Aug. 4 2010 12:00 AM

Kelley Armstong casts a supernatural spell in a new mystery featuring a detective witch




Kelley Armstrong has been writing urban fantasy for only 12 years, but even so she was at the cusp of the genre’s development.

“I can’t tell you why I am attracted to the writing,” she said. “I have been writing some form of this genre all my life.”

Part of the attraction, she claims, may be growing up in Canada and listening to folk tales spiced with the supernatural. “I wanted to tell my own stories and they always had some element of the supernatural in them.”

However, her taste for the supernatural did not always draw positive reinforcement from teachers or other kids.

“Growing up, horror was something for guys,” she said. “I read Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Stephen King.’’ When she was very young, she said, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and alternate versions of Cinderella — including the version in which would-be princesses cut off their toes in the hopes of fitting their feet into the glass slipper — caught her eye.

“There has always been some attraction to werewolves, spells and potions,” Armstrong said. “But in the post 9-11 era urban fantasy exploded.”

She said some observers attribute that to the desire to have special powers to combat things you can’t otherwise control. Armstrong’s books are stuffed with spells and odd creatures, but they’re tweaked with eccentricities, such as a Mafia-style group of demons that offers socialized medical coverage to its employees and families.

Armstrong, who said she’s never had a chance to spend any real time in Michigan, will visit Schuler Books & Music in the Eastwood Towne Center Saturday, for a discussion and book signing.

In her most recent urban fantasy, “Waking the Witch,” part of the Otherworld series, Armstrong spins a slightly different yarn. Her recurring characters Paige and Lucas take a well-deserved vacation from their detective agency, leaving it in the hands of their adopted daughter, Savannah Levine, a 21-year-old witch who made her first appearance in Armstrong’s “Stolen” (about 13 years ago in witch’s time).

With her parents out of town, Savannah takes on a murder case that may involve a cult. Like any good mystery, there are a lot of dead ends, a surprise ending and shocking results, with lots of spells tossed in for good measure.

Armstrong has the typically strong characterizations that are expected in fantasy, but her writing has also been influenced by the mystery genre, which serves her well.

Her newest book will attract plenty of crossover readers from her young adult trilogy, “Darkest Powers,” with the usual array of witches, demons, and sorcerers armed with spells and supernatural powers.

Armstrong was interviewed by telephone while she was attending the annual Romance Writers of America Convention in Disney World. She called the romance writers the best organized writers’ group and there is plenty of crossover with paranormal romance. Her stories routinely appear in anthologies, and there are more than 2.5 million copies of her books in print. Seven of her Otherworld novels have been on The New York Times best-seller lists.

And to think this is an author who questioned her writing career when her first two books came out in the early part of the decade and, as she says, “weren’t exactly mainstream fiction.”

Now it seems the season of the witch has finally come around.

Kelley Armstrong

2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7 Schuler Books & Music 2820 Towne Centre Blvd.

Lansing (517) 316-7495