Saturday, July 23, 2011
HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK: Kathe Koja
If It's Fun You're After:
Writing Under the Poppy
Pleasure is paramount for me in fiction, both reading and writing, and the
second pretty much augurs the first: if the writer's not enjoying her own
book, who else in the world will? UNDER THE POPPY has whores, war, puppets,
passion, lies galore and a love unending, and the fun I had writing this
novel was immense.
It began with the image of a character, a young man, a showman not of our
time, on the road with a brace of outré puppets: Istvan. Then another man
beside him on the road, his lover, Rupert. Everything that follows - the
Victorian brothel called Under the Poppy and its icy madam, the maelstrom of
betrayal and flight and war, the pleasures of performance no matter the
venue - comes from these characters whose love and struggles were the heart
of the story. And I followed along on the road.
I never work from outlines; for me, most of the joy of a book is in the
discovery and surprise of the story itself, the way it wants to go, and
UNDER THE POPPY had a narrative will so strong that the momentum drove me,
too, happy and exhilarated to sit down each day and see what was going to
happen next. And the story just kept on going: what I first thought was the
finished book turned out to be only its first half, then the first book of a
pair - I'm finishing the sequel now, called THE MERCURY WALTZ - and then a
stage incarnation, too, an immersive, performative production that's turned
me into a playwright, a collaborator with other artists to bring the story
to 3D life. It's been five years now since I saw Istvan and Rupert on that
road, and the journey continues.
And all of it has been tremendous fun.
Fun is more than just pleasure: it's serious play, it's beautiful escape:
when we read, we enter times and places new to us, live the lives of people
we are not. UNDER THE POPPY drew me into new places - my first historical
novel, my longest fictional work by far, and now the stage - and all I had
to do was play along. As the song in the book trailer puts it, "If it's fun
you're after, companionship and laughter/You can always find it in the
Kathe, a Detroiter, is the author of THE CIPHER, BAD BRAINS, SKIN, KINK and a series of YA novels.