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[GUEST INTERVIEW] Kit Reed interviewed by Keith Brooke

Kit Reed has two new books this year: her spontaneous human combustion novel, Son of Destruction from Severn House (US and UK), and her “best of” collection, The Story Until Now, from Wesleyan University Press. The collection includes some classics and some favorites, as well as six new, never-before-collected stories. Earlier books include What Wolves Know (PS Publishing), a Shirley Jackson Award nominee in 2011, and Enclave (Tor, 2009). She is Resident Writer at Wesleyan University.

Keith Brooke: Your work could be labeled SF, fantasy, horror, suspense, weird, literary and/or any number of other things, but taken as a whole (and even in many cases individually) your stories defy categorisation, and you describe your work as “transgenred”.

Kit Reed: I do, because there are so many things my stories are, or aren’t. Some them are clearly SF, if you read that as Speculative Fiction, but some of them are straight-up realism, or “literary,” and it bothers me that “literary” has become both a “genre” and a dirty word. And, me as transgenred? I think I made up the word because I moved around so much as a kid. It opened up so many possibilities that people don’t get when they’re rooted in one place. The word fits because I’m like the boll weevil, I go everywhere and I don’t belong anywhere.

KB: Are categories helpful or limiting?

KR: If you’re a writer who builds everything on- what are those things?- Tropes– categories are limiting.

Essentially, they’re a useful marketing tool- if you’re an editor and not a writer, or a writer intent on cracking a single, limited marke–, because within those categories, you can only do certain things. When I send work out, I’m always surprised by what goes where, and how people respond to it.

KB: Should more writers shrug off genre labels and come out as trans-genred?

KR: I think it’s going to depend on the individual writer. As a destination to be mapped and arrived at on a certain time, transgenre is pretty nebulous. I didn’t get there by deciding I want to be that. It was me looking back and figuring out where I’d been.

These things- categories of all kinds or jumping the traces- are all based on who individual writers are and what they want to be. If you want to be the world’s greatest science fiction writer, horror writer, fantasist or suspense writer without turning any of those things on their heads, by all means go for it!

KB: This year sees publication of two new titles, a novel, Son of Destruction, and a big retrospective collection, The Story Until Now. Son of Destruction is a puzzle about the nature of spontaneous human combustion, a story of the transience of both success and failure, and of small-town America where decades-old mysteries have repercussions resonating through to the present day – as Tom Shippey writes in his enthusiastic Wall Street Journal review, your “fictions are layered, their hearts revealed retrospectively.” Is this layering a conscious construction, or is it just how things come out?

KR: Partly I blame William Faulkner and Theodore Sturgeon for the flexibility. They taught me how to move around through time and space, from one consciousness to another. Partly I just can’t help it. And the rest? As writer as well as reader, I need to open things up, go where they take me, because I’m easily bored.

KB: How much is Son of Destruction based on the real world?

KR: It’s all very real to me, even the parts I don’t know about. In a spare moment, Google Mary Reeser, a poor old lady who combusted in her chair in St. Petersburg, Fl. in 1957. Once you’ve seen the images, you’ll never forget. What actually caused it is still a mystery. There have been others like it all over the world. I started with that. Then I wondered: OK, what if she wasn’t the only one in St. Pete (which did, in fact, have another in the 60s). What if there was a third and she was a pillar of the most prestigious club in town?

KB: Is this a Florida you know?

KR: It is and it isn’t. I did some time in Florida as a kid and got my first job at the St. Petersburg Times. It’s a society I know- the clubs, the parties- and the rest, I made up.

KB: How did you go about choosing stories to include in The Story Until Now?

KR: I went for my favorites. I have a pretty strong sense of which are my best, and I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just the top of the pops like “The Wait” and “The Food Farm.” I think more than a third came out in the new century, one in Asimov’s SF in January of this year.

KB: What did you learn about Kit Reed The Writer from the process of going back over your work and picking out the highlights for this collection?

KR: This, I’m tickled to report, is that I haven’t regressed or kept circling in the same old puddle like Eeyore. I think I got better over time.

KB: Incidentally, both of these books feature striking cover art by your husband Joe. How did this come about? Have you collaborated on any other projects?

KR: As you know, he’s a great artist. He painted the automatic tiger on the cover of The Story Until Now after I wrote the story from an idea he had. And the cover painting for Son of Destruction is his painting of a waterfront hotel in St. Petersburg.

KB: What excites you as a writer?

KR: Whatever I just read. Whatever I’m just about to do.

KB: What is it that makes you think ‘I have to write about that‘?

KR: If I knew, I’d mainline it and try to figure out how to bottle it and sell it at a beeg price.

KB: You’ve done a lot of work with developing writers (I’m particularly thinking of your wonderful story workshopping classes at Wesleyan University held in an anonymized virtual MOO environment) – what conclusions did you reach about teaching writing?

KR: It forced me to try to explain things I knew but hadn’t spelled out. I came away from the experience with a lot of friends who then became colleagues; we still keep in touch.

KB: Can you teach writing, or is it more a case of helping developing writers to learn?

KR: What you’re trying to do is help them figure out what they’re trying to say and decide what’s the best way to do it. Essentially, it’s an editorial thing.

KB: What’s the biggest mistake a writer can make?

KR: A writer? Any writer? Not reading everything within reach.

A writer who teaches writing? Making students write like TEACHER instead of helping them learn how to write like THEMSELVES. Imagining there’s a surefire How-to list and preaching it like the gospel, as though successes are result of taking one from Column A and three from Column B.

KB: What will we see next from you?

KR: Copious tweets from @TheRealKitReed and status updates on Facebook…until the next thing is done and sold and scheduled to come out. Until you’ve finished doing what you’re doing, you’re talking about intangibles. What will it be? Like the Pythons, I’m always trying for Something Completely Different.

Keith Brooke‘s first novel, Keepers of the Peace, appeared in 1990, since when he has published seven more adult novels, six collections, and over 70 short stories. For ten years from 1997 he ran the web-based SF, fantasy and horror showcase infinity plus, featuring the work of around 100 top genre authors, including Michael Moorcock, Stephen Baxter, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, Vonda McIntyre and Jack Vance. Infinity plus has recently been relaunched as an independent publishing imprint producing print and ebooks. His most recent novel, Harmony (published in the UK as alt.human), is a big exploration of aliens, alternate history and the Fermi paradox published in 2012 by Solaris and shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award. 2012 also saw publication of Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the Sub-genres of Science Fiction, an exploration of SF from the perspectives of a dozen top authors in the field (edited by Keith Brooke, published by Palgrave Macmillan). He writes reviews for The Guardian and Arc, teaches writing at the University of Essex, and lives with his wife Debbie in Wivenhoe, Essex.

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