If you’re joining us today, I’m with author Kathryn Magendie. We’re supposed to be discussing her new release, Sweetie, but I haven’t quite moved on from questions about her Graces Trilogy because…well, I’m the interviewer, so I have the power. 😉 (Find Part I here.)
Jan: I know this wasn’t part of my original questions, but I have to ask what prompted the photograph to my left.
Kat: Oh gawd. My good friend Christy Bishop is a photographer (and a chef) here in our Haywood County. She was good enough to come by one cold mountain morning and snap photos for my jacket cover on the books. I H A T E taking photos. I despise it. Anyone who knows me knows how frustrating it is to try to take a decent photo of me. So, she finally said, “Kat, please—puh-leeze—drink some wine. So I did. A couple glasses later (which is why there is also the photo of me looking languid in the rocking chair *teehee*), we went outside and I did what I like best when photo-sitting: act like an idiot *laughing* See the flushed cheeks? Yeah, a wine-induced Yippeeee.
Jan: And now back to books. <g> Virginia Kate feels a striking sense of “otherness.” In Louisiana, she blames it on the chasm between cultures and climate; in the holler, in part, to her physical appearance. She’s inherited her mother’s exotic beauty – her mother’s dark, exotic beauty. There’s a story there. A thematically big one, I suspect. Will we learn more in the next GRACES book about her mother’s ethnicity?
Kat: I’ve been surprised more people haven’t asked me if Virginia Kate is “not white” just by some things said or inferred in the books, especially VK’s comments about the paleness of others compared to her. Katie Ivene, Momma, evaded the question if it came up, but then again, perhaps Katie Ivene didn’t know much, either. Even when Grandma Faith was a child, her own mother evaded the question.
In this third book, I do hope Virginia Kate finds out more about her heritage/kin. A photograph has surfaced, but not sure what all it really will tell. I’d wondered if Virginia Kate’s Grandma Faith’s heritage came from Melungeon ancestors or from American Indian ancestors (though Melungeon does have American Indian in its heritage, too), but I am still unsure and guess I’ll find out as I write and discover.
I have a feeling that some of her kin or heritage may always be a mystery unless I were to write a book going way back in Grandma Faith’s childhood. But, I do believe that Virginia Kate isn’t fully Caucasian and whether that means Melungeon ancestors, or more American Indian, or something else—I don’t know.
The Shakespearean references: I loved them. If nothing else I thought them emblematic of the battle and divide between VK’s parents. Speak to me of Shakespeare, Kat: the references, the quotations, and the role they serve within the GRACES novels.
Kat: Oh! I had so much fun with Shakespeare! I even slipped some of it into dialogue or the narrative, without it being a quote by Frederick, just to see if anyone noticed (as I did song titles sometimes, too). But there were symbols that did hint as to what was swirling around Virginia Kate, her parents, Rebekha, Miss Darla, VK’s brothers, Soot, Jade, etc.
It also interested me that Katie Ivene pretended she didn’t know who that “Shakesfool” was, and thought Frederick should stop quoting all that “Flakesweird,” when all the while, she’d sneaked to read it herself. Her need to distance herself from Frederick was so great, Katie Ivene didn’t take the one thing that could have brought them closer—Fredericks love of Shakespeare—and use that as a bind to tie the family together. Though, really, Frederick would not have accepted that because Virginia Kate’s daddy used Shakespeare to escape from everyone, so VK’s momma may have sensed this and decided to snub her nose at her husband and The Bard.
Of course, I do have the obvious symbolism, like the Tempest reference, since there are many “storms,” and there is displacement (VK and her brothers set “adrift”), and feelings of loss, there is comedy, there is “magic” or “reality versus non-reality,” and feelings of ugliness or “not belongingness,” etc etc etc. Sometimes the Shakespeare references happened “accidentally,” but I think they worked well.
