Caitlin R. Kiernan 

Atlanta dark fantasy novelist

Drawing on influences as diverse as Lewis Carroll and H.P. Lovecraft, Atlanta novelist Caitlin R. Kiernan has just published her sixth dark fantasy novel, Daughter of Hounds (Penguin/Roc, $14, 448 pp.), about sinister events surrounding Emmie, an unusually perceptive 8-year-old girl, and Soldier, a violent young woman employed by subterranean creatures. Her other credits range from fronting the Athens, Ga.-based "Goth/folk/blues" band Death's Little Sister to writing for The Dreaming, a Sandman spin-off comic book for DC Comics.

Many of your books have a prominent supernatural element, but you don't like the label "horror." How would you describe them for someone new to your work?

I'm usually comfortable just calling it fiction. But when I have to talk genre, I usually call it dark fantasy. I think "horror" is surely the most indefensible of all genre categories. It's an emotion you may try to elicit, but it's not a genre. And my novels are always about a lot more than "horror." When I write something like Daughter of Hounds, my goal isn't to turn out a scary story. This is a story about loss of innocence and growing up, about betrayal and the price of secrecy, and sure, there are horrific elements. I just don't see them as more important than all the rest.

How does your scientific training as a paleontologist influence your work? Do your writing and your scientific interests come from the same "place?"

Yes, I think they do come from the same place, from a lifelong search for awe and wonder. Whether I'm studying the skeleton of a reptile that died 100 million years ago or fashioning a fictional subterranean world peopled with ghouls and changelings, it's that same fundamental drive at work. Wonder and awe have always been two of my favorite drugs. As for my training as a paleontologist influencing my fiction, definitely. My novel Threshold is a good example. One thing I've repeatedly brought to the stories and novels is the subject of "deep time," all those eons of time that preceded the short span of human history. I think it's one of the most important dimensions of what I'm trying to accomplish, that sense of the vastness of time and space, which is something I came to understand at a young age, studying fossils and geology and evolutionary biology.

In Daughter of Hounds, many of the scenes with Soldier could fit comfortably within the hard-boiled crime fiction genre. Are you drawn to crossing literary boundaries?

I think I would say that I refuse to recognize literary boundaries. I think I always have. The best fantasy and SF being written today -- slipstream, the "new weird," etc. -- consciously defies those boundaries, which are imposed largely by publishers and booksellers, academics and marketing types. As for the hard-boiled crime thing, I've been doing that a long time, mainly in my short fiction. There's a lot of it in Tales of Pain and Wonder and a bit in Low Red Moon. I love noir fiction, and I've often mixed the language and tropes of noir with dark fantasy and the Gothic and SF.

Your collection of dark erotica, Tales From the Woeful Platypus, is also soon to be released. What kind of fiction qualifies as darkly erotic?

Aubrey Beardsley is darkly erotic. So is a lot of Angela Carter. And the paintings of H. R. Giger. And a film like [David] Lynch's Lost Highway. A great deal of Cronenberg is darkly erotic. It's something I'm almost at a loss to define, except by example. It's that place where the erotic becomes dangerous, in some sense. Mostly, when I write erotica, I'm writing about transformation, because that's a big kink for me. So, here there is the constant danger -- as well as the attraction -- of the loss of self, the mutability of identity and body, mortification of the flesh, and so forth. It's not for everyone.

Daughter of Hounds takes place primarily in and around New England, but you live in Atlanta. What kind of vibe does the Atlanta area have as a supernatural setting?

To be honest, I don't get much of any sort of vibe from Atlanta and haven't ever had much of an urge to write about it. Lots of places, I visit them only once, and the stories just come bubbling up. Some cities -- Birmingham, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Providence, and so forth ... I never run out of stories for those cities. Not so with Atlanta. I don't know why. Maybe I just haven't found many Atlanta stories yet. Though, I should note, it was the setting of my first novel, The Five of Cups, and has been the setting for a number of my short stories and for a few scenes in later novels.


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