Please welcome Kristi Charish to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Owl and the Japanese Circus was published on January 13th by Gallery Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Kristi: Oddly enough I only started writing about 5 years ago, February 2010 to be exact. As to why, I was in the process of writing up my PhD thesis and hated it. I’d always loved books and wanted to write fiction, but I’d never had the courage to actually try. I traded off an hour of thesis writing with an hour of fiction writing (turned into two hours fiction, one hour thesis). Once I started I couldn’t stop and so here I am five years later, almost to the day.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Kristi: Total pantser all the way. ☺
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Kristi: Hmmm. Time is always a huge factor, especially at the moment with OWL being a new release, but in general for me it’s pushing through the parts I don’t think are going that great. There’s a real temptation to stop but the only way to make progress is finish the story. I can always go back and fix it later.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Kristi: In the UF arena I’m a huge fan of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong (she’s Canadian too!), Charlaine Harris, and Diana Rowland. They’ve all influenced my writing in some way and are all on my auto-buy lists.
Outside urban fantasy, some of my favorite authors and influences are Ian Hamilton (Ava Lee series- another Canadian!), James Clavell (King Rat, Tai Pan).
I also love 80’s style adventure movies like Indiana Jones, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Mummy. They are huge influences on my writing.
TQ: Describe Owl and the Japanese Circus in 140 characters or less.
Kristi: Owl: Fun adventure staring a modern ‘Indiana Jane’ who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.
TQ: Tell us something about Owl and the Japanese Circus that is not in the book description.
Kristi: The biggest omission from the back cover (that isn’t a spoiler) is that Owl has a Mau cat named Captain who accompanies her everywhere. He also smells out vampires and takes hunting them down a little too seriously. He’s not mentioned in the book description but has fast become many reader’s favorite character.
TQ: What inspired you to write Owl and the Japanese Circus? Why an ex-archaeology grad student?
Kristi: I had been struggling for a bit with third person narrative and really wanted to try something in first person. I had just finished a writing prompt exercise for a writing course (where the prompt was ‘When death’s clowns came for me’) and had also just finished reading a mystery novel called ‘The Water Rat of Wanchai’ by Ian Hamilton (Ava Lee series). It was the first mystery I’d read in a while and I thought wouldn’t it be great to write something like that! Prompt and mystery novel idea in hand, I started writing about an antiquities thief...with absolutely no monsters. It was going to be a normal book, a break from fantasy...
That lasted all of twenty pages when I realized I’d accidentally written a dragon into the novel.
There are a few other influences that came into writing Owl past that first chapter – most notably Indiana Jones – but that’s how it got started ☺
As to the archaeology background, when I first started university I was actually enrolled in Anthropology/Archaeology. I lasted about a year before I realized it really wasn’t like Indiana Jones and switched to genetics. I guess this is my way of living out vicariously my undergrad Indiana Jones fantasy.
TQ: Your biography states that you are a scientist whose specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology. How does this influence and add to your writing (or not)?
Kristi: Being a biologist influences my writing hugely – but not in the way you might think. I certainly use my background to add in plausible scientific explanations and details for monsters (if you accept the idea there could be vampires how would they work, etc.), but the problem solving that goes into designing experiments in a lab is probably the aspect of my science training that I use the most when plotting out my novels and trouble shooting logic issues.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Owl and the Japanese Circus?
Kristi: As far as research goes, I went lighter on techniques and heavy on researching mythology and the archaeological sites Alix/Owl visits. It was a conscious choice to keep inline with the adventure genre. Plot always comes first when I write and after that comes the mythology and accuracy. I did spend a great deal of time referencing Balinese and Japanese mythology and archaeology sites and in most cases I tried to match the plot to mythology that made the most sense.
Google Maps was also my best friend. You can trip plan travel between Tokyo stations and street view is a glorious thing.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Easiest: Owl. She’s a fun character with next to no filter and writing from her perspective is a blast. There is something very freeing about sticking yourself in the head of someone who just doesn’t give a F*&k what people think ;-)
Hardest: Owl’s cat, Captain, but he’s also one of my favorites. He’s tricky because there’s no dialogue to fall back on and...well...he’s a cat. I ended up basing a lot of Captain’s behaviors on my own 20 lb Ragdoll monster.
TQ: Which question about your novel do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Kristi: The one about Alix’s grad school experience and whether it’s based on mine – (in the book hers is a resounding disaster).
Answer: Man was I ever 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 own experiences (lost thesis a week before a defense anyone?), 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 so I can keep one foot in the research science door.
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 and sabotage is par for the course. Those stories, always whispered in confidence at conferences, are what I based Alix’s academic experience on.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Owl and the Japanese Circus.
‘He feinted back and pulled on the leash in an attempt to break my hold and get back to Charles. Nope, not desensitized. Getting better at manipulation.’
‘People are real happy to make friends with you when a two-thousand-year-old mummy knocks off half their team, but returning the favor always pisses them off. No one likes to pay up out of the goodness of their heart; that’s why I usually get cash up front.’
TQ: What's next?
Kristi: Next January (2016) the sequel to OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS. It sees Owl settling into her new job as a contract thief for Vegas mogul Mr. Kurosawa (with mixed results) when he sets his sights on a trio of artifacts sitting in a Los Angeles recluse’s private collection. Owl is sent to fetch them and finds out that the City of Angels is anything but. For reviewers out there ARCs should be available sometime this summer.
I also had Random House Canada pick up my second UF series, KINCAID STRANGE, which is coming out May 2016.
It’s about a voodoo practitioner named Kincaid Strange who lives in Seattle with her roommate, the ghost of deceased 90’s grunge rocker, Nathan Cade. More about the plot later this year but it involves murder, ghost mayhem, and voodoo zombies!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Kristi: Thanks for having me!
Owl and the Japanese Circus
Gallery Books, January 13, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.
Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.
Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.
Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second installment, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Jan 2016. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.
Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.