Nenad Dragicevic, who interviewed Mario Milosevic for the bonus section of Terrastina and Mazolli, visited the Green Snake Publishing offices recently and asked Kim to sit for an interview. Here is that interview.
Nenad Dragicevic: Is this your first book in the mystery/thriller genre?
Kim Antieau: That’s an interesting first question. I don’t think any of my books really fit a particular genre, which can be frustrating for publishers and maybe readers, too. I don’t know. I think all books are mysteries. Every story is a mystery. Who are these people? Why do they do what they do? What’s happened to them and what will happen to them? Those are all mysteries the reader wants to solve.
In some cases, books also deal with a crime which I think is the question you really want answered. And yes, I have written about crimes before but in my own way. In Coyote Cowgirl, the main character tracks down the stolen family jewels while she solves the mystery of the talking crystal skull. In Butch: A Bent Western, Butch solves many mysteries along the way, including who shot the sheriff. In The Monster’s Daughter, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster’s daughter is the victim of a crime, and the crime colors her entire life. Whackadoodle Times and Whackadoodle Times Two both have crimes of a sort in them, although I don’t want to say too much about that in fear of spoiling the read for anyone.
What’s different about Maternal Instincts, for me, is that it is a thriller—or a suspense novel. I love writing contemporary novels that just go, go, go—and Kate Kelly in Maternal Instincts never stops. Even when she’s probably wrong, she doesn’t stop.
ND: Maternal Instincts takes place primarily in a small Pacific Northwest town in the Columbia River Gorge, which describes where you live, and the main character is tough and feisty and so are you. Does this book have parallels with your own life?
KA: (Laughs.) The book does take place in a small town along the Columbia River, and it is very much like the town where I live. My husband and I have lived in the area since 1987—we’ve lived here longer than any other place. We love it, and it’s a complex place with a complex history and present. Normally I don’t write about places I’ve lived in until I’ve left. I couldn’t avoid this story, though. It’s been bugging me for years, and I had to write it. Nature is all where I live. It is ever present. The environment is very much a character in this novel (and will be even more so in the next book, Killing Beauty).
Are you asking if I’m like Katie Kelly or vice versa? I don’t write fictionally about myself. That would bore me. I already write a lot about myself in creative nonfiction! I feel like the main characters of my novels come to me and ask me to write their story, and this is true of Katie, too, from Maternal Instincts. What I really like about her is that she carries on, she keeps on keepin’ on, even when she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Perhaps that describes me, too, but we are very different people.
She’s vulnerable, but she keeps that in check, not just because she was a cop for twenty plus years, but because of her past and the crime that has haunted her life. I love that she does stupid things, because we all do stupid things. But she has absolutely no malice in her heart—except for those people who do harm to others, and even not all of those. I love that she helps Danella, the 11-year-old who runs up to Katie on the trail and tells her she’s been kidnapped.
I do think that Kate’s relationship with Danella has been informed by my relationship with my almost 9-year-old neighbor. I’ve known her since she was born, but she’s only become my friend over the last three years. She is definitely her own person. Our relationship is one of friendship, even though I am the adult, and I sometimes have to tell her what to do for her own protection and for her general development. If I had written Maternal Instincts before my friendship with her, I don’t think Kate’s and Danella’s relationship would have been as rich.
ND: I found it interesting that the book deals with a terrible crime in the past that haunts the main character for years. Have you had any kind of experience that haunts you in a similar way?
KA: The idea for Killing Beauty (the second Kate Kelly novel) actually came to me before Maternal Instincts. The story evolved after a horrific crime was committed in our county, out in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was so awful. I cope with life by writing about it, by trying to figure it out through story. I wanted to make certain I wasn’t exploiting a terrible tragedy by writing about it fictionally, so it took me years to give myself permission to write this book.
