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Kelley Armstrong: ‘Fantasy is the fuel for my passion’

Kelley Armstrong

ANTHONY JENKINS/The Globe and Mail

Nobody co-mingles genres like Sudbury's own Kelley Armstrong. A bushel of fantasy, a peck of crime, a dash of romance, and you have a recipe for a bestseller. Her latest book, Omens, was praised by the Globe and Mail's reviewer Margaret Cannon as a "clever whodunit." We asked the author about the influences that have shaped her as a writer.

When you started to write, which writers did you revere?

I've been telling stories since before I was old enough to write them down. As a child, there weren't authors that I admired as writers – I simply loved their books. I don't think I made any connection between my writing and theirs. They were authors. I was just a kid scribbling stories. It wasn't until I was in my teens that I started admiring writers as inspirations for my own work, and my earliest influences there were Stephen King, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Richard Adams.

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Did you imitate any of them?

The first piece of "long" fiction I wrote was a novella parody of Stephen King's Christine. I was in high school, and my version was about a kid with a possessed locker instead of a possessed car. It was also my first attempt at humour, which fell completely flat because no one who read it realized it was a parody!

What is the most dangerous influence or type of influence for a young writer?

The most dangerous influence for young writers is anyone who tries to steer them away from the type of stories they want to tell. I joke in my bio that all attempts to make me produce "normal" stories failed, but there's a deep vein of truth there, too. I did have teachers and writing instructors and fellow writers who were very supportive of my work. But I also had those who tried to persuade me to excise any element of the fantastical from my work. To them, writing fantasy or horror was for children and hacks, and I needed to outgrow it and tell "real" stories. I spent a lot of time trying to tell those "real" stories, while I secretly wrote about werewolves and ghosts and post-apocalyptic universes. It took many years to accept that fantasy is the fuel for my storytelling passion, and without that, I really am a hack, writing for money or approval rather than for the pure delight of storytelling. Young writers need to be encouraged to write – just write – with no restrictions on form, style or content.

Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?

I read for story more than for writing, so I don't often say "I love how this author puts words together." I can't abide bad writing, no matter how good the story, but I can't abide a bad story either, no matter how good the writing. So to answer this I'll pick one of the very few authors whose writing I notice – in a good way: Guy Gavriel Kay. When I'm asked who I'd like to write like, that's my go-to answer. I do love how he puts words together. However, I also know that if I tried to imitate his style, I'd make a fool of myself. I can admire a style while knowing better than to ever attempt to emulate it.

When you are in a period of writing, do you change your reading habits for fear of being unintentionally influenced?

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I'm more likely to be influenced by content than style, so when I'm writing, I avoid everything vaguely similar. If I'm writing Norse mythology, I avoid all novels that contain Norse mythology. If my book is set in Chicago, I avoid all novels set in Chicago. Instead, I'll immerse myself in non-fiction on the subjects, while reading fiction that is as different as possible. Otherwise, I fear I'll unintentionally "borrow" elements from whatever I'm reading.

This interview, conducted by Globe Books, has been condensed and edited.

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