Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Writer Mindy Klasky had the best introduction to books ever–”…her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere in the world through stories.” Klasky has been following that advice ever since. Her love of words took her first to law, and then to libraries. Part of that journey has been traveling through adventure, passion and sheer fun, and part of it has been a quest to actually write stories.
She’s gone from lawyer to librarian to full time writer. There has been everything from classic fantasy novels to romances written for the most popular romance line in the world. The Glasswrights Series gives us five books (that’s 500,000 words…) of her medieval world and its unusual magical guild. Her Jane Madison humorous fantasies follow the expanding adventures of a librarian with an unusual familiar and an even more unorthodox relationship with the warder who is supposed to keep an eye on a developing witch.
Recently Klasky has concentrated on her own blend of humor, fantasy, and romance. Her novels have touched on everything from genies in lamps to supernatural night courts and witchcraft schools for the eclectic student. Her latest novel, Single Witch’s Survival Guide, chronicles the continuing adventures of Jane Madison, talented witch, determined teacher, and eternal student in the yin-yang of love.
Klasky is fond of cats, quilting and knitting (the latter hobbies a challenge with too much cat help), and she is determined to whittle down her to-be-read shelf before it takes over the house.
1) I’ve heard you say that you have been on a journey to write stories, and both law and libraries were way stations on the road. What tipped you over from “wanting to tell stories” to actually starting and finishing a novel? Why *that* story?
A.) I got serious about writing a novel when I was sitting in my most boring law school class: Evidence. The class was structured around a series of incredibly intricate rules, which needed to be parsed, comma by comma. My solution was to spend the better part of my lectures drafting a prophecy in rhymed iambic hexameter, which became the basis for a quest fantasy novel that I wrote but never published.
That novel focused on a quest because I was, even then, seeking my way out of a profession that I ended up practicing for 7 years. My later work has continued to explore how people can change their position in the world—whether that position is a low-level apprentice (The Glasswrights Series), an unwilling priestess (Season of Sacrifice), a struggling theater professional (the women of the As You Wish Series), or an unfulfilled librarian (the Jane Madison and Jane Madison Academy Series). Breaking free of self-imposed bonds has always been important to me, in life and in my writing.
2) On the surface, the intricate world building of the Glasswrights series and the frothy fun of the Jane Madison books seem worlds apart. Do you think your “voice,” the thing that stamps your writing as uniquely yours, changes from book to book, story to story—or can you already see themes that reoccur in your work?
A.) My voice does change between genres: my traditional fantasy novels are much more lyrical than my contemporary romantic fantasies. Interestingly (to me, at least!), my vocabulary remains consistent between the genres. I tend to write “thinking women’s” romances, with allusions to Shakespeare and library science and other intellectual disciplines. Therefore, I get to use a lot of the $5 words I enjoy folding into my traditional fantasies.
That said, the contemporary novels—especially category romances—require a definite type of world building. As an author, I have to create a world where my readers can believe True Love conquers all. (I also have to write a love story in such a way that readers accept the near-instantaneous fulfillment of lust!)
3) I find the evolution of the Jane Madison stories intriguing. I’ve dipped into the series at several points, and watched Jane grow and expand as a person and a witch. Your publisher slapped cute covers on the trilogy, and they rose in the charts. More stories in that world followed, but when I read Single Witch’s Survival Guide, I saw a fantasy of both humor and magic, of intricate characterization woven with romance and pure entertainment. Like another BVC writer, Jen Stevenson, you are using magic, humor, and romance to say important things about relationships of all kinds. Did your original publisher miscast the books? Have they evolved? Or was this there all along?
A.) I don’t think the original publisher miscast the books. They came out in the aftermath of Bridget Jones’s Diary, and they tell a similar story—about a young woman enjoying life in a big city, learning truths about who she is and what she believes as she attempts to balance her professional, romantic, and social lives.
I hope that my books work at multiple levels—as entertainment and as discussions of society. My characters often make bad decisions, but they learn from those mistakes. Jane reaches some horrifically flawed conclusions, but she grows from the fallout.
4) You and your fans are currently having a great deal of fun with contemporary, romantic fantasy stories. Do you have any plans for another adventure fantasy novel?
A.) Fantasy was the first genre that I read voraciously, and I still consider it one of my literary “homes”. At the moment, I’ve been scratching the traditional fantasy “itch” by writing novels for middle grade readers (age 10-14), under my pseudonym, Morgan Keyes. Darkbeast and Darkbeast Rebellion are classic adventure fantasies about a young girl who defies the tradition and religion of her people to preserve the magical animal to whom she’s been bonded since birth.
I have a lot of ideas for other fantasy novels, and some characters regularly show up in my thoughts, demanding their time in the spotlight. Alas, there are only so many hours in the day!
5) What do you like about writing fiction? What do you dislike about writing fiction? Does how you feel about writing change depend on what corner of the fiction universe you play in?
A.) When I write fiction, I get to make the rules, and then I move characters about within the outlines those rules define. I’m in control, and I get bonus points for creativity, humor, and general enjoyability.
When I write non-fiction (which I frequently do, either in “writing advice” articles such as those published on my website or in my freelance career as a legal researcher), I have to conform to standards we all learned in school—five paragraph essays, topic sentences, the Rule of Three (i.e., providing clear examples in triplicate). The premium for non-fiction writing goes to clarity.
I enjoy working in both realms—sort of the writing equivalent of alternating cardio and strength training. I trade off writing responsibilities, devoting Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to fiction and Tuesdays and Thursdays to non-fiction.
6) It sounds like your parents are big book fans. Do your nearest and dearest enjoy your books? Or are they waiting for a big crime law novel?
A.) My parents have always supported both my reading and my writing—for some of my early books, they might have bought half the available stock! Alas, neither of my parents is a huge fan of fantasy, as a genre. They read mine and appreciate it, but they don’t read more widely in the field.
(As for my romances —my father pretends that I haven’t written any category romances. My mother’s only comment was that she’s glad to know I enjoy my married life (read: sex!) so much!)
7) Some people jump into fiction—they take a character or an idea that interests them and simply start writing. Others research like mad before they start, and still others have a character tap them on the shoulder, and then they start researching.
How do you approach your writing?
A.) Almost always, I meet my characters before I know anything else about their story. I develop a person, fleshing out their likes and dislikes, their reactions to various stresses in their environment, their needs (fiscal, emotional, etc.) Then, I build a world around them that takes away the things they most hold dear and challenges them to build replacements.
Although I worked as a reference librarian for more than ten years, I rarely do full-blown research before I start writing a novel. I’m far more likely to do “spot” research, often leaving blanks in my rough drafts (sometimes with notes: “find crystal that heals lung disease!”) Then, I complete Internet-based research as I polish my draft, keeping in mind that a lot of what I find online may be wrong.
Does it change from story to story?
A.) My general approach is consistent across genres, but the specific blanks I leave in my drafts vary. For example, in traditional fantasy, I might leave a blank because I can’t remember the name of that medieval gown that is tight fitting through the torso, with loose flowing sleeves… And in Single Witch’s Survival Guide, I might leave a blank because I can’t remember the name of the delectable baked good available at the made-up Cake Walk bakery, you know, the bite-size one with carrot cake and cream cheese frosting and absolutely no nuts, and…
8) I am curious about your quilting pursuits. Do you enjoy one family of quilts, like traditional, or Amish bold, or Hawaiian floral, or do you take themes from your fiction and let bats and cats dance across misty nights? Do you keep your art separate, or do the words become images and escape into fiber art?
A.) I’m a self-taught quilter. My first quilt was a recreation of the Jane Austen Quilt (one that she created with her mother and sisters), using English paper piecing (a very time consuming technique, involving basting fabric around paper guides, then “oversewing” along the seams, looping the thread through countless tiny, invisible stitches.)
I still favor patchwork quilts, using variations of traditional American patterns. I once worked in a library office without windows, and I created a variety of quilted wall hangings to mark the seasons and holidays.
My quilting (and my knitting, too) are refuges from my writing, when I’m reading for a change of pace after a long day at the computer. I get most of my needlework done while I’m watching T.V. (My husband has become quite adept at making observations when I’ve missed a vital shot because a stitch wasn’t lying right—“You did see the knife lying under the table, didn’t you?”)
9) Is there anything that you want to write, but you haven’t figured out how to write it yet… or haven’t found the courage to start it? Is there anything that will demand so much of you that you’re hesitating about trying to write it?
A.) For the past five years, I’ve been toying with the idea of a historical novel, which would be set between 1910 and 1925. It would involve stage magic and Jewish mysticism and debunking of mediums, and, and, and…. Unlike my usual novels, it would require a tremendous amount of research because some of the characters are real people. Some day….
10) Has writing taught you anything you didn’t expect?
A.) When I wrote my first novel, I was only concerned about the character, about getting her story onto the page, about making her life seem real. Over the course of writing seventeen more novels, I’ve come to realize that readers are going to fill in gaps—in character definition, in world building, in plot, in everything—without regard to my intentions. Novels are more interactive than I ever believed when I started playing this game. And readers are more important than I ever imagined, because their passion is what perpetuates the work.