Kate Evans

1. The first question we would like to ask is why do you write, what compels you?

I feel like it’s in my DNA. I started reading at age 4 and writing soon after. Beginning with Harriet the Spy, I couldn’t get enough of books with girl protagonists who were writers. I still love books written by and about women writers, such as May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. I’ve always been drawn to creating with words and to the life of the writer.

2. What, for you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Not taking myself too seriously.

3. What genre do you feel most at ease writing in, if any?

I write fiction, poetry and memoir. I’m not sure I feel at ease at one more than the other. They all have their joys and challenges.

4. How do you like to approach your writing when starting a new project? Do you do outlines, and breakdown scenes, or do you just leap straight into writing the narrative?

I’m a leaper (in writing and life).

5. How do you create your characters? Do you start with a basic outline of personality type, or work them up as you go along?

For me, characters usually begin with a name and a conflict. Someone is in trouble, or in an unfamiliar environment or situation. Then as the character deals with the conflict, I learn more and more about her or him. And I learn about the characters that come into the main character’s life as they interact.

6. Do you talk to your characters at all?

It’s more like they talk to me.

7. Do you have certain writing rituals that you like to perform?

Writing on a laptop that does not have the ability to connect to the Internet.

8. Writers quite often work through personal issues in their narratives. Do you, and how do you handle that?

I subscribe to Robert Frost’s insight about writing and feeling: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

I’ve been writing poetry and memoir about my father’s long illness and death, followed by my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Feeling is essential to me while I write. So is discovery. I can never claim I’ve worked out my feeling and thoughts in advance of writing. I’m more like poet Ellen Bass, who says her writing comes from something she’s “trying to work out.” She said that with her mother’s death, poetry was one of the ways she grieved. Certainly that’s true for me with poetry and memoir. I uncover new levels of understanding, as well as new questions, as I write. I see things from new angles.

This is true in my fiction, too, but the issues that are my personal ones are less obvious than in my memoir and poetry. Perhaps that’s one reason I like to go back and forth among the genres. Sometimes I like to be exposed. Other times I like the freedom of hiding.

9. Do you have people read your work as you write, or do you wait till a project is complete? What would you say were the benefits to either approach?

I do it different ways. I began my novel For the May Queen in a writing group. I read the chapters aloud to the group as I finished them, and I found that the laughter and other reactions of the group fueled me to continue. Before I finished the novel, I had to leave the group, so I continued the process by reading each chapter aloud to Annie, my partner.

However, working on my memoir, I’m very protective of it and don’t want others to read it until I have huge sections complete. Because that story involves the lives of so many other people (especially Annie and my sisters and my mom), I don’t want to worry about what they might think while I’m working on it. I want to just get it down.

Too much critique too early can stunt my writing process. If I share a piece while I’m working on it, I like to hear what’s working and questions are raised for people. I’m not ready yet for full-on critique until the end, when I have some distance from the piece and am ready to dive into revision.

10. Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

Everywhere. In everything I live, see, read, experience. That’s one of the joys of being a writer. I’m more alive to the world because I see everything as possibility for story or poem.

11. Do you like to write to music and, if so, what kind?

When I wrote For the May Queen, which takes place in 1981, I listened to 70s and 80s music. I’m writing the memoir in silence, which now that I think about it is quite fitting since the memoir is a very intensely inward experience. I’m also currently working on a historical novel, and I’ve been doing it in silence. I’m wondering now, though, if it might not be a good idea to play some music of the era, the 1930s and 40s, to help me get unstuck. I’m struggling with that book right now.

12. If you didn’t write, what would you do?

It’s hard to say. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write, so I’d be living a completely different life.

13. What’s your favorite story and why?

There are so many I’ve loved, but I suppose I have to go back to Harriet the Spy. The books we loved as a child are the ones that remain most seminal, I think. I loved it as a child, and I re-read it as an adult, aloud to Annie in bed for several nights in a row. She loved it too. I then investigated the author, Louise Fitzhugh—and to my pleasant surprise, I found out she was a lesbian. She was very ahead of her time. She’d written a book about two girls in love that couldn’t get published in her day. The manuscript is now lost. Tragically, Fitzhugh died young.

I love that book because Harriet is a misfit and a writer. She wears her father’s blocky eyeglass frames and jeans, and she rides her bike around spying on people and writing about them. Her best friend is a boy who wears an apron and makes dinner for his widowed father. I think I learned about the powerful effects of conflict in a book by reading that one over and over. When Harriet’s classmates read her notebook, which is filled with mostly unflattering comments about them (since Harriet can’t help but write down her impressions of everyone and everything), I was gripped, wanting to know how she’d work through that horrible dilemma. I also learned about character, how well-drawn characters can feel more real, sometimes, than the unknowable people in our lives.

14. What are some of the things you do to improve on your craft? Do you attend conferences? Take workshops? What works best for you to improve how and what you write?

I read a lot. All writers are my teachers. When a passage makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, I always look at how the writer did that to me. When a book bores me, I examine what it is about the writing that doesn’t move me.

While I don’t think an MFA in creative writing is necessary for everyone, I did get an MFA, which was helpful. Sometimes I go to conferences as a presenter or a participant, but that’s more about connecting to my writing community than learning, per se, about writing. I think the best way to learn to write is to read a lot and write a lot. Taking some classes can certainly be helpful—I teach creative writing, and I wouldn’t if I didn’t believe that—but classes are no substitute for immersing oneself in reading and writing.

15. As a writer what do you look for in a prospective publisher?

Someone who likes my work!

16. What, from your perspective, are some of the most common mistakes first time authors make when starting out in the business?

Perhaps focusing too much on the writing business and not enough on writing.

17. What are some of the things you do to build up interest for your work? What do you think are some of the most effective things an author can do to advertise him or herself?

Having an online presence is very helpful—blogging, facebook, goodreads. The list goes on and on. These are great ways to connect to other readers and writers. Of course there are the more traditional ways, too, such as giving readings and talks, leading workshops, giving interviews, and writing articles on topics related to the books you write, a kind of free (or sometimes even paid) P.R.

18. How do you feel about e-publishing and e-books? And would you go that route?

I think it’s great that there are so many ways for people to make their writing available to readers. However, I’ve never bought an e-book. I love holding a book in my hands, reading on the couch or in bed or in the bathtub. I love the smell, the feel, the aesthetics of books, and I have a hard time reading long things on a screen. I do read some online literary magazines because I can read shorter pieces on the computer. There are a lot of great online literary magazines out there.

My poetry collection, Like All We Love, was published by a small press that has now folded. I like knowing that I have the option of making the book available as an e-book, if I choose, once the hard copies are sold out.

19. What were your best and worst experiences with an editor?

My best experience has been with Kimberlee Williams at Vanilla Heart Publishing, publisher of For the May Queen and my second novel, Complementary Colors, which is coming out in spring or summer ‘09. She has been so open and communicative on every aspect of the process. She’s also working hard on many levels to promote the book. I also had a great experience working with editors at the Bellevue Literary Review, who published my story “The Encounter Complex.” They made suggestions for additions and changes to the story, which I felt made it better.

One of my negative experiences was when I had an agent trying to sell one of my novels. An editor at a big house loved it and took it to her group, who rejected it mainly because they felt it existed in the netherland between adult fiction and young adult fiction. Right around that time, Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Prep hit the best-seller lists, and that novel is considered a cross-over between, yes, adult and young adult fiction. The publishing world is enough to make any writer crazy. I just try to take my own advice and focus more on my writing than on the business side.

20. And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a writer? And what, for you, totally sucks about it?

My favorite thing is that I get to use words to try to express what words can’t express. I also love all the time alone mucking around in my brain. What sucks about it is that writing can be really, really hard. No matter how much practice one has, sometimes the blank white page is a killer. Writing is the hardest thing I’ve ever loved.

Our thanks to Kate for taking time to hang out with us, here at Kissed By Venus. We would like to wish her good luck with her up and coming new release.

Author Profile:

Kate Evans is the author of a novel For the May Queen, a poetry collection Like All We Love and a book about lesbian and gay teachers (Negotiating the Self). Her stories, poems and essays have appeared in more than 50 publications. A second novel, Complementary Colors, is forthcoming in Spring 2009. In July 2008, she took advantage of California’s new law and legally married Annie Tobin, her partner of 14 years, on a boat in the waters off the coast of Santa Cruz. She teaches at San Jose State University.

Where to find Kate:
First Chapter

Kate’s novel, For the May Queen, is available through Amazon and on the publisher’s website: Vanilla Heart Books.

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