Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The In Character Interview with Kristi Charish

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Kristi Charish

What if Indiana Jones went to the dark side, hiring out as an international antiquities thief instead of their saviour? And he happened to be a tough, beautiful young woman? You just might end up with Owl, aka Alix Hiboux, the dynamic heroine of Kristi Charish's urban fantasy novels. Owl returns in Owl and the City of Angels (Simon & Schuster Canada), the latest instalment in Charish's series. This time around Owl is tasked with stealing ancient treasures which originated from the Syrian City of the Dead. She runs into a few roadblocks along the way however, including a potential army of the undead arising in Los Angeles. It's a rollicking adventure, and Owl continues to grow as a fresh, funny and relatable protagonist, forecasting more great things to come for this series.

Today we speak with Kristi as part of our In Character interview, and she tells us about how a scientific background helps her keep her characters in check, the things she has in common with Owl (and how they're different) and her all-time favourite characters in fiction.

Open Book:

Tell us about the main character in your new book.

Kristi Charish:

The main character in my new book, Owl and the City of Angels, the second in the Owl series, is Alix Hiboux. Alix is an archaeology graduate student turned international antiquities thief who now goes by the name Owl. She has one rule; no supernatural jobs ever, as that’s how she ended up scapegoated and kicked out of her PhD in the first place. Of course, this means she ends up neck deep in the supernatural when one of her clients insists she find an ancient scroll that was stolen 3000 years ago and makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

Alix/Owl is not your average urban fantasy heroine. She is far from perfect, prone to swearing, has a creative set of morals, and often acts before she thinks- understandable since she’s had a rough year running from both The International Archaeology Association (an organization charged with keeping supernaturals and supernatural artifacts under wraps) and a pack of vampires who want her dead. She is also loyal to a fault and determined as all hell to drag herself out of the messes she’s made for herself. She really does try to do the right thing…it’s just not always obvious what the right thing is.


Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?


No — or not really. Occasionally my brain tries to take a story in a particular direction — sometimes I decide it’s a great idea and other times I turn my brain right back around, but make no mistake about it: There is only one cowboy driving the rodeo that is my novel and that’s me. I sometimes wonder if my attitude towards who’s in charge, me or the story, comes down to my background in science. I’m used to pushing the test subjects (ie: my experiments) around and apply a lot of the same techniques to wrangling my characters.


How do you choose names for your characters?


For the most part it’s luck. With Alix/Owl I was playing an RPG video game where the main character was named Hawk. I thought that was such a great idea, to name a character after a bird, but I couldn’t use Hawk. Owl struck me as appropriate because not only are they nocturnal but they also are clever and in Japanese mythology can be signs of luck and protection from suffering which I thought was appropriate.

Usually a name comes to mind as I’m designing a character and the next thing I know that’s it. There’s no changing it…for that reason I make a real effort not to think about ex-boyfriends and relatives when working on villains.


What is your approach to crafting dialogue, particularly for your main character? Do you have any tips about writing dialogue for aspiring and emerging writers?


My go to is first person narrative so dialogue — internal and external — is a really critical part of story telling for me. If I miss my beats or the dialogue isn’t natural sounding then the story and characters will fall flat. As to how I craft it, this is probably where we all find out I’m the odd ball out of the writing game... I grew up watching adventure movies like Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Big Trouble in Little China, and, outside of action scenes, whether that type of movie hits or falls flat depends on the dialogue so often those are the inspirations I have running in the back of my head. I also tend to think and write as if a movie is playing in my head. My characters have voices, physical characteristics, etc and that helps me craft dialogue in the page.


Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?


Yes and no. On the similarities side, Owl is gamer who loves an RPG (role playing game), has a pet cat named Captain, and prefers beer and tequila to other beverages. I love RPG videogames, have a cat named Captain Flash who I based Captain in the books on, and I am a big fan of beer. I even spent about a year or so in the Archaeology program at SFU before switching to science which is why I made Owl an archaeologist (that and Indiana Jones).

Owl is often referred to as a train wreck by those around her which has some merit — she’s impulsive, brash, often speaks before thinking, and she’s at the point of her life where behaving and playing by the rules has only gotten her thrown under the bus. She decides to start telling people what she really thinks because playing by the rules doesn’t protect you. I’m not what I’d call a train wreck but I think the motivation and feelings behind her behavior is something a lot of people of my generation can relate to, including me — for example all of us who got a higher degree of education and then found out afterwards that somewhere during the 10 years it took to get those degrees the jobs all dried up.

Owl isn’t me — I didn’t write myself into the book (though I did write my cat in…) but Owl did come out of my head so a lot of me is in there.


Who are some of the most memorable characters you've come across as a reader?


Most memorable = favourite for me.

Dirk Straun (Tai Pan) and The King (King Rat), both James Clavell novels. A memorable character for me is one I want to read over and over again. I don’t know how many times I’ve read these.


What are you working on now?


At the moment I’ve got two projects on the go: the third book in the Owl series, Owl and the Electric Samurai, and book two in my Kincaid Strange urban fantasy series, Lipstick Voodoo — a series about a voodoo practitioner living in Seattle with the ghost of a deceased grunge rocker.

Kristi Charish s the author of Owl and the Japanese Circus and the Canadian co-hosting half of the Hugo nominated Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing Podcast. Kristi is also 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.

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