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the influence interview

Kelley Armstrong: ‘Fantasy is the fuel for my passion’ Add to ...

Nobody co-mingles genres like Sudbury’s own Kelley Armstrong. A bushel of fantasy, a peck of crime, a dash of romance, and you have a recipe for a bestseller. Her latest book, Omens, was praised by the Globe and Mail’s reviewer Margaret Cannon as a “clever whodunit.” We asked the author about the influences that have shaped her as a writer.

When you started to write, which writers did you revere?

I’ve been telling stories since before I was old enough to write them down. As a child, there weren’t authors that I admired as writers – I simply loved their books. I don’t think I made any connection between my writing and theirs. They were authors. I was just a kid scribbling stories. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I started admiring writers as inspirations for my own work, and my earliest influences there were Stephen King, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Richard Adams.

Did you imitate any of them?

The first piece of “long” fiction I wrote was a novella parody of Stephen King’s Christine. I was in high school, and my version was about a kid with a possessed locker instead of a possessed car. It was also my first attempt at humour, which fell completely flat because no one who read it realized it was a parody!

What is the most dangerous influence or type of influence for a young writer?

The most dangerous influence for young writers is anyone who tries to steer them away from the type of stories they want to tell. I joke in my bio that all attempts to make me produce “normal” stories failed, but there’s a deep vein of truth there, too. I did have teachers and writing instructors and fellow writers who were very supportive of my work. But I also had those who tried to persuade me to excise any element of the fantastical from my work. To them, writing fantasy or horror was for children and hacks, and I needed to outgrow it and tell “real” stories. I spent a lot of time trying to tell those “real” stories, while I secretly wrote about werewolves and ghosts and post-apocalyptic universes. It took many years to accept that fantasy is the fuel for my storytelling passion, and without that, I really am a hack, writing for money or approval rather than for the pure delight of storytelling. Young writers need to be encouraged to write – just write – with no restrictions on form, style or content.

Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?

I read for story more than for writing, so I don’t often say “I love how this author puts words together.” I can’t abide bad writing, no matter how good the story, but I can’t abide a bad story either, no matter how good the writing. So to answer this I’ll pick one of the very few authors whose writing I notice – in a good way: Guy Gavriel Kay. When I’m asked who I’d like to write like, that’s my go-to answer. I do love how he puts words together. However, I also know that if I tried to imitate his style, I’d make a fool of myself. I can admire a style while knowing better than to ever attempt to emulate it.

When you are in a period of writing, do you change your reading habits for fear of being unintentionally influenced?

I’m more likely to be influenced by content than style, so when I’m writing, I avoid everything vaguely similar. If I’m writing Norse mythology, I avoid all novels that contain Norse mythology. If my book is set in Chicago, I avoid all novels set in Chicago. Instead, I’ll immerse myself in non-fiction on the subjects, while reading fiction that is as different as possible. Otherwise, I fear I’ll unintentionally “borrow” elements from whatever I’m reading.

This interview, conducted by Globe Books, has been condensed and edited.

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