My conversation with NW author Kelsey Pince
Jan: This is my first interview for the Book Store blog, where I've written pieces mostly to say, "We're here!" Your book inspired me! We had the event* here which was great, you sold a number of books, right?!
Kelsey Pince: Yeah, so far I've sold close to a hundred, I think I'm at 93. And two at Mill Creek branch, so I'm counting those ...
J: Tom (my guy) is reading your book now, and he's liking it, too. When I first started your book I thought that you have a lot of detail and your characters have a lot of thoughts, and that's part of the whole - you know - presentation. Is that your normal style?
K: I would not say that. No. This is the first, full-length novel I've ever attempted and it was a very different style from what I normally do - which is blogging - and I think a lot of that was maybe me getting my own nerves out as a writer. 'Cuz I think particularly the first chapter has a lot of that. Whereas it smooths out a little bit more.
J: It does! It does. 'Cuz all I had to do was go, "I'm not sure?" and then the next pages turned it around. So it was a very short ... like, it's ... my own head is full of that stuff so I so know what that is like.
K: And with NaNoWriMo, the first couple of days you're just like ...
J: (Interrupting) Yeah ... that's a question ... how did that shape that process for you?
K: It really makes it intimidating, particularly the first couple days when you sit down and you know you have this word-count that you have to meet every day if you want to stay on pace, so particularly the early stages of my book ended up being a little wordier just because it was, "Am I going to have enough to say to meet the 50,000 words?" And then ten days in, it was clear that I was going to write way more than that so I calmed down a lot more.
J: Wow! That's a lot of words!
K: (Gut level laughter ensues.) But for reference that's the length of the Great Gatsby ... it's pretty short for a novel. The novel that I ended up finishing uh is at 70,000 words, so ... I think it was only at sixty something when I finished NaNoWriMo, and then when I went back in and revised it it got a little bit longer.
J: So, uhm, I think that we addressed that question. So, let's just start with the biggie.
J: How much of yourself, your own character, is in The World Below?
K: Well, it's definitely heavily based on my real life. But because I changed some things and because I streamlined a lot of events and combined some real people into one, I think that changed how the main character interacted with them and the decisions that she had to make that I never had to make, or had to make in a different order than I had to make them. So, even if she started out as me she definitely didn't end that way ... because her experiences were so different than mine. A lot of people read it - who knew me from that time - and definitely can see where the correlations to me and my real life are, but it's not ... it's still fiction.
J: Well, I really liked your character. I was really interested in her. And I worried along the way - is she going to go y'know - I was so hoping things would be okay for her. I don't want to give a spoiler quite yet. Okay, so that's good, I think that's just the truth for most writers, they've gotta have a voice, and you start with your own voice first and then hopefully you can move beyond that to create lots of new fiction ...
K: Exactly, and that's that ... because it was my first story it was a little bit easier to start with a situation that was at least true and just build off it from there.
J: Cool, yeah, I like it. Uuhuum, so-o-o, you sort of segue into this, starting with yourself, starting with an outline, too?
K: I knew how it started and how it ended at the beginning of NaNoWriMo, like that's how I had it planned. And I had a vague idea of some of the events in the middle, but I really didn't know how to connect the beginning and the ending when I started. I kinda figured it would become clear to me as I wrote. And I think that I was lucky because I got to do a round of revisions between when I finished on December 1st and when they published it. So, I got to streamline ...
J: When did they publish it?
K: I think the contest went until late January and I had until the end of March to revise it, so I think it came out mid-April. It might have been early May ...
J: Did anything surprise you in the process?
K: Yes, a number of characters - particularly ones that I thought I knew how they would be and how they would act - kinda took over and took themselves in a different direction as I was working them, so a lot of the supporting characters surprised me and a lot of them surprised me by becoming much more important to the story than I originally thought they would be. And some of them became less important to the story, some of them by the end of it were not necessary at all, and ended up getting cut.
J: So even if you had some idea you allowed a lot of flexibility in there?
K: Yes, absolutely.
J: That's cool. Well, I really liked the balance between your main characters and the supporting characters 'cuz sometimes I get annoyed, I don't want to be pulled away from the main characters, but these ones supported the main and they supported the story. So you did that really well.
K: Thank you.
J: The balance ...
K: Thank you.
J: Y'know, 'cuz I will go, "aaahhuhrgh!" and you know that you've taken me away from the person (character) I love.
J: ... which actually leads us into the whole getting into the male mind ... set ... while you're writing. Have you ever done before?
