RAGTAG GIGGAGON: What is the book about, and what inspired it?

KATYA MILLS: The book is the first in a series and a literary fiction. It is a coming-of-age story about a young woman who was given up for adoption at a very early age. She becomes alienated in her community, because she is different. She is androgynous and has preternatural abilities. She is abducted as a teenager and a taken to a city in the States, present day, to be with her kin. She soon realizes her place there. She will learn the Dark Art of her people.

I was definitely inspired by human psychology and the culture of fear here in the States, having lived here all my life. I am inspired every day by the courage and heroics of those who refuse to be run by fear. I call them friends. I wanted to write from the perspective of a strong female lead. The setting was inspired by Oakland, California, where I lived from 2006-2012. I have moved around a lot in the States. I have lived in Tampa, St. Pete, Florida, Chicago, Evanston, Cambridge, Boston, New Hampshire, Oakland, San Francisco. 

RG: There is an element of social commentary, a discussion of sub- or counter-culture that could mirror any number of similar cultures in reality rather than the novel's "fantasy" Oakland.

But where do you get your ideas in general? 

I lived in Oakland during a really crazy time, actually. There was the Oscar Grant homicide. The protests. The racial tension. There was Occupy Oakland, which was inspired by the Wall Street protests in NYC. The ‘99%’ got unified this way. There were helicopters aka ‘ghetto birds’ flying and hovering day and night over the city. There was Anonymous and then the ripoffs, the kids who would come in from the suburbs and vandalize and destroy property during any protest. And it would all get blamed on the activists. The activists would be out there the next morning after protests, cleaning up the graffiti and broken glass. There was the Oaksterdam and marijuana movement. The new mayor. Jean Quan. The gun violence. So much going on. I soaked it up. I didn’t want to forget. 

RG: What is the genre? Can you label it? 

I never classify beforehand. I literally have to go to wikipedia and study up on genres and subgenres, after writing my books. Actually, they always fall first into ‘literary fiction’. The broad stroke. With this new one, though, something is happening, some wisdom has shored up in me, I believe, and has taken my writing to a new level.
I got a graduate degree in psychology, back in 2006. And then there’s my experience in the world, which guides my hand. If I had to classify this one, the subgenres would fall into ‘coming-of-age’, ‘contemporary fantasy’, and ‘low fantasy’. 

RG: It seems magic realist and urban fantasy… 

Yes, well, what a compliment. I am a big fan of magic realism and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, may he rest in peace. He turned me on to it. I strive for magic realism more than I achieve it. I do enjoy personification. I can bring a carpet to life. But in terms of genre, again, I found resonance in Low Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy on Wikipedia. The latter posits elements of fantasy into a real-world setting. It is often a contemporary setting. I take a city that exists now, to cement the narrative.

But go to Amazon ebooks, and type in Contemporary Fantasy, and you will find it contradicts Wikipedia. Lots of titles with burly men half-dressed and romantic plotlines! It appears to have morphed to fantasies about sex? Maybe because young people are buying ebooks and have not been burned by love, so they still can fantasize? That’s my theory. Other genre classifications point to Coming of Age, and Literary Fiction. The ebook has been pointed toward short scifi and fantasy in the Amazon algorithm. 

RG: You write a very poetic style of prose.

Those who know me, know that style trumps everything for me. I could never neglect my signature. The worst thing I might say about anybody’s writing, is that anybody could have written it. Where is your flavor? I wanna feel you. Please don’t take it the wrong way! Character. Everyone has it. Often the difference between a great writer and a good writer, to me, is that I could tell you who wrote a piece. Which brings me to a funny story. I was applying for MFA programs, straight out of college. I was already writing GWB at that time, or some precursor to it. I had graduated college and I was scared. I wanted to stay in school. Anyway, I had to go out to DeKalb, Illinois, a famously uninteresting city, to take the English Literature subject test for GRE’s, meaning a very intensive magnifying glass on any subject. It was HARD! I failed it! But the section I scored well on was identification of an author by writing samples.

You see Dickens on the page, you know it’s him. Joyce Carol Oates, you know. Dostoyevsky, you know. Turgenev. Borges. Cormac McCarthy. Salinger. Poe. Conrad. Capote. Woolf. I could go on and on. If you have read a great writer, you can easily spot his work. Why? Because of their signature style, their fingerprint. It usually takes a lot of practice writing to get there. Some people never get there and still sell books like they’re going out of style. I wouldn’t ever be interested in reading those page turners. I would just turn the entire thing over, read the blurb and be done with it!

