Kiernan, Caitlin R(ebekah) 1964-
KIERNAN, Caitlin R(ebekah) 1964-
PERSONAL: Born May 26, 1964, in Skerries, Ireland; daughter of Padraic Kiernan and Susan Elaine Ramey Cleveland; partner; name Kathryn. Education: University of Colorado, B.S., 1986; enrolled in University of Alabama—Birmingham honors program, 1984–91.
CAREER: Writer, novelist, musician, and paleontologist. Red Mountain Museum, Birmingham, AL, associate paleontologist, 1985–86; San Diego State University—San Diego, CA, research associate, 1986–88. Member of goth band, Death's Little Sister, 1996–97.
MEMBER: Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Society for Sedimentary Geology, Paleontological Research Institution.
AWARDS, HONORS: Barnes & Noble Maiden Voyage Award for Best First Novel, 1998, International Horror Guild Award for Best First Novel, 1998, Bram Stoker Award and British Fantasy Award finalist, all for Silk; International Horror Guild Award for best novel of the year, 2001, for Threshold, and for best short story, 2001, for "Onion."; GLAAD Award nomination for The Girl Who Would Be Death.
(Coauthor with Peter Hogan, Jeff Nicholson, and Peter Doherty) The Dreaming: Through the Gates of Horn and Ivory, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1999.
In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers (novella), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2002.
The Dry Salvages (novella), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2004.
Candles for Elizabeth, Meisha Merlin Press (Decatur, GA), 1998.
A Study for "Estate," Gauntlet Publishing (Springfield, PA), 2000.
On the Road to Jefferson, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2002.
Embrace the Mutation, illustrated by J. K. Potter, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2003.
Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold, photographs by Kathryn A. Pollnac, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2003.
Waycross, illustrated by Ted Naifeh, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2003.
Silk, Penguin/Roc, (New York, NY), 1998, corrected edition, Gauntlet Publishing (Springfield, PA), 1999.
Threshold, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.
The Five of Cups, introduction by Poppy Z. Brite, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2003.
Low Red Moon, Roc (New York, NY), 2003.
Murder of Angels, Roc (New York, NY), 2004.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
Tales of Pain and Wonder, Gauntlet Publishing (Springfield, PA), 2000.
(With Poppy Z. Brite) Wrong Things, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2001.
From Weird and Distant Shores, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2002.
To Charles Fort, with Love, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2005.
Frog Toes and Tentacles (vignettes), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2005.
Author of comic book series The Girl Who Would Be Death, Vertigo, 1998, and Bast: Eternity Game, Vertigo, 2002. Contributor of fiction to books, including Dark Destiny: Proprietors of Fate, edited by Edward E. Kramer, White Wolf Publishing (Stone Mountain, GA), 1995; Darkside: Horror for the Next Millennium, edited by John Pelan, ROC (New York, NY), 1996; The Sandman: Book of Dreams, edited by Neil Gaiman and Edward E. Kramer, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1996; Love in Vein II, edited by Poppy Z. Brite, 1996; The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Eleventh Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998; The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Volume 11, edited by Stephen Jones, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2000; The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories by Women, edited by Stephen Jones, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2001; The Children of Cthulhu, edited by John Pelan and Benjamin Adams, Del Rey (New York, NY), 2002; Shadows over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan, Del Rey (New York, NY), 2003; and Walk on the Darkside: Visions of Horror, edited by John Pelan, Roc (New York, NY), 2004. Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including Aberrations, Urbanite, Wetbones, Carpe Noctem, and Argosy. Contributor to scientific journals such as Journal of Paleontology, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, and Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. Author's work has been translated into five languages.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A new novel, Daughter of Hounds, and a project for Marvel Comics.
SIDELIGHTS: "Walk into your local megabookstore," noted James Mann on Ink19.com, "and tucked somewhere in the back, once you bypass the diet books and Hollywood tell-alls, lurks the horror section. Generally the section will consist of forty-seven assorted Stephen King and [Dean Koontz] titles, but if you're lucky, hovering nearby will be the work of dark fantasist and paleontologist Caitlin R. Kiernan." Born in Ireland but raised in the United States, Kiernan earned degrees in both philosophy and paleontology but was working as a dancer when she decided to write a gothic horror novel in the early 1990s. Prompted by the success of Anne Rice and other mainstream gothic writers, publishers were willing then to take on new practitioners in the genre, especially those who wrote about vampires.
