JMW: Great. From your very first novel, Masques, all the way to Fire Touched, your most recent Mercy Thompson novel, your fiction has spotlighted shapeshifters. What’s the attraction?
Riding into a war thats heating up on the border, Ward, the new lord of Herzog, is sure hes on the fast track to glory. But soon his mission takes a deadly turn. For he has seen a pile of magical dragon bones hidden deep beneath Hurog Keep. The bones could prove to be dangerous in the wrong hands, and Ward is certain his enemies will stop at nothing to possess them.
Patricia Briggs: I think I like to write about characters who are different than they first appear, and shape shifting plays right along into it. And I also, when I was a kid, I used to play at being animals. You know, my friends and I, that’s what we did. We’d play Star Trek, we’d play I Dream of Jeanie, and then we’d pretend to be animals, usually horses, because that’s the kind of kid I am, but it was…or werewolves or anything like that. I just…the idea of being something that you’re not is very, very attractive and I think it also drives my love of fiction. Because, you know, when you’re reading a book, we tend to be someone else. So, all of that kind of codified into this real…I hate to say obsession, but maybe love of shape changing is a better way to put it.
JMW: Has your view of this fantasy staple changed from your days of writing epic fantasy to your current immersion in urban fantasy?
Patricia Briggs: Oh, sure. When I was a younger writer, it was wish fulfillment. You know, what would it be like if you could change into a different thing? And now as a matronly… Is that a good word? Maybe not. But now, as an experienced writer, I use it a lot as a way to put my characters under stress, as a way to change up the power dynamics, as a means to an end, more than an end of itself.
JMW: Mm-hmm. You said you like to limit the powers of your magical characters, and you referred to that just momentarily of, you know, changing power dynamics, etc. But, you’ve got two really long running series, Mercy Thompson and Charles and Anna and some very powerful characters inherent in that series, Bran, for example. How do you avoid power creep?
Patricia Briggs: I actively avoid power creep. I think that underpowered characters make much better protagonists. It’s much easier to get them into trouble and it’s much easier to make people understand that their lives are at risk, and it just opens a whole bunch of story arcs that when you… As you get a character that’s more and more powerful, like a Superman, then you start to be limited as kind of thoughts that you can put together, because nobody would believe that Superman is really at risk. It’s why in Lord of the Rings, it’s why Tolkien has to kill off Gandalf in the, you know, in the Balrog scene. He brought him back later because we all know Tolkien loved Gandalf. But he was just simply too powerful, and as long as Gandalf was in that group, nobody would ever believe that anybody was at risk. And by killing off Gandalf, he informs readers that everybody was at risk.
As the rebellion grows against High King Jakoven, Ward, ruler of Hurog, realizes he must join with the rebels. However, Jakoven can crush his enemies with dragon’s blood. The very blood that courses through Ward’s veins.
So, I think that it is, for me, imperative that Mercy, in particular, but Mercy, Anna, and Charles, my protagonists, seem relatable, that people can relate to them, that they… I can put them into situations that are uncomfortable or dangerous to them without resorting all the time to, you know, sort of like The Incredible Hulk series where every…at the very end when everything went really bad, then Dr. Banner would turn into The Incredible Hulk and just solve everything with great, awesome cosmic powers. And that doesn’t make a really good story that you read.
JMW: Mm-hmm. And you sort of need more than one Kryptonite, too.
Patricia Briggs: Oh, yes. Oh my goodness, yeah. You have to have…you have to have vulnerabilities. I never… It’s really easy to do that because everybody has vulnerabilities. You know, that’s… Sometimes it’s physical vulnerabilities, but more often it’s internal vulnerabilities. Things that, as a…if I take Mercy, for example, Mercy is incredibly sensitive to being abandoned, because she was, over and over again, in her childhood, and so that’s one issue she has that she can’t get over.
JMW: Especially when Adam’s ex-wife is around.
Patricia Briggs: Yes, especially when Adam’s ex-wife is around.
JMW: Do you approach a book differently now that you are writing long series than you did when you were writing stand alones and short series?
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Patricia Briggs: Certainly. I still am a pantser. That’s stuff that’s gonna stay. But I always…now I’m thinking long-term. If I do something, what is gonna be the long-term ripples down the line? And sometimes that’s really cool, because I’ll go, “Oh, that’ll be really awesome. What a neat thing to do.” And sometimes it’ll be… You know, I’ll look at this and think, “No, no, that’s just gonna open…” Well, for instance, we were talking about power creep. I say, “Is this something that’s going to make Mercy more difficult to put into trouble, or is this something that’s just going to add interest to the story?”
And then, you know, because I’ve done things now that I have lived with for 10 books that I did on impulse one day when I sat down to write, I’m a lot more conscientious about the changes and about the specific things that I put in my world. So there is that, because with a series, you’re not living with something for the year you’re writing the book or the two years you’re writing two books, you’re living with it for 10 years that you’re writing 10 books. And things that would be a minor problem or something that you don’t have to really deal with are things that come back and bite you in the butt over and over again.
JMW: Since you brought it up, what bit you in the butt?
