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Exclusive Interview: Carrie Vaughn on Her OPERATION ARCANA Story “Sealskin”

SF Signal is pleased to present a series of interviews with the authors of the military fantasy anthology, Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams and available now from Baen books.

Here’s what Operation Arcana is about:

In the realms of fantasy, the battlefield is where heroism comes alive, magic is unleashed, and legends are made and unmade. From the War of the Ring, Tolkien’s epic battle of good versus evil, to The Battle of the Blackwater, George R.R. Martin’s grim portrait of the horror and futility of war, these fantastical conflicts reflect our highest hopes and darkest fears, bringing us mesmerizing visions of silver spears shining in the sun and vast hordes of savage beasts who threaten to destroy all that we hold dear.

Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams is sounding the battle cry and sixteen of today’s top authors are reporting for duty, spinning never-before-published, spellbinding tales of military fantasy, including a Black Company story from Glen Cook, a Paksenarrion story from Elizabeth Moon, and a Shadow Ops story by Myke Cole. Within these pages you’ll also find World War I trenches cloaked in poison gas and sorcery, modern day elite special forces battling hosts of the damned, and steampunk soldiers fighting for their lives in a world torn apart by powers that defy imagination.

Featuring both grizzled veterans and fresh young recruits alike, including Tanya Huff, Simon R. Green, Carrie Vaughn, Jonathan Maberry, and Seanan McGuire, Operation Arcana is a must for any military buff or fantasy fan.

You’ll never look at war the same way again.

In this “mission debrief” Carrie Vaughn talks to Jared Cooper about her Operation Arcana story “Sealskin”…

Carrie Vaughn is the bestselling author of the Kitty Norville series, the most recent of which is the twelfth installment, Kitty in the Underworld. Her superhero novel Dreams of the Golden Age was released in January, 2014. She has also written young adult novels, Voices of Dragons and Steel, and the fantasy novels, Discord’s Apple and After the Golden Age. Her short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, from Lightspeed to Tor.com and George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. She lives in Colorado with a fluffy attack dog. Learn more at carrievaughn.com.


Jared Cooper: In “Sealskin,” Richard goes to Ireland and uncovers some unexpected truths about his heritage. What ideas began this story?

Carrie Vaughn: I have an early story called “The Temptation of Robin Green,” found in my collection Kitty’s Greatest Hits. It’s about a military research lab investigating supernatural creatures, and my main character is seduced by the selkie held captive in the lab. It ends as most seklie stories do, with the seklie escaping and returning to the sea, and Robin left pregnant and alone. Richard is her son, and this story is basically a sequel to the earlier one. I would joke that I was going to write a story about a half-selkie Navy SEAL, but I wasn’t really joking, and I really did take the story seriously.

JC: How did the presence of folklore and myth tie into the creation of the story? What role do stories we “know” to be fantasy play in how we learn about ourselves?

CV: This is set firmly in the world of my Kitty Norville stories, which is all about asking the question, what if these stories were “real,” and in the modern world? My joking answer was, as I mentioned, there would be a half-selkie Navy SEAL. But the serious answer, one that plays a part in all urban fantasy I think, is wanting to create links between the modern world and these very old stories. We want to hang on to those stories – our past, our heritage, and so on – and so we update them and play with them. And this is how the stories never really go away.

JC: Richard’s journey is an escape from the emotional weight of being a SEAL. How did your own experiences shape this character’s creation and backstory?

CV: I write about military characters quite a lot because my father was a career Air Force officer and a Vietnam vet. I grew up in the military, and will always be sympathetic to the men and women who serve. They’re characters, not stereotypes. The SEALs have also gotten a lot of attention lately for their roles in counter-terrorism activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in countering piracy in the Indian Ocean. These are topical issues I couldn’t ignore if I was going to be writing a SEAL character. Apart from that, I just had to do the research and hope I did a good job.

JC: What is the appeal of military fantasy? Why write about it, and why do readers love it?

CV: It seems like fantasy and war stories go hand in hand, from the Iliad and Beowulf on down to Tolkien and everything after that. Ergo, fantasy and the military go hand in hand, and it seems like writers can make a choice: to handle the war as some distant, symbolic thing without going into much detail. Or really focus on it, and focus on the realism of it by giving the characters strong military backgrounds and putting them in the middle of things. I think the realism and detail possible in that kind of story – juxtaposed with fantasy elements like magic and dragons — can really appeal to some readers.

JC: Finally, what’s coming up for you?

CV: Lots of things! The last book in my Kitty series, Kitty Saves the World, will be out in August. I’m working on a YA space opera novel right now. Plus, the usual smattering of short stories and side projects. Find out more at www.carrievaughn.com. Thanks!

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About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).

1 Comment on Exclusive Interview: Carrie Vaughn on Her OPERATION ARCANA Story “Sealskin”

  1. We are having a blast over here at SKYBOAT MEDIA recording this amazing collection for John! Carrie Vaughn being one of my very personal favorites!

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