Kat Howard is the World Fantasy Award-nominated author of over twenty pieces of short fiction. Her work has been performed on NPR as part of Selected Shorts, and has appeared in Lightspeed, Subterranean, and Apex, among other venues. Her novella, The End of the Sentence, written with Maria Dahvana Headley, will be out in September from Subterranean Press. You can find her on twitter [email protected]
Interview by Deborah Stanish
1. Let’s talk about your process – how do you nurture a story from the first flicker of an idea to completion. Are you a researcher? Note taker? Or do you just dive in and let the story carry you?
It really depends on the project. In most cases, I’ll start with the idea – the opening line, or the voice of the character, or the thing I want to do with the story. Quite often, at that point, I’ll just start writing. Which sometimes works well – my recent story, “The Saint of the Sidewalks” in Clarkesworld started from a picture that Libba Bray posted on twitter as a 140 character writing prompt, and it almost wrote itself. I only needed one polish-pass after I did the zero draft. And sometimes, trying to take an idea and just start writing blows up in my face – “Hath No Fury” in Subterranean had eight different beginnings, and I had to rewrite the end twice, and that was just to get it in draft. I probably cut as many words as there are in the published version.
I love to do research, so I do often look for ideas that give me an excuse to immerse myself in a topic, and if I know I’m going to need to do research, I do most of that before I start writing. And for longer projects, I am trying to make myself better and doing some planning before I write, so that I don’t get through an entire zero draft and realize that I’ve forgotten to put in something important, like the plot.
2. With the twitter handle “KatWithSword” it should come as no surprise to readers that you practice the art of fencing. Both writing and fending require a great deal of mental energy and strategy. Does the combination of writing and fencing cause any sort of creative synergy?
I’m unfortunately on injury retirement (injury pause? I’d love to compete again) right now, as I have a shoulder that insists that I can either write full time or fence, and I’ve chosen writing. But I fenced foil competitively for years, and I loved it.
One of the things I particularly loved was the strategy. Foil has right of way, which means that in the case of simultaneous hits, you need to be controlling the action in order to be awarded the touch. I always thought of it as a kind of structured poetry – like, you can say anything you want in a sonnet, but if you don’t follow the rules, it’s not a sonnet. It might be something great, but it’s not a sonnet. SO thinking like that – how to do what I want (win!) within the rules, was a great pleasure to me, and something that made the writing parts of my brain stronger.
Plus, this means that fencing uses a lot of the same language that writing does – there is a “conversation of blades” and when the judge determines right of way, she is said to be “reading the phrase.” I mean, that’s just marvelous.
3. How do you use your work to challenge yourself or your readers?
I am always trying to challenge myself as a writer. I want to say new things, take new risks, push myself to write better stories, whatever “better” happens to mean to me that day. I don’t ever want to sit back and rest. I’d rather fail spectacularly than be blah.
As to challenging my readers, I don’t know that I necessarily think about that in a concrete way when I write. I don’t say “I’m going to make this character a woman, because that will challenge the status quo!” But I do hope that what I write makes people think and feel, sometimes in ways that are outside of their comfort zones, and if I’ve done that, then I do think that I’ve challenged them. Any time you accept that the world is bigger or different that you thought before, you’ve seen a challenge, and accepted it.
4. What is the “uncanniest” thing that has ever happened to you.
Aaahh! You don’t want me to write that down, do you? Don’t you know that’s how this sort of thing spreads? Better not to talk about it. Just be quiet. Sit in the sun, somewhere nice and warm with no ghosts at all instead.