Interview with NICOLE KIMERBLING
Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington with her partner, Dawn Kimberling, two bad cats, and approximately 100,000 bees. Her novel, TURNSKIN, won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror. She is the editor for Blind Eye Books.
What are you reading right now?
At the moment I’m re-reading GLINDA OF OZ by L. Frank Baum. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Oz books.
I first started writing fiction in an attempt to impress the girl who is now my wife. (Those stories were really bad, but they did the trick.)
What do you love the most about writing? The least?
I love the deliberateness and editability of text. I’m not a good extemporaneous speaker—I tend to think faster than my mouth can move—but the written word gives me time to communicate what I really mean instead of just saying the words I can manage to spit out before my brain goes on to the next topic.
Perversely, what I love least about writing is that it takes so damn long.
Tell us a little about your writing process.
My creative process involves a lot of time spent not writing. I’m a firm believer in roaming around town brainstorming and muttering to oneself—especially in the generative stage. Once I’ve got an idea that I think I can run with, I jot down the beginning. After that, I write the very last pages.
Once I’ve got those two tacked down I go back and try to figure out how to connect those two points in a meaningful and cogent fashion.
What are your passions?
I’ve never really thought of myself as the sort of person who has passions, but I guess I must. I spend much money and brainpower on food and cooking. I adore manga.
And I love cats—I love every kind of cat. (Seriously.)
What inspires you?
Without question—travel. I get so much material from going to new places and seeing the enormous diversity of people and ways of life in the world.
I think it has to do with spending my childhood years on a farm Nebraska. There’s not a lot of entertainment available—or at least there wasn’t in the seventies—and so in order to not die of boredom I had to make up stuff to amuse myself. And when you’re a little kid there’s no reason that a propane tank can’t transform into a giant white panther that you ride through the prehistoric jungles a la Land of the Lost.
I suppose I just never outgrew that propensity for make-believe.
How was TURNSKIN born?
I started writing TURNSKIN at the Clarion Workshop. All I was trying to do was evoke an emotional tone—the naïve and yearning feeling of being a young person who lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere, but who dreams of going someplace else. (As you can see there is an element of autobiography to that one.) The other participants in the workshop seemed to respond to it well so I kept going. Eventually I had a novel. It took a long time though. About two years from start to finish.
How was “Cherries Worth Getting” born?
Out of necessity. It’s the first story of the shared-world anthology IRREGULARS, but actually the last story to be written. When the four of us (Josh Lanyon, Astrid Amara, Ginn Hale, and me) decided to work together, we knew that we wanted our stories to be strongly linked to one another but none of us wanted to curtail the others’ creative freedom, so Lanyon, Amara, and Hale wrote their stories more or less at the same time, knowing only the basic premise and the order in which they would appear in print. Afterward, they negotiated the details via our wonderful continuity editor, Jemma EveryHope-Roser.
As the primary editor of the anthology, I realized that one of the simplest ways to link all the stories together was just to wait until everyone else was finished and then engineer my contribution to deliberately incorporate and introduce elements from the other authors, which would give a greater sense of cohesion.
As for my own protagonist, Agent Keith Curry, I have long wanted to write a chef character. I’ve worked in restaurants for twenty-odd years now, so I had a lot of unique grist for the mill. I particularly wanted to tap into the current Fear of Food that seems pervasive in our West Coast culture today. Agent Curry was one of the easiest and most enjoyable characters that I’ve ever written. I like him a lot.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Everyone says, “learn your craft” and I’m not going to be the exception to that rule. But what I suggest is that writing commercial fiction is not one activity, but many different skills used in concert.
Learning to make coherent, interesting sentences is critical, but understanding the elements of dramatic storytelling is just as important.
Getting feedback from readers is absolutely key, because writing is a form of communication and without input from readers you don’t know what parts of the message are reaching the audience and what parts aren’t.
Armed with feedback, take a look at your writing, try to identify the strongest and weakest points, and then focus on bringing the weaker aspects of your project up to the level of the strongest. Try not to monkey around with what’s working too much. Just make an effort to bring the whole product into balance. Consistency is more valuable than you might realize.
There are many wonderful and effective workshops for speculative fiction writers these days. Apart from the Clarions, there is Odyssey, as well as the workshops hosted by the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. I cannot stress strongly enough the value of these workshops—not only for honing your skills but for providing a venue to connect with the like-minded writers who will be your primary source of assistance and support for the duration your writing career.
The greatest myth about writing is that successful commercial authors somehow make it all on their own. This is simply not true. Sure, talent is important—it’s the price of admission. Talent allows you to enter the field of play. It buys you a chance to prove yourself. But it is your ability to meaningfully connect other writers (and editors and agents and critics and booksellers and * gasp * readers) that will determine your trajectory thereafter.
This is especially true in the age of self-publishing and marketing via social media, but that’s a whole different topic.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
One of my greatest secrets that I will now publicly reveal for the first time is: I don’t like ice cream. I’ll eat it to be social, but I always feel guilty about it afterward. So many people love the stuff and there I am forcing my portion down like medicine. I wish there were some way I could donate my lifetime allotment of ice cream to the needy, impoverished sundae lovers of the world. But the technology that would enable instantaneous Tooty Fruity teleportation has not been invented yet, alas.