Kate Heartfield’s debut novel Armed in Her Fashion (ChiZine Publications) is available now. Her interactive novel The Road to Canterbury is now available from Choice of Games. Tor.com Publishing will publish two novellas by Kate, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives in late 2018. Her fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. Kate is a former newspaper editor and lives in Ottawa, Canada.
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 just came out, and even though it took me 20 years of hard work to reach that point, I feel more than ever that I’m just at the beginning, both craft-wise and career-wise. I had a somewhat odd entry into book-length publishing in that I sold my first and second novel, plus two novellas, within the space of a year, so I have four books coming out in a short period of time. I feel… liminal, I suppose. As if I’m about to learn how to do something different, but I don’t quite know what that is. And in the meantime, I’m learning a lot about how to be a working author in 2018.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I was one of those kids who retreated into books, and the books were usually novels, so that’s what feels like home to me. I did make my living as a journalist for a long time, so non-fiction is comfortable too, and I might write a non-fiction book at some point.
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 am not a natural outliner, but I have found that I do need an outline or else I have trouble getting a first draft that is story-shaped. Even with an outline, my novels don’t tend to cohere as stories until the second draft. The third draft is for getting deeper into characters and into the world, and then it goes off to my agent and critique partners for feedback.
4 - Where does a work of prose 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 usually have a pretty good sense of how long a piece will be before I start it; if I plan it to be a short story, it will be; and the same is true for a novel. That said, I do have vague plans to expand a 750-word piece of flash fiction into a novel, so sometimes I can be surprised.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m lucky in that I don’t have a fear of public speaking and I enjoy reading my work aloud. I don’t think it factors into the actual process of creation, for me; it feels more like the business side of the job. But it may be acting on my creative brain in ways I don’t recognize.
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?
Even my most light-hearted romps tend to have big political questions behind them, about the nature of progress and the role of the individual. I write in historical settings frequently, and I’m often trying to tell the stories of the people who were marginalized in their own time or ignored by posterity.
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?
Writers ask questions and tell stories. My kid is an avid reader, and I see stories working a wonderful magic on him. They teach him empathy and imagination, and as a child of this century, he’s going to need those.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I can thank my many years in journalism for the fact that I am comfortable working with editors, and I’ve been blessed with great ones. They’ve saved me from myself many times.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I refer to this one a lot: Way back in 2007, I was a student in the creative writing by correspondence through Humber College. My mentor was the late Paul Quarrington, and he was very encouraging and perceptive. In one email, he told me that once in a while, I should allow myself to forget about subtlety and grace and “remember that on some level, all this creative stuff is SHOW BIZ” (caps his). Like most writing advice, this was suited to a particular kind of writer, and would be no good at all to a different kind of writer. But it was huge for me, and I still write “SHOW BIZ” in the margins of my work, and at least once, have shouted it out loud to an empty room while I was writing, so … the eccentricity thing is coming along nicely, I guess.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (novels to short stories to journalism/non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Part of the appeal, I think, is that a change is as good as a rest. I have a tendency to over-work, so being able to switch to a different project is good for my brain.
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?
Now that I’m self-employed, my best writing hours are during the day, while my kid is at school, but I need to spend some of those hours on editing and teaching work. So my to-do list varies from day to day, and sometimes I do still end up writing fiction after the boy goes to sleep.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read really good novels, or I go wander around an art gallery, or go to a concert.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I come from the prairies, so it’s the sun on dry grass.
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?
Music is the big one for me; I’m often trying to evoke the same mood as a particular song, and I have playlists for every big project. I listen to a lot of Calexico, Algiers and Murder by Death these days.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
That’s a big question! These days, I tend to alternate between recent speculative fiction (writers like Aliette de Bodard, Robert Jackson Bennett or N.K. Jemisin) and non-fiction or old primary sources for research.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
A couple of years ago, I wrote a novella in a shared-world anthology with five other writers, based on Shakespeare’s fantasy worlds. I discovered then that I really enjoy working on shared-world and collaborative projects, so if the right project came along at the right time, I’d like to do more of that.
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?
My big life regret is not becoming an archaeologist.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I can’t remember ever not writing, so I have no idea! Sometimes I’ll finish a project and look around and wonder what on Earth I’m supposed to do or think about now. That lasts about five minutes, and then I start the next thing.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just served on the novel jury for the Sunburst award, which means I just finished reading an entire stack of great books, but I can’t talk about the particulars. (The long list will be out soon.) The last great film was Black Panther, which was pure joy from beginning to end.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I just finished the draft of the second book in the duology of time-travel novellas I have coming out soon, and I finished the game I was working on for about a year. So I’m in a space between big projects. I’m working my way through a small stack of short stories that have been patiently waiting for drafting or revision. I’m also in the early stages of planning another game. And I’m itching to start a new novel.