Friday, June 5, 2009

Interview with Kaaron Warren

I recently read the preview of Kaaron Warren's new novel, Slights, and loved it (my "review" of it can be found here).  With the release of her new novel flying towards us, I wanted to ask Kaaron a few questions, and she was more than gracious in answering.

Kaaron, thank you for the interview!  

No worries! Thanks for asking me. 

You have a new novel, Slights, coming out from Angry Robot Books!  Congratulations!  Can you tell us a little bit about the book? 

Slights is about a woman who, at 18, accidentally kills her mother in a car accident. Stephanie (Steve) experiences near death as a result of her injuries, but she sees no shining light, hears no loving voices. Instead, she finds herself in a cold dark room, surrounded by people she barely knows. The only thing she recognises in them is anger; she sees that they are anxious for her to die so they can devour her. She visits this room a number of times throughout the novel as she attempts suicide periodically. She is unpopular, disliked, unable to fit in to society. She gradually recognises the people in the room; each and every one is a person she slighted in some way. Steve becomes obsessed with death. Her brother, a successful politician, has no time for her, and her police officer father died years earlier, a hero. She is obsessed with her own death because in the afterlife, at least, she is the centre of attention. And she becomes obsessed with the deaths of others. She digs up her backyard with the intention of planting night-blooming jasmine, a comfort flower. Instead, she finds odd things; a cracked glass cufflink, an old belt, a dented lunchbox, a shoe heel, many more odd, small items. These lead her to understand more about her past, and about why she is driven to do the things she does. 

I read the short preview of your new novel and found it already, in the first ten pages, carrying a sense of mysterious dread, in part built up by what I called your "minimalistic" style.  Do you agree with that explanation of your style?  What do you feel influenced your writing in general, and specifically this new novel, in regards to both style and substance? 

I do tend to use less descriptive words rather than more. This is partly inspired by my level of boredom. If I’m bored writing it, I figure the reader will be doubly bored reading it, so I go in a different direction. I try to find words which set the scene without spending too much time.

I also like the challenge of creating a mood with minimal words. I was obsessed with writing micro shorts for a while. Fitting a story into 50 words. I love playing with a sentence and saying it as succinctly as possible. This is one which won a competition a few years ago:

The night before my twenty-first birthday 

At five, I mastered the language of the Heavens.

At fourteen, I was taken as a barren bride; only the chosen have children.

My husband had blood of ice.

Today I learnt that all lives must end at twenty-one.

Hold me my young lover.

I hear alien soldiers at the door. 


I remember in Year 5 or so, learning that you could use “Suddenly” instead of “All of a sudden.” Seriously, it was a revelation to me. Maybe that’s the kind of writing I do. The ‘suddenly’ school of writing! 

There are many influences on the way I write.

Daphne du Maurier, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Martin Amis, William Vollman, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King. All for different reasons of style and substance and because they have their own way of telling a story.  

I also use badly written stuff as inspiration. I notice words misused, or long dull descriptive paragraphs and I think, “Avoid that.” 

With Slights, both the style and substance were influenced mostly by the main character, Steve. The way I wanted tell her story, in a simple, conversational way, meant there wasn’t much room for extra words. I think a lot about how people’s lives are ordinary to them as they are living them, no matter how extraordinary they appear from the outside. I wanted to capture the sense that Steve feels her life is not all that unusual. That everyone lives the way she lives.  

On your blog, you just recently gave a recipe for cheese biscuits (I can't wait to try some!), and I must say, that just doesn't seem like the teller of horrific tales I had envisioned.  So, which are you more: (to use your phrases) the "kindly domestic person" or "the nasty horror writer"?  How do you balance the two?  

I have a theory that horror writers, butchers and plumbers are always nice people. They work with dead bodies, filth and waste and yet they are always kindly!  

I am a sum of the two things. I always say that writing horror releases my dark side. I believe everybody has a dark side; I can utilize it in my fiction, meaning I can maintain a positive outlook in my real life. Balancing the two isn’t really difficult, because the lines are clear. It’s not that they are completely cut off from one another; often I’ll be scribbling ideas for the next story while stirring the bolognaise sauce. Or ideas for stories will come to me while I’m reading a kids book to the children. I thought of my story “The Smell of Mice” while reading a version of Snow White to the kids. In it, the smoke from the witches’ fire rises purple. The image gave me a chill, and I built “The Smell of Mice” around that image and that feeling. 

I read somewhere in another interview that you are squeamish.  At first, that seems odd, but when we look at other big name horror writers, they seem to be squeamish as well, and/or hold a large number of fears (Look at Stephen King, that man seems to be afraid of everything!).  Do you think that this is in some way critical to writing great horror fiction?  

It certainly is important for me. I need to be moved by something , have feelings for it. I often write stories inspired by the things I’ve seen and heard which offend me or upset me. In “Ghost Jail”, one of my Fiji-inspired stories, I write about the beggars here who walk around with laminated letters proving they have lost their house or their parents. Proving they need money. It upsets me at two levels; the poverty of the beggar, and also the manipulative nature of the begging. I think you need to have passion in your writing or you’re just going through the motions. As I said above, if I’m bored, then the reader will be. I need to be feeling the story as I’m writing it.   

A lot of people think that, as a horror writer, I should be tough. And I admit; not a lot scares me when it comes to fiction or to movies. The Ring did it for me, as did The Shining. The computer game Shrelock Holmes, the Awakened, totally freaked me out! I had to stop playing it with my kids and it was really scary. I loved it.

I’m no fan of slash horror and don’t even like medical drama. 

How do you feel about the horror genre in general?  Are you a fan of horror fiction, or more so of non-horror fiction?  What do you think the strengths of the genre are today?  

I read very broadly. I like stories which surprise and take chances, which is why I like the authors I’ve listed

I’ve just finished reading “Walk to the End of the World” and “Motherlines” by Suzy McKee Charnas. Now I have to wait for the next two in the series to be delivered. The books are entrancing, involving, disturbing and thought-provoking. She writes so much from within the world we see it as insiders, rather than as observers.  

There is a lot of good stuff about horror fiction. Readers are more critical, more discerning, and they want more from their horror fiction. Horror is so honest in what it says and does. It doesn’t spare the feelings of the reader and I think that’s a good thing.  

And finally, what can we expect in the future from Kaaron Warren? 

There are my next two novels from Angry Robot. “Mistification” is the story of a man who learns all he knows from the stories he hears, and he hears some pretty nasty stories. “Walking the Tree” is about a large island almost filled by an ancient tree. About the communities around and inside the tree, and the teachers who seek lovers as they walk the Tree. 

I have a story upcoming in Datlow and Mamatas’ “Haunted Legends” anthology. This story is another Fiji-inspired story. I’ve got another called “The Edge of a Thing”, about ghostly chiefs, in a British Fantasy Society anthology. 

There’s also my Ishtar story, which will be published with stories by Cat Sparks and Deborah Biancotti. We’re loving this project. I’m writing Ishtar in the past, Deborah is writing her in the present, and Cat is writing her in the future. Gilgamesh Press is publishing this one.  

Thanks again, Kaaron.  I look forward to more of your work in the future! 

Thanks, Luke! I hope you like the rest of “Slights” as much as you did the sample.  

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