One day I was telling a friend of mine about the books I wanted to write about Beauty Falls (the fictional town on the Columbia River). I told her that I believed terrible crimes don’t just affect the family. I think these crimes reverberate through a community, maybe even on the land itself. They leave a mark, a scar. When we don’t acknowledge this, if we make crime a kind of nightly entertainment (which I do, too), it can be a disservice to the victims and to the community. My friend said, “You have as much right to write about what happened as anyone. It happened where you live, it happened to all of us here.” In other words, she said I already had permission to write the stories. And in Maternal Instincts, I have not written about the specific crimes that happened here, and I have tried to be respectful and cognizant of the toll crime takes—especially the crime of murder.
I grew up in a small town an hour from Detroit, Michigan, when it was the “murder capital” of the country. On the nightly news, the anchor would tick off how many people had been murdered that day (and so far for the year) like they were ticking off baseball scores. As a child, listening to this, knowing about it, I was wounded—this reality left scars on my psyche.
When I was in junior high, a serial killer was murdering young women in Ann Arbor, near where I lived. My best friend’s father was the lead detective on the case. It was terrifying. I wondered if girls and women would always be targets for crazy men. My friend’s father was clearly affected by this case and his work. He tried to keep a tight rein on his kids in an attempt to protect them from what he saw every day. (This backfired, of course, but that’s a another story.)
When I was in high school, Wendy Braddon, a school mate of mine, was murdered. Wendy was a year older than I was, and I admired her. She was an involved and caring person. I heard about her murder when I was babysitting down the road from our house. Bill Bonds, the Detroit newscaster, mispronounced her name, but I knew who he was talking about because the murdered girl was from my little town of Brighton, he said. She was the only one with a name close to that. Bonds described in detail how she had been murdered.
I remember I almost passed out. I got up and ran around the house, weeping and moaning, trying not to scream. I was so horrified, so terrified. (Even now, I feel extremely uncomfortable talking about it.) I called my dad and told him what had happened. He came over and sat with me until the parents of the kids I was babysitting came home. Her murder has haunted me my whole life. I can only imagine how her family feels. In Maternal Instincts, Kate Kelly has been haunted by the murder of a friend when she was a teen. I just don’t think people ever get over that kind of thing.
ND: What would you like readers to feel after they finish one of your books, and this one in particular?
KA: I want my readers to be excited and happy with the tale I’ve told. I always hope people are moved and want to hear more from me. I feel the same way about Maternal Instincts. I hope readers enjoy the ride.
ND: I love the title of this book. It makes me think of a fierce Mama Bear. Did you start with the title, or did it come to you later?
KA: The title and the story for Killing Beauty came first (the second book in the series which will be out in 2016, knock wood). I wasn’t ready to write that book, however. So then the story for Maternal Instincts came to me. It takes place just a few weeks before the events in Killing Beauty. Anyway, I came up with the story for Maternal Instincts before I had the title. The title evolved from who Kate is and what happens in the book. She relies on her instincts. Her family doesn’t think she is particularly maternal, whatever that means for them. She belies their expectations—and everyone else’s. She is her own person—and her maternal instincts are like a fierce grizzly bear mother. At least to my way of thinking. She’s not cuddly.
ND: I especially liked some of the humor in the book. Some of Kate’s remarks are very funny. Did you set out to write a humorous mystery?
KA: I wouldn’t call Maternal Instincts a humorous mystery! In fact, I have to think about what was funny in this book. I mean, Whackadoodle Times, Butch, and Coyote Cowgirl are funny. I am glad to hear you recall some humor in Maternal Instincts. Humor is important to every tale, even this one. Now that I think about it, Kate and Danella are sometimes funny together. And Kate’s conversations with her friends are funny. OK. You’re right. I’m remembering more now. So did I set out to be funny? No, I’m just taking dictation from my characters!
ND: You take dictation from your characters? How does that work?
