Friday, March 12, 2010

Why I Write Fantasy - Kate Robinsion

Welcome Kate Robinson, Arizona writer presently studying in Wales!

Amber: First, tell us why you're in Wales.

Kate: At the moment I'm enrolled in the postgraduate creative writing program at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Education has a played a big role in my life, so you could call me a perpetual student or a lifelong learner. I hold a BA in Anthropology with emphasis in Museum Studies and the Humanities.

Amber: Why do you write fantasy?
Kate: I can sure tell you why I write some odds and ends of speculative fiction. I keep a dream journal and dreams lend themselves to some weird material. Tracking dreams is a great way to interface with the unstructured world of the subconscious. I have trouble generating story ideas off the top of my head, but no trouble with taking a dream and adding the conscious structure to turn it into a story.

My mom used to let me stay up late on Friday nights when I was a kid to watch old black and white horror and sci fi features on one of those campy local programs with the quirky announcers. When I began writing fiction, I wanted to be another Stephen King, but at the 1999 Hassayampa Institute, Brady Udall talked me out of killing one of my characters because he liked her and wanted me to write more about her. (I haven't but I'm grateful she's still alive because she would make a great subject for a novel or another story.) That horror / drama turned upside down into an inspirational story over the next few years, and I've been writing in a variety of styles and genres ever since.

What is Slipstream?  Here's a definition I found. "Slipstream may use the tropes and ideas of science fiction, fantasy and horror but is not bound by their rules. Slipstream may appear to be conventional literary fiction but falls outside the staid boundaries of the mainstream. In short, Slipstream is the most important, innovative and relevant fictional response to the challenges of the twenty-first century. Genre is dead; long live the genre that is not a genre!" Do you agree?

Kate: Yes, that's an intro quote by sci-fi writer Allen Ashley, editor of the Subtle Edens anthology that includes my story, "The Upstairs Room".I made my first attempt to emulate magical realism or slipstream sci-fi in "The Upstairs Room." I tend to write from my subconscious mind without advance planning, so in a way, this intention wasn't so much a conscious attempt as a result - it was something that happened in the course of putting the story to paper. I write to discover and so the form and plot of my stories emerges with the setting, characters, and dialogue.
I wanted readers to sense Coralie's deep connection to nature and her simultaneous experience as an ET abduction victim as being normal in the sense that these lapses of ordinary reality, or the the intrusion of the extraordinary into ordinary daily life,  are experiences anyone can have because everyday reality is never as fixed as we think it is.
I think that Ashley is also referring to the fact that slipstream stories may contain elements of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, or other genres and so are not neatly contained in the usual categories. This past term I wrote a tale, "Enter the Kingdom," which eventually emerged as part two of Coralie's experiences about 20 years later, a post-catastrophe, dystopic sci-fi tale that is a little more conventional in genre terms, but still contains that sense of peculiarity that permeates slipstream. There will be a part three dealing with Coralie's immediate future after she has refused to "enter the kingdom" of the fundamentalist world left to survivors in her area, and chooses instead to grapple with self-determination and the destiny alluded to  in "The Upstairs Room."
I've always liked the sense of entering other worlds in story and film, and especially when these alternative worlds have a connection to our own - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and so on. How nice or how horribly excruciating to fall down a rabbit hole into Wonderland or go to another world through the back of your wardrobe. You could enter another dimension you while you're sitting in a classroom or driving to work, who knows!
Amber: Tell me about your books.
Kate: I have two non-fiction children's books with Enslow Publishing Inc., The National Mall (2005) and Lewis and Clark: Exploring the American West (2010). I also have published short stories, creative non-fiction essays, features, poetry, and children's stories in a variety of anthologies and venues.

Amber: What books do you read?
Kate: Right now reading is my middle name! I'm reading selections from my program module list of suggested (required!) reading in fiction, poetry and how-to. Around my desk and bed right now are Oryx and Crake and Surfacing by Margaret Atwood; Looking for a Rain God & Other Short Stories from Africa; The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds, Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden; a short story collection Subtle Edens, edited by Alan Ashley (I have a short story in this collection and just wrote a sequel to it that gained a 'Distinction' mark).

The how-to books I'm reading are: Story by Robert McKee, How We Write by Mike Sharples, and Making a Good Writer Great by Linda Seger. Oh, and on top of my wardrobe is a copy of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol that I'm saving for a rainy day - around here that might translate to a rainy week!

Amber: What are you writing now?
Kate: I'm concentrating on my program assignments In my spare time - ! - I've resurrected an old novel manuscript. As I finish pieces (is a piece of writing ever really finished?!)I'm submitting them to Web and print journals and anthologies. I hope to continue work this spring on a collection of creative nonfiction essays about Arizona wildlife, a pet project for about five years. Hopefully this collection will be easier to shape after this fiction and poetry boot camp!

Amber: Any final words?
Kate: Wales is a magical country with a great literary tradition and a fascinating cultural history. The universities here have excellent writing, literature, and publishing programs, so anyone considering applying for a BA, MA, or PhD program should really see what Wales - and the UK and its commonwealth countries - have to offer. My experience in Aberystwyth has been outstanding! Travel has been more a wish than a passion - I'd not traveled outside the Western hemisphere until I enrolled in the AU MA program.

For a more information about Kate  

Editing and proofreading business. 
Kate provides free 5-page evaluations 
of fiction and creative manuscripts 
of a wide variety of genres, 
helpful as critiques 
(even if writers don't intend 
to buy editing services)


  1. I would love to go to Wales! If not only just to meet the great authors I know that live there! Beautiful magic! That's just an extra benefit!

  2. I really enjoyed this interview, Kate and Amber. I was really interested in hearing about your writing, Kate, being a speculative/fantasy writer myself, but was especially interested to hear that you are a Postgrad student at the U.C.W. I lived in Aberystwyth most of my life until I moved to England when I married, and I worked at the Academic Office of the UCW, as an Admin Assistant, so your post brought back a host of memories and made me feel even more homesick! :)

    I'm so glad you like Wales. The legends and folklore, as well as the beautiful countryside inspired much of my writing. For me there's no country like it!

  3. Thank you both for reading my interview! Wales is truly lovely, maybe the UK's best-kept secret, and anyone curious about Wales should surely visit.

    So much fun to meet someone from Aber here - what a lovely place to come of age, I think. It's truly been a healing, magical experience for me.

    PS - Was also thrilled to find that when I followed Hywela's links that I had been to her blog just a few days before - oh, those Snowdrops!

  4. Great interview. Hubby and I have ancestors from Wales so plan to visit there. Such a great opportunity for you to study your craft there. I'm very envious! :)

  5. Oh, I'm late! But I am green with envy. Would love to go to Wales... I might never return! Your work sounds intriguing, Kate. Can't wait to read it... Skhye

  6. Thanks Kate for a wonderful interview. Enjoy your time in Wales. Can't wait for you to come back and tell us all about it.

  7. I learned so much more about you, Kate, through this indepth interview. What a gift to yourself. I gave myself a year at a University filled with creative writing and great literature, so I understand your experience.
    Arlene Eisenbise