Bestselling author Julie Kagawa made her debut in 2010 with The Iron King, kicking off what would become her popular Iron Fey series for teens. Last year she left the world of fairies and released The Immortal Rules, the first book in a dystopian vampire trilogy, Blood of Eden. The new series focuses on Allie Sekemoto, a human who became a vampire to survive in a broken-down and dangerous world, and the second book, The Eternity Cure, has just been published by Harlequin Teen. Kagawa spoke to PW by phone from her home in Kentucky about her multiple series, miniature dragons, crowdfunding, and what lies ahead for her as an author.
You’ve certainly been busy for the last few years, publishing seven novels, three novellas, and a short story for three different series. Are you writing full-time? What’s your writing routine like?
Writing is my full-time job, so I have regular work hours, generally the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day. I get up, get coffee, and go into my home office. I check email and Twitter before I start work, but I have to try not to get too distracted. Some writers like to work in other places like coffee shops, but I can’t – I’d end up people-watching. And if I were at a bookstore I’d be reading. Sometimes I have some music on, but usually I like it quiet.
How did you end up writing YA?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened that way. When I wrote my first story, all the characters were teenagers because I think 16, 17 is a great age. The YA category wasn’t a big thing then like it is now, and I didn’t know that’s what I was writing – it was my agent [Laurie McLean at Larsen Pomada Literary] who told me [I was writing YA] when she picked up a short story I’d written. And then I got really lucky: when I wrote The Iron King, Harlequin was just starting to look around for YA, and they picked it up in a couple of weeks.
Have you noticed many of your readers aren’t actually teens? Why do you think YA appeals to so many adult readers?
I see both teens and adults blogging about my books and showing up at signings and events. One woman who wrote me is 65 years old. The YA genre is very sophisticated and has such a wide range that there’s something for almost everyone. I almost exclusively read YA now myself.
Your short story, Dawn of Eden, recently published in the collection ’Til the World Ends (Harlequin Luna, Jan.), is a prequel to The Immortal Rules, but is adult fiction, not YA. Why did you decide to take that approach?
Luna asked me to write a story for the anthology, and I wanted to stretch myself and see if I could write in the adult genre. There’s definitely content in there that wouldn’t work for Harlequin Teen. I’m glad I did it, and I’m happy with how it came out, but writing that made me realize I wanted to write YA more [than adult fiction].
Shifting from faeries to vampires is quite a change – how did that happen, and were you at all apprehensive about entering a genre that has become so popular?
I wasn’t originally going to write a vampire book – in fact, I told myself I wasn’t going to do that because there are so many out there, and I didn’t feel I had anything to add. Twilight was in full swing, and I didn’t want to follow the crowd. When Iron Fey wrapped up, I was talking to my agent about what I wanted to write next, and I told her about this idea I had of a post-apocalyptic, virus-ridden world in ruins. She asked what I thought about vampires, and I said “Arrgh,” but [that] I’d think about it. So I looked at the vampire idea and the post-apocalyptic idea and wondered what would happen if I squashed them together, and that’s literally how the Blood of Eden series came about. I was a little bit apprehensive because vampires were so popular, but I decided my vampires would be old-school: nasty, blood-drinking creatures that burst into flames in the sun.
What was the most challenging part of writing the Blood of Eden series?
It was definitely all the research. I had to make it very realistic, because this destroyed world is our world, but fallen into ruin. I needed to know how buildings would decay and fall down, how long would it take for people to walk big distances, things like that. The Discovery Channel had a miniseries called Life After People that was a huge help in creating the world of Blood of Eden. I wanted to keep it as realistic as possible, even though we’re talking about vampires – realistic science versus fantasy science. There’s no flying, no changing into bats or mist, because I couldn’t see how that was possible.
Do you have your stories fully mapped out, or do you still get surprised by your characters?
I usually start with an ending, then outline high points of things that happen, and kind of make up the rest as I go along. Occasionally the characters surprise me, and I wonder how we got here. Other times the characters are stubborn and won’t do something I want them to in the story. When that happens, it’s usually because I wanted them to do something that was entirely out of character, and I have to step back and figure out how the character would actually do it.
