Blasted (Killick Press) received the Sunburst Award’s honourable mention for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, and was longlisted for the ReLit Awards. Her second novel, Wrecked Upon This Shore, has been called “magical and moving” (Jessica Grant, Come Thou Tortoise). In 2015 Kate was the recipient of the K.M. Hunter Artist Award for her work in theatre. Recent publications include "Demoted" in CZP's Imaginarium: Best Canadian Speculative Writing 2015; “Yoke of Inauspicious Stars” in Carbide Tipped Pens (edited by Ben Bova and Eric Choi; Kirkus Reviews tipped the story as a hit) and “Unicorn” in Stone Skin Press’s 21st century bestiary, Gods, Memes, and Monsters. Look for her story "Equus" in upcoming Clockwork Canada. www.katestory.com
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first novel is Blasted, published by Killick Press. Killick is relatively tiny, and works out of St. John's, so I wasn't immediately catapulted to the stars! But they let authors be very hands-on when it comes to selling books and creating events. I got to meet a lot of people on the tour I organized, and talk with them about writing, and the book, and that felt very good indeed. To have a product that I can keep flogging, and to hear from people years after the book came out, is a good feeling too, especially after years of working as a theatre type, where the product is ephemeral. As beautiful as that is, it's lovely to have something with staying power. Being published also gave me a sense of substance. I don't flinch from telling people I am a writer, at least not so much, now.
My more recent work is maybe lighter in touch. And I am writing more often, although not exclusively, what most people would call speculative fiction.
It feels both more difficult and easier. I still don't think I know what I am doing, ever. But I keep doing it.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Actually, the first writing I did outside of some juvenilia and journals, was for theatre. I was sick of the limited range of roles for young women and then thought, well, Story, put your pedal to the metal and make something. Prose came later, when I took a course with Prim Pemberton. And I have now written some non-fiction too, just in the last few years. Oh, my fascinating life. But writing fiction is my passion. That, and theatre.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I write shitty first drafts. They come quickly, and they are shitty. And I love editing. But if I didn't have my fantastic writing group, I'd be sunk. It would take forever for me to see how to edit those first drafts. Good editorial feedback is a real short-cut for me; without it, it takes time, lots and lots of time, to see my way through the problems with the first draft. Initially, especially with novels, I tend to take piles of notes, then write in complete sentences that, while shitty, don't have typos because those drive me insane.
4 - Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I always know, when something comes to me, if it's a theatre piece, a short piece, or a novel.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like doing readings very much. I get nervous, but that's okay. I am a pretty good reader and like to entertain people. My Newfoundland accent tends to come out when I read my own work, which I find a bit mysterious and interesting.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I do tend to start with a theoretical concern that is lifeless until I find the character or characters and their passions and problems. Then it all comes to life. I don't know if there's a theme. Blasted started out with an interest in the links between folklore and modernity: how changelings are often "explained" as fetal alcohol syndrome now, or fairy stories as mental illness or addiction. I wondered, what would a contemporary experience of the Newfoundland fairy folklore - that I grew up hearing bits and pieces about from my family - look like and feel like? But it wasn't until Ruby appeared in all her ferocious glory that the story had any get up and go. Wrecked Upon This Shore, my second novel, started in an interest in Shakespeare's Tempest and the way he explores class. There's rhetoric about noble characters being inherently good, but in practice they aren't. And again, I wondered about a contemporary setting for those concerns. We tend to sweep class under the rug in Canada, yet poverty - generational poverty - is a real thing. My main character Stephen doesn't know he comes from a wealthy family, and finds out as a young adult. Are his rich relatives "good?" It started there, but really became about the people and their loves and losses and fucked-up-ness. And so on. My shorter fiction has similar beginnings in ideas that latch onto people, and only then start feeling worth writing about.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Well, it's hard because we keep feeling like we are struggling not to drown… But really, it has always been hard to be a writer. Most people experience a book in solitude, then bring that experience to a community of readers - although not necessarily. Even in genre fiction, even for the biggest fan, the book is first experienced alone. So in a sense, writing and reading carves out a space of solitude and focus, which is increasingly rare in our society. I happen to believe that without solitude and focus, we become less ourselves. And the space allows for consideration, meditation. I do think it's a good thing, although I wouldn't prescribe it, for writers to bring out important ethical issues, to encourage thought and compassion. To create characters and worlds that reflect on our own and open up possibilities.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I've never had a bad experience with an editor or with getting feedback, never. I've heard horror stories from other writers, but me, no. Coming from a theatre background means perhaps that I have an easier time with feedback. But I think at this point in my writing practice I'd know if an editor was harmful. Hope so! Personally I've loved working with editorial feedback.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Well, this is obvious.
“Heinlein's Rules for Writers
Rule One: You Must Write
Rule Two: Finish What You Start
Rule Three: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
Rule Four: You Must Put Your Story on the Market
Rule Five: You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold”
I am lousy at following pretty much every step but it's good advice, although I definitely rewrite before sending things out. But I see his point there: don't endlessly rewrite your precious, precious story. I see this advice as some kind of holy grail for which I quest.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (novels to performance to children's literature)? What do you see as the appeal?
I don't have any problem moving between genres, and add theatre to that list. I love moving around; I can't help it. Each story or novel has its own voice and I have to go with it. The genres are marketing categories, not soul-identities. I think moving around probably does not help my career. Whatever.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have terrible working habits. When I am busy with work or with a theatre project my prose writing gets neglected and then I start to hate myself, and when I hate myself enough then I start writing again and feel better and wonder why I ever stopped. I write best in the mornings for sure. That's my favourite way to start the day - a cup of tea and then writing until my lips and fingers go numb because I need to eat breakfast.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Doing that thing I believe the beat poets invented: cut-ups. Writing away on something related to what I am stuck with, then cutting out all the words, throwing them into the air, and literally pasting them randomly onto the paper. It creates a disconnect from the worry about sounding good and often opens up a dream-like or poetic way into the material.
Also, going for walks. Alone.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The clean, slightly briny scent of a harbour.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Visual art when it's figurative, not totally abstract, yes, that's influenced me or given me ideas. Music gives me drive sometimes, and atmosphere, even a sort of style - a lot of my characters have soundtracks. Science yes, I'm totally fascinated by new discoveries and old alike - archaeology, astronomy, etc. even though I am a lightweight amateur fan at best. I go for walks in "nature" - always seems weird to describe it as if it's separate from us. Landscape has a huge influence on me. I also write for performance, and those texts come from my body in a different sort of way than my prose. I always have to work in the studio to create that kind of text, moving, working with music, costumes, props, etc.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I have to say I keep finding myself quoting Stephen King's book On Writing. It's a terrific book on, well, you know, writing, as well as a sort of memoir. I love Ursula K. LeGuin. I love Jane Austen. I loved and was very influenced by Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and I even liked the movie. I love reading the new histories, sweeping books about everything like Salt and Collapse etc. And I love Shakespeare. Just can't get away from it. And of course adored Lord of the Rings as a kid, and The Hobbit - huge early influences. I am fond of early modern poetry, but I ain't no poet.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Too many things to list.
That being said, I've had a very interesting life thus far.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
There is no Plan B. Performing and writing are it.
I did think for a while as a young adult that I'd be an academic, but just because you get good marks at university doesn't mean you should gay marry it.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I am a miserable mean bastard when I'm not writing.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Most recently? 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by John Shapiro. And movies… Mystery Science Theatre 3000's version of Hamlet.
20 - What are you currently working on?
ARGH!! you had to ask that.
A short SF story. I don't know if it's going badly or well. Probably badly.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;