Interviewed by Phyllis Irene Radford
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel reinvents herself every decade or so. It’s not on purpose, mind you — it seems her path involves overturning the apple cart, collecting new information & varieties of apple seed, and moving on. The one constant she has reached for in life is telling stories. Her latest book, available September 17th at the Book View Café Ebookstore, is Night Calls.
1) You have been a member of Book View Café since the beginning. What brought you to this experiment in co-operation that has exploded into a new way of publishing? Is it all you expected? What are some of the volunteer jobs you’ve undertaken for BVC?
A) Frankly, what brought me to Book View Café was an awareness of the shifting sand beneath the feet of any writer who had more than a couple books under her belt and had yet to hit the bestseller list. I have always been better at promoting the work of my talented friends than I have at promoting myself. In 2008, there was a lot of talk about Google commandeering so-called orphaned books and re-releasing them. I didn’t want that to happen to my books, so I was keen to get them back into print as ebooks. It was clear that ebooks would become a significant part of the market. I’d worked in the tech industry at various points in my life, and knew that it was both a juggernaut and constantly changing. The situation was guaranteed to drive one nuts. But a team effort, dozens of people with slightly different interests and skill sets, working toward a common goal? That had promise.
I had the good fortune to belong to a private writing list with a group of very talented female writers on it. Sarah Zettel saw the handwriting on the wall for midlist writers, and proposed forming an author’s co-op of writers with publishing credits from major commercial houses. As the group formed an opening presented itself. I waved my hand wildly in the air and for whatever reason they took me along.
Back at the beginning, we experimented with providing free fiction samples of our ebooks daily, and also started a blog that provided new material daily. Nothing quite like that existed, and paying multiple authors with a micro-system was something constantly discussed but not yet in existence. We pooled a small amount of money, chose a name, and scattered like minnows to reserve every venue on the Internet we thought might one day be useful. To this day, we are vaguely surprised who is sitting on one URL or another—when the blog moved off the early site and onto WordPress, I discovered that I had snagged the WordPress URL for Book View Café. I’d forgotten about it!
We paid someone to create our original ebookstore. Some members were geniuses at creating an ebook template, like Vonda N. McIntyre, and Judith Tarr was a natural at our open source software. I did a little bit of everything—blogged weekly, handled interviews (grin) and eventually moved into handling the events calendar. We all edited, worked for social media, tried to attract positive attention for the group. We learned to format books, and are still learning how to do it! Chris Dolley is a powerhouse at sniffing out sub-rights opportunities, and Amy Sterling Casil is a consultant writing business plans as one of her professions. Now we’re investigating doing POD (Print On Demand). We added people as we had breath to mentor them, because the open source stuff is not intuitive, and our system grew like Tetris, not like Lego. The industry changed so fast no Wiki could keep up with us.
Eventually we accepted several men in our group, ones whom we thought could live with our egalitarian, cooperative style of operation, and learned the best way to find and bring new people on-board. Book View Café is not easy—I consider cat herding one of my job descriptions, because writers are more like cats than almost anything else! But when the chips are down and stakes high, we listen to each other, learn from each other, and try to help each other. This group has taught me a great deal about dealing with a broad spectrum of people. We have the same goals, overall, and it’s much easier with a gang at your back.
This spring I became one of the founding members of the board of directors, and let me tell you—nothing glamorous in that job!
2) Very soon you will have a new book available through BVC and other outlets. Is Night Calls a new work or a reprint? Will there be new fiction coming from you? Soon?
