Katie Williams on Inventing Worlds to Control

An interview with Katie Williams, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Katie Williams is the author of the novels Absent (2013) and The Space Between Trees (2010). Her short stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, The Atlantic, Best American Fantasy, and elsewhere. She writes and teaches in San Francisco.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?

Teach. But then I make sure to always have a friend on hand who will interrupt with, “And she’s a published author.”

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

Sitting with uncertainty. There’s this idea of fiction writers as flexible free spirits. That’s poets. Most writers I know are perfectionists who have to invent worlds to control because real life is too messy for their liking.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Read a lot. Write like yourself, not like some imaginary person’s idea of a serious author. Have something else you do that involves your hands, feet, or interaction with other people; bonus points if this other activity results in something lucrative or edible.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

It’s easy to get caught up in all I want to accomplish, but if I take a step back: Sure. I’m doing what I want to do with the person I want to do it with. That’s a good definition, I think.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

At that age, I don’t think I was too interested in looking up to people. I used to refer to my very lovely schoolteacher parents as “glorified babysitters.” (Ah irony.) I wanted very much to be a veterinarian until I found out that during your schooling you had to dissect a cat. Maybe we can say I admired the family cat too much to dissect him.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

Ah but I’d love to spend a week in the wilderness. My husband and I have just been getting into camping, though I haven’t done a full week yet. Let’s see: Lots of hiking (I love to walk) and the practical knowledge that whiskey is quite portable. Someone else would need to wield the compass, though, or it’d be more than a week in the wilderness. My friend coined the term “Katie north,” which means due south.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

Did you not read my answer about being a perfectionist control freak? I’ll leave the striptease descriptions to the poets.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that this question is related to the previous one?

What’s wrong with society today?

My students and I were talking about this just yesterday. They decided that we overvalue speed and quantity. We move too fast and want more than we need. It’s a simple idea that applies to many different situations. They’re a pretty clever bunch.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

Allergy medicine. I’m convinced the North Berkeley residents are preparing the Noah’s Ark of flora. It’s pretty here, but also sneezy.

What is your fondest memory?

I’m superstitious about putting it in print. You can’t play a good memory too much or its batteries run out.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Human expression crafted or performed. It’s not necessary for basic physical survival (and the people who claim it is are being silly). Beyond that? It’s necessary for me to feel like myself. If we want to go bigger with the question, I’d argue that art is necessary for empathy and collaboration, which is necessary for creating and sustaining a society.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Dude. I wasn’t even willing to describe a striptease. Go find a poet.

What are you working on right now?

A low-magic historical fantasy set in 1885 San Francisco about a woman who writes correspondence for mail-order brides. Something goes wrong with one of the brides she’s placed, and she’s hired to go out and fix it.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

My first novel was a take on a girl-detective mystery; my second was an inside-out ghost story. I’d like to write a novel in every genre, but to always be twisty with the genre rules.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

I would make it bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside, like the TARDIS. That would solve a lot of other problems, don’t you think?

What are some of your favorite smells?

The smell of a candle just blown out. I think it must trigger birthday cake memories.

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