As Kiernan told W. C. Stroby in Writer's Digest, during the period when she was completing her first book, The Five of Cups, she lived in fear that a novel too similar to her own would precede her. Nine months later, instead of sending its prologue to a list of literary agents, she sent it to other gothic writers whose work she read and loved. "I did not have enough self-confidence to think I could land an agent right off the bat," Kiernan told Stroby. Author Melanie Tem asked to read the manuscript and then sent it to her agent, who declined to represent it because of the spate of vampire novels already in print. "So he asked if I would write him another book," Kiernan recalled. This was the genesis for her 1998 novel Silk.
Set in Birmingham, Alabama—Kiernan had studied at the city's University of Alabama for several years—Silk recounts the story of a close-knit group of "goths" controlled by the enigmatic Spyder, a woman who sports spiderweb tattoos and white-blonde dreadlocks. After a ritualistic drug-taking ceremony in her basement that leaves the group in a permanent, half-hallucinatory state, relationships begin to splinter and Spyder's well-hidden past is revealed in the process. Much of the action takes place at Spyder's haunted house and across various real-life goth hangouts in Birmingham. Spyder's arachnophilia comes to serve as a metaphor for the silken "web" that ensnares her friends and lovers.
Silk won praise from reviewers and a jacket blurb from famed horror writer Clive Barker. Writing for Southern Voice, Colleen McMahon found Silk atypical of the horror genre because it is "as much about the loss of trust and love in relationships as about anything supernatural." McMahon termed Spyder and the various creations of Kiernan's pen "well-drawn and believable denizens of the goth and punk subcultures. She introduces them gradually, provides flashbacks of their variously dysfunctional backgrounds, and details of their everyday lives." In Alabama Forum, Constance Lynne also offered effusive words of praise: "Kiernan is, above all, a remarkable student of personalities and relationships and the ways that we all contort and conform to survive in the world," Lynne declared. "Kiernan takes us deep into the world of the outcast … and shows us in unflinching detail how the world tries to punish, if not eliminate, the nonconformist. Kiernan gives mainstream horror fans a fresh look at true terror: not bloody chainsaws and crazed stalkers, but the real-world nightmares of date rape and gay-bashing."
Murder of Angels is a "stylish sequel" to Silk, noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Set ten years following the events of the first novel, the characters still vividly feel the aftereffects. Daria Parker has managed to use the experiences to further her musical career, but her lover, Niki Ky, suffers from schizophrenic episodes in which Spyder appears to her from beyond the grave. When Niki succumbs to Spyder's entreaties and plunges to her death off the San Francisco Bay Bridge, she awakens in a bleak gothic dimension where Spyder has summoned her to help locate a malevolent entity known as The Dragon. In the world of the living, Daria desperately tries to find and preserve an artifact that Niki needs to prevent The Dragon from entering the mortal plane."Though the plot often mystifies, the novel's unusual blend of otherworldly and supernatural horror gives it a uniquely weird cast," the Publishers Weekly contributor stated. A Kirkus Reviews critic commented that Kiernan "can write like a banshee, with high-flying, incendiary prose that few authors, even fewer if we're talking strictly about fantasy and horror scribes, could hope to emulate."
In 2001 Kiernan teamed with Brite to produce the story collection Wrong Things, which was labeled a "brief but powerful collaborative venture" by a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The stories, some written jointly while others were composed separately, feature the collaboration "The Rest of the Wrong Thing." This tale is set in Brite's fictional town of Missing Mile, North Carolina, and follows Tyler, a waifish young woman with purple hair and "an obsession with righting wrongs," as the Publishers Weekly critic put it. Other stories in the volume include Brite's "The Crystal Empire" and Kiernan's "Onion." Two other Kiernan collections were released in quick succession, Tales of Pain and Wonder and From Weird and Distant Shores.
Threshold, a 2001 release, combines Kiernan's talent for dark fantasy with her training in paleontology. The novel centers on a group of young adults, led by paleontologist Chance Matthews. Investigating a series of mysterious deaths, Chance finds through an encounter with an albino psychic named Dancy Flammarion that the monsters in Dancy's visions may be all too real. Jackie Cassada, writing in Library Journal, hailed Threshold as an "eerie and moving tale of ancient terror and modern-day angst," while Booklist contributor Regina Schroeder deemed the novel "tops in fantasy, with gripping paleontological sidebars."
