Conversation with Ilona Andrews on Writing

I love the Kate Daniels series (for Kate and Curran, the intricate story world) and The Edge series, and I'm a total Ilona Andrews fan girl. Once I drove four hours to attend a book signing. So I was over-the-moon happy when they agreed to do a writing workshop in my city and our local newspaper asked me to interview them. SQUEE!

Sharing excerpts from the article originally published in The San Angelo Standard Times on Sept. 19:

Ilona and Gordon Andrews who write as Ilona Andrews

1. How did you both get started writing? Individually and as a team.

Gordon Andrews: I would say we started as avid readers, years and years before we met. Ilona’s parents were Russian intellectuals who insisted that she read the giants of Sci Fi.   Authors, like Heinlein, Bradbury, Harry Harrison, whose works were highly regarded even in cold war era Russia. Her father, who has two P.H.D’s, wanted her to have a firm grasp of science and literature. He felt that she had to have rounded education and the idea was to read things that forced you to reach outside your frame of reference. He also encouraged her to read classic mythology.

My aunt and uncle are fundamentalist Christian conservatives who viewed any book that wasn’t the Bible as highly suspect.  Of course I rebelled and, at school and secretly at home, read the kind of books they hated.  I was a huge fan of Robert Howard’s Conan as well as the original Dragon Lance series by Weis and Hickman.  In high school I discovered the Spencer novels by the late Robert B. Parker, which remains my all-time favorite series. I could read those openly as the protagonist was an ex-cop and boxer turned tough guy P.I.  There wasn’t any magic, just lots of violence, so my retired US Marine Corps and Orange County Homicide investigator Uncle didn’t mind.

We met in a college English class, competed briefly for the title of “smartest in class” then started dating.  We first started writing together by helping each other with our school papers.  At first we would edit and suggest but by the end of it, almost anything we turned in was a collaboration between us.  It was also at WCU that we started reading UF and I think the idea for Kate and her world was formed.  Ilona started writing what would become Kate while I was an NCO in the Army. 

2. How does your writing partnership work? (Do you take turns writing chapters? Or do each do a specific character? etc.)

GA: We plot it out together, usually floating in the pool and drinking beer.  Ilona, who is a better typist, will write some of it and send it to me to check over.  As it is being written we talk about the scenes and how they should go.  I would say that yes, I tend to be responsible for what the male characters would say, or how they say it, while Ilona is obviously the voice of Kate, Nevada, Dina and others like the female protagonists of the Edge series.  Our desks are very close which gives us the ability to simply stop and talk a scene or plot point out.  By the time a reader gets something of ours, it’s gone back and forth between us several times.

3. How much advance work do you do in terms of plotting and world building for a series?

GA: Quite a bit actually.  I think for the Kate books the world almost came first.  We really wanted that mix of magic and technology.  Then you ask yourself if a person was born into this world, what sort of adult would they be? Kate and Nevada are definitely products of their environments.  For individual books we plot out a beginning and an end.  We know what we want to happen. The rest is getting from start to finish.  The how and why it happens.  We read a lot of mythology books and do research on the history and geography of the places the books are set in.  We never lived in Houston but we feel like we know it and we hope it’s fairly accurately described. With post-apocalyptic Atlanta, we took some liberties. 

4. Do you prefer writing series to stand alones? Why?

GA: For full length books, I guess that stand-alones are easier, because everything about the narrative is new and you don’t have to remember what happened in book two, four, or seven.  You don’t have go back and check how tall so and so is or what was said in a particular scene.  In a series like the Kate books, which now includes seven volumes, eight if you count Gunmetal Magic, you must remain consistent and not contradict yourself while trying to keep the series from going stale. You also have the burden of reader expectations.  People who have read the earlier books in the series and formed a relationship with the books want their expectations to be met.  We’ve had readers who wrote to us extremely upset that their favorite character died or wasn’t given enough page time. Meeting these expectations can be daunting.

With a new book, like BURN FOR ME, you have the freedom to make up new rules and characters that are unlike things you’ve written before.  The catch is that you have to wrap it all up in one go.  No matter if it’s a stand-alone story or a series, we just try to write the best book we can. 

Mina here: I loved being able to get some insight into the brilliant Ilona Andrews team and asking all kinds of questions. I hope you enjoyed reading the interview. If you haven't read a Ilona Andrews book, go get started!