Vision: A Resource f

 Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Riding Out the Storm:
An Interview with Rachel Caine

Interviewed By Russell Gifford
Russell Gifford


Rachel Caine's new Weather Warden series is a whirlwind set of adventures featuring Joanne Baldwin, a sassy and snappy young woman with a real problem: she's on the run -- from a killer storm with her name on it. As the story unravels at high-speed, we learn Joanne is -- or was -- a Weather Warden, part of a secret group of overseers who keep the earth's weather from producing storms that build into deadly threats to life. But something has gone very wrong, and now not only the storm is out of control and on her trail, but also her former comrades.  

Ill Wind is more science fiction in feel than the fantasy it is, and its characters, creations and conniptions easily support the series it has spawned. Vision caught up with Rachel Caine and pelted her with a hailstorm of questions. She was gracious enough send her answers without a lightning bolt attached.

Keep up on Rachel's latest books and news on her website, and be sure to join the Stormchasers while you're there!


Vision: You've written and published a number of exciting books, including the new Weather Warden series. How long has it taken you to reach this point? What was the breakthrough that got you in a position to have all this come together? 

RACHEL:  It's been a long, strange trip, no question!  Unlike most authors, my first official sale was actually a novel, not a short story -- a work-for-hire game-related novel that I published in 1990, Stormriders (written as Roxanne Longstreet).   After that, I published fairly steadily in horror, suspense and mystery for nearly ten years.  It's a funny thing: when you talk about "breakthrough" points, I think mine really came in 2001, when I branched out into fantasy with the Weather Warden series.  It's really impossible to define what makes a book successful, but I think I took a lot of joy in this project, and it seems to have registered strongly with readers (at least those with the same offbeat -- maybe twisted -- sense of humor that I have). 

Vision: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Has your career progressed the way you thought it would? 

RACHEL:  I've been interested in writing since I was about 14, when I wrote my first original story, but I really never thought I would be a writer.  I intended to be a professional musician, until -- most unexpectedly -- I sold my first book, and at that point, I had to choose between two equally fascinating and consuming interests.  I've never really regretted the choice, though (and I'm currently learning electric guitar in my not-so-copious spare time). 

As to my career, I'd have to say the answer is an emphatic no, it certainly hasn't gone the way I'd expected.  I think that most people think that selling a book to a publisher to be the triumphant end of the journey, but it's really only the beginning.  My career has led me through several different publishers, all of whom have been wonderful, and multiple agents, who've also been wonderful.  I've learned, through all of these changes, that the best plan is to simply listen, learn and grow as a writer -- and not worry about that carefully-mapped-out strategy that I thought I had.  The journey's much more interesting and more complicated than I'd ever imagined.  And more rewarding, too. 

Vision: What impact has getting published had on your writing? Did working with an editor result in any changes in how you write now, as opposed to how you wrote before? Did you learn things that make it easier to get your stories noticed or accepted? If so, are there any tips you can share for up-and-coming writers? 

RACHEL:  The most obvious impact?  More people read it, which is of course lovely -- and I find that the more I write, the more I want to write.  So over the last ten years my output has increased each year (I think my last count for 2004 was somewhere around 300,000 words).  I don't think that publishing really led me to write differently than I did as an amateur, but certainly I've worked hard to refine my craft -- and continue to work hard at it.  I think that I've learned a lot from my editors, and perhaps even more from working with other authors in workshops.  I've learned how to be critical of my own work in a very honest way, so that I'm always working to improve and expand what I'm doing.  It's not an easy process, and it takes work and patience.   

And a thick skin doesn't hurt. 

As to what I do to get things noticed/accepted... I don't really think I do anything different than anyone else.  I do the work, I submit proposals, I pursue interesting opportunities... I meet and correspond with other authors, too.  And, of course, the very best thing anyone can do to get their work noticed (and hopefully accepted) is write the best work possible.  And read and obey the publishing guidelines!  It's not only going to improve your chances of being accepted, it's also considerate for those overworked editors trying to meet deadlines.   

I recommend strongly that aspiring authors read extensively -- not just fiction, not just nonfiction, in every field.  And talk to other writers -- surround yourself with energetic people who are enthusiastic about the craft and the process.  Go to conferences and conventions.  Take workshops.   

And most of all, love what you do, because it's much better to do this for love than money.  If you're very lucky, money will come... but love rewards you every day. 

Vision: What is your average day like? Do you write every day? 

RACHEL:  Weekdays, I try (and mostly succeed) to get up and write at the coffee house from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 a.m., and then I go to my 40+ hour-a-week day job.  I really don't write at nights -- that time is reserved for returning emails and other necessary errands, writing-related or not. 

Weekends, I write from 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. until around noon.  But that doesn't mean I don't have fun... I usually relax in the afternoons and evenings on the weekends with movies and gatherings with friends.  (And I have a wicked home theater system to help me with that.) 