Dancy Flammarion takes a lead role in the 2002 novella In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers. This time she is abducted by a cult of Georgian vampires and put into the service of the Savannah Stevens Ward Tea League and Society of Resurrectionists. "Dancy's weird encounters unfold with the creepy logic of a fever dream," declared a Publishers Weekly critic, who also saw the book as a showcase for Kiernan's style and described it as a "textured fabric of poetic phrasing, eerie description, graveyard humor and haunting imagery."
Other characters from Threshold return in Low Red Moon. Chase Matthews and psychic detective Deacon Silvey are married and expecting their first child. In New England, vicious serial murderer Narcissa Snow is searching for an appropriate ritual sacrifice to her bloodthirsty gods. By making the proper offering, she believes she will gain acceptance into the local covens and occult groups that reject her. Narcissa is "a demon murderess spawned by weird half-breed folk in a secluded salt marsh area of the Massachusetts North Shore," noted Jack Morgan in the Irish Literary Supplement, and she seems to have some agency with the supernatural. She becomes fixated on Deacon and Chase's unborn child, believing it to be the perfect sacrifice to usher her into the occult society she desires to join. The unrelenting Narcissa zeroes in on Chase, leaving bloody mayhem in her wake. As characters encounter Narcissa, they begin to see the unimaginable horrors that often lie just beyond the edges of what is commonly considered normal. "Vividly described, these moments give the novel unusual power, and make it a memorable expansion of the author's unique fictional universe," stated a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In Low Red Moon, "and in quality gothic generally, good and evil are entangled in a lurid, bloody struggle that is terrifying precisely because it is out of control and outside the bounds of rational reassurances," observed Morgan. The book is "quite unnerving," noted a critic on the Green Man Review Online, "but Kiernan achieves the effect not through a lot of gore and 'things going bump in the night' (although there is a fair amount of each), but by constantly developing an impending sense of doom. The entire novel feels like a study on the emotion of disquiet, which eventually gives way to urgency as the pages go by."
The Five of Cups is "a hyperkinetic, heartbreakingly ambitious, graphically violent epic of vampires and much, much else," commented reviewer Edward Bryant in Locus. One of her earliest works, the book had a difficult history, including problems finding literary agent representation; aborted attempts at publishing by small presses that went out of business; and, as time passed and she published other works, Kiernan's perception that the book was not up to the standards of her later material. Eventually, it did get published, with an extensive introduction by Kiernan explaining the process of writing it and recounting the book's troubled background. The novel focuses on the carefully regulated society of vampires in Atlanta, where Gin Percel is a renegade. Accidentally turned into a vampire when her mortal self was raped and murdered by the city's vampire lord, Jacob Banlin, she has entered her undead life unschooled in the survival tricks and cultural structure of vampire society. Her hunger and lack of skill lead her to make many bloody blunders, so much so that she inadvertently becomes a threat to the vampire population by virtue of the attention she attracts. Leading a miserable life preying on street people, Gin scuttles ever closer to madness as her victims mount up, each leaving a phantom impression on her mind. Eventually, Gin snaps, and Jacob must somehow bring her under control before his own masters, a mafia-like ruling party called the Consanguine, decide that both of them must be sacrificed to ensure the continued secret existence of the vampire society.
Bryant stated that The Five of Cups is "a remarkably accomplished piece of work," despite it being one of Kiernan's earliest pieces. The book contains "moments of astonishing power and virtuoso writing," commented Tim Pratt in Locus. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that "although unrelentingly nihilistic, this flawed gem flashes with brilliance."
In an interview for Amazon.com, Kiernan was asked what influenced her writing. "I think a better question would be, "What hasn't influenced my writing," she replied. "Everything that has happened to me in my life has left its mark on my work." Geoffrey H. Goodwin, in an interview with Kiernan on the Bookslut Web site, observed that "memento mori," or themes of mortality and death, recur in her work. In discussing these themes and reasons and emotional drives behind her work, Kiernan said that "Few things terrify me so much as the end of consciousness, which is what I fear that death may be. But I don't know how to stop thinking about death, any more than I know how to stop thinking about life. So, I look for the beauty and the wonder and the horror in it and then try to celebrate those things, which seems a whole lot healthier than cowering in fear or pretending that I'll live forever." To readers just discovering her work, she told Goodwin, she would say "Well, it's probably not what you're expecting. I'd say that. And I'd say please, please, please give it a chance, work with me. I don't write books or stories that are meant to be passively consumed. And if you keep coming back, I'd say thank you."
