Kat Howard's debut novel (debut solo novel, that is) is a dark fairy tale with a wicked mother that plumbs the depths of female ambition and artistic torment. It's not technically YA, but there's tons of crossover appeal. I fell in love with it (seriously: send me on a writer's retreat like Melete, thanks!) last year, and am so happy that it's our June FYA Book Club pick!
THE ACTUAL BOOK-RELATED QUESTIONS
Roses and Rot deals with the pain and pleasure of creating art. I really loved when Imogen and Helena discuss the difference between being good and being great, and how sometimes it’s worse to be just good enough to know you’ll never be great. Is this something you also torment yourself with, or is it purely Imogen’s hang-up? [Ed. note: Obviously, I love Kat’s novel, so I’m asking purely from a self-flagellating writer’s perspective.]
It’s not something I torment myself with in my writing (I pick other things for that.) Writing-wise, I feel like I don’t yet know how good I can be, and part of my goal as a writer is to continue to pick projects that push me to up my game and challenge me to be better.
But believe me, there are plenty of things I have tried, and wished that I could be better at, and known that I didn’t have the ability, the drive, the whatever it was that would let me achieve at the level I wanted. To pick one of the other art forms in the book, I wish so much that I could dance at a high level. If I worked very hard, I might get to acceptable. Unlike Imogen and Helena’s conversation, I still love dance, even though I know I will never be great, but I do know how it feels to see that limitation.
Part of Imogen and Marin’s dark fairy tale is that they have an incredibly abusive mother. Your own mother seems pretty awesome (as one gathers from your stories on Twitter). Did you have to do any sort of research into what it’s like to have such a horrifying parent, or did it come from your imagination and other stories you’ve consumed?
My mom is awesome. The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I am that she is someone I can love, like, and respect. Most of Imogen and Marin's mom comes out of fairy tales – the trope of the evil stepmother, changed over to be the biological mom.
You were a lawyer before you became a writer and editor. What, if anything, did you practice? Why did you switch gears? Did law prepare you in any way for the business of writing a novel?
I have a law degree, but never took the bar and never practiced. I did teach law for a bit, before fleeing to do an English PhD. It was a much better fit for me. I used to say that studying law has nothing to do with what I write (though there are a lot of former lawyers who now write SFF, I’ve noticed), but I did put some law into my next book. So maybe it had more of an impact than I realized.
[There are an awful lot of YA authors, across genre, who also used to be lawyers. It's an epidemic!]
Roses and