This interview was fun for me- Kat Fieler speaks in depth and with feeling as we touched on many topics. She describes herself as an adventurer. “When I was in elementary school, I lived for the annual family road trip. We just went to visit aunts, uncles, cousins… but it took three days to get there and that’s when I began writing. I’d take a notebook and look out the car window, and imagine stories about the people and places and along the way.”
She describes stories as affordable excursions. “They take us to exotic places, introduce us to people who are long-dead or not yet born, or who only exist in some author’s universe—all without the need to pack or book a hotel.”
I enjoy this philosophy about writing and stories, and found myself nodding agreement. She said she married a fellow adventurer forty years ago, Ric, and, “Bought an Airstream. Now we travel the country six to eight months of the year. Neither of us are certain why we even own a house. The best we can come up with is that the guy we pay to mow our lawn is a family friend.”
I think you’ll enjoy this interview, especially if you like Sci-Fi. Here is Kat!
What was it that made you decide you had a story to tell and to become an author?
Several high school teachers and two college professors encouraged me to consider a career as a writer. But my parents firmly believed that writing was a hobby, not a vocation. So, wrote for my enjoyment until I lucked into a job with a writer’s festival. Until then, I’d never thought about submitting any of my own stories for publication. Hanging out with authors made me think it was possible to be one.
As an author or writer, what sets you apart from others?
I don’t know that I stand apart from other writers. I find community among musicians, painters, writers… It’s been my experience that artists don’t just exist day to day. Life seems to be a resource for them. Writers and musicians turn experiences, good and bad, into something worth looking at; often providing a view you would never have seen all on your own. I enjoy looking out of someone else’s window. It’s the closest thing I have ever experienced to being in another person’s head.
How do ideas for your stories present themselves? How do you know what story lines to follow and which to ignore?
Most of my stories come from “what if?”. I see an article or something on TV and I wonder, what if she’d taken the subway instead of a taxi? What if he’d said what he was really thinking?
I love Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken. It talks about paths followed and the ones left unexplored. I follow the one that looks most interesting at the moment. But I make note of the others. I never truly ignore a potential story. They’re all stored in a file in my office. But “knowing how way leads on to way…” Still, I hope to double back. Someday.
What genre do you write, and why?
At first, I wrote Sci-Fi because I grew up on Heinlein, Asimov, Clark… My dad read and passed them on to me. We used to watch the original Star Trek series together. Those are wonderful memories. I loved the new worlds and fantastical characters in science fiction stories. But I also loved the hidden social commentary.
And then I discovered Ursula K. LeGuin and CJ Cherryh, and it suddenly occurred to me that Mary Shelley was a science fiction writer. And, I had permission, as a woman, to write in that genre.
These days I read fantasy—especially dark fantasy—dystopian, historical fiction, and thrillers. Recent market trends toward cross-genre writing have helped me expand my taste to include romance, horror, and memoirs. Nothing is off the table for me.
Besides writing and telling a good story, do you have any other talents?
I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, but it’s my husband’s passion. He taught me about composition, the rule of thirds, perspective, depth of field. I don’t have the patience to learn how to use his cameras, so mine are all shot from my cell phone. That said, I sold two of photos to a digital travel magazine. For me, photography is just another form of looking at life and reframing it.
If you were to name one or two books that you deem unforgettable and that had a major impact on you, what would they be, and why?
Well, this is a short story, not a book, but Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis changed my worldview. Is Gregor really a bug? Or is he crazy? His family members are most definitely nuts and sucking the life out of him. Maybe it pays to be crazy when you can’t escape your life any other way. I was assigned to analyze the story for an English Lit class. I like it so much; I did the assignment both ways and turned in both papers.
If I had to name a book, I’d say Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. It was the first time I’d read such a dark tale aimed at such a young audience. But middle grade readers love scary. Nestled in between the lines of Gaiman’s tale are lessons about courage and self-identity. It’s a brilliant book.
What authors do you read regularly? Why?
