INTERVIEW: Kit Reed

Kit Reed is the author of Thinner Than Thou (winner of the Alex Award) and many other novels, including Thief of Lives, The Baby Merchant, The Night Children (her recently-released first young adult work), and the upcoming novel, Enclave. Ms. Reed has been a finalist for the Hugo, World Fantasy, Tiptree, and the International Horror Guild Awards. She lives Connecticut where she is Resident Writer at Wesleyan University.

SF Signal had the opportunity to talk to Kit about her work…


SF Signal: You tend to write books that are classified as speculative fiction. Is this intentional? Why?

Kit Reed: Actually, I just write what I have to write and hope to God that somebody will take it; some of my fiction is completely based in reality and some isn’t. Correction: it’s all based in reality, but for me, at least, the way these things express themselves is extremely personal. The boundaries have a way of sliding around. Some of my novels and short stories have been classified as SF and some haven’t. I start with life and take it from there.

Sometimes the results are “realistic” (several novels, including Catholic Girls and J. Eden and my collection Thief of Lives are, I suppose, classified’ as “literary” fiction) and sometimes they aren’t. But one of the stories in Thief is “Winter,” which has been widely anthologized in SF circles and ended up in the Norton Anthology of Contemporary Literature, so go figure.

With my comic novel Captain Grownup, I saw my editor’s notes for the sales conference and he’d written: “Kit Reed writes quality fiction for a small market.” Oy! I said, “Could we change that to ‘Kit Reed writes quality fiction for a growing market?'” but we are, I suppose, who we are, and we do what we do.

Sometimes I’m asked to do something for an SF anthology (I’m in three invited anthologies coming out within the next 18 months) so yeah, probably I do “intentionally” write SF some of the time, but mostly I let my imagination go where it has to go and then see who wants to publish the result.

Why? A lot of what I do is classified as “speculative fiction” because, I suppose, that’s a big, shaggy name for a big, shaggy category: fiction that refuses to play by the rules. And, yeah, I’ve never played by the rules.

SFS: What’s your take on genre labels?

KR: For a lot of publishers and readers, they’re useful marketing tools. Oh, I’m selling/buying a box of WHEATIES. Oh, I’m selling/buying a box of SF. For some writers, too. Genre gives them a set of ground rules. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to play by the rules.

SFS: Which of your novels was the toughest to write? Why?

KR: The one I’m working on now. It’s got three spontaneous human combustions in it, but it isn’t horror and it isn’t SF, it’s a novel about community and life in a very real town.

SFS: Your current novel, The Night Children, is marketed as a young adult novel. Can you tell us about it?

KR: I had this idea that wanted me to run with it: feral children living by night in the world’s absolutely biggest mall. Think The Mall of America, that monster mall in Minnesota and then imagine it growing geometrically and you’ll get a glimpse of what I was thinking when I created the Castertown MegaMall. The kids are strays, lost children and runaways who band together in gangs that hide by day and play by night in gazillion sectors of this huge, forever growing mall. Of course they have an enemy, the diabolical mall designer who is veeery weird and lives in the center like a black widow spider dominating the web. And of course he has evil designs…

SFS: Did you originally set out to write a YA novel?

KR: When I sat down to it, yeah, I did. My agent suggested it. I was like, “No way.” Then I got carried away by this idea. The MegaMall started building itself in my head. I loved the idea of this guy Tick Stiles, mid-teens, more or less caretaking a bunch of kids, keeping them hidden, keeping them safe, keeping them out of trouble. And of course he has enemies. And this girl Jule accidentally wanders in. My favorite, though, is this older kid Lance the Loner, goes around in camo, wears a ski mask. He mysteriously shows up when needed and just as mysteriously, he goes. In short, once the characters sprang up, I knew I had to write the book

SFS: Earlier this year, you wrote an article about writers embracing the Internet. What do writers risk by not doing so?

KR: It’s not exactly a matter of risk, it’s a matter of survival. Letting the world know you just wrote a book.

I review mainstream fiction regularly for three big city dailies. One editor was just fired and the section collapsed. Another has had review space cut by editors forced by owners to shrink the newspaper, and she’s had these cuts not once, but twice. The third has seen her section moved and space cut. Bottom line: fewer books getting covered, in a lot fewer words. I used to be asked to write 750-850 words about a novel. Now it’s 350-500 words, depending, 650 words max. With less space, there are a lot fewer print reviews.

Now, how am I going to let the world know about my new book? INTERNET. And hope that when I write for any online publication, other bloggers out there will see it and– notice my piece for Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, is linked above and in a lot of other places– hope that it gets cross-linked so in addition to your regular SF Signal readers seeing it, a lot of other readers who read book news online will get to see it too.

In short, when you write for online publication, if you do it well enough and you’ve made online connections; your piece is likely to show up in a lot of other venues because it’s been cross-linked.

SFS: What themes do you address in your next book, Enclave (January 2009)?

KR: I don’t really think about themes, I think about people and places and things and ideas, and let somebody else get back to tell me what the theme is. That’s the critic’s job. I remember being sort of shocked when my (teacher-type) college roommate started telling me about the “theme” of my first novel. I’m like, “WHAT? It’s about these people…”

So the people in Enclave are Sarge, a crazy, idealistic ex-Marine who thinks he can improve the spoiled kids of the mega-rich by putting them into his tightly sealed, high-tech Academy; Cassie, who’s always loved him; Killer Stade and Teddy the prince guy, two geeky kids trapped in the place; ancient Brother Benedictus, the last of his kind, and the nameless stranger who shows up mysteriously in a locked environment. And a cast of dozens enclosed in the Academy, the ragtag faculty, paramilitaries and the wild spawn of the privileged classes.

The place is Mount Clothos, a former Benedictine monastery on an isolated mountaintop on a remote island that doesn’t show up on any map. For reasons.

The ideas. Well, er. There’s the virus that attacks the island’s server. There’s the fact that kids are getting sick, and… There is, as well, the nature and function of discipline. What the um, THEMES are? Tell me when you’ve had a chance to read the novel :)

SFS: What have you learned through your writing career that you might not have learned otherwise?

KR: Er. The gods of publishing are cruel and kind. The best fun you’ll get out of writing isn’t what happens after somebody buys it and they pay you. The only real fun there is– is doing it.