets. I also love doing conventions, and I'm very pleased that I'm getting to do more of them as time goes along ... meeting people and talking about science fiction, fantasy, mystery and writing is a great way to spend the time.
Well, I think that's it. Thank you for asking me to talk to you, and remember - always keep an umbrella handy for those sudden storms ...Find out more about Rachel Caine and her Weather Warden series at her Stormcenter website.
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