Barbara Kingsolver, Jess Kidd, Lydia Kang, and Kazuo Ishiguro are some of my favorites. They never shy away from the truth of the story. They just tell it. Also, each of these authors write prose poetry, so I come away with a better vocabulary and an appreciation for the art of writing well.
If you were to have dinner with 5 individuals living or dead, who would they be and why?
That question popped into my mind when I was exploring London. I was on Westminster Bridge, standing under the statue of Boudica. I’d love to meet her, but I’m not sure she would be a great dinner hostess. She’d likely serve you an enemy’s head on a platter.
I would love to have dinner with Elizabeth the First. Her dad locked her up after he had her mother beheaded. Elizabeth received an education, but mostly on the off chance, she turned out to be a good marital pawn to secure peace with some enemy. She grew up a prisoner, with a death sentence perpetually hanging over her head. It was very unlikely she would live to adulthood, much less become Queen of England—yet she did both. I don’t have a specific question for her. I’d just like to hear her talk about her life and how she coped.
Mya Angelou: I’d give a lot to hear her speak about her life, and how society changed or didn’t. I’d ask her to talk about I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, how it came about and what obstacles she had to overcome.
The rest are modern authors in genres I read: Hugh Howie and Stephen King. I’d like them to talk about how the publishing industry has changed and how authors can adapt.
What is your writing routine? When you write, do you plan or outline ahead or are you a “pantser”?
I am a plotter. I outline and plan my stories carefully. Unfortunately, my characters are all pantsers. Sooner or later—usually sooner—they rebel and take off in different directions, and I have to round them up. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. It takes longer to get the story down if you have to keep pleading with your characters, but they always tell a better tale than I had in mind.
When writing, how much do you read? Do you read in or out of your genre?
I read at least a book a week. Most of the time, I have three books going at once. If a book is particularly thought-provoking, I’ll stop, take some notes, and put it down for a day. If an author does that to me, the story is well-done and multi-layered. That’s a compliment. It means I need to digest before moving on. When that happens, I start another book in a different genre. But I always finish one book every week. And I always leave a review.
Is there something you set out to do, but somehow, it didn’t work out for you? (In writing, or something else you felt was important to you at the time?)
I never set out to be a mother. I was ambivalent about it because I was told I could never conceive. But I did, and the pregnancy and birth of our son was so uneventful, we tried again. Sadly, the attempt to have another child led to several tragic years. But it cemented the idea that we wanted children; that we wanted to expand our family. Just when we started discussing adoption, I learned I was pregnant with our daughter. Bed-rest and medical heroics were involved, but we were blessed with another incredible child. We wanted three, but decided we were ahead of the game. Now, we can’t imagine life without them.
I think Douglas Adams said it best: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.”
What tips would you give to new or even experienced writers?
Never stop reading. Keep a little notebook and write down things people say that make you smile: a turn of a phrase, a word you’d never heard before… Or record that on your phone. Find a good critique group and attend as if it was a job. Critique groups will teach you to write to a deadline and how to receive constructive criticism. Know, with all your heart, that constructive criticism is neither good nor bad. Comments are someone’s opinion and a chance for you to hear what readers experience when they read what you wrote.
If you can’t stand critiques of any sort, stop now. You’re wasting your time. Agents and editors are not in the business of coddling clients. And, if you go straight to self-publishing without benefit of any voice other than your own, you are in for a shock when readers leave reviews.
How did you “teach” yourself to write or did it just come naturally? What lessons would you pass on to others?
I’ve been involved with a writing community since early adulthood, and members have always been gracious and generous. I may have had some innate talent, but that will get any of us a rough draft at best. Workshops, critique groups, and writers’ retreats are fantastic places to hone your craft and network. I’ve been blessed in that two mentors—authors who had nothing to gain by helping me—each took the time to read and mark up my work. Both also advocated when it came time to submit.
There are no shortcuts in writing, but community helps.
How do you handle a negative critique?
It’s only happened to me twice, and both times the offending party should have read the room. The other participants were annoyed and probably thinking the same thing I was. “Well, that wasn’t very helpful.” Neither of these people remained with the group, which says a lot.
