Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Interrogating Kate Baggott

My next interrogation is with Kate Baggott, author of short stories.

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

When it comes to writing, I don’t compromise. There is enough compromise in my daily life and writing is the one area where I have complete control. I do value and take editorial advice if someone takes the time to give it to me. I work with the same fiction web sites and literary journals again and again so I build relationships with their editorial staff that are really satisfying. 

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in?

I write short stories, but I write in series or collections so I can stay with certain character and their life events for a long time. My goal is to make each piece stand alone while creating an entire society the action revolves around. It is something I studied in school and between Munroe, Atwood, Mowatt and other Canadian writers I have a whole cultural tradition to learn from. 

Short stories are also about time management. I have to earn a living too. Between teaching, journalism and ghost-writing, the time I have to write fiction is short and precious, but also carefully controlled. I can write a perfect moment in the time I have. To write a perfect novel, I would need more time…and perhaps a better capacity for giving up control.

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?

I’m not very organised in terms of keeping track of ideas. I have lots of them all the time. When I have an idea, I play with it and imagine it and dream it. By the time I sit down, I can usually spill it all out. That doesn’t mean the work is good. I usually get it all out and then go back to it later to see what is there. Some pieces have not been published until 10 years after I wrote them. Some of that is about content and style fashions, but some of it is about not being able to edit and form properly until the story has lived alone for a while.

How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed like...er...bunnies)?

Sometimes, plot points develop on a subconscious level and will be picked up at an essential moment as the writing progresses. You don’t know what you might need until you know exactly what you are doing. My approach is to write out everything all at once and slice and dice later.

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with?

One of my friends claims that all of my characters are me all the time, but I generally don’t re-write my autobiography as fiction.

One of my characters, Finnegan, is a teenage boy and I created him out of regret. When I was a teenager, I would have grown up more easily if I had had a boyfriend like Finnegan. Stories about Finnegan have won awards and readers seem to like him. And yet, I’ve been working on stories about him for years, but I can’t finish the collection because teenagers are kind of tough to live with.

In Love from Planet Wine Cooler, which is available as a collection, things were very much about closing doors on the past. I was Marina, but she is also all the female friends I have been close to since I learned how to make friends. I wanted to write a kind of Generation X for women who grew up like I did in the 90s. We’re not a big group, we’ve been dwarfed demographically by Boomer Women and Millennial Babies, so there is little about the peculiar time and place we came of age in.

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

To be completely honest, my marriage is a mess and I would be lying if I said my writing was not part of how we got into relationship disaster. But, in dealing with heart-break and stress and constant worry, writing has been my greatest source of comfort. There is no emotional chaos when I sit down and work out the moments that I think create meaning. When I won the America’s Next Author Contest, one of the judges said it was a “quiet, well-crafted” story. Critics said that nothing special happened in Finnegan & Grandfather Cheng. Both, I think, were correct. In my work, I am not looking for or at explosions or murders. Instead, I’m looking for lights coming on and hearts being moved.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

Right now, I’m reading nothing but Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve got an episode from Scotland Street, an instalment of Isabel Dalhousie and a Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency on the go. I think AMS strikes a great balance between literary integrity and popular appeal. I learn a lot about structure and character development from him. On other reading binges, I’ve read everything by John Updike and John Irving. I consider the three of them to be as influential to how I approach writing and the world as every great teacher I’ve had. 

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

Journals and fiction sites that are run by great editors give me the chance to sing for their metaphoric bar or pub patrons before I have to fill a stadium with book readers. In between those events, I keep humming so my voice stays warm while I wait for an open ear. When I find that, I start at a whisper in the reader’s ear and slowly increase the volume until they are listening to my song and harmonising during their own chorus.

I’m as annoyed by all the indie author marketing noise as everyone else, so I don’t automate “buy my book” tweets or spam people. I just try to be where interested people are. There is also an element of need. An acquaintance recently told me that she read Love From Planet Wine Cooler as her own marriage was ending and that it brought her comfort because it gave her permission to re-think her own history and her own future. Those issues of timing are hugely important. If my work is there when a reader needs me, even if it is only one reader ever, then I have done what an author should do.  

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

I express my thanks for their effort and my deep embarrassment. Sometimes, though, spelling mistakes are an issue of using Canadian spelling rather than UK or US standards. We use colour and flavour instead of color and flavor, and I would never use the words nite or lite over night and light, but we use realize and organize over realise and organise. Since I’ve lived in Europe and worked for US publications, I get as confused over which standard to use when, but my heart is in my Canadian dialect.

What do you like most about visiting KUF/GR/forums?

I mostly lurk to observe how readers approach and choose books to read. Deciding to share the experience of reading the same book is an amazing event. Talking about a movie or a TV program is becoming less commonplace the more fragmented and solitary our viewing habits become. I’m going to be watching very carefully to see how books fill the void.

What is on your near horizon?

In September have a short story coming out in an anthology called Friend. Follow. Text. It’s a collection of stories by various authors inspired by how we use social media. I think it will teach us a lot about what is inspiring writers right now. I’m also working on a series of stories called Dry Stories and pieces from it are just starting to appear online and in journals. I hope to have the series finished by year-end and all the pieces published by the end of 2014. Then, I’ll have them available as a collection in 2015. 

Where can we find you for more information?

Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. I love social media. I collect all of my interactive activities together on my web site http://www.katebaggott.com

1 comment:

  1. Hi Joo,

    Thanks so much for this. I will share it around via Twitter and Facebook, but do you think you could correct the spelling of Baggott? It really does have two Gs and two Ts.