K: I've written short stories from the perspective of male characters, and I feel like a lot of fiction has male main characters, so I read a lot from the male perspective. But it was a challenge and it was one of the things that I was nervous about going in, and when I did have people read the first draft that was one thing I was asking them to be critical of ... y'know: "does this sound like a male?" "Does this character come across as believably male?" Because I have definitely read female characters, written by male authors, where I was a little skeptical and I didn't want that to happen. So, I tried to be true to him as a character and also open to the feedback that I got from other men who were reading the book.
J: Yeah, you have a good community that surrounds you. I can tell that.
K: That is very true. My writer's group is mostly comprised of men ... so (laughter), I get that feedback a lot.
J: Well, that's really helpful then, how long have you been in that group?
K: Uhm, we've been going off and on, couple of our members left for grad school, so we've been on hiatus but we're starting up again ... I think I've been with them for about two years now.
J: That's awesome.
K: It is a lot of fun! ... mostly they write literary fiction and I'm kinda the more genre fiction member of the group, so there's that contrast between us too, but when we do short prompt exercises I always try to ask them if my male characters are coming across as credible.
J: ... uh, I am not a man (laughter), but I thought the male character was credible and especially the situation ah at home, y'know what men fear about becoming ... is it a spoiler? ... becoming fathers?
K: Naw, I don't think it's a spoiler.
J: So, are you going to continue in this genre? You said you're different then the rest in your group. Will you continue to write ...?
K: I really like urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy. Those are my favorite things: Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and that tends to be what he writes, plus I think that it's easier to make sense of the world sometimes if you see it that way. So that's why I always enjoyed it as a genre. My next book is more like historical fantasy, high fantasy, that kind of thing. But I think that I will continue with contemporary urban fantasy once I'm done with the next project I'm on.
J: So that's going to be a satisfying genre for you for a while?
K: I think so yes ...
J: Cool, 'cuz I love it ... I'm like keep doin' it ... I want it, o-kay. And you've finished your second novel: do you want to share anything now with your readers? or do you want to keep it hush-hush?
K: Oh no, that's fine. I'll talk about that. It's still in draft format and I'm getting a lot of feedback from a lot of readers so it may not come out exactly this way, but it's kind of a re-examination of the crusades ... in a high fantasy setting. So instead of having the Knights of the Templar as my good guys: they're the bad guys. And the Arab-Muslim-African population are the protagonists ... because that's the history I learned in school and so that's always my viewpoint on world history, and I don't often see that in fantasy.
J: I think that's really excellent. I think that's going to be really unique then.
K: I hope so! (Laughter from both.)
J: You have a degree. What's your degree in?
K: I have a bachelors in Near Eastern Language and Culture, so specifically Arabic and the history of the Arab world.
J: So that helped you a lot right in shaping the second book, right?!
K: Yes, absolutely. And we didn't learn about crusader history in public school, so the first time I learned about the crusades was from the Arabic-Middle Eastern perspective. Then reading fantasy where the crusader-knights are always the good guys that's a little confusing to me. So I guess that I'm just trying to write a story that's more from the perspective I learned in world history.
J: Sounds excellent. Really. I ... probably one of those things that you feel that you were born to write?
K: Absolutely, everything in my education kinda brought this back to my interests and made me feel like this is a story that I want to tell.
J: Powerful. And within that, this is just spontaneous, within that are there female characters that are in this whole thing, and how does that work with the culture?
K: That is ...
J: And you don't have to give me too much ... whatever you're ...
K: That's ... uh ... my main character is female and a lot of the main characters are female. Part of what I wanted to do in this world is to write a ... and it is fiction, it's not really historical because I do have a large number of women participate in the wars who are fighting as soldiers. It really was a combination of me wanting to create a more feminist feel in this time period, and also just a more global perspective on it. So I won't say it's based in history and it's not very historically accurate but culturally a lot of women did participate ... we just don't that often hear about them and they often had to do it in secret and so I kinda have a more open view of them.
J: Normally I'm not interested in reading anything historical, but I know that I'll be reading your book. Because you are bringing you-ness to it. There is so much about you that I like as a person ...
K: Thanks ...
J: And uh you are a risk-taker and it seems like you like to walk off the beaten path and find out life on your own.
K: Yeah, and I'd rather have something that was sort of inspired by history but not really chained to historical fact. (A bit of hemming and hawing.) I don't write historical fiction. My research into this has been much heavier than my research into The World Below just because I wanted to have the right feel ... but y'know no one's going to use it in a history class ...
J: But they might teach it in a lit class ... which would be really-really cool.
