We’re happy to have superstar author Caitlin Kittredge here today on Lytherus with an exclusive interview. She writes both adult and YA fantasy, but for today’s interview we’re going to focus on the world of her Iron Codex series (currently The Iron Thorn and The Nightmare Garden are out ). She talks about what it’s like to blend different fantasy elements and of course some tidbits about writing as well. If you haven’t read the first book in this series, there will be some mild spoilers in regards to general plot things, so beware!
Take it away Caitlin!
1: For those who are maybe not familiar with your Iron Codex series, give a little description of the story in your own words.
The Iron Codex is the story of Aoife Grayson, a girl who believes her family is plagued by madness, but comes to find that her bloodline is actually entwined with the Fae, inhuman creatures who are striving to find a way to break through to the human world. Once Aoife unwittingly opens the door, she finds that there are much wickeder and older creatures out there too, just waiting to destroy the world unless she can stop them. I’d describe the books as steampunk with a strong fantasy element, and a Lovecraftian twist.
I really wanted to write a steampunk book, because it seemed like so much fun, but I also am a fantasy novelist at heart, so the fantastic and magic elements crept in as the first book came together. Faeries are usually portrayed as being very anti-technology, in some lores even allergic to iron, so setting them up as the antagonists of The Iron Thorn felt right.
3: On a similar note, there are so many amazingly odd types of beings in The Iron Codex world. Where did the inspiration come from to use so many various oddities? Was it difficult trying to get so many strange creatures to mesh?
Some of what you see, such as shoggoths and the Old Ones, are Lovecraftian creations. I used his mythos as a jumping off point, but I ended up taking a lot of lore from other areas as well. The Fae are most definitely the old-school, wicked fairies rather than the warm fuzzy version, and some creatures I just made up based off of stories like Springheel Jack, rusalkas or energy vampires because I wanted Aoife’s world to feel new and not re-use a bunch of established creatures such as vampires or shapeshifters as background.
4: Talk to us a little bit about Aoife. She’s such a great, complicated character, dealing with many personal issues in book one and a heavy burden of guilt in book two, among many other internal struggles. She’s also a lot stronger than she gives herself credit for. Take us through your journey of discovering and then creating the driving force of this series.
My editor likes to remind me that in the first draft I turned in, Aoife was a brat—she basically sat around and complained and didn’t have any agency. I did an extensive rewrite of her character for The Iron Thorn, and I tried to portray her as someone who’s only human tasked with these inhuman responsibilities—to protect her family, to stop an invasion of her world by an ancient evil, and still try to figure things out as a teenage girl, which isn’t easy. That will make anyone prickly, but most of all I see Aoife as a survivor—somebody who’s maybe not “kick ass” but will always be strong when it really matters. To me, those are the most intriguing type of heroines to write.
5: I am also intrigued by the fact that none of the main characters are 100% one thing. Aoife and Conrad are half-fae, Dean’s half Erlkin, and Cal is, well, a wolf in man’s clothing, so to speak. How do you create characters that have these completely fantasy elements to them, and yet remain completely relatable? Was it hard to keep the human in things that are not all human, to balance the human side with the fantasy side?
I mean, we all have monsters inside us, and the potential to change from one thing to another. I think in a sense I just took that to a more literal place in the Iron Codex world—most of my villains are “pure blood” whatever, but they’re the ones who are really two-faced, at the core. I enjoyed playing with the metaphor of Aoife literally being a half-blood, and reviled by humans and Fae alike because of it, but being the only one who could save both of their butts when things got bad.
6: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but if you could pick a Weird for yourself, what would it be (for those of you unfamiliar, a Weird is a natural ability to do something extra-ordinary, like start fire or maneuver machinery with your thoughts)?
My Weird would be to make the perfect omelette, every time.
7: You’re also the author of multiple successful adult series. What is it like, balancing various series? Was switching to YA after having written for adults a difficult adjustment?
It was a very different sort of book, but it wasn’t hard. YA and adult use totally different writing muscles in a lot of ways, but at the core it’s just about telling a good story, a story that’s heartfelt and relevant to its audience, be it teens or adults or both. As for balancing series, well, I don’t sleep much.
8: Do you work from an outline, or do you free-write? What’s a typical work day look like for you?
I tend to write a very basic bullet-point “list of events” before I start and go from there. I definitely am not a detailed outliner. Typically, I try to spend a couple of hours in the morning dealing with mundane stuff like email, laundry, cat-herding (literally—three cats underfoot at all times!) and then I try to finish my work day around 3-4pm, when I start to get lazy brain. I’m really into DIY projects and design, so after my writing time I usually will do some work on my house or mess around in the kitchen with new recipes.
9: What’s on your reading shelf at the moment?
Black Heart by Holly Black, which is the last book in her Curse Workers YA series. Absolutely amazing fantasy novels, and totally outside the box as far as YA fantasy goes. I love ’em.
10: What are you currently working on? Are there any little tidbits you can give us about The Mirrored Shard?
I’m working on a new adult urban fantasy series based around the legend of black dogs, or hellhounds, with a big dash of American Southern folklore and hoodoo magic, and a brand new, very secret YA novel that’s pretty much the diametric opposite of the Iron Codex. It’s contemporary, and it involves star-crossed love and a big family secret. I’m calling it my homage to Dark Shadows, even though there’s not a vampire in sight.
Anything else you’d like to say to your lovely fans?
You are lovely! Thanks for reading!