SN: Sisters Noire (unless otherwise indicated, interviews conducted by Ed Evans).
KK: Kay Kauffman.
SN: Could you give us a little bit of background on you?
KK: By day, I’m a mild-mannered legal secretary. By night, I wrangle words (and sometimes kids). I’ve been spinning yarns of every kind for years – I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write. The kids I wrangle? There are four of them. They keep my husband and me on our toes…and occasionally out of our minds.
SN: Generally what genre or genres does your work fall under?
KK: I’ve got a novel on submission called The Lokana Chronicles. It’s a fantasy novel, but I’ve written in other genres, too. I’ve dabbled in horror and post-apocalypse, both of which are not things I normally write, although I do enjoy reading horror (R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street series were childhood favorites). I’ve also taken a stab at writing chick lit, though that was mostly confined to my hormone-fueled teenage years (why, yes, it is completely normal for world-famous boy bands to be wandering around some little-bitty piss-ant country town in the middle of the night and not be swarmed by screaming teenage girls). Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since then, although buried deep within those early novels – you know, underneath all the many and varied layers of crap – exist a nugget of coal worth polishing someday when my kids are all grown and I might realistically expect to have an hour or two to myself in which to polish said coal into diamonds. Or at least polish them into something more than turds, anyway.
I’ve dabbled in poetry for as long as I can remember, favoring free verse and haiku over other forms, although I love sonnets and am determined to someday master the form. I’ve written a few pieces of (awful) music for the flute, which I used to play passably well, and I did a stint as a journalist, among other things, for my local newspaper the summer after college. I enjoyed that, but the hours were long, the pay was miserable, and the summer was hot. The writing and the other two employees I worked with on a daily basis were great fun, though, especially as one was one of my best friends.
SN: I see you have written several short stories, can you tell me about these?
KK: I started writing short stories in order to work on getting to the point. Brevity and I are not friends, you see. I wanted to make my writing stronger by eliminating some of the unnecessary words in it, so I started by trying to write short stories. I joined Twitter as an extension of this exercise, actually, but that’s another story.
Anyway, most of my short stories have been of the chick lit variety as romance was something I was sorely missing when I began this particular experiment. They all pretty much follow the old boy meets girl, boy screws up, boy wins girl over in the end formula, only with the boy and girl roles reversed most of the time.
Then I joined Authonomy, a writing website run by HarperCollins. I stumbled upon a forum thread called The Alliance of Worldbuilders, which I happily joined (we’re on our third thread now because we kept crashing the servers – the first thread was over 2000 pages long by quite a bit), and one of the regulars pointed me to a weekly flash fiction competition. Last October they did a theme for the month, which was a departure from their normal anything-goes-so-long-as-it’s-
SN: Are you writing at the moment?
KK: I’m not writing much at the moment, except for blog posts and the odd poem. Right now I’m working on a major revision of The Lokana Chronicles, as I’ve had a request from someone who wants to see the full manuscript, but they want me to make some serious revisions to it first. The revisions they want will make the story stronger, so I’m happy to make them, but it’s a lot of work and with limited writing time, it means that caffeine – in any form I can get my hands on it – is my new best friend. I’m eager to be done with the revisions so that I can move on to a new project, although I’m not sure what that will be just yet. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing another project within Lokana, but I’ve also been toying with the idea of reworking one of those older manuscripts I mentioned earlier, even if it does mean a major, major rewrite.
SN: What inspired you to start writing?
KK: I really don’t know. I remember when I was in second or third grade (I’d have been about eight) that there was this really neat diary (journal) in the school book order and I begged my mom to let me get it. She ordered it for me and when it came, I was so excited that I went straight to my room and started writing in it. I think I wrote all of three entries in it before it got left in the window seat with a balloon that promptly melted all over it, ruining the cover. I never did fill all the pages, but I’ve been writing ever since.
A year or so later, we were assigned to write a story in school. We had to illustrate them and everything in these blank hardcover books – I still have mine at home. The teacher had them available in the school library for other students to check out; it was kind of a big deal. She evidently thought mine was pretty good for an nine-year-old because she entered it into the University of Northern Iowa Young Writer’s Workshop that year. A year later, my mom passed away and I used writing to cope. I found that story in a box of old things and when I read it to my kids, I was surprised by how good it was. I mean, it wasn’t a literary masterpiece or anything – it was called The Paperpunch Monster – but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.
SN: Can you share a little of your work with us?
KK: The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of The Lokana Chronicles. Vegin, the Crown Prince of Lokana, has just returned from an outlying village, where he secured the hand of the woman he loves. His parents, however, have arranged his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy nobleman and he returns from the home of his beloved’s parents to find out what lies in store for him:
“I had a wonderful evening, Vegin,” Amarah replied as they entered the library.
Tol and Enya exchanged elated smiles at Amarah’s remark. Her mother, Danalla, was beside herself with excitement and her father’s face shone with relief. “You two were certainly gone a long time,” Tol said. “Did you get to know each other?”