RG: How difficult is it to write? 

Freewriting is not so difficult, once I get started. Oh, there are days when it is painstaking. But mostly, armed with a strong cup of home-roasted coffee and some dead silence, I enjoy creating very much and more than anything else I do. I let loose the empath in me, which can turn the insides out. Like Jonah lighting a match inside the whale. My characters usually feel (from inside) their way out. Writing heals me. 

RG: Having read a draft of part (i), I find Ame a very interesting heroine. There is a suggestion that she is asexual (in an angelic sense) but also quite fluid in her sexuality. Is that fair? 

The sexuality of Ame has not really been explored in Book One, but you can bet she is a sexual character. The fluidity you speak of, is more gender fluidity. She is Androgynous. Not asexual. 

Is there a reason for this, beyond character? 

Yes. I knew it had to be the case. But I am not sure where I am going with it, quite yet.

More to be revealed. 

Are you saying anything about society in general? 

I do think it’s a continuum concept. Everyone on a continuum. The static placement of people into sexual and gender boxes, is beginning to be recast into something wonderfully alchemical and fluid in the world. Humans are evolving (behind most other species in plant and animal life) and towards something in between man or woman. One of eight born is transgender. And I embrace this evolution.  Not so much because of what happens physically, although that is cool, it’s more what is happening to open the minds. Almost like when they said, the earth goes around the sun. People freaked out. Their minds could not take it. They hurt people who said so. Same with transgender communities, etc. intersex, hermaphrodite. People are killed all the time over it. Because people are scared to believe what looks like a man is a woman, or vice versa. Once these minds open, great magical paradigm shifts follow. Open hearts. Alchemy is a wonderful exciting process not limited to base metals. I am obsessed with the concept. 

RG: The book adheres - albeit uniquely - to the trope of "hero plucked from farm / shire / normal life to begin adventure with her own kind." Would you agree? 

Yes. I am not sure why it happened this way, it sure seems common. But it just happened. I have always been interested in country to city movement, and vice versa. Life in a small town is so much different than life in a city. Unless you spend all of your time inside. 

RG: Is there an element of Stockholm Syndrome in her plight? She does not appear to be a victim, but the dynamic between herself and her kidnapper is very nuanced and rich. 

Nice catch. It sure seems that way, at first, doesn’t it? Joan
Didion wrote a fantastic essay about Patti Hearst and Stockholm Syndrome! There is no saying for sure whether Stockholm Syndrome exists here, because we see through the eyes of the one who has been abducted. However, if you consider her a reliable narrator, then do you find her credible when she speaks of Freddy in loving terms? Do you like how I answered a question with a question? I guess some things must remain a mystery. 

Did this come organically or did you have to work on it? 

Mostly it came organically. Although rewriting and editing and rewriting was painstakingly difficult. 

RG: Ame is also among a bunch of creatures populating the book - not quite a "Chosen One" - but they all appear to have supernatural powers, and Ame's powers are very strong. 

Yes, well they are a divergent tribe off the human chart! So they feel very human in one sense, what with human thoughts and feelings and interests. However, they developed the human senses in an amplified way, and were outcasted. Then they learned the subtle alchemy to survive. The humans turned against them, so they had little choice but to find leverage against humankind. Ame of course is new to her birthright. She must acclimate. She does not know her people’s history, and she was raised thinking she was human. So she sympathizes with humans. It will not be easy for her.

 RG: Is there an end in sight? 

No! I actually have never felt so committed to a story, in an encouraging way. This is very exciting. I feel like these characters have great staying power, and they are living rent-free in a large art loft I refinished for them in my head! They have all their basic needs met, and are actually quite spoiled. I just bought Ame a Tesla, though I have not caved on Freddy’s request for the new Aston Martin Vanquish. I asked him how many ebooks at the bargain basement price point did he think I would need to sell, in order to afford those wheels? He doesn’t seem to have a very good understanding of the real world. 

You say this story is ongoing, but do you plan ahead? 

Yes. I have an outline and I tweak it often. I have about 100,000 words in the pipeline, so that’s quite a bit of material to work with. I have a couple of new characters who will brighten the surroundings. And then, there are a couple of characters I allow to make their own way, because they do not quite move along storylines. Hendrix, for instance, is a question mark most of the time. I don’t know where he is going, or what he is doing. He keeps me on the edge of my seat. Ame’s path is the one I have to keep forefront. 

And do you have a vision for where it will end up? 

Not at all, no. May be a very long ways away! I see no end in sight!

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