KA: For a long time now, it has felt like characters come to me to tell their stories. If I don’t do it, they move on and find someone else (I suppose). It’s nothing supernatural. I’m not claiming to channel anyone. I’m not hearing voices. It’s just how I’m in the flow. I don’t look for stories. Stories come to me, or rather, characters come to me. They tell me stories; I write them down. It’s difficult to explain.
I’ve used this example before, but just in case some people haven’t heard it, I’ll tell it again. With Ruby’s Imagine, Ruby came to me after Hurricane Katrina and told me her tale. I wrote it down. She has a particular way of talking. After I wrote the book, Ruby was gone, but I still had to do revisions on the book. This was difficult because I no longer had Ruby-speak in my head. So in the end, I didn’t revise it. It didn’t need it. Ruby had it right the first time. A similar thing happened with The Fish Wife. I heard that entire novel in an Irish brogue. When I finished it, she was gone, and I had a little trouble editing the book because of that.
ND: You have, if I’m correct, about four series going right now, Maternal Instincts, the Whackadoodle Times books, Butch, and your upcoming blockbuster, Queendom. Is there something in the air that is getting you interested in series?
KA: (Laughs.) Upcoming blockbuster? I like the sound of that. I never thought I would do any series. I would write a character’s story, and then I was done. But then the Old Mermaids came into my life. After I wrote Church of the Old Mermaids, I figured I could write about them forever. (So I wrote The Blue Tail and The Fish Wife. The Old Ems even show up in The Desert Siren, too. Someday I will go back and write more Old Mermaid novels.) So I think the Old Mermaids got me interested in series. And then Butch came into my life along with Brooke McMurphy from Whackadoodle Times. I love both of those characters and could write about them forever.
Right now Katie Kelly will be in Killing Beauty as well as Maternal Instincts. We’ll see what happens after that. It may be a two-book series, or it may go on for a while. Whackadoodle Times is a three book series, although I love writing Brooke McMurphy so much that I may write more.
I have so many book ideas for Butch, and I need to get to work on Butch and the Kid which I started earlier this year. Writing historical fiction is harder to write (for me) than just writing novels that take place now. Butch has a definite rhythm, and her stories can’t be rushed. It took me five years to write the first Butch novel.
The Queendom series will start this fall with multipart e-books of Queendom: Feast of the Saints (with extras that will only be available in the e-books). Originally I saw this series as five novels. The first novel was so long, however, that it may turn out to be a three book series instead. The second one is tentatively titled Queendom: Dance of the Exiles.
I’m also working on two other mystery series. One is set in San Francisco right before, during, and after the 1906 earthquake. I don’t have a title yet. The main character will be looking for missing people. Also I’ve got a character from the 13th century who solves crimes. I just wrote a short story with her as the main character—“Mistress Strider and the Forester”—and I really liked doing it. But it’s an historical novel, too, and that takes more time and energy.
Then my novel Sea Empress (working title), which is based on the real life of a female Chinese pirate in the nineteenth century, may or may not turn out to be a series. This novel has wanted to be written for years. I’m hoping to start this this year still.
ND: I always like learning about how writers actually write. What is a typical writing day for you?
KA: I don’t have a typical writing day. I like to wake up and see what the day brings. If the weather is good, I like to get out and hike, or at least walk around our little town. If my friends need anything from me on a particular day, then I do that. If I’m in the midst of writing a novel, I can write all day or just a few hours a day. It all depends. If I’m in the flow, I generally like writing four or five hours a day, usually after noon. If I have research to do or editing or other publishing matters to attend to, I do that after I write or on a day when I’m not writing. Those activities use a different part of my brain and body than writing does.
ND: You certainly have a lot of projects going. Is it ever difficult keeping them all straight?
KA: No. But I do get anxious sometimes because it feels like all these people are in my head saying, “Write about me! Me! Me!” and if I don’t do it, then I’ve missed an opportunity or I haven’t lived up to an obligation. What can I say? I travel a lot in the imaginal realms.
ND: Thank you for your time, Kim.
KA: Thanks for stopping by, Nenad.