Kiernan once told CA: "Since I was a child, I've had a powerful fascination for the macabre, and most of the writers that I read when I was a kid fueled that fascination—Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, and a little later, Harlan Ellison and Shirley Jackson. So I think a good portion of what I'm doing now … goes right back to those stories, those authors, and all the time I spent sleeping with the lights on because of them. But it's important to me to bring something more than an infatuation with creepy stories to my own work. There's a particular sense of wonder, of awe, that I think dark fiction lost during the seventies and eighties, and that's what I'm trying to rediscover in my own work. If there's anything I'm trying to achieve with my writing, it's the reawakening in dark fiction of our awareness of those finer emotions.
"I'm very uncomfortable with the practice of sinking fiction and authors into seemingly convenient 'genres.' It creates literary ghettoes that can eventually cripple a writer by instilling a feeling that what they're doing is innately inferior to the 'mainstream' and must be segregated from literature in general. The elevation of the mundane during the twentieth century was, in large part, responsible for the perceived need for genres, a disdain for the exotic, the heroic, the romantic. Ultimately, there's good writing and mediocre writing and bad writing; I see no reason for any further categorization than that. So I don't think of myself as a 'horror' writer or a 'fantasy' writer and I'd prefer that others didn't either."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Alabama Forum, May, 1998, Constance Lynne, review of Silk, p. 18.
Booklist, September 1, 2001, Regina Schroeder, review of Threshold, p. 58; October 1, 2004, Regina Schroeder, review of The Dry Salvages, p. 318.
Entertainment Weekly, October 22, 2004, Noah Robischon, review of Murder of Angels, p. 103.
Irish Literary Supplement, spring, 2004, Jack Morgan, "Bard of the Wasted and Lost," review of Low Red Moon, p. 24.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, review of Threshold, p. 1153; July 15, 2004, review of Murder of Angels, p. 665.
Library Journal, March 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of Tales of Pain and Wonder, p. 132; November 15, 2001, Jackie Cassada, review of Threshold, p. 101; June 15, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of The Five of Cups, p. 106.
Locus, June, 2003, Edward Bryant, review of The Five of Cups, and Tim Pratt, review of The Five of Cups.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 1988, Charles de Lint, review of Silk, p. 45; July, 2002, Charles de Lint, review of In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers, p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, February 28, 2000, review of Tales of Pain and Wonder, p. 68; October 22, 2001, review of Wrong Things, p. 53; December 3, 2001, Stefan Dziemianowicz, "PW Talks with Caitlin Kiernan"; March 25, 2002, review of In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers, p. 46; June 9, 2003, review of The Five of Cups, p. 41; July 21, 2003, review of Low Red Moon, p. 179; August 23, 2004, review of Murder of Angels, p. 41; August 1, 2005, review of To Charles Fort, with Love, p. 48.
Southern Voice, June 11, 1998, Colleen McMahon, review of Silk, p. 49.
Writer's Digest, March, 1996, W. C. Stroby, interview with Kiernan, p. 20.
Agony Column Web site, http://www.trashotron.com/agony/ (September 5, 2005), Rick Kleffel, review of Threshold.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (September 4, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Low Red Moon.
AllSciFi.com, http://www.allscifi.com/ (September 4, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Murder of Angels.
Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com/ (May 9, 2002), interview with Caitlin R. Kiernan.
BookSlut Web site, http://www.bookslut.com/ (November, 2004), Geoffrey H. Goodwin, interview with Caitlin R. Kiernan.
Caitlin R. Kiernan Home Page, http://www.caitlin-r-kiernan.com (September 5, 2005), biography of Caitlin R. Kiernan.
Dark Echo.com, http://www.darkecho.com/ (April, 2000), Paula Guran, "Caitlin R. Kiernan: Refusing to Surrender Passion and Sincerity," profile of Caitlin R. Kiernan; (September 5, 2005), review of Silk.
DragonCon.com, http://www.dragoncon.com/ (September 5, 2005), biography of Caitlin R. Kiernan.
Green Man Review Online, http://www.greenmanreview.com/ (September 4, 2005), Kelly Sedinger, review of Low Red Moon.
Ink 19.com, http://.ink19.com/ (March, 2002), James Mann, "Pain, Wonder, and Really Old Things."