VP Profile #17: Kat Hankinson

Kat Hankinson could be the busiest writer on the planet. Pursuing a PhD, raising twins, writing and running occupy her time. Plenty of time in there to whip out a best seller too!

Tamago: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Kat: When I was in grade school. I remember telling somebody that I wanted to be an “arthur” when I grew up. I actually wrote & illustrated a science fiction “epic” in fourth grade (about the evolution of a race of gentle & wise reptilians). As a child I was constantly writing, drawing and creating fantasy worlds. It took a while to come around to the idea of actually having a career as a fiction writer, though. In college I made the commitment to be a fiction writer. Several years later, after I got my MFA and worked as an intern on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” I decided to write fantasy. I’ve been plugging away since then. I’m so grateful to Viable Paradise for the support and encouragement that has come from the instructors and alumni.

Tamago: Which writers would you say influenced your work?

Kat: Mythology first and foremost, from any culture anywhere.

In fantasy/sci-fi, well of course there are the Inklings: Tolkien, the dazzling E.R. Eddison, and C.S Lewis (Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the Eros & Psyche myth, is my favorite of his works). The Inklings were all about mythology; in the face of world war and a widespread loss of faith, the lack of a “center” in cultural life, they wanted to create mythology for the modern age. I find that compelling.

More contemporary influences include Gene Wolfe: his intensity, darkness and invention have gotten under my skin. I adore Ursula LeGuin, and especially admire her range: she can do everything from high fantasy to sci-fi to literary fiction, and I’d like to emulate that. I also admire Patricia McKillip’s elegant style and her seemingly effortless world making.

Tamago: What kind of genre do you work in?

Kat: I prefer fantasy, though I do occasionally write science fiction and “literary” stories as well.

Tamago: Tell us about the projects you’re working on right now.

Kat: There are several simmering away. Two novels: one is a fantasy epic that I can best describe as “Milton meets the Mahabharata”; the other is a dark/urban/historical saga about a family descended from demons.

Short stories include a series of science fiction pieces as well as a fantasy story that is turning out to be a retelling of the Demeter-Persephone myth. There are a few projects that fall into the realm of realism as well.

Tamago: In addition to writing, I know you have young twins, and that you are pursuing a PhD. How do you balance all of these demands on your life with your writing?

Kat: I take lots of vitamins.

Seriously, having children has taught me that it’s okay to take my time and to strike a dynamic balance between the creative life and everyday life. Being a parent has also helped me to be uber-practical and prioritize. For example, this year I’ve set fiction aside so that I can get through the dissertation as quickly as I can. Even with my little ones in day care a few days a week, it’s a challenge to squeeze in a few hours of writing and research, and I need all the brain space I can get to stay focused on my topic. (Of course, whenever I’m driving, fiction projects are weaving themselves in my head!) The reward that I’ll give myself when the doctorate is done will be at least a year to write fiction, fiction, and nothing but fiction.

Tamago: Does the subject you’re studying for your PhD influence your work at all? If so, how?

Kat: I wish it did. I imagine life would be simpler if I were studying mythology or writing about science fiction or fantasy. But no, my intellectual interests have led elsewhere: I’m exploring the narratives of whites who were adopted by Indian tribes in North America in the 17th & 18th centuries. These texts necessarily reflect the difficulty of communicating Indian cultural concepts in Anglo-American terms and forms. So I wouldn’t say this research influences my work, but it expresses an interest in frontiers, in the edges of experience where communication becomes nearly impossible: the liminal state. Which is what much mythology deals with as well. And which I am drawn to in my fiction writing. So my academic work is not so much an influence on my writing as it is another expression of my interest in the liminal.

Tamago: Do you prefer writing short stories or novels?

Kat: Novels. My imagination likes to complicate & expand things.

Tamago: If someone wanted to go to Viable Paradise, what advice would you offer them? What could they expect to get out of the workshop?

Kat: Go for it! I learned more about writing and forging a career as a writer at VP than I did in the two-year MFA program I attended. Be open to everything you hear and takes voluminous notes, because the program is intense and your brain will overflow rapidly. When you get home afterward, you will need those notes — and lots of contact with your new VP friends — to incorporate all you’ve learned into your work and your life.

You will receive tough criticism, which is always needed. You will receive encouragement, which is also needed. You will be invited to consider your authorship as a real career-in-the-making — not just a dream. And you will have the opportunity to become part of a great circle of supportive and talented writer friends.

Tamago: Who are your favorite writers?

Kat: In the “literary” realm (including magical realism & the Gothic), I love writers with intense style and courage to explore: Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, Marquez, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, early American Gothic writer Charles Brockden Brown, the Brontes, Shakespeare, Melville. Others include (randomly) Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Herman Hesse, Tennessee Williams, and Wallace Stevens. I also enjoy the work of many Native American writers including Diane Glancy, Leslie Marmon Silko and Sherman Alexie.

Tamago: Where do you hope to be in your writing career in 10 years?

Kat: In ten years I’d like to have two novels published, I’d like to be teaching writing and literature, and I’d like to spend more time with writer friends/colleagues, sharing our passion for our art.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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