But I do try to write every day, barring illness. 

Vision: Are there common mistakes you see new writers making? What suggestions would you give them? 

RACHEL:  Tough one!  The most amateurish is probably failing to follow proper manuscript format, or follow submission guidelines -- those really are there for a reason!   The next would be making bone-headed mistakes of spelling and grammar.  Nobody is ever perfect, but do the best you can.  Your manuscript is like your resume -- and you don't want grammatical and spelling errors on your resume.

The most costly mistake I see writers making these days is buying the hype that publishing is "impossible to break into" -- and going instead to e-publishers who offer little or no editorial assistance, and charge the author fees to boot.  Not all POD (print on demand) publishers are bad -- several are very good -- but new writers need to do the due diligence and find out what they're getting into.  Traditional publishing is far from dead, and it's far from impossible to break into.  Getting rejected doesn't mean you should retire from the field -- it just means you have to do better, or be more patient.  Or probably both. 

I do not advise first-time authors to go with e-publishing houses as their first choice.  Start at the top, with traditional publishers.  You never know what will happen. 

Vision: About the Weather Warden books: Ill Wind starts in a '71 Mustang at 70+ miles per hour. Seventy-some pages later we get to Chapter Two, and a chance to take a breath. The rest of the book proceeds at the same speed! Was it always plotted that way from the first draft on, or did it evolve into this incredible tour de force? 

RACHEL:  I'm laughing about the "incredible tour de force" part of that question, but I'll pretend you didn't say it and just talk about the pacing. 

I'm horrible at outlining, and I love to just "get in the car and drive"... and discover story along the way.  For Ill Wind, I had a beginning, middle, and end plotted, but the journey was largely unplanned beyond that.  As a consequence, I think the pacing really picked up -- and it helps that the story involves a character literally racing into the unknown, under a ticking clock.  There's not much of a way to slow down, given that as a starting point.  

Vision: What or who has influenced your writing?  

RACHEL:  I adore so many different authors, it's hard to make a list.  Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs are incredibly fun to read -- my personal favorite has to be The Ice Limit, which I think is a phenomenally well-paced novel.  Lindsay Davis has a marvelous flair for character.  Connie Willis and Patricia Anthony for gorgeous, fluid prose.  Lois McMaster Bujold, for just about everything.  Jim Butcher, who just gets better with every single book.  P.N. Elrod, who has such a flawless command of plot and structure.  I know I'm leaving out many, many people. 

Like most authors of my generation I'm also heavily influenced by television and film -- I think that's inevitable.  Certainly the smart, sexy, snappy rhythms of what's come to be known as "chick lit" have influenced me.  I adore Janet Evanovitch, too.  

Vision: What genres do you write in, and why? Are there any others you'd like to try your hand at? 

I've done horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and suspense, and I'm branching out into romance (or, more accurately, romantic action/adventure) with my upcoming book Red Letter Days:  Devil's Bargain (for Silhouette Bombshell).  I'd certainly like to do more high fantasy (my first love) as well as mystery.  I'd like to try historical fiction as well. 

Vision: You mix enough science into the fiction that if you breezed past the djinn, it could be science fiction instead of fantasy. Do you think of SF and fantasy as two separate fields?  

RACHEL: I think if you take science to its most fundamental components, as expressed in studies of physics like string theory, the line blurs between science and magic.  Fantasy is a rapidly evolving field, and it's expanding into romance, into science fiction, into mystery and horror.  We're seeing the breakdown of traditional genre barriers -- just take a look at the wild variety of romance sub-categories now available, from time travel to vampire fiction, from spies to space adventure.  It's very exciting, I think.  I think genres are useful, but I also think they are -- and should remain -- fluid. 

Vision: Your style is a nice mix of action and adventure, a not-so-subtle physical attraction between the characters, and a nice touch of mirth and somewhat irreverent humor. Yet all this dances around some tragic situations and results -- and still works well. Again -- was that planned from the first draft, or do you layer some of those feelings into the story in later re-writes? 

RACHEL: You've hit on one of the most difficult things to do in these novels -- balancing amusing and interesting characters with situations that inevitably threaten (or deliver) tragedy.  Not an easy line to walk.  But I try to frame the tragedy in the outlook of the character, and she is, I hope, a caring individual who helps put a perspective on what's happening.   

The balance you see in Ill Wind -- for better or worse! -- is pretty much what it was on the very first draft.  The same is true for Heat Stroke and Chill Factor; I tend to sharpen and focus from my first to second drafts, but I usually don't have to add or remove essential elements. 

Vision: The last few questions suggest that your writing style mixes a touch of SF, Fantasy, Romance, and Mystery together. Is it fair to say genres don't necessarily have sharp dividing lines to you?  