In addition to your writing, you express yourself in other art forms like drawing, and have even started selling miniature polymer clay figures on Etsy. How did that get started?
That started off as a hobby – I wanted something to do with my hands, and I loved to sculpt as a kid. So I got some Sculpey and made some creatures and put them up on my blog, and the fans asked me if they could buy them. I didn’t even know what Etsy was, but they were encouraging me to use it, so I did research. I was making dragons along with chibi [small and cute] versions of my characters for myself, and the shelf started to fill up. So I offered them for sale, and it’s been very successful. I have to make them small because polymer clay isn’t sturdy – the bigger they get, the easier it is to break them.
Speaking of your blog, you’re very involved with your fans, including a recent Twitter party for the book launch. How do you feel about being so involved and accessible?
Twitter parties are crazy, but always fun. I encourage my fans to seek me out because I love to interact with them, though sometimes I do have to disappear into the writing cave. And I want to say thank you to all my readers and fans because I wouldn’t have gotten this far and be where I am without them.
And another art form, also involving support from your fans – you have just successfully used crowdfunding to finance the production of a manga-style, four-part graphic novel adaptation of The Iron King, which is due out this summer. How did that originate, and how involved are you in the project?
I have always loved manga and anime, and it was one of my greatest dreams to see my books in one of those forms. My agent reached out to Bluewater Productions to see if they were interested. They agreed to do it, and it was their idea to try crowdfunding. I’ve spoken to the person doing the adaptation about what words will go with what images, and they send me the images to approve – they are really gorgeous. Bluewater is really respectful, and they really want my vision to translate to the manga.
You also have a new spinoff trilogy, Call of the Forgotten, set in your Iron Fey world. Why did you decide to return to those characters?
The Iron Fey series ended up being very popular, and my publisher wanted to know if I had any more stories in that world. I had been thinking about what happened to Ethan when Meghan left him behind. He was traumatized, full of angst and bitterness, and I had been curious about what kind of person he would grow up to be, so it was logical to switch to his perspective and see what happened to him.
What can you tell us about the next Blood of Eden book?
I can tell you the title for the third book is The Forever Song, and it will probably come out in spring 2014. I can’t say anything else because it would involve spoilers for the big surprises in The Eternity Cure, but I do hope that I can make readers cry as much in the third book as in the second because their tears feed my muse.
You’ve been so busy – what do you do to unwind?
I have my clay chibis, I’m an avid video gamer – I have a PS2 and an Xbox 360. I keep chickens, I’m planting a garden this weekend, and I have animals – two dogs and a cat. Someday I’d like to have other animals, but I’m too busy right now. I also take classes in kung fu and Kali several times a week. Kali is a Philippine martial art with swords, knives, and sticks, and it’s actually really helpful for the books I write, especially Call of the Forgotten. Ethan studies Kali, and my Guro [teacher] helped me with the research on that. Taking any martial art also really helps with action scenes – how to move and how swing a weapon. We spar once a month in armor.
So what’s on your plate right now? And what do your future plans look like?
Things have been quite busy and are only going to get busier! I am working on The Forever Song right now; then I need to write the third book of the Call of the Forgotten. The Blood of Eden series was optioned by Palomar Pictures last year, and they’re working on that now. I’ve also just signed a deal for a new five-book series, which ended up being optioned by Universal based on a proposal and a 50-page rough draft, but there’s not much going on there yet because the books haven’t been written. It’s very exciting, and I’m very pleased, but everything about the new series is very hush-hush and being kept secret for now. All I can say is that it’s set in the present-day with mythological creatures hiding among us. It should arrive sometime in 2015, after I’ve wrapped up the other two series. As an April Fool’s joke, I wrote in my blog that the creatures were manticores. Not true, but people were digging it, so I might have to actually write that book someday!
The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa. Harlequin Teen, $16.99 Apr. ISBN 978-0-373-21069-5