Myths and Magic: An Hour with Ilona Andrews

On Saturday morning, the Ilona Andrews writing team, Gordon and Ilona Andrews, entertained questions from their fans in the Hyatt Centennial I. Moderator Carol Malcolm kicked off the discussion by asking the pair how they collaborate. Gordon answered that he generally writes the male characters while his wife writes the women and that they do the fight scenes together. He has a military background, majored in history, and studied mythology. The Slavic myths, however, are more Ilona’s specialty.

When asked about secondary characters they enjoy writing, Ilona said her favorite is Desandra because “she says whatever.” She also cited Catalina, casually adding, “but she’ll be lead,” Arabella, and Frida, Nevada Baylor’s grandmother. Gordon enjoys Nick and likes Saiman “because he’s a scumbag” and writing him doesn’t involve being noble, just opportunistic and terrible.

Ilona’s favorite Russian fairy tale is that of Koschei, who’s an immortal and can’t be killed. She saw a cartoon about him when she was about 15. Killing him requires such a long, involved chain of actions that it’s nearly impossible. The cartoon she saw involved two princes, a Russian and a Mongol, each trying to save a princess he knows. The Mongol reached Koschei, who announced that he was immortal. The prince then tied him up and departed. Ilona enjoyed the resolution to that story.

An audience member, noting that one urban fantasy trope is the female lead who’s disconnected from others, asked how the Andrews team avoided that. Ilona said urban fantasy is a lot like old noir with its loner detectives, like Mike Hammer. Kate Daniels, however, is more like sword and sorcery set in a modern world. When the Andrewses were doing the Hidden Legacy proposal, a friend suggested that the heroine have a family. Ilona responded, “Why not? We have to deal with our family. Why should they get a break?”

Gordon added that the difference between the Kate Daniels world and the Hidden Legacy series is that Kate’s family are the people she chose while Nevada Baylor started with a big family. Ilona then said Kate is about connecting, while Nevada is about shouldering responsibility, and that a lead character needs a best friend she “can go kill people with.”

An audience member asked whether there were fairy tales they wanted to use but hadn’t yet. Gordon said the most troublesome mythology to research is Indonesian because each island has its own culture and mythology. Ilona added that Bali, where Dali was born, is different from all other Indonesian islands. There’s a dearth of resources about Bali, and much of what’s available is very scholarly.

The Andrewses also find Native American mythology delicate to use and are concerned about distorting the perceptions. There are few original resources, and most of what they use comes directly from tribal websites. Having grown up in western North Carolina, Gordon is fairly comfortable with Cherokee mythology but wouldn’t know where to start with the western tribes. Ilona said the books they do have were bought from tribal stores. She mentioned Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning as an excellent use of Native American mythology.

One questioner asked whether the Andrewses were happy with having been so generous and shared so much on their blog. Ilona responded that they get enormous traffic, with about 50,000 visits per day, and that most people are great. Readers have contacted them about the importance of the blog as a distraction in their lives. One reader wrote that she went to her doctor after reading the post about breast cancer and was diagnosed with cancer, but made a full recovery. Ilona said that makes all of it worth it. They will, however, go with more moderation. There have been complaints about lag time between new chapters of the Innkeeper serial on their website, but when they are on tour, they’re up early and busy with travel and signings all day. Still, they have no regrets because they “love our book-devouring horde.” Gordon added that there’s only a small percentage of readers who are problematic.

One person wanted to know whether the Andrewses would ever publish a bibliography of their research. They said they do the research while working on a particular book, then forget it when they move to the next one.

When asked whether there was any chance of a Kate Daniels role-playing game, Gordon responded that they had said yes to someone who asked. Ilona qualified that by saying it was a fan thing and if fans wanted to do their own thing, they should go ahead but “don’t tell us.” If a game company approached them about a commercial game, they would be open to the idea.

An audience member commented that audiobook narrators say characters’ names differently. The Andrewses said Hugh d’Ambray’s name is pronounced dam-bray, which is not how the narrator has been saying it, but Ilona added that she and Gordon don’t want to be “jerky jerks” about that.

Discussing the differences between traditional and independent publishing, Gordon said they make more money from self-publishing and have more control over covers and pricing. Self-publishing, however, is a big investment. They also lost the benefit of their traditional publishing editor, with whom they worked for many years.

On the subject of vampires, the Andrewses agreed with a questioner who noted that vampires were often depicted as sexy at the time the first Kate Daniels book, Magic Bites, was released. To them, however, vampires are dead, and they don’t find walking dead sexy. Gordon said their concept of a vampire is more Nosferatu than Bela Lugosi.

A questioner pointed out that Curran and Rogan are both strong alpha males and asked, “If they fight, who wins?” Ilona asked, “Is the magic up or down?” As the audience laughed, Gordon said he thought Curran could take whatever Rogan dished out, though not without damage, and then would rip Rogan’s head off.

One audience member said the Andrewses make character decisions that seem right instead of immature or implausible and asked how they handled that with the arc where Curran feigned interest in another woman [in Magic Rises] and Kate was jealous. Gordon said he and Ilona consult about whether something is believable or too much and how far to take things. Ilona reminded the audience Curran became pack leader at fifteen, describing him as paranoid and fond of his home base. He fortifies every place he lives because his home base needs to be a safe place to relax. Sending him and Kate overseas threw him into enemy territory. He got tunnel vision, focused on keeping Kate alive and not thinking about whether this was the best way. After that, Kate drew a line in the sand. They clash again in the latest book [Magic Triumphs] about keeping each other safe and negotiate what they’re each going to do.

When asked about upcoming projects, Ilona said they have Diamond Fire coming out in October, Hidden Legacy 4 due in December, editing of Sweep of the Blade for Christmas release, Technomancer and rewrites on Hidden Legacy for March, and starting the next Iron Covenant book in May for June or July release. Hidden Legacy 4 will release in August 2019.

The last questioner wanted to know how the Andrewses started writing together. Gordon said they started reading each other’s papers in college, when he was studying history and political science, and Ilona was studying biology. Then they collaborated on papers and, from there, started working together on stories.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.