It's Thursday, and that means another interview, this time with the insighttful Katherine Sparrow. Read on to find out more about her and how she came to write a Nebula nominated story.
What are you working on right now?
A sequel to a book about cured mentally-ill kids with not-so-super powers. Thinking about and drafting a sequel is interesting and hard. There's the issue of working in back-story to orient readers who didn't read the first book, without boring the readers who did read the first book. Then there's working with characters who've already had a lot happen to them, and how to express the growing complexity of their lives. And, on top of that, this book is much more about sociology and groups of people told through the lens of a couple of characters, so I find that hard, hard, hard. My writing, it seems, always wants me to learn how to write things I don't know how to write. Which is why I love it and why it terrifies me and why I doubt I'll ever move out of a place of, as the Buddhist's say, of beginner's mind.
What's your pre-writing ritual?
Grabbing a cup of coffee or green tea. Surfing the same four Internet places I always do until I get bored. Turning on Pandora (lately to the dubstep station which is way too industrial and grindy for my normal taste, but seems to work for writing.) Telling myself I can't take a break until I write X amount of words. Taking a deep breath and jumping into word-world.
What is one of the most surprising/interesting things you've discovered while doing research for a story?
I love, love, love writing research. It's so different from academic or real-life research in that instead of looking for mastery of a subject, I'm looking for quirky details and vignettes, and those tidbits that open a whole imagined world.
Last year, for a story I was writing about a girl discovering San Francisco's secrets, I photographed over a hundred and fifty graffiti murals in the city, and let the images and hidden places seep into me and whisper their stories.
About five years ago I did researched South Africa, and more specifically the history of the anti-apartheid movement and what it's like to live in Soweto for Xhosa and Zulu teenaged girls. I got to interview some really wonderful and vibrant teenagers, who were hilariously like teenagers everywhere, and also very specifically south African and passionate about the struggles and joys of living in Johannesburg. I also got to read many testimonials about a movement I personally find inspiring and heartbreaking. It was wonderful.
Tell me about your favorite story that you've published. What inspired it, and what does it mean to you?
Well, a lot of my stories start out of a rage at some injustice or other. When I wrote "The Migratory Patterns of Dancers", I was really pissed off about the ways patriarchy and capitalism co-mingle to mess up men's lives just as much as women's, a lot of the time. Like the way men are supposed to be the workers and providers, and aren't allowed other roles in their lives. I was also angry at feminists who didn't seem interested in those injustices, and would rather personally profit off them.
So, of course that led to a story about a future without birds, and men who bike around to national parks and perform extinct-bird dances. Somehow, it got a Nebula nomination in 2011 which I am still thrilled about.
You can have lunch with any writer, living or dead. Who would it be, and why?
George Orwell. I love him so much as a writer who told complex truths, and I just want to breathe his air and be his friend and talk to him about "Homage to Catalonia", "Down and Out in London and Paris", and how his chickens are doing (Not a metaphor, he was obsessed with his chickens.)
What's one of the best novels and/or short stories you've read recently?
Writing is a sedentary endeavor. What do you do to stay healthy and active?
Writing is so sedentary, and it often hurts my back if I sit around too long. Add to that that I rarely get ideas when I'm pounding the keyboard, and I end up spending a lot of my time walking. I live in a city that is full of mossy staircases, pocket parks, and strange micro-neighborhood. I love exploring new routes and watching the seasons change.