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Author Interview: Carrie Vaughn *Steel*
Thanks so much for stopping by Literary Cravings, If you could sum up Steel in four words, what would they be?
Thanks for inviting me! Steel in four words: “Teen fencer becomes pirate.”
What most influenced you to write this book? Why pirates?
A couple of things inspired the book: First, I was watching an installment of a certain popular pirate movie franchise, and decided I could write a much better pirate story. (It’s amazing how many of my stories start out this way.) I wanted it to be historically accurate, because I think a lot of popular pirate stories leave out a lot of the gritty historical details. Second, a local fencing school here sends a lot of its teen students to international competitions, and they do very well — I love fencing, and I really admire those kids, and thought someone like them would make a good protagonist. Of course my pirate story would have to center around sword fighting.
In the beginning, what or who spoke to your first? The story or the characters?
Probably the character of Jill. I had a lot of threads to bring together. I wanted to see what would happen if a modern fencer was faced with real sword fighting, I wanted to explore the world of historical pirates through the eyes of a modern character, and Jill really brought those threads together. The story grew out of figuring out how she became trapped in time and how she was going to get home.
Did you do any unique research for Steel?
I read a lot of books on the history of pirates in the 18th century Caribbean. I also read about tall-ship sailing. Though it would have been nice to go sailing on a real tall ship to learn what it was like, I didn’t really have that opportunity in land-locked Colorado, so I had to extrapolate from my experiences sailing on smaller vessels. I already knew how to fence so I didn’t have to do any special research for the fighting, but I had to really think about how to draw on my experiences and describe them in prose.
Was there any scene or part in the Steel that was difficult to write? And if so how did you get through writing it?
I always seem to have to do battle with my plots. It took me a while to refine the question of how Jill was transported to the 18th century, and the implications of the magic involved, which turned out to be pretty serious, but I didn’t know that at first. I had to keep pushing the envelope on the question and not go for the easy answers.
I feel that names hold meaning and importance to characters. How do you come up with or decided on the names for your characters? Do they hold meaning?
I usually don’t think about the names consciously. I try to go for what “sounds” right, and I’ll often change a character’s name several times before finding the right one. (Jill wasn’t originally Jill, for example.) For the characters from the 18th century, the issue of naming is a little easier because some names were much more common than others — at least for the European/European influenced characters. Historically, names can often tell you what country a character came from and their social status. The captain of the ship that Jill ends up on is named Marjory Cooper — that tells you she’s probably English and from a working-class family. So I tried to use the names to tell the reader something about the characters.
Who was the easiest & hardest character for you to create?
Jill was probably the easiest, because I had a pretty clear idea of who I wanted her to be and what I wanted her to do. It was still a challenge to strike a balance with some of her character traits! A couple of other characters, I didn’t have a clear idea right off the bat of what their roles would be, so they went through a couple of iterations until I got more of the story in place: Emory, the pirates’ surgeon prisoner — for a long time I didn’t even know if he was a good guy or a bad guy. And Henry, the young swordsman who befriends Jill. I spent a lot of time thinking about his background, where he came from, and what kind of person he’d be like because of it.
After tackling Steel what are you working on next.
I’m still working hard on my ongoing series about a werewolf named Kitty — I’ve just turned in the tenth book in that series. I’ve got some new ideas for YA novels floating around, but it’s too early to talk about them. Really, I’m always working on something new!