Caitlen Rubino-Bradway is the author of Ordinary Magic and the co-author of Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, which she wrote with her mother, Jane Rubino. Here, she talks with FangirlNation’s Jessica Greenlee about reading fairy tales, the future of Ordinary Magic, collaborating with her mother, and other writerly details.
Jessica GreenleeYour Goodreads biography is a little sparse. Care to fill in some details for us?
Caitlen Rubino-Bradway I’d have to say I had a pretty privileged upbringing, one I probably didn’t appreciate fully until I one fateful weekend, when I headed out on the family yacht with my father and the ship mysterious sank in the North China Sea. I managed to make it to a deserted island — or, what I thought was a deserted island, but it turns out you couldn’t go three feet without running into escaped prisoners or Australian ASIS or insane doctors bent on finding a super soldier serum…wait…wait, no that’s Oliver Queen. Sorry, I’ve been re-watching the first season of Arrow recently.
The reason my biography is so sparse is that my life has really been pretty ordinary so far. Not that that’s a bad thing — it just doesn’t make for really gripping reading. Bachelor’s degree in English, Masters degree in English and Publishing, working at the LKG Agency, published two books, battled Godzilla in a giant mech suit — you know, pretty standard stuff. I think the most exciting thing I’ve recently is take an archery class, partially due to my re-watching of Arrow. It was a lot of fun.
JG You left some matters open at the end of Ordinary Magic. Are you planning a sequel? A series? Will we get to see Abby graduate?
CRB I did leave some matters open at the end of Ordinary Magic. I was hoping that the hunt for the missing kids would take place over, well, however many Abby sequels there turn out to be. (Ideally I’d like there to be more than one.) I’m not sure if I would take it year-by-year, all the way up til Abby graduates, though. I like the idea of having having a story focus on a summer between school years, or a story that takes her away from the school, maybe heading into different parts of her world for adventures. After all, there are still a bunch of missing kids out there to find, and I don’t think Abby will let me settle until I let her find out what happened to them.
JG Ordinary Magic has a good many fairy tale and mythical creatures in it together with information on how to defeat some of them. How much research on mythical creatures you do before and during writing?
CRB I did a pretty good amount of research; I knew going in that I wanted Abby’s world to be populated by a lot of creatures, not just humans. And I liked the idea of using creatures that I hadn’t seen in a lot of places before, such as red caps and minotaurs. I really wanted to use minotaurs, actually, because just around the time the story was starting to get settled in my head, I saw The Chronicles of Narnia. I saw the minotaurs fighting alongside Jadis, and it occurred to me that I’d always seen minotaurs as the bad guys. So I researched a lot, until I felt comfortable with their mythology…and then I sort of treated it as guidelines. Sometimes I stuck to the mythology, and sometimes I didn’t, depending on what I wanted for the story. For instance, the research I found on red caps said they just kill people for the blood to keep their caps wet. Which is so, so creepy, but I thought it would be fun, and extra creepy, to make them carnivorous.
JG Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Which one and why?
CRB My favorite fairy tale has to be Beauty and the Beast, though Cinderella is a close second (mainly because of the dress and the shoes; I love reading about fancy dresses).
The why is a little harder. I guess it’s because in Disney’s B&B and Robin Mckinley’s Beauty (which both make my Top 10 List of favorite books/movies), both heroines are big readers, and part of their stay in the Beast’s castle is getting free reign over a massive library. That just hits me in my little reader heart. I also like that Beauty and the Beast plays things differently than a lot of other fairy tales; usually you see the bad guys being described as ugly and the heroes and heroines are sweet and beautiful. But in B&B, the point is to look beyond appearances, and focus on what type of person the Beast is, and whether or not he has, just, a truly gigantic library.
JG You and your mother, Jane Rubino, co-wrote Lady Vernon and Her Daughter. How did you decide on a collaboration? How did you organize it? Are you planning any further collaborations?
CRB My mom suggested the collaboration, actually. She had written a contemporary mystery series based in our home town, and was thinking about starting a second series, but historical this time. She was reading Jane Austen’s Lady Susan at the time and thought it showed a lot of potential as the basis for a historical mystery series. Since the two main characters are a mother and a daughter, she asked if I’d be interested in collaborating. I thought it was a great idea. As the story progressed, however, we moved away from the ‘mystery’ part of it and tried to focus on making it an homage to Austen’s work.
As for organization, we weren’t really organized about it; we didn’t have an outline or a schedule for who would write what. We would just talk all the time about what we thought should happen next, and then one of us would write it and the other one would edit, and it would go back and forth until we were ready to move onto the next part.
We do have some other collaborations in the works, but our schedules have been getting in the way recently, and it’s making progress slow.
JG Why Lady Vernon? What drew you to her story?
CRB Well, we are both fans of Jane Austen, and we liked the idea of doing something with Lady Susan because not a lot of people had developed it. There were a lot of Austen expansions and continuations at the time we wrote Lady Vernon, but they primarily focused on Austen’s full novels, not her juvenilia. Plus Lady Susan is such a fabulous character, and so much fun to work with — though our Lady Vernon did turn out to be quite different.
JG You mention on your Facebook page that you’re also working another project. Can you tell us a little more about this?
CRB It’s a YA…sci-fi? Paranormal? It’s basically about teenage superheroes living in a beach town in California, and having to fight Lex Luther, so I’m not sure where that would fall on the sci-fi/paranormal line. There’s lots of feelings, and emotions, and long walks on the beach with longing looks, and people going for tacos and tossing around geeky references. (Wow, I really need to get better about pitching my work.) It is — hopefully — in the final stages of editing before my agent sends it out. I have my fingers crossed that I’ll have more news about it really soon.
JG What is your favorite time and place to write?
CRB I write best first thing in the morning, when my brain is fresh and hasn’t had time to get distracted by everything else going on. I also prefer to get out of my apartment, ideally to a coffee shop that has strong coffee and no wifi — it’s too easy for me to get distracted if there’s Internet. I’ll tell myself that I just have to look up this one thing, and then an hour is gone, so it’s best if I don’t even give myself that option.
Of course, the problem with writing first thing in the morning is that it sort of sets the tone for the entire day. If everything is working, then the day is bright and the bluebirds are singing and I’m skipping down the street. But when everything isn’t working, I end up grumpy and frustrated and have to explain to my friends that I’m not actually angry at them, it’s just the book.
CRB I love to read middle grade and YA, especially fantasy. A lot of my favorite books come from that category — Beauty, by Robin McKinley (as I mentioned earlier), and the Graceling series by Kristen Cashore, and the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy by Stephanie Burgis, and more or less everything by Eva Ibbotson. I also really love the Origami Yoda series, and that’s only half because I’m a huge Star Wars fan. The other half is that the books are so fantastic and funny.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!