RACHEL:  I have a very hard time separating them, it's true.  To me, mixing genres is what gives a story real interest, real fire... and I think all stories have elements of romance and mystery, action and suspense.  It's just how life operates. 

Vision: This style of mixing genre styles obviously works for you -- and better yet, it appears to work for readers, too! Does it work for editors? Or is it something you have to push? If so, do you recommend it, or is it just "how you write"? 

RACHEL:  It's really just how I write.  I always had a hard time coloring within the lines, and luckily, my editors have never really had an issue with it.  In fact, for many of them, it was a selling point!  

Vision: All of which begs the question: which genre do you prefer? Or in a different sense, what genre do you think you write? 

I think I've always really written fantasy, with an element of suspense thrown in -- that holds true whether it's a vampire book like The Undead or a suspense novel with supernatural elements like Bridge of Shadows.  The only straight genre book I've ever really written, I think, would be Exile, Texas, which was a mystery completely without any fantastical elements. 

Vision: How has writing changed who you are or how you see the world? Are there themes that matter most to you? 

RACHEL:  I think writing has really allowed me to really see people more clearly -- almost always for the better.  Redemption, sacrifice, love, honor, courage... These are, for me, the themes that hold the most power.  I really love seeing characters overcome the barriers within themselves. 

Vision: Do you see the Internet as a good tool for upcoming writers? If it is, how should they be using it? 

RACHEL:  I love the Internet.  It's a wonderful research tool, although I use it mostly for fact-checking and background.  For answers to spur-of-the-moment need-to-know questions, it cannot be beat.  (If I need to know how many cupholders there are in a Dodge Viper, I can find out virtually instantly.  Any time, day or night.  How incredibly cool is that?)  It's also an amazing tool for connecting with other writers, readers and fans.   

But I still love books.  For bulk, in-depth research, I have entire libraries of non-fiction works constantly at hand.  I think it's important for writers not to depend on the Internet completely, especially for research. 

Though I don't think it can really be beat for promotion and fast lookups.  And now I'm a total iTunes junkie. 

Vision: What do you have coming out that we should be looking for? What sort of things do you plan, or hope, to write in the future? 

RACHEL:  As usual, I'm busy... In as close an order as I can remember, here's what's coming out in 2005: 

  • Chill Factor - third novel of the Weather Warden series (Roc, January)
  • What Would Sipowicz Do? - "Extra Points for Strippers" - nonfiction essay (BenBella Books, February)
  • Red Letter Days: Devil's Bargain -- book one of two (Silhouette Bombshell, August)
  • Windfall - fourth novel of the Weather Warden series (Roc, November)

There are also two other essay collections from BenBella to be released in 2005, which include my essays on Firefly and Alias. 

So far as books I'm turning in that will be released in 2006, there are the fifth and sixth books of the Warden series, the second Red Letter Days novel, a short story for the upcoming anthology My Big, Fat, Supernatural Wedding, and several more BenBella essays. 

In mid- to late 2004, I released a Stargate SG-1 licensed novel in the British market called Sacrifice Moon (written as Julie Fortune), essays for the BenBella collections Seven Seasons of Buffy, Five Seasons of Angel, and Stepping Through The Stargate: Science, Archaeology and the Military on Stargate SG-1.  Heat Stroke, the second Warden novel, was released in August as well. 

Vision: How many books are in the Weather Warden series, by the way? Or is it open ended? (Have I mentioned I'm still a bit upset about Delilah?) 

RACHEL:  We currently have a contract for six books in the series.  And if you're a fan of the classic Mustang, not to worry; Mustangs will be making a comeback in Book 5! 

Vision: And about the car-porn (lavish amounts of attention and attraction to fast cars)? Are you an unabashed car lover, or do you crave the excitement of speed? And how did you settle on the Mustang?  

RACHEL:  That's the funny thing:  I'm not at all a car lover!  But I know people who are, and they share their enthusiasm and information with me, thank goodness.  Also, I'm not a fashion maven, so there's considerable research that I have to do on that front as well.   

And Mustangs are still making a comeback in Book 5. 

Vision: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Any last words you have for our readers? 

RACHEL:  Thank you so much for letting me blather on and take up your valuable time -- it's a delight to have so many people interested in the Warden series, and I count myself constantly (and inexplicably) lucky to be so blessed.   

Please join me in sharing the blessings by contributing when and where you can to disaster relief organizations.  There's never a time when that goes out of fashion. 

And I wouldn't be here if other people hadn't gone out of their way to take a chance on me, encourage me, and offer their advice.  Too many of them to name, but the community of writers, editors and fans is a wonderful and magical thing.  Try new authors, and read familiar ones as well.  When you find good books, share the word; when you can, share your energy and enthusiasm.  It really does make a difference. 

Best wishes,
Rachel Caine