A) Night Calls is a reprint, the author’s reprint, if you will, because I realized that the copy editing allowed some errors of fact to creep into the story. So I have a chance to fix that. Locus Magazine said “If you can imagine Little House on the Prairie with werewolves, vampires, and magic, you’ve got an idea what this dark fantasy novel is like,” and that’s not a bad way to introduce the story. Allie has a distinct voice, and she tells her tale of growing up in the wilderness of 1807 Michigan in a matter of fact and sometimes humorous way. She is of her alternative time, both warrior and teacher, future wise woman and judge. It was purchased by John Silbersack for the fairly new HarperPrism line, and then the book promptly dropped into the Twilight Zone. Chris Schelling put an awesome cover on it, but no amount of effort could get cover blurbs attached to it, even when I already had some blurbs. Then HarperCollins put “Fiction” on the spine…but did nothing to attract any other attention to it, so it ended up half in the fantasy section, half in the horror section, based on the publishing line and the cover art. This was when Barnes & Noble was required to go through booking agents at HarperCollins for HarperPrism, or so the B&N staff was told when they tried to get my books for autographings. But what that really meant was, for Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, B&N had to call. For the rest of us, we couldn’t get autographings at all unless the manager ignored the rules. Librarians were putting Night Calls on their rec lists in the Northwest, but HarperCollins did nothing with that. This Twilight Zone stuff continued right up to the Locus Year in Retrospective, where two different reviewers mentioned the book by name, which was supposed to put it on the best of year for fantasy list…and it was left off the list. And that was never corrected. <grin> I call it the New York Two-Step, and a friend swears New York City is just Not My Place, especially for publishing.
Amazingly, the book earned out, but by the time the second book came out with great blurbs, a “fantasy/horror” spine and a ghastly cover, HarperPrism was disappearing into another line, and the books, and my career, were history.
I’m hoping that the time has come for Alfreda Sorensson, fledgling practitioner, growing up in an alternate early 1800s! The second book, Kindred Rites, will come out in ebook in December, and the third one will follow as soon as I can finish the thing. I’m hoping Spring, 2014. There’s been a lot of Life, Interrupted. POD will also happen soon.
3) Where did Night Calls start for you? (Examples: —plot first, then characters. World first, then people to live in the world.)
A) The seeds of Night Calls were planted at World Fantasy Con Providence. Jane Yolen was telling a group of us about a series of anthologies she was doing for HarperCollins Children’s Books. The first one would be about werewolves. We were bouncing questions off her, and I remember that Mike Ford was starting a silly thing about “Billy was a wer-giraffe” that sadly I don’t think he ever finished, and although I was enjoying the conversation, I didn’t write much short stuff and I hadn’t found a toehold in the stream of ideas. Then I asked Jane “Does the werewolf have to be seen?” She replied that “The werewolf does not have to be seen, but its presence has to be felt.”
At that moment, I had two intense visual flashes. One was of a young girl in long skirts, rustic clothing, bundled against cold, bending down and discovering new, withered garlic growing under a windowsill. The other was of that same young girl, now inside, standing on a chair and hanging a braid of garlic over an inside door. At that moment, I knew I had to know more about it. It was so intense I checked with a couple of friends to make sure I hadn’t borrowed the images from anywhere else. But Allie sprang from my mind in that instant.
I wrote the short story and sold it to Jane, and eventually a reprint of it, now fantasy, to Amazing Stories Magazine. Finally a novel was born, after I experimented with vampires, too!
4) Have you explored all of this world yet? Could there be more stories in it?
Absolutely. Kindred Rites exists and will be out in December, 2013, and the next one, which is almost done and seems to be evolving into Spirit Tracks or Spiral Path, is forthcoming in 2014. This is early 1800s alternative America—many, many stories to tell. The War of 1812 beckons! If the books are successful, I would love to write more of them. I also have a contemporary fantasy to start, that will probably be released under a pseudonym.
5) I’ve only seen one piece of short fiction from you “Abide With Me” in Shadow Conspiracy Volume II. The story has haunted me for some years now. Do you use different styles for short versus long fiction? Is this deliberate?
A) I think that short stories are born when I have something to say about a topic. Even a theme anthology doesn’t always bring up a bucket from a well. Sometimes it takes years. But then stories rise almost completely formed, ready to be polished and submitted. Since they are test balloons of a sort, they may rise in different styles than previous works. This doesn’t always help a career. Witness the difference in style between my Chronicles of Nuala SF novels and the Alfreda Goldentongue books. Some people like both series, but it was too big a jump for other fans.
I realized somewhere along the way that I generally am talking about betrayal, forgiveness, healing and second chances, either separately or together. Maybe we are born knowing what we want to talk about—it’s coded in our genes. That is something for our descendants to explore.
6) Do you live in your fiction? Is it a refuge, a delight on some works, just a job? (You can close a book cleanly–a life, not so much.)
