Friday, September 11, 2009

Author Interview with Kaaron Warren

I had read and loved Slights, Kaaron Warren's debut novel. I was lucky enough to snag an interview with this talented author. So without further ado, KAARON WARREN!

First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your debut novel, Slights.

Thanks for inviting me!

Could you give us a short summary of Slights?

Slights is about a woman who, at 18, accidentally kills her mother in a car accident. Stephanie (Steve) experiences near death as a result of her injuries, but she sees no shining light, hears no loving voices. Instead, she finds herself in a cold dark room, surrounded by people she barely knows. The only thing she recognises in them is anger; she sees that they are anxious for her to die so they can devour her.

She visits this room a number of times throughout the novel as she attempts suicide periodically. She is unpopular, disliked, unable to fit in to society. She gradually recognises the people in the room; each and every one is a person she slighted in some way.

Steve becomes obsessed with death. Her brother, a successful politician, has no time for her, and her police officer father died years earlier, a hero. She is obsessed with her own death because in the afterlife, at least, she is the centre of attention. And she becomes obsessed with the deaths of others.

She digs up her backyard with the intention of planting night-blooming jasmine, a comfort flower. Instead, she finds odd things; a cracked glass cufflink, an old belt, a dented lunchbox, a shoe heel, many more odd, small items. These lead her to understand more about her past, and about why she is driven to do the things she does.

You use, as one reviewer stated, a very minimilistic writing style. Is this something you intended?

This is my normal style. I like to pare down the words, make the story speak for itself. One of my favourite writing exercises is the micro story, where you have to tell a story in 50 words or less. I love finding one word to replace ten, and figuring out what needs to be told. This is one:

The night before my twenty-first birthday

At five, I mastered the language of the Heavens.
At fourteen, I was taken as a barren bride; only the chosen have children.
My husband had blood of ice.
Today I learnt that all lives must end at twenty-one.
Hold me my young lover.
I hear alien soldiers at the door.

Slights deals a lot with Steve's relationship with her family. Was this intentional, or did it just come out that way?

It’s a mixture of both things. I knew her parents would be important. The killing of her mother drives her guilt and the story throughout, and her father’s actions are passed on to her, so that drives the story as well.
Her brother became very important as I started to tell the story, and his wife and her family. I guess as Stevie became more of an isolated human, I wanted to build a strong family around her. One of the things which interests me is how families appear on the outside compared to how they really are. You know sometimes you hear of a marriage breaking up and you can’t imagine such a happy couple divorcing. But things happen within a family that people on the outside can’t see.

Slights is, at times, a very frightening book. Do you have any primary influences when it comes to the horror aspect of your writing? What are your major influences in general?

One of my early influences/inspirations was Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I read them at five! I was terrified by Bluebeard in particular, but all of the stories have an element of horror to them. Even the dogs sitting on the tinder box give me chills.
I also read The Arabian Nights, which inspired me with the sorts of stories told and they way they were told. I still love that story-within-a-story-within-a-story style.
S.E. Hinton inspired me because she was a teenaged girl who published a novel. Harlan Ellison because he wrote such bizarre, evocative stuff. Ray Bradbury, because of his wonderful way with dialogue and the social commentary he made in some of his work. Lisa Tuttle, because her stories are so well-layered and intriguing. Stephen King, because he normalizes horrific situations.
I recently re-read a book called “The Down-Bound Train” by Bill Garnett. I read this when I was pretty young, and it really is a character study of five people on a train. I think this influenced me to make my characters many layered and to always have a good back story.

Stevie, if you don't mind me saying, is not a very likable character. Were there any difficulties in writing a protagonist like that?

Once I knew she wasn’t likeable, and allowed myself to write a character who did and said anything she wanted, I found it enjoyable. It’s always tough to remove yourself completely from the character you’re writing, but very important, I think. You can write journal entries if you want to write about yourself; if you’re creating a new character, make it about them, not you.
I’ve had people say that they find Stevie fascinating but they wouldn’t want to have dinner with her!

Do you think you’re similar to Stevie?

No. I’ve been lucky, always loved and been loved in return by the important people in my life. I feel very grateful for that. Though like all people I’ve felt rejection, grief, loneliness and self-doubt. In those ways I am like her.
I tried to show in the novel that there were times when Stevie could have loved and been loved, but she didn’t take those chances. And she isn’t grateful for the things she does have. I think accepting the good things in your life is one of the secrets to happiness.
There are small events in the book which I saw in my life. One example is the lolly shop incident, where Steve annoys the shopkeeper by ordering her lollies one by one. I was always a great observer of people, even as a young child, and I can still remember one of my school mates and neighbours, in our local lolly shop, ordering traffic light lollies like this; I’ll have one red traffic light. And one green traffic light. And one yellow traffic light. And another yellow traffic light. He did this solely to annoy the shopkeeper and it worked beautifully. I remember watching him do this and thinking, “But what’s the point?” It was very funny, though.

When you sat down to write Slights, did you intend for it to be a horror novel?
Yes. I started with the idea of the Hell that Steve suffers, so I knew it would not be a happy story. I also knew that if I was going to tell her story properly, I couldn’t balk. I had to just go for it. The imagery in the dark room had to be hellish and horrifying for it to work.

