KATHE KOJA: DETROIT WRITER
I was in a business center in a hotel in Baltimore last month and Kathe Koja was on the screen next to me. Yes, on the screen. Someone was checking her out. Or her website, that is.
It was one of those eerie moments but served to remind me of Kathe, who'd been in my writing group five years before. She's one of those amazing people who knock you out with her fluid mind, cogent insights, verve, generosity.
So here's Kathe Koja for My Town Monday. She's a Detroit girl who made good, yet stayed. Kathe is the author of six adult novels and five YAs, with a sixth on the way. The adult novels came first and might be classified as horror, but they are literary horror. The YA books are literary too. She can pull it off.
Kathe was kind enough to answer a few questions.
How has living in Detroit influenced or informed your writing?
Insofar as I'm a lifelong Detroiter, the city has shaped both my visual
sense and my taste for the authentic, if that doesn't sound too pretentious.
This is the no-bullshit city nonpareil, and
I think a certain impatience with surfaces
is the birthright of citizens of the D.
Also, here we learn to earn our happy endings,
and enjoy working for what we get.
As a writer of both adult and young adult
novels, how does the process differ? I would imagine
that YA novels are more inhibiting, not so much
as to what you can't do as a writer, but
in what you might feel obligated to do, in other words,
write about specific issues more than in adult books.
Am I wrong in this assumption? Do you ever feel burdened by this obligation?
I take myself wherever I go - whether it's YA or adult fiction, or
non-fiction (or letters to the editor, blog posts, anonymous comments
in the ladies' room at Cass Café, etc), so the voice is always the same.
Whether it's a YA or adult novel, I write only about what interests me
(animals, theatre, art, passionate relationships of all kinds), so there's no
pressure or sense of having to pick something specifically
"topical" or youth-oriented or whatever.
I've never had my YA work negatively vetted by an editor,
as far as what I can't say, can't write about, and so on,
so that's a non-issue too; though,sadly, I have had a
few run-ins with schools, driven by parents
who don't always read the books they complain about.(One nervous soul
got mad at BUDDHA BOY over something she'd read in an Amazon review.
A good review!)Teachers need administrative support behind them not
to get browbeaten, or worse, by the parents, some of whom seem
never to have heard the way kids actually talk, or perhaps
hold a book to a standard different from movies,
say, or games, or music, all of which their kids
consume freely. Or maybe they don't.
From my side of the fence, my responsibility
is to the fiction itself, doing
the best I can every time out of the gate.
The only constraint - and it's
self-imposed - is to remember that the
world breaks all our hearts, sooner or later,
but that news can be delivered with
varying degrees of hope and of force.
I would guess the average YA reader feels more of a bond with their
favorite writers than the average adult reader. Do YA writers feel this
What I mentioned above, of delivering the news in a different way
depending on the reader, is the major manifestation of my side
of that bond. I do not want to inadvertantly hurt my
younger readers. The grown-ups I figure can look out for themselves.
Is it difficult to tap into the voice of an adolescent,
especially as you're getting further from that age yourself?
I tried to write a YA novel a few years ago, and found I veered
from too mature to too childish? Do you have a reader of that age
to help you avoid this or do you learn it over time?
Nope, although I like to have my slang vetted (and try to keep brand names
to an absolute minimum; mostly I just make 'em up, to sound real without
being real, ie, undatable). The voice is my own voice. The first YA I
wrote, the story "Stray Dog" that became the novel straydog, was told in
voice of 14-year-old, really pissed off, animal-loving Rachel, and I knew
that girl the way I know the inside of my own head. All the subsequent ones,
What¹s next for Kathe Koja?
On the YA side of the street, HEADLONG is just out, and has gotten some
pretty good reviews (a star from PW), so I'm grateful and
pleased. The Monday this appears, I'll be at the
NCTE conference in San Antonio, talking
about writing edgy fiction for young people, and where
all the lines are drawn (or aren't). And the next YA
will be called FLOOR CANDY, about a girl,
a boy, and one very glam summer. I was a HUGE
David Bowie fan as a teenager(still am) and this book will draw from those
very happy memories.
On the adult side, I'm working on Part 2 of the puppet book - part one is
"Under the Poppy," part two is "The Garden Path" - cribbing from my own
blog, I'll note that this book is about "an orphaned brother and sister,
Istvan and Decca, and their childhood friend, Rupert, set in a Victorian-era
brothel called Under the Poppy. The brothel is owned by Decca, who¹s in love
with co-owner Rupert, who¹s in love with Istvan, who comes to town, louche
puppet troupe in tow." "The Garden Path" continues a few years after the
Poppy ends, following Istvan and Rupert into the big city, and modernity,
and some very old avenues of pleasure and danger. And the puppets are still
there, mimicking, facilitating, and commenting on the human life surrounding
them. So I'm happily toiling in puppet-world for the foreseeable future.
and thinking of some extracurricular 3D adventures in puppetry. Plus we
have to make another trailer, for Part 2....
Forthcoming: UNDER THE POPPIES and THE GARDEN PATH
THE BLUE MIRROR
FORTHCOMING, FLOOR CANDY
Take a look at Kathe Koja's site and book trailer for Under the Poppy as well as
the one above. It's the coolest book trailer I've seen.
Many of Kathe's fabulous covers were done by her husband,
Rick Lieder, another Detroiter. Check him out too.
Check out Travis' other My Town Monday posts.