Let's see here ... well we talked about, you talked about Neil Gaiman: are there other writers you would say have influenced you?
K: Yes, absolutely. Neil Gaiman's protege Susanna Clarke, who's really only written Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and some short stuff, but she ... she is one of my bigger influences because I read that book so often! I love her style! I know it's hard to say that just one book is the major influence, but definitely her ... and Jo Walton ... her book Among Others which is like a life story told through the books she's read in a lot of ways ... and The World Below is sort of similar to that in that it's set in a book store for a large part. There's a lot of discussion about books and reading and how a person's taste in books reflects about their personality ... so I'd say Jo Walton's a huge influence. Of course, Jason Vanhee ...
[Jason Vanhee is a book seller at University Book Store and a published author. I like and admire the fiction that I've read of his so far.]
J: Which of his (books)has influenced you the most? Or can you do that?
K: Well? I would say Engines of the Broken World, which is his book, which is going to be released next fall. When I read that after he finished that for his own NaNoWriMo project, that kind of gave me the idea that I could do NaNoWriMo and maybe I did have a story to tell, because I always thought of myself more of a blogger and not a fiction writer and he sparked my interest in fiction and also was just right there cheering me on and encouraging me throughout the whole month. And he writes such a wide spectrum of genre: like some of his is contemporary fantasy, some of it's young adult, some of it's much more like straight historical fiction, and so I think his eclectic writing really has inspired me to go for what interests me and not worry about what genre it is ...
J: Well, I've read one of his books and I thought it was excellent so I'm looking forward to those other ones, too.
K: Did you read Engines of the Broken World or Never?
J: Engines ...
K: That's the one that he's revised a couple of times now so it'll probably be different when it comes out, but that's the one that is getting published.
K: It's so exciting!
J: It is, very exciting! To work at the book store, the book store is filled with talented creative people. Writers like you and Jason, and then visual artists ... I could name 'em all but ... but yeah, it's pretty impressive. It's an exciting time to work at the book store I think.
K: It's a really supportive environment, too.
K: Everyone wants to talk about what you're working on and share what they're working on and no one is too self-important to share or to give advice or encouragement. So I think it's a great environment!
J: I think you bring that out in people. So ... probably not e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y would get (you know) the degree of response that you have, but ...
K: I'm really lucky.
J: You are. But I wouldn't even say lucky, I'd just think that, "like attracts like!"
J: That's one of my maxims in life. So ... what is the hardest part of the process, the writing process, for you?
K: For me it's knowing when its done. Because I'll write something and then go back and revise it and then go back and revise it. I will continue revising until someone tears it out of my hands and tells me it is done. And I never feel like anything is done. And from what I've read most authors have this problem, so I'm a little comforted that maybe I'm not insane. But uh the nice thing about NaNoWriMo is that it gives you a deadline that is almost unreasonable, so you just have to get it done, you can't worry about making it perfect. You know it's just a matter of writing the next sentence in order to keep up with your word count and uhm so once I'm outside of NaNoWriMo and I can write at my own pace it is hard to stop obsessing about tweaking and just move on to the next section.
J: Well you left a little bit of room for this character that I love to come back. Is there any possibility that we might hear from her again?
K: Yes, I would say a strong possibility! I have a second story with her in mind ... I haven't fleshed out the plot of it yet. I kinda know what happens next with her and I think there's a new character's story to wrap into that as well, but I don't quite know how to turn it into a novel quite yet. I think after I finish with the high fantasy project I'll return to that and see if there's a place to go.
J: Well, I'd be ready to hear more about her. She's c-o-m-p-l-e-x and meaty and so much about her and how you developed her is what I want to read about a character! I want to read a character that t-r-i-e-s to do good but is so often challenged and doesn't always meet the mark.
K: Yeah, absolutely, she's very flawed and I think that in next story going forward she'll get to have more of a leadership or mentoring role with another character, which I think will be interesting for her and will also kinda help her grow up ... because even though she's 19 or 20 in the book, she's kinda in that arrested development stage of not having had a childhood ... so still kind of stuck in a perpetual childhood. And now that she's on her own, without the protection of others, that'll be a good place to grow-up ... finally.
J: Sounds wonderful. It does. Well, this was just an interviewer's dream. Thank you so much for sitting down with me.
K: Thank you.
*Presentation of winner of the contest.
Kelsey Pince's The World Below was the winner of the Obliterate the Empty Page! contest held in November 2011 during National Novel Writing Month. It was chosen as the best entry by a panel of local book luminaries. Thank you to contest sponsors: Richard Hugo House, Northwest Independent Editors Guild, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators.