Kathe Koja is a writer, performer, director and independent producer. Her work crosses and combines genres, from historical to contemporary to YA to horror. Her novels—including THE CIPHER, SKIN, BUDDHA BOY, TALK, and the UNDER THE POPPY trilogy—have won awards, been multiply translated, and optioned for film and performance. She directs and produces performance events, solo and in collaboration with an ensemble of creative artists, with her company Loudermilk Productions LLC. She lives in the Detroit area.
KR: It was an absolute honour to be able to talk to Kathe Koja. This interview was originally featured in Aphotic Realm: Dystopia in July 2018.
KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?
I write – novels, short fiction, and play adaptations – and direct and produce immersive performance events. Nearly everything I like to do involves making up stories.
KR: What do you like to do when not writing?
My favorite nonverbal thing to do is hang out with animals. And one of the places I love to do that is SASHA Farm, a rescue farm where all the residents live safely and freely. If there’s any heaven on earth, this is it. http://www.sashafarm.org/
KR: What is your favourite childhood book?
TYKE, THE LITTLE MUTT was a book I checked out of the library a thousand times as a kid, and I loved all the Dr. Seuss books, especially THE SNEETCHES AND OTHER STORIES. Remember, no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches, bitches.
KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?
I always listen to music, sometimes pure sound—white noise, or water and nature sounds—when I write; every project has its own individual playlist. I can’t pick a favorite album, there are far too many, but artists I’m loving these days are Perfume Genius, serpentwithfeet, St Vincent, Bowie (I’ve always been a passionate Bowie fan), and Savages.
KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?
Not just one. Three dark/weird films I thought were close to perfect were A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour; LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, directed by Tomas Alfredson; and PERSONAL SHOPPER, directed by Olivier Assayas. And the ur-example, Guillermo del Toro’s PAN’S LABYRINTH.
KR: What are you reading now?
I have a new novel and a commission performance in progress, so everything I’m reading these days is short nonfiction.
KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?
I’ve been making stories since I was about five years old, as soon as I knew what stories were, before I knew what writers were, really. But the writers whose work speaks to me always have distinctive voices—Christopher Marlowe, Emily Brontë, Emily Dickinson, Angela Carter, Russell Hoban, Shirley Jackson—and I still follow strong voices whenever I meet them.
KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
Everything for me begins with a character: once I see that person, and get some sense of personality, of how this person might exist, then the world starts to form and accrete around that character, and then I know what I’m writing about. I never know the ending of any of my books when I begin, even sometimes very close to that end—I travel by faith that that story knows exactly where it’s going.
KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Depends on the subject, if I have any knowledge going in, or have to start entirely from scratch. I want enough information to make as real as I can whatever world I’m writing about—high school theatre, Victorian brothels, closed-head injuries, I’ve learned a fair amount about all of these things in the course of writing my books. Which is the great side benefit to research: you get to read a lot about things you find interesting already!
KR: Describe your usual writing day?
I write in the mornings, every morning. The projects I work on tend to overlap, so if I’ve finished a novel, there’s usually a performance work in process, or vice versa. Afternoons are for business stuff, email, production duties, etc.
KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?
One of my real favorites is “La Reine d’Enfer,” from QUEEN VICTORIA’S BOOK OF SPELLS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF GASLAMP FANTASY, edited by the fabulous Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. The main character, Pearlie, is a very singular young man, and I had a lot of fun with his voice.
KR: Do you read your book reviews?
Sure. I don’t generally hunt them down, but if I see them, I’ll read them.
KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?
Read, read, read everything, and let your taste lead you to the best stuff: notice what draws you, what satisfies you as a reader, and what drives you away or bores you, and keep that in mind when you write.
And develop a very thick skin for criticism, and a hair-trigger shit detector to help you know when your own work’s gone astray.
KR: What scares you?
Stupidity. Not ignorance, which can be cured, but ugly and militant stupidity.
KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?
KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?
CHRISTOPHER WILD, a novel about Christopher Marlowe, the poet and playwright, that imagines him in three different times—his own Elizabethan era, a McCarthyesque US, and a very dark global future—and asks, What does it mean to be free? Marlowe’s own rebel spirit drove him to challenge and speak out, and that’s a spirit we need to hear from, especially today.
CHRISTOPHER WILD is available from Roadswell Editions in a limited edition hardcover and ebook. And I’m working on a companion piece . . .
KR: What are you working on now?
…a solo performance called RIVER STREET, that takes us to the little room beside the river where we meet Marlowe in CHRISTOPHER WILD. I’ll be working with musician/composer Ben Willis on the soundtrack, and I plan to travel this show in 2019.
I’m also in the midst of a performance commission: directing two dancers, two musicians, and an installation artist, in an outdoor garden park, working on a theme of Spanish art.
KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?
You can choose…
a) One fictional character from your writing.
Istvan, from UNDER THE POPPY: he’s endlessly inventive and a master conversationalist
b) One fictional character from any other book.
Riddley Walker, from Russell Hoban’s book of the same name, because he and Istvan would have a lot to talk about, and there would definitely be puppet shows on our island
c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.
Christopher Marlowe, of course!
KR: Thank you very much Kathe.
Author photo credit: Rick Lieder
You can find out more about Kathe by visiting her official website www.kathekoja.com
Follow Kathe on Twitter @KatheKoja
Kathe’s author page can be found here
Kathe will be Guest of Honour at StokerCon2019
Three lives. One man.
Christopher Marlowe was the first rock star poet, a spy, an atheist, a gay rebel whose controversial plays thrilled audiences and challenged the government.
CHRISTOPHER WILD is Kathe Koja’s new novel, a daring remix of eras—the glitter and threat of Elizabethan England, a grimy mid-20th century, and a dark near-future of constant surveillance—as Marlowe loves and fights and writes his way through every dangerous age.
Nicholas, a would-be poet, and Nakota, his feral lover, discover a strange hole in the storage room floor down the hall – “Black. Pure black and the sense of pulsation, especially when you look at it too closely, the sense of something not living but alive.” It begins with curiosity, a joke – the Funhole down the hall. But then the experiments begin. “Wouldn’t it be wild to go down there?” says Nakota. Nicholas says “We’re not.” But they’re not in control, not from the first moment, as those experiments lead to obsession, violence, and a very final transformation for everyone who gets too close to the Funhole.
Under the Poppy is a brothel owned by Decca and Rupert. Decca is in love with Rupert but he in turn is in love with her brother, Istvan. When Istvan comes back to town, louche puppet troupe in tow, the lines of their age-old desires intersect against a backdrop of approaching war.
Hearts are broken when old betrayals and new alliances—not just their own—take shape, as the townsmen seek refuge from the onslaught of history by watching the girls of the Poppy cavort onstage with Istvan’s naughty puppets.
When the war gets too close, Istvan and Rupert abandon the Poppy and find a place in high society where they try to avoid becoming more than puppets themselves in the hands of those they have helped before and who now want to use them again.
From its explosive beginning to the final climax, Under the Poppy is a vivid, sexy, behind-the-scenes historical novel as delicious and intoxicating as the best guilty pleasure.