Author Archives: Kati Heng

This Kind of World Building :: An Interview with Sofia Samatar

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Confession time: as much as I’d like to consider myself a well-rounded reader, I hardly ever read fantasy books that don’t contain “Harry Potter” in the title. It’s hard to find one I like. My brain can’t find a way to care about stories of troops of men trekking through dragon-filled lands to find a mysterious object. I can’t relate to a lot of the typical fantasy genre novels that come to mind.

Luckily, there are authors and books out there like Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories (the sequel to A Stranger in Olondria, though it can totally stand on its own, too), a fantastic tale of an ancient war and four women both brought together and torn apart by it’s horrors, all doing their very best to change my perception on the whole fantasy genre.

What’s different about this novel? Although it’s hard to put my finger on the *exact * reason, let me just spout off a few: Gorgeous, gorgeous poetic writing. An invented language that’s equivalent to botany on a page. A kickass leader of the troops named Tav, a woman who basically picks up the slack and outshines the male counterparts trying to follow in her warrior footsteps. Romantic, racial, religious storylines and struggles that a non-fantasy devotee can care about.

Not convinced? Read this interview with Sofia herself, and then go read The Winged Histories for yourself:
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More Aware of the Music: An Interview with Idra Novey

When a celebrated Brazilian author goes missing in Idra Novey’s spitfire debut, Ways To Disappear, her American translator Emma takes it upon herself to find a woman who may not want to be found. Joining her children in the search, the translator soon finds herself tangled in the author’s messy, escaped affairs. The resulting novel is, in equal parts, mystery, comedy, social commentary, and maybe another part hilarity. Keep reading to find out more about what makes the novel’s author tick:

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Kati Heng: Of course, your novel gets me interested in translators, a hugely important part of the literary world readers often forget about. How did you get started as a translator? Is it something you want to continue to do as you (we hope) write more of your own novels? Continue reading

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If Society Breaks Down :: An Interview with Vanessa Blakeslee

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Set in a tumultuous time of Colombia’s history, Vanessa Blakeslee’s novel Juventud explores the equally complex relationships between Mercedes, a young privileged teen in love for the first time; her father, a secretive man with a dark and crime-filled past that Mercedes has only heard whisperings about; her boyfriend Manuel, a young believer seeking changes for his nation; and her mother, a woman living in America whom she hasn’t seen since she was a baby. A dizzying and heart-rendering tale of the complications between these relationships, Juventud exposes the longings of young idealists and the pressures set upon us to protect the ones we love.

I spoke to Blakeslee about the story of Columbia, the dangers of first impression, the way she’s learned to shoot a gun and more:

Kati Heng: Your novel Juventud not only takes place in, but is entirely connected to the story of Colombia itself. What is your connection to Colombia? What about the country fascinates you?

Vanessa Blakeslee: At Rollins College I became acquainted with several students from Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. They told stories of getting driven around by private chauffeurs in armed cars, having maids dress them until they were twelve; one young woman in particular, from Colombia, told a harrowing story of how she believed her father had somehow been involved in a tragic incident with her first love, after which she was convinced to finish her studies in the U.S. Continue reading

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We All Always Feel As Though We Are 12 Years Old Inside :: An Interview with Heather O’Neill


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Imagine a place where stories continue after the teller stops talking, the characters continue to move and exist and even question that very existence after the narrator has left the scene. Imagine an island where women are so scarce, men instead date human/animal hybrids, learning the troubles and joys of falling in love with a half-swan. Imagination, stretched to its very fantastic ends, is key in Heather O’Neill’s new collection of short stories, Daydreams of Angels, a collection that explores these premises and more. I got the chance to talk to the woman the literary world has nicknamed the “demented angel with an uncanny knack for metaphor” about the inspiration behind these stories, her own relationship to fantasies and more: 
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If Swimming Transcends Sports: An Interview with Sara Jaffe

Dryland, the first novel from Sara Jaffe, former guitarist for Erase Errata, has, much like it’s creator, way more than one thing going on. Starting quietly, simply, as the tale of sophomore Julie being convinced by one of the popular girls to go out for the swim team, Dryland moves on to explore ideas of persistence, of family ties, of sexuality, same-sex experiments and mentorships between opposite sexes, friendships, high-school crushes and so much more. Joining the team already in the shadow of her older brother, a one-time Olympic level swimmer who has moved to Germany, keeping a sure distance from his family, Julie struggles to find a place on the team separate from the expectations placed upon her. Labeled, as Jaffe herself finds funny, as a “sports genre fiction” story, Dryland is instead the story of dedication and finding out for oneself who and what truly matters.

 

Author Sara Jaffe

Author Sara Jaffe

Kati Heng: Most people know you as a musician first thanks to Erase Errata, but how long have you been a writer?

