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[INTERVIEW] Nicole Kornher-Stace (ARCHIVIST WASP) on Influences, Wasp’s World, and More

Nicole Kornher-Stace was born in Philadelphia in 1983, moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again by the time she was five, and currently lives in New Paltz, NY, with two humans, three ferrets, and more books than strictly necessary.

Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best American Fantasy, Clockwork Phoenix 3 & 4, The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, Apex, and Fantasy Magazine. Her poem “The Changeling Always Wins” placed 2nd in the 2010 short form Rhysling Award, and her short fiction has been longlisted for the British Fantasy Awards and nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

She is the author of Desideria, Demon Lovers and Other Difficulties, The Winter Triptych, and Archivist Wasp.

You can find her on Facebook or on Twitter @wirewalking.

Nicole was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Archivist Wasp, and more!

Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about ARCHIVIST WASP and what inspired you to write it?

Nicole Kornher-Stace: Sure! It’s interesting being asked this question after the book has been out for a while because I’ve been fascinated to see the book’s layers emerge as readers and reviewers reveal them to me through their own perspectives. I wrote it as an adventure story, a conglomeration of all sorts of things that I love to read about (mythology! future tech! swordfights! human sacrifice! descents into the underworld! etc.), and an attempt to subvert all sorts of tropes that I hate (love triangles! Chosen Ones! etc). But I keep hearing about how it’s also about truth and power and memory and friendship and that it has themes, which is all mostly accidental. I mean, it is about those things, but in my mind, it’s an adventure story first.

As for what inspired me to write it — way back in 2007 or so I published my first novel. It was overlong and overwritten with weird pacing and a huge ensemble cast. I mean, the thing had a 5-act play embedded in it. It was probably a bit too ambitious for me at the time, and needless to say it pretty much fell on its face immediately upon publication. A while later I spent a couple of years banging my head against other projects which I thought would be more marketable, but realized that my heart was never going to be in a project I didn’t passionately want to write. So I started looking again at this other project I’d shoved onto the back burner for years, because nobody was going to want to read a weird little book about a ghosthunter living in a Golden Bough-esque society that’s so far post-apocalyptic that it’s reverted to pre-industrial, and her adventure into the underworld with the ghost of a near-future technologically-advanced supersoldier. But I guess it was ready to be written, because whereas first novel drafts usually take me about a year, this thing fell out in six weeks flat.

KC: What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?

NKS: I didn’t really do any research at all, apart from checking to see whether some of the aspects of Wasp’s underworld already existed in real-world mythologies. The one that comes to mind first is the bridge built of the burial-tokens of the dead. With that one I went so far as to email all my folklore/mythology expert friends and ask them if they’d seen that image anywhere before. Lucky for me, they hadn’t.

The source material for Wasp’s world, though, is basically three parts The Golden Bough, one part The Bog People, and one part Fallout 3.

My writing process on the daily looks like: get up, put my 8-year-old on the bus, walk for a few miles to get my brain moving, come back, write until he gets home, and then usually go back to it after he’s asleep. I have learned not to even bother trying to write when he’s around for the most part, because I get irritable when I get interrupted, and, well, he’s 8. I tend to obsess over projects, work on only one project at a time, and spend a lot of time wandering around thinking and seeing things from characters’ perspectives until I know them inside and out. I used to pay a lot of attention to writing at the sentence level but AW was pretty much stream-of-consciousness. Edited, of course, edited a lot, but I didn’t fret over the sentences at all, which I found quite refreshing.

KC: Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?

NKS: I have! Well, I went through a number of phases as a kid where I wanted to be all sorts of things. I wanted to be a paleontologist, an actor, a voice actor, an astronaut, etc. and there was a short-lived stint in kindergarten in which I wanted to be a ballerina. But all through those times I was writing. I learned to read and write when I was 2 and I literally have not stopped since. I’ve never gone to a workshop or had any kind of writing education, formal or informal (though with AW in particular I’ve gotten some amazing help from my first reader crew, without whom I would be utterly lost). I just write what I like and sometimes I’m lucky enough to find readers who like it too.

KC: What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?

NKS: I wrote a bunch of tiny little stories when I was a kid and I went through the obligatory angsty poetry phase when I was 11 or so, the less said about which the better. I discovered science fiction around that age, though, in the form of books and movies alike, and I spent a great deal of time when I was 12 or so working on a self-insert Star Wars fanfic in which Boba Fett and I went off to be space badasses together. I regret nothing.

I started reading the Datlow/Windling Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror anthologies very shortly thereafter and naturally got super inspired by all the awesomeness therein. Hilariously, I began putting original stories on submission around the age of 13, with the aid of a shiny new copy of some mid-90s Writer’s Market and a small fortune in self-addressed stamped envelopes. Even more hilariously, I was getting personalized rejections from semipro and pro markets. Beginner’s luck is real.

KC: What authors have influenced you the most, in writing, and in life?

NKS: The first SFF writers I really imprinted on were Tanith Lee and Angela Carter, and their influence shows very clearly in my early work. Right now, though, I read everything. I love to read wildly disparate things back-to-back and see how they smash together and synthesize in my head. Mostly I’d say I’m inspired by authors who are ambitious and fearlessly do their own thing, whatever that thing happens to be. Writers that invent their own language as part of the worldbuilding have my utmost respect and awe. Stuff like A Clockwork Orange, Riddley Walker, anything by Greer Gilman, The Country of Ice Cream Star which I’m reading now … you manage to invent and sustain a convincing dialect throughout the course of an entire narrative and I’ll probably read you for life.

KC: If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?

NKS: That’s a really good question. Not because of the book itself (I can’t even remember which volume it was), but because of what it did to me: whichever of those Datlow/Windling Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror anthos I picked up first when I was 13 or so. Reading that thing completely blew my mind. That was the moment when I realized that not only did I want to write, but I wanted to write speculative fiction. It was literally like peeking through a window into a world where people had been busily writing the neatest possible shit while I’d been wasting my childhood reading Babysitter’s Club.

KC: What are you currently reading?

NKS: I’ve just finished (and highly recommend!) Lament for the Afterlife by Lisa Hannett and am starting in on The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman. I am desperately hoping this book holds up until the end because I’m awfully smitten with it so far. It’s pushing pretty much every readerly button I possess.

KC: What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?

NKS: Next for me is hopefully more Wasp books! I wrote AW as a standalone but quickly realized I’d love to send Wasp and the ghost on more adventures together, so that’s what I’ve been working on. Book 2 is undergoing a second round of edits as we speak. If it ends up being half as much fun to read as it’s been to write, I’ll be happy.

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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