2014 Snapshot Archive: Deborah Kalin

First published at Ben Payne’s blog.

Deborah Kalin is a Clarion graduate, novelist (check out The Binding) and acclaimed short story writer. She has a collection coming up in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. You want to be her.

Deb K

1. I believe your next upcoming publication is a novella collection as part of the Twelfth Planet series. How did you approach the concept of your book? Are your stories linked or standalones? What can we expect from the collection?The collection itself was born when I subbed a single story to TPP – I believe my cover letter said “Well, I have this story in a really awkward length, and I think it’s right up your alley except for the fact that I don’t have anything else to pair it with, so it wouldn’t suit your current publishing model of, you know, books. But if you like it I promise I can write more!”In hindsight, that was rather an ambitious promise. Alisa accepted it at the 2011 WFC, and as soon as I got home I sat down to write three more stories for her, armed with very few concrete ideas and a whole plague of flighty premises and “wouldn’t it be cool if (somehow)…?”-type thoughts. Three years (and one baby) later, I’m still slogging away at them (although I’m so close now, so close!).

Initially I toyed with the idea of each story having a tone or thematic undercurrent related to one of the ancient humors (melancholic, sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic), but I don’t think that eventuated.

The stories are all set in the same world, but in widely disparate locations of that world, each with their own atmosphere. They’re more closely linked by theme: the idea that fate is predetermined by personality type, that the monsters which stalk a person are always, if not of their own making, at least of their summoning. There’s also a thematic link in the idea that the social constructs we rely upon to create a community (such as honesty, empathy, education, class) all come at a price, and the stories explore how that price is paid.

2. It’s been a couple of years since the publication of your fantasy series, The Binding. Do you have any novel-length works in the pipeline and if so, what are you working on?

It’s the same old story: too many ideas, not enough time.

I have an idea for a YA novel about teen suicide (cheery, huh?), an adult fantasy trilogy about identity and the various ways we define it, and another YA novel, also about identity but this one featuring mermaids instead of volcanoes. (It sounds so simple when I break it down like that. As if it would take me only a couple of tea breaks to plot them all out and write them up…)

3. I believe your writing time has been slightly inconvenienced by the production of your first human creation. How is being a new(ish) mum working out in terms of writing? Have you found a way to maintain a routine through the inevitable chaos that babies bring?

Has. It. Ever.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve found writing and new motherhood just don’t mix. For me, writing has always meant alone time, and at least a dedicated hour of it, and that’s not so easy to come by when you’re the primary carer.

In my case, my daughter didn’t learn to sleep through the night until she was 14 months old. At one point, when she was 6 months old, she would wake every 40 minutes throughout the whole damn night. We were all living on 20-30 minute catnaps; it was brutal. Her daytime naps were brief and infrequent, and more often than not I needed to sleep when she did; I couldn’t afford the mental, physical and emotional toll of going without whatever sleep I could snatch out of those preternaturally long days. I couldn’t stay up late or get up early to write for the same reason. And because she was sleep-deprived and irritable, and had undiagnosed reflux, she quite literally would not be parted from me. It’s been the most intense experience of my life, being her everything. (I’m still very tired.)

Thankfully, after 18 months, life appears to be settling a little. Her separation anxiety is easing a fraction, and she’s bonded to other people in her life, so these days I’m able to sneak away at least once a week and get some writing done. I write so much slower than I ever did before, because my time is so much more constricted, but I’m hoping a little dedicated practice will fix that.

(Also, there is no such thing as routine. There never was. There never will be. Routine is a lie, and anyone who tells you different is selling something, to paraphrase. (Oh how I miss routine! My kingdom for a routine!))

4. What sort of writers are you reading these days? Is there anybody who inspires you?

With time so precious, I grieve to say my reading has truly suffered.

At the moment my nightstand sports Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger In Olondria (beautiful prose); Aliens: Recent Encounters, edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane (excellent diversity of stories in this one); a non-fiction book on Byzantium; a novel on Inner Mongolia; and The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar (which I am reading in sips and whiffs, the way one should always treat honey).

Of the books I’ve finished recently, my absolute favourite, which had me all tense inside while I was reading it, was Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. I loved those horses, and that island!

5. The publishing world is changing day-by-day, perhaps more so than ever in the last two years. How do you read the changes and how does it affect the way you approach publishing as a writer and reader? 

As a reader, the current state of the industry has seriously curtailed my access to fiction. Gone are the days when I could just walk into a bookstore and browse the shelves. Browsing online provides a bigger range — but I find my online purchasing is a far more targeted experience. I buy books I’ve had recommended, by friends or family or colleagues; I’m far less likely to gamble on an unheard-of-to-me author. Yet the majority of my bookstore purchases were impulse buys.

As a writer … to be honest, if I stop and think about it for too long, I feel caught in the cross-fire. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t change what I have in my control: to write what I love to the best of my ability.

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