For me, spirituality permeates every aspect of these books: from the titles, to the voice; from themes about forgiveness, making peace with others’ addictions; that solace can be found within nature and creative pursuits; that one might be as easily mothered and healed through a grandmother’s ghost as a physically- and emotionally-present step-mother… Your books go to very dark places at times. I cried as I read both. Yet still… There is this sense of hope that permeates Virginia Kate’s world. Can you speak to that?
Kat: I am so glad you said that—about Hope. I wanted there to be hope. I hate when I read a book that is so dark and even when I am at the end, there has been or is no hope—I am left feeling exhausted and depressed. Virginia Kate has such hope and wonder and unique ways of seeing her world, and when it’s too much, she knows how to escape it so that even in her escaping there is beauty and wonder and nature.
It seems as if there are always ghosts or spirits who whisper warnings and encouragements that rise up in my novels. I wonder about that. How the “otherworld” becomes so important and has such a strong voice, sometimes stronger than the “real people” world.
But above all, I am a sap for a happy ending, doesn’t have to be, and sometimes rather it not be, tied up with a pretty bow; but, I want my characters, and my readers, and myself, left with a feeling of hope that everything will work out, that there is always beauty and wonder and love in our worlds and we will all really be okay after all.
Who are your literary influences and/or crushes?
Kat: Usually it’s whatever/whomever novel/author I am reading at the time and very much enjoying or thinking, “Oh! I wish I could write in this way!” I read A LOT—I had to cap that because you may not believe how much I read—every night at bedtime. I’m voracious, and I read so danged quickly so that I go from book to book or collection to collection or anthology to anthology . . . Boom Bam Boom!
But, I think I will just mention some regional authors who are on my shelves and for whom I have lots of respect—Ron Rash, Robert Morgan, Tommy Hays, Wayne Caldwell, Dot Jackson, Angela Dove, Kathryn Stripling Byer (who is a poet, but I wanted to include her!), and there are more; and that’s the danger of mentioning authors because later I’ll think “oh no! I didn’t mention . . . “—I’ll slap my forehead later when I realize I’ve left out really great writing and writers from our regional authors here!
And now , please tell us about your upcoming release, SWEETIE, which was released only last week. Are we back in the mountains of West Virginia? Is the character related in any way to the Virginia Kate story? Are the themes similar?
Kat: No relation! Sweetie is set in Haywood County, North Carolina. Its narrator is Melissa—who is not from the mountains or deep south, and in fact, she isn’t really from anywhere in particular—she’s from Everywhere.
Sweetie is a native North Carolinian, and if I had to say something significant about her that is compelling, but not the biggest part of who she is, I’d whisper to you even though I’m not sure I should tell, but, well, why not: Sweetie doesn’t feel physical pain—is she magical? Is she afflicted? Is she cursed? Is she just a tough mountain girl? Is she . . . well, that’s all I have to say about that. An early reader called Sweetie “Haunting but beautiful.” I like that.
I will also mention here that I have a novella that will be released along with two other author’s novella-length works: Deborah Smith and Sarah Addison Allen, who are both NYT Best Sellers, so I’m the “baby author” with them *laugh*. In my novella, Petey is the main character, and unlike The Graces and Sweetie, Petey’s family is pretty durn normal—imagine that! A normal mom, a normal dad, a normal Petey, a sort of normal brother who thinks he is a canine. That doesn’t mean nothing bad happens, but it’s pretty tame compared to most of my work. And, again, I do have displacement, place, home, belonging, as a theme in the Petey novella, for I suppose those things will always follow me, or interest me, or haunt
That’s some rarefied company, and I’m sure there are good things in store for your writing. I can’t say as I’m surprised.
And now, guys, Kat’s graciously agreed to both answer your questions and offer another giveaway — a copy of Sweetie. You are eligible for the prize if you: comment below, live in continental North America, and have your name drawn by RNG. To have your name entered twice, retweet this post, post a link on your Facebook page, or a link on your blog, then make sure to post the url below. Contest will be open until midnight MST November 14, 2010.