 

Sara Jaffe: I’ve been writing pretty much my whole life. I was one of those kids who was 7 years old and wanted to be a writer. I always played music as well, but it was almost surprising when music became my main thing for a number of years. I think I always sort of knew that writing was what I would ultimately pursue.

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Past the Unreliable :: An Interview with Selah Saterstrom

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Slab (small title continued: “On That Hallelujah Day When Tiger & Preacher Meet”) is one of those novels that hits you fast and hard, that you finish in one sitting, gulping down like an ice-cold glass of water, yet fail to be able to fully recall or explain the experience even moments after it ends. What’s for sure is this: the story of Slab centers around Tiger, a woman named for the color of her hair, a dancer, a dreamer, a girl fully rooted in the post-Katrina South, who may or may not be narrating the entirety of her story to Miss Barbara Walters. It’s little use trying to quickly describe Slab or its character Tiger, who is, after all, only as complex and fascinating as the author of the beast, Selah Saterstrom. In our brief interview, Saterstrom explores religion and its possible “anti-heroes,” Southern roots (and holds), even the heroisms of Nancy Drew. If you enjoy even a piece of this interview, go, fast, and pick up Saterstrom’s Slab (and all her other works).

Kati Heng: The setting of Mississippi seems to hold such a prominence in the story of Slab. Could this story have taken place anywhere else? What would it have looked like elsewhere?

Selah Saterstorm: The de-categorizing hand of the disaster doesn’t mind manners or borders. In this sense, the story could have taken place anywhere. Capitalism and politics, however, are sickly-bloated with border-fetish. In this sense, the disaster that was FEMA very much locates the story in Mississippi and Louisiana.

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Character Comes First: An Interview with Anna North

author Anna North

author Anna North

There’s no way to talk about author Anna North’s latest novel, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, without centering the conversation around its title character. Told throughout the viewpoints of the people in Sophie’s life (who often become the main characters in the films the young director Sophie creates), the woman’s life is revealed piece by piece, from insight into her bullied childhood as witnessed by her brother, to early success as a filmmaker as seen by her lover Allison, to frustrations and struggles with relationships as disclosed to us by her husband. An awkward yet elegant and oddly alluring woman, Sophie’s relationship with art, and her much heavier flawed relationships with those around her, make for a melancholic tale of the search for perfection and the costs it may take to get there. Continue reading

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Density and Chocolate: An Interview with Laurie Foos

Laurie Foos’ latest novel, The Blue Girl (Coffee House Press), is a story centered around secrets, most notably, that of the Blue Girl herself. A mysterious child living near the waters of a small lake town, the Blue Girl—whose skin is truly a cerulean shade for reasons unknown to both readers and the novel’s other characters—is a fascination for the teens of the town and a confidant for their mothers. Told from the perspective of several of these mothers and daughters, the stories of the Blue Girl and the women themselves, of all their secrets and tragedies, are slowly revealed throughout the semi-magical narrative.

I got the chance to ask Foos more about this Blue Girl, the power of secrets, and the fears she has about her own daughter entering her teenage years:

Author Laurie Foos

Author Laurie Foos

Kati Heng: Probably the question everyone asks yet you don’t want to answer—do you have a reason in your mind for what caused the Blue Girl to turn blue?  Continue reading

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Not Just Words on a To-Do List : An Interview with Cyn Vargas

The stories in On the Way, the new collection from Chicago author Cyn Vargas, come from a place of pain. Broken marriages, broken homes, lost mothers and distant fathers swirl in and out of the stories, told through a variety of narrators (though most often, those narrators are girls between the ages of nine and thirteen). Throughout the pain and failed relationships, Vargas creates a picture of something deeper than love: a loyalty, a responsibility, and a connection that outlasts the fun times.

I talked to Vargas about the stigmas of writing fiction close to your own story, the draw of a pre-teen perspective, and how often, love isn’t everything.

Author Cyn Vargas

Author Cyn Vargas

Kati Heng: I’m curious about your connection to Guatemala. You mention it in a number of stories, set some there. Have you been? Do you have family there?

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Pretty Standard F*ck the System Stuff: An Interview with Halle Butler

10302552_1032744126751498_715057184536230329_n Halle Butler’s Jillian’s the lucky thrill of a story, a first novel bursting out of its publishing gates with some of the funniest, grittiest and most devourable prose you’ll find all 2015. The story of Megan, a depressed and anxious 20-something slacker working at a dead-end job at a gastrointestinal doctor’s office, and her chatty coworker Jillian who’s about to descend on a financial meltdown after adopting a new dog, the novel revolves around attitudes—from the depths of Megan’s sarcastic remarks to Jillian’s “The Secret”-inspired too-wishful thinking. Continue reading

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