Where did you get the idea for the "dark room"?
At lot of my horrific imagery comes not from dreams but from the hypnagogic stage. Those moments before sleep when the images of the day download and your conscious thought drifts away. The dark room was imagined in that state.

When you decided to become a writer, did you set out to write horror?
Not deliberately, but I’ve always been attracted to the underbelly of life in my stories. They always had a criminal element to them, or a supernatural one, or both.

When reading horror, do you look for the same technique in other's work as you do in your own?
Yes, I do. In whatever I read, I like characters with depth and believability. I like a surprising plot. I like originality. I do like crime novels but I hate reading the ones which go over the same old ground. I hate knowing what’s going to happen and going through the motions of reading just to get to the end.
I just read a bizarre book “The Captives” by Michael Fisher. I found it at our local second-hand clothes shop. This book is about a doctor who imprisons a man and a woman for his experiments, but it’s so much more than that. I had no idea where it would go throughout the novel, and I love that. In no way did the book merely play itself out. It’s dated in many ways (written in 1970) but an excellent read!

Where do you do your writing?
I don’t have a real designated place. I write my first drafts by hand, with my favourite pen (just found two packs in America, so I’m very pleased. Pilot Precise V7).

Did you have any problems finding a publisher? How did you end up with Angry Robot?
I tried a couple of publishers for the first two novels, but Angry Robot was the first I tried for Walking the Tree.

It seemed like a long road to get to Angry Robot Books.

A few years ago, Lothian Books announced they would bring out a horror line. You can imagine the excitement that caused amongst Australian horror writers. I was asked by the publisher if I had anything ready, but I’d just decided my horror novel needed more work. It wasn’t quite ready; I knew I needed 6 months to perfect it, so planned to submit for second year. One of the things you’re always told is that you only have once chance with each book, with each editor. If you send a book that isn’t ready, you’ve missed your chance with that editor. So I waited.

They announce their first list then they were taken over and the Horror imprint was shut down.

Then Overland, a literary publisher of short stories, announced they would publish one novel a year. They have liked my short stories in the past but are very literary. Still, I thought, it’s worth a shot.
Overland asked for full novel, then decided it was too long and too intense for them. I offered to edit the novel, cut it down, but they said, “No, it’s perfect. Someone will take it.”

A month or so later, a writer friend emailed me to tell me he had recommended me to Angry Robot, a new branch of Harper Collins and I got very excited. They were looking for genre-busting science fiction, horror and fantasy and that’s exactly what I’ve got!

I sent a sample of Slights. They said, “Send more.”
I sent a sample of Walking the Tree. They said, “Send more.”
I sent a sample of Mistification. They said, “Don’t bother sending more. We’ll take all three.”
At which point I had to go and get my husband to read the email to assure me I wasn’t dreaming!

When you write, do you plot things out, or do you just "go with the flow"?
It really depends on what I’m writing. Quite often I will do a lot of research and thinking about a short story, then go with the flow. With my novels, I tend to write in a rather splattergun way, so that the first draft is intelligible only to me.
With Slights, the framework was built around visits to the room.
With Walking the Tree, the framework is built around the journey.

Are you working on any new novels?
Finishing Walking the Tree, finalishing Mistification, starting two new novels. Which one will be written first depends on which one inspires me more!

If writing didn't work out, what are some other professions you had in mind?
I wanted to be a pilot but my eyesight isn’t very good. I wanted to be a murder detective and still love the idea. Journalism attracted me for a while but I don’t like to stick to the facts.

If Slights were to become a movie, who would you cast as Stevie?
Claudia Karvan, a brilliant Australian actress.

Your trying to sell your book to someone over twitter. What would you say? (140 characters or less!)
What sort of hell awaits you? If you’re like Stevie, there’ll be a room full of people ready to take a slice of you. If you’re like her, you killed your mother. Others, too.

What's the last book you've read? Last movie you've seen?

Book: Martin Livings’ ‘Carnies’.
Movie: Sunshine Cleaning

On an unrelated’re trapped on a desert island. You can have ONE book, ONE television show, and ONE movie. What are they?

Movie: A Zed and Two Noughts
Book: Life, A User’s Manual
TV Show: Man Vs Wild

And, finally, what do you think are some of the best and worst parts about being an author?

Best: Using my brain all the time. Being allowed to do what I love. Getting good reviews. Selling stories to editors I have great respect for. Hanging out with other writers.

Worst. Self-doubt. Getting bad reviews. Having to self-motivate. Knowing that it is on me, and only on me, to get the job done

Thanks so much for the insightful questions.


Thanks to Ms. Warren for the interview!

Have a great Friday, everybody.


Jenny said...

Great interview, Dannie!

ParaJunkee said...

Good job with the interview. I stopped by to thank you for for signing up for Blog with Bite. I just put up the new blogsite. You are now official and on the banner! Email me if you have any questions rrivera39 @ cox (dot) net

Jessica (BookLover) said...

Love the interview! Slights sounds like a great read. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.

Jake Kirk@Teens Read and Write said...

Nice interview!

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