Besides, it’s your story. You don’t have to change anything.
Is there a type of writing/genre that you find difficult to write? Why?
I write but have never published any horror. I’m not sure what I think will happen if I try to put these stories out there, but they bother me. Mostly, I’m surprised that I’m capable of thinking up such scenarios. It’s almost as if someone else wrote them. Maybe I’m just superstitious, but since the tales are so alien to me, it feels as if I don’t really own them.
How important are the elements of character, setting, and atmosphere to a story, and why?
It is essential that your characters and world be as real and three dimensional as you can make them. I recently attended a workshop on world building and was surprised to learn that most authors have reams of paper, volumes and volumes of background on their characters and the places in which they live. I thought I was the only one who did that. Not true. One of the speakers actually draws maps, and another goes so far as to calculate weather patterns for his worlds. How much is too much? When character development and world building keep you from telling the story, that’s too much. But for me, research and development are the most enjoyable part of story writing.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters you create? How/Why?
I never thought I was anyone I wrote. Recently, I learned I am everyone. That’s a sobering thought. As the saying goes, write what you know. I thought that meant, don’t try to describe things you have never seen. Turns out, we all write ourselves into our books.
Is there an unforgettable or memorable character that will not leave your head, either of your own creation or from a book you’ve read?
Taylor Greer from Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven: that’s the character I can’t forget. She’s so real. I missed her after I finished the book. It felt like a friend had moved away. That is a well-developed character, and the mark of a great author.
Tell us about your most recent book.
Shadow Runner is a Victorian fantasy/adventure, a little Sci-Fi. It’s definitely a genre meld. I thought the audience was YA but it turns out my readers are largely women between the ages of eighteen and eight-five. That is hilarious. I don’t know what to do with that information. It’s certainly not helpful as a marketing data-set, but it made me chuckle.
In Shadow Runner, my protagonists, Ada is destined to live a life of luxury—yet all she wants is freedom. A series of seemingly supernatural events unexpectedly deliver her from the mundane—but no one could have predicted the darkness that comes with it. Raised by a secret society, she’s groomed as an assassin. As Ada comes of age, she must become a predator, targeting members of the very nobility to which she was born. The only other choice is to leave the organization as a fugitive. And if she leaves, she must forsake the two people she loves more than herself: her captor and her adopted sister, both of whom would be slain as punishment for her disloyalty.
How did you come up with the concept?
One of my mentors invited me to write a short story for an anthology he knew about. It was a Kindle World to boot, so the details had to be spot-on-canon. I spent more time researching the details for that story than I have for any other story, ever. But the anthology failed to launch, and the publisher gave me back all rights. I had so much time and effort invested, I turned it into a novel. The rewrite was extensive because I had to take it out of another author’s world. It took me three years to rework the story, but I ended up with three books instead of one. It was the first time I had ever considered writing a series.
How did you come up with the title?
This is going to sound so hokey, but I swear it’s true. It came to me in a dream, as if someone had whispered it in my ear. I remember this because I had to get out of bed and go in search of pen and paper and, by the time I had finally recorded this little tidbit, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I sat up for the rest of the night, writing.
From your book, who is your favorite character? Who is your least favorite character? Why?
I like all my characters, even the evil ones. So let me answer that another way.
My most well-meaning character is the Shadow Runner’s protagonist, Ada. She’s a survivor and the most like me. Although I’ve never been kidnapped and raised by a criminal society, I have had cancer—three times. Ada is probably me working through impossible choices.
The most interesting character I’ve ever written is from the same story: the deeply flawed and charismatic Dieb. She will lie to you and make you laugh all in the same line. Dieb has a good heart, but her biggest fear is that you’ll feel sorry for her. I’m not a liar; in fact, I’m honest almost to a fault. But there is some of me in Dieb as well. I can be full of piss and vinegar, but, if we’re friends, I’m the person who has your back.
At the moment, Shadow Runner is only available through our publisher, Black Rose Writing, but if you order now, you receive 15% off:
Author/media contact information:
I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did, and I hope you check out Kat’s new book, Shadow Runner.