“We did, Father. And I still refuse to marry her.”
“You what?” the king roared after a moment of stunned silence.
“And I won’t marry him, either,” Amarah declared.
“What?” Arkin sputtered, his voice three octaves higher than normal.
“You just said you had a wonderful evening!” Danalla exclaimed.
“And I did. Toqarnna Vegin is very nice, but I’m in love with Tornna.”
“Oh, not this again,” Arkin sighed. “Amarah, we’ve been over this a thousand times. That boy isn’t suitable for you!”
“Why not? Because he’s not a prince?” Amarah blushed as Vegin threw her a wry grin. “Tornna is a good man, Father, and I’ll marry none other.”
“Your Highnesses, I apologize most sincerely for my daughter’s impudent behavior,” Arkin said, attempting damage control as he tried to hold himself together. “I hope it won’t interfere with our agreement.” He shot Amarah an icy glare. “If you’ll excuse us, I need to have a word with my daughter.” Though he led Amarah out of the room, much of their conversation was heard inside the library.
Danalla, having been left behind by her husband, looked as uncomfortable as everyone else felt. “Do excuse me,” she nearly whispered as she quickly fled the room.
Once she had gone, Vegin seized the opportunity to discuss his feelings. “Clearly she doesn’t want to marry me,” he began.
“She’s young and foolish. She doesn’t know what she wants,” Tol said, irritated. This wasn’t going at all the way he had planned.
“Don’t be so sure of that,” Enya said, a far-off look in her eye as she recalled her own youth. “When we married, I wanted nothing to do with you, remember? I had the same conversation with my parents that Amarah is having with hers. I was wrong, of course, and so is she. After all, parents do want what is best for their children and I know she will love you in the end, dear. How could she not?”
“You really think it’s best for me to marry a complete stranger who has sworn to love another? What possible good could come of that?”
“But she will love you one day, darling, I know it. After all, I learned to love your father.”
Tol and Vegin both gaped in surprise at the queen, who was not normally so outspoken. Tol was the first to speak as annoyance quickly replaced his shock. “We haven’t the time for this right now, woman! Vegin, the future of the monarchy is at stake here and I’ll not have you toying with me.”
“I am not toying with you, Father. I will not marry Amarah. She is in love with someone else and so am I.”
“Yes, yes, Leto, isn’t that her name? Who is she? Where is she from?” Tol demanded, leaving unasked the question he was most interested in having answered.
“Her name is Lipei. She is from the House of Tolhana near Tobali. She is the most wonderful being Kiala ever put on this earth and she is the only woman I will ever marry.”
“An Outlier?” Tol and Enya exclaimed in unison. “You can’t be serious!” Enya added, horrified. “Why, they’re barely civilized!”
“No son of mine is marrying a filthy peasant,” Tol declared. “They’re at the heart of all the trouble in the kingdom. I forbid you to see that girl again!”
“The Outliers aren’t the ones responsible for all the trouble, Father, you are! They’re starving to death out there and you won’t lift a finger to help them. What do you expect them to do? You’ve left them no other choice but to revolt and if I were in their position, I would rebel, too. I will marry Lipei, Outlier or not, and nothing you can say or do will stop me!” Vegin declared and stormed out of the library.
Tol threw his hands up in fury and glared at his wife. “He’s your son!”
“Funny, I was about to say the same to you,” she retorted as her husband turned on his heel and followed their son from the room.
SN: What aspect of the writing process do you find most difficult and what do you do to try to combat this?
KK: Brevity. Packing as big a punch with as few words as possible has never been a strong suit of mine, but I’m working on it. Editing is also hard, but it’s worth it in the end. I’m good at editing, but most of the time when I’m working on revising a project, I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall trying to get things to work. I’m stubborn, so I don’t like to quit until I’m sure that it’s right (I strive for perfection, but I realize that it’s an unattainable goal, so I settle for right).
To combat these difficulties, I practice. I’ve tried to hone my “Get to the point, already!” skills by joining Twitter, where if you can’t say what you want to say in 140 characters or less, well, you’d better figure out another way to say it, son, and by writing short stories. Writing short stories led to writing flash fiction and, after writing flash fiction, I now have trouble writing short stories with 5,000-word limits without making the story feel ridiculously drawn out. I think my experiment in honing my brevity skills has thus far been successful.
My husband has been immensely helpful in assisting my editing process. My aforementioned attempt at writing post-apocalypse resulted in much hair-pulling (mine, not his), but the story was ultimately better for it and it’s due to be published sometime this year by Portmanteau Press in an anthology of short fiction. It was supposed to be out this spring, but due to unforeseen circumstances, the publication date has been pushed back. I can’t wait to hold that shiny, pretty book in my hands and squee like a teenage girl at a Bieber concert.
SN: Thank you Kay.
You can find Kay Kauffman on –