The Big Red Chair takes on gargoyles…

In the beginning Katharine Eliska Kimbriel was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New SF/Fantasy Writer.  Katharine’s work has long straddled the line: “too literary to be commercial, too commercial to be literary” — she has a list of itinerant occupations to prove it. What urged me to invite her to Red chair was that she had a pet gargoyle! Yes, really!

Managed by a Burmese cat, Katharine’s occasional hobbies have included ballroom dancing, brewing beer, antique roses and macrobiotic cooking.  She’s a member of the Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. andBacklist eBooks, and a founding member of Book View Café.

I was deeply disturbed today when I heard that one of her gargoyles had an accident  and that Katharine was resorting to glue. You see, if there’s one thing I truly love in the Red Chair, it is authors with idiosyncracies. May I present Katharine…

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled? 

The American Midwest.  I was raised there, schooled there, and absorbed my values there.  But I grew up in a strange little cul-de-sac – the only Democratic county in a Republican state, a place with more ethnic mix than the rest of the state combined – so it gave me a more curious outlook on the world than kids from most of the region.

 2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I’m a little boring here.  I always wanted to be a writer.  But I wasn’t sure I could make a living at it, and had no guidance on that at all.  I investigated being an art teacher, was a technical writer, a web designer, a licensed massage therapist – all to pay the bills so I could try and sell fiction.  I didn’t know I was ill, and that was why I struggled so much with my health.  I was a very right-brained personality; not talents that were marketable at the time.  Plus, I was a cusp baby – I was raised expecting to get married and raise upper middle class children, and then feminism exploded.  It was overwhelming for a shy introvert, although I developed a more extroverted persona to deal with the outside world.  Since I kept running face-first into job discrimination, it kept me thinking of myself as a writer.  There, at least I was taken seriously.  One thing about writing – it’s the Marianas Trench theory of life.  You become a shallow sea of knowledge with the occasional deep trench of broader exploration.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Boy, could this be a lot of things.  I am so different from who I was then, but I also have the same curiosity about life, same moral compass – There are so many things that have changed in me.  A big one probably is the discovery that spirit is a much bigger concept than I truly understood.  Until adulthood I crept along under the radar, quietly testing the faith I was raised in.  Now, I accept that I no longer think there is only one path to enlightenment.  I believe in ghosts, having several friends who have seen spirits – although I don’t think ghosts are what Hollywood likes to portray.  I believe that there’s too much to learn in one life, and that souls are too important to live only one life.  But I guess that’s what makes me a speculative fiction writer – I ask “What if?” all the time.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

Hummm.  This is a hard one.  I have wanted to tell stories since I was very small.  I always wanted to be a writer.  (I just wish I’d specified a commercially successful writer!)  My mother was a big reader and read to all of us.  She couldn’t read me stories fast enough, so apparently I taught myself to read.  (This is why I sometimes make incredible mistakes with pronunciation – I never learned phonics.)  I was reading on a 12th grade level in the 4th grade.  That was the year I read my first fantasy, The Fellowship of the Ring, and my first SF novel, Heinlein’s Door into Summer.  (Yes – both adult books, although I picked up things like A Wrinkle in Time later on.)  Up until then I’d read fairy tales, legends, folk tales, but not modern fantasy and SF.  I also started writing my first novel in the fourth grade.  Considering what I prefer to write and read, I’d say my tenth year was important!

It also is significant that I contracted Neuroborreliosis (a form of Lyme disease) twenty-five years ago, and it was not caught.  I struggled with massive allergies, diseases that were not well understood, like endometriosis and fibromyalgia, and odd health problems.  When the Lyme finally burst forth, it was life changing.  I was no longer able to work in web design, editorial writing or clinical massage therapy.  The disease probably broke up my marriage and certainly destroyed my second relationship.  And it nearly killed me.  There is no cure for it – I spent most of my savings reaching a point where it was die or find another way, and I invented my own cure for chronic illness.

In a sense, I feel like a wizard in my own books – I’ve died and come back to life, which makes me a wizard.

A wizard of what?  Good question.  We’ll have to see what I do with this new life!

My third event was more recent.  It was discovering that the Lyme caused an epigenetic shift in me, triggering massive gluten intolerance.  I say massive because eliminating 95% of it still had me filing for disability.  I had no short term memory, massive fatigue, insomnia that could last days – things that kept me from using what brains I had left, but were hard for SS to quantify.  My finger and toe joints were rotting.  Then I religiously tried eliminating 100% of gluten – and within two weeks I could think again, my sleep improved, and I could write fiction again, after ten years of struggling for creative thoughts.  Turns out I was writing, deep inside – I just could not tell my conscious brain about it.  I’m now redoing my resume to return to the work world.  And yes, I’ve started scribbling a self-help manual for recovering from chronic illness.  I’ve managed to turn the clock back in many ways, so it might interest a few people.

(I think it’d be fair to say that Katharine is a glass half full person…)

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you- – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

Not for fiction.  Every other media requires learning multiple forms of technology to get across your message.  In fiction, I can craft a story the way I want it.  No budget constraints, no casting hitches, no “seasons” demanding I meet a deadline (at least not until I’ve signed a contract for that book, and nowadays, it’s more likely they will want the book finished first.)  Writing down fiction first is still the cheapest and most complete vision of the artist.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Well, this is hard, because there’s the book I am writing, which is a third book about Alfreda, the heroine of Night Calls and Kindred Rites.  There’s the book I am planning, which is an urban fantasy dealing with curses, immortals, and one character who is being slowly killed by her own erupting magic.  And then there are the books that are now out on ebook that I’m promoting, The Chronicles of NualaFires of Nuala, Hidden Fires, and Fire Sanctuary.  I was a Campbell nominee for Fire Sanctuary, back at the start of my career.

The Nuala books are my love letter to SF – big, world-spanning stories that can also narrow to follow just a few people caught up in events that can change lives and their corner of the galaxy.  I think of them as cultural-anthropological SF.  They have adventure, mystery, romance, intrigue – a new culture to explore.  I hope they have a little bit for everyone who loves reading about strange new worlds!  I have them on special at Amazon US, UK and DE this month — .99 US for Fires of Nuala, and $2.99 US for the other two books.  I hope this will encourage people to give them a try!  If the re-launch is successful, I have another one clamoring to be written.

Just to intrigue you – Hidden Fires starts like this:  “He had spent a hundred years seeking the woman called Silver; he still didn’t know if he was going to kill her.”

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

Perhaps the way to answer this is to take a snip out of a 25 year retrospective I included with the ebook edition of my first novel, Fire Sanctuary.  Here are observations on my work – and also, my life:

“I knew that healers and healing were a theme I revisited often, because I had noticed things about medicine and people healing, or not healing, that appear in the Nuala books, the Alfreda books, and in an unpublished fantasy series currently called Talismindd.

What I had not yet consciously noticed was that my published work also contains a lot about betrayal, forgiveness and second chances.  The works I am currently laying out also contain a lot about betrayal, forgiveness, healing, and second chances.”

My work, and my life, reflects these themes.  I keep tossing myself back into the crucible, and trying again.  I hope that the books I write may help others with these concepts.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

I think I most admire people who see something in the world that needs to be done, and set about to do it, no matter what it personally costs them.  Sometimes it’s small, and local, and other times it changes things across the globe.  I have a friend who is internationally known for working with the homeless.  He was a Vietnam Vet who came back confused and broken, and was briefly homeless.  What he experienced led him to change lives – the United Nations lauded him for his work, and that was only a decade into his remarkable career.  Yet locally some people think he’s that nutty guy who is always going to bat for the homeless.

 9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Well, I would like to be a NYT bestselling author, making big bucks writing what I want to write.  ;^)  But when I’m not so ambitious, I’d be ecstatic to earn $60,000 US a year writing fiction I enjoy writing.  And I want those books to make important connections in people’s hearts.  That last is the non-negotiable part.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t stop writing.  When I became very, ill, I stopped writing, before I even understood that I was sick.  It cut a lot of productive years.  Now, I say write even if you aren’t ready to submit – write for you first always.  Only submit your very best, and only write what you love to write about.  Otherwise, there are much easier ways to make money.  Also – I post writing tips on my blog when I spot something that resonates with me.  The tag is Aspiring Writers Info.

11.What are the last five websites you visited?

Blood in the Snow: Maslin’s NYT Review of The Rogue Is Intellectually Dishonest

12. What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

Hot water, in any form.  Soaking in it or standing under it is basic therapy for my life.  I drink a lot of hot caffeine-free tea, too.

(A true kindred spirit, Katharine. Baths are my nightly therapy… for me its integral wind-down for body and mind)

 13. If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

Writing, to me, is the food of our deepest creativity.  It is the most intimate form of storytelling there is.  Just the writer, the reader and the story.  There is no artist nailing an image down with the cover, no video or film people putting their stamp on the concept.  Just one person at a time, peering into a slice of a world you created.  And because of the weaving of writer and reader, of what each brings to the story, what is created is unique.  My private version of Night Calls, for example, is different from yours.  Everyone occasionally needs to escape into someplace private, safe, and ultimately uplifting.  That’s what I want to give to people.  A story and people to return to, to enjoy spending time with – to know it’s always there, if they need to go back.

Published novels include the historical dark fantasies Night Calls and Kindred Rites , originally from HarperCollins/HarperPrism. They feature Alfreda Golden-tongue, the protagonist of short works “Night Calls,” “Triad” and “Ducks.” On the Science Fiction side of the business, Fire SanctuaryFires of Nuala, and Hidden Fires, stand-alone science fiction tales that take place on the same planet.

Katharine, thank you for joining us!