Alumni Profile Series: Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn, a critically acclaimed American author, pursued her postgraduate career at the University of Colorado, Boulder and earned her Master of Arts in English Literature in 2000. Vaughn works within the realm of science fiction and fantasy and has written and published over 60 short stories as well as a variety of novels, most notably the Kitty Norville series. I had the privilege of conducting a phone interview with Vaughn and through that was able to gain more insight into her work as a writer as well as a more general look of her time at CU, the transcript of the interview is provided below and has been edited for user readability. Source//Flickr

Can you tell me a bit about your educational background?

Well going back a little further I graduated from Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colorado. So I went to High School in Colorado, went to Los Angeles for college at Occidental College, took some time off for a few years and worked, and then came back and did my Masters at CU.

Oh very nice. So thinking back, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always know from the beginning that you wanted to be a writer?

Oh yeah. I started sending stories out to get published when I was in High School so that was definitely at the front of my mind. I kept thinking that something else would come along, you know some other ‘quote un-quote day job’, but by the time I finished my undergrad, the writing was all that I wanted to do so I really worked for that.


One of your most prominent works include the Kitty Norville series, what made you want to pursue this fantasy-fiction style writing?

I’ve always written science fiction and fantasy, that’s kind of what I grew up reading. It’s what I love. You know, my degrees are all in Literature, so I wasn’t really in school for creative writing, I wanted to read to see how other people did it. And even in school, I was reading science fiction and fantasy and trying to convince professors that it was worth studying. But the Kitty series is quite a bit different from what I had been doing before that, kind of more what people call ‘urban fantasy’, which is basically vampires and werewolves in things in a modern contemporary world. But it seemed to work, it definitely seemed to hit a chord with people.

Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Oh just about everywhere. I’m working on a lot of different things right now and when I think about where those inspirations came from some of it is like I took a trip to Ireland and really loved the neolithic history there so I’m doing research on that and thinking about what kind of stories I could write there. I saw the Robin Hood movie that came out last Fall and kind of decided I wanted to write my own Robin Hood story, so I’m reading a bunch of Robin Hood stuff right now and we’ll see what comes of that. I don’t always know what’s going to come of it. That’s one of the things I really love about being a writer is that I don’t have to limit myself, if something strikes my fancy I can kind of plunge down that research rabbit hole and see where it leads me and just see what stories come out of it, and it’s really fun.


In general, what is your writing process like?

I try to do a lot of research, especially if I’m writing about something historical or scientific or something in an area that I don’t necessarily know a lot about. I try to do a lot of brainstorming and just kind of generate a lot of ideas and I do try to prepare. I try to outline and then I just dive in; I try to write a little bit every day, get to a certain word count every day and just see where the story goes from there. And then it’s kind of going back and forth and seeing where the plans and outlines didn’t work and re-working the outline. So I try to do a lot of planning, but I also try to do a lot of revision so that ultimately the story looks the way I want it to look.

Source//Boulder Daily Camera

Thinking more to your time at CU, would you say that completing your postgraduate career here in any way opened any doors for you, or helped to establish yourself in the industry in any way?

The short answer is yes. Part of why I wanted to get my Masters from CU was to see whether Academia might be a career path that I wanted to take because that’s something that a lot of writers do. But one of the things I learned about Academia is that to move forward, I would have had to pick one thing to study and one of the things I really love about being a writer is that you can study and research pretty much anything that catches your eye. So I figured out that Academia wasn’t quite for me and that was a good experience I guess to really just learn that about myself, but at the same time, I was exposed to so many ideas and reading and topics that I would not have encountered without getting a Masters in Literature. Specifically, the history of literature, and in having that knowledge of various literary modes or the history of a novel, you know things like that, I was able to gain a better understanding of what literature is and what it can do; I think it gives my fiction a much stronger ground than it might’ve had otherwise. Creatively speaking, it was hugely useful and I’m glad I did that; it's been about 20 years since I was at CU, but it was a great experience just because it gave me the freedom to study things that I really wouldn’t have otherwise.


Are there any mentors during your time at CU that really stand out to you?

Yeah and actually when you first talked to me about doing this interview, I definitely thought of Kelly Hurley, in the English Department at CU. Particularly, she embraces genre and commercial fiction in a way that I didn’t always encounter in the previous schooling. And I took a couple of her classes particularly, I remember Victorian in 19th Century genre fiction and imperialist fiction, and they were great classes. And once again, getting the history of literature and the history of my own genre was hugely useful and I remember we were studying Dracula and she pointed out this great detail about Dracula, which is how much cutting-edge technology it has at the time. I actually use this idea in one of my own novels and I include Professor Hurley in the acknowledgments of that book because it was such a great idea and I wanted to use it for myself. It’s something you don’t think about because it’s a Victorian novel but there’s typewriters, recording devices, and shorthand, there’s all of this stuff that was just cutting-edge technology in the late 19th century.

I guess more generally, what advice would you give to any aspiring writers or authors?

Write a lot, read a lot, really read as much as you can. Also have a plan, especially if you want to make a career out of it, just be thinking about what kind of writing career you want to have, how you want to get published, those kinds of things. I have found that having a plan kind of makes things easier and helps to point you in the direction you want to go. So apart from the usual reading and writing advice, I would say to do research, figure out what the career looks like and how you want to actually go about it.