Patricia Briggs: Okay, so, I made Mercy a walker, that she’s a coyote shapeshifter. And that was very in tune with a lot of Native American stories, that you would have a human who would change to shapeshifter. And that she would be… I’m gonna stop there, because that would be a spoiler. But the coyote shape shifters would be really part and parcel of Native American stories. They have animals that turn into people, people turn to animals all over the place. And I was trying to figure out what I would call them, because, of course, they didn’t call them anything because they didn’t think of it as something different. They don’t… Most of the tribes do not have this need to label everything like Western civilization does.
So, I was trying to pick a label for it, and I thought, “Okay, so we’re gonna say that the white settlers who came over would find a label.” And I thought, “Well, it’s sort of like skinwalking, which is a completely different kind of shape shifter. But sure, they would’ve gotten them mixed up, so let’s call them walkers.” And I thought it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek kind of poke at the way that we have treated Native American tribes by randomly mushing them together and mixing up their mythology from one tribe to the other, and I thought it was kind of one of those little clever things that turned out to be a really terrible thing.
Because for years everybody would introduce Mercy, you know, you see it all the time, “Mercy, the skinwalker,” and she’s not. Because skinwalkers are evil. They skin animals, they take the shape of animals, and they go out and they make people ill and sick and kill people and things. It’s not a happy thing, and that’s not what Mercy is at all. And, because I’m a writer, it hurts my feelings when people make it seem like I don’t do my research, right?
So that was a dumb thing that bit myself, that I bit… You know, I could easily come up with something much better with a little more thought and a little more realization of how people would approach this. So, if you’ll notice, in the last few books, I don’t talk about her being a walker very often. I don’t use that word very often because I’m trying to get people not to call her a skinwalker.
JMW: Cool. Well, cool for us to know that detail, but not necessarily for you, and writer’s fragile ego.
Patricia Briggs: Right.
JMW: Getting… You know, this plays into your fascination with shifters, but you’ve worked with animals most of your life and now breed Arabian horses. I believe that your breeding farm is called Merry-Go-Round Arabians?
Patricia Briggs: It is, yes.
JMW: How did this experience working with animals so closely influence your fiction?
Patricia Briggs: Oh, a lot. Yeah, I started looking at group dynamics with the animals because, you know, you have…I have 12, 14 horses and I put them in various groups. And you start looking and saying, “Oh, you know, this horse is more dominant, but she’s kind, so I can put her with these less dominant horses. This one’s less dominant, but she’s really mean to the horses that are less than she is, so I have to put her in with horses that are more dominant than her.” And then I started looking at people the same way. And I’m looking at group dynamics in people, and I can see it.
You can watch the body language, you can watch the way people talk to each other, and I started incorporating that into my books. And sometimes it’s subtle, but a lot of, you know, with the werewolves and things, that’s very out in the open, that there’s this dynamic there and werewolves actually handle it better because it is codified. Whereas people, you get…I’ve noticed that people get in trouble a lot. When you have somebody who is not necessarily a dominant kind of person who tries to take charge of a bunch of people that are more dominant and you get these weird dynamics. And it’s pretty easy from the outside now that I know what to look for to see that from the outside looking in. It also plays into motivation. You know, what makes people do the things they do, what makes animals do the things they do. So all of that kind of ties into writing creatures.
JMW: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Now, this is a question close to the heart of anyone that has enjoys your audiobooks. Joe Manganiello, everybody’s favorite HBO werewolf and the narrator of Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood, has said that he’d be interested in narrating a third book in the Dragon series. Is there any chance that a third book is in the pipe?
Patricia Briggs: Yes, there’s a chance. It will be down the road. I have under contract quite a number of the Mercy Thompson series and I have to kind of play my time out and keep my publishers happy with me. But, I really am feeling like I need to write, need to cleanse my palate, so to speak. I really love traditional fantasy. And so I need to go back, and there’s one of those, there’s another Hob’s Bargain in my head. But I think the next true fantasy I’ll write will be a third one in the Dragon series. And I would love for Joe to do it. He is so good. He did such a marvelous job.
He put… Ward from the Dragon series, Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood, is in many ways, my favorite character to write. Even though Mercy is a lot of fun, Ward had this wonderful, “This is what I look like on the outside, this is what people think I am,” and then it’s like a shared joke with the readers. You know, because inside, he is quite smart, and on the outside he doesn’t look very smart. And so I’d have this inner dialogue with the readers. And it was so much fun to write, and Joe got it. Oh, he was so good! You could just… He just did Ward just wonderfully well. I loved it.
JMW: Oh, good. I know they’ll be happy to hear that. What are you working on now?
Patricia Briggs: What I’m working on right now, I’m doing the copy edits for the next Mercy, which is called Silence Fallen, and it is a lot of fun. I don’t know that I’ve… It’s been a long time, really, since I’ve had this much fun writing a book. It was terrific fun, and I hope you find it so, too. And then I’m working on the next, currently on the next Alpha and Omega, the first chapter in the box. And I’m gonna try to keep everybody in Aspen Creek so that we can go back and see some of the characters that were just in the very first Alpha and Omega story, and bring them back in.
JMW: That’s wonderful. Okay we’re at the end of our time. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Patricia Briggs: No, I think you covered it very well. Thank you very much for having me here and for bringing me out and doing this interview. Thank you very much.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.