A) Never just a job. But Life Interrupted has interfered greatly in the flow of stories the past few years. I am trying to reverse that trend, because I have learned that my worlds are always with me. Now, if I can just create one I want to live in. I always populate them with a bunch of people I’d like to know. But I feel like I’d need a few advantages to survive there—and friends and family at my back, of course. Perhaps that is my point. We all need friends and family to survive.
7) Are you inspired by someone else’s work?
A) I finally figured out that I can’t write like anyone else; I can only enjoy their work and marvel at what they can do with fiction. Whether it’s Jane Austen doing incredible, subtle things with character and observation, or the beauty of Patricia McKillip’s language, or the myth of Jane Yolen’s creations, I admire, enjoy, and move on. I realized once that I learned a lot about designing a story from Kipling’s Kim. Is Kim still in fashion? I adore that book. I also wanted to write a great fantasy novel—Tolkien pulled together so many things that the great 19th century fantasists just missed for me—but I could never sell it. Editors told me it was too dark. So I stopped at a little over 200,000 words. Someday I might go back, but now that dark is the style, I feel a need to write about the light.
8) Whose fiction do you love to read?
A) I read nonfiction to learn about the world, and fiction for entertainment. About fifty-fifty, actually. I try not to read anything that will directly impact what I am writing, so I have never read Scott Card’s Alvin Maker books or Patricia Wrede’s new Frontier Magic series (I love Pat’s books, so this is a hardship. But I wrote the first “Night Calls” short story in 1988, so I have been at this a long time. After I finish book three, I think I can read her frontier books. We’ll see.) I still re-read Lord of the Rings occasionally. I love Miller & Lee for space opera, Lois McMaster Bujold’s works, Martha Wells, Sherwood Smith, Madeleine Robins, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, Jennifer Crusie, Janet Evanovich, Donna Andrews, Meg Landrow mysteries, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Liz Williams, Tanya Huff, CJ Cherryh—lots of great writers, lots more to discover. I haven’t read all the works of these people, by the way—I like to keep books in reserve for when I need a book by someone. Also, book budget is currently “library” which slows me down. But I still have a couple of Georgette Heyers I have not read. Just keeping them in reserve.
I couldn’t read for several years, so I have lots of things to catch up on. I just picked up The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Seven-Petaled Shield. I have Living with Ghosts next to my bedside. So much to read, so little time!
Entertain me. And do it simply, brilliantly, subtly.
9) Did you ever consider writing non-fiction? What and why?
Several times, but Life Interrupted interfered and I realized that I take in everything and then push it back out in a new form. To reach people, sometimes you have to tell a story differently. It’s part of why I write SF and fantasy—people learn from my books but I don’t write to educate, I write to share deeper myths and truths as I learn them. I write to reaffirm joy in the world. I write about betrayal, forgiveness, healing and second chances.
I do have some ideas for nonfiction—a different twist on writing books, a sideways approach to healing from chronic illness, and maybe even a little book of interviews. We’ll see if I get around to them.
10) What haven’t you found yet in writing instruction books?
How to give a character the spark that makes them live, and feel alive. How can you paint, either an impressionist piece or pointillism, and from that swift, delicate portrait, create characters who live. I think I have done this several times. But I wish I could do it every time—and teach it to others.
11) The short story “Abide With Me” displays a reasonable knowledge of painting and I know you love to dance. Why writing to communicate your vision, and not art, drama, etc?
A) My degree is a BFA double major in Art History/Art Education, which taught me enough to be dangerous. I could not afford to continue for a master’s, and wasn’t driven to it. I wanted to tell stories. A few people tried to channel my intellect into something I could make a living at (which turned out peculiarly, shall we say) and since I could not draw what I saw in my mind, I turned from it. Now, I think I might return to it, letting the right side of my brain have the free rein my left hand was born to do and denied. I was a decent stage actor, and actually have a listing over at IMDb from my high school years at Beyond Our Control (listed too early, for some reason…) but I suspected I was way too introverted and insecure for professional acting. Script writing just made me realize that I wanted to write SF and fantasy. I kept trying to find a way to make a living during the day so I could write fiction at night, and life sabotaged every attempt. So now we’re going to try writing whatever fiction will pay the bills.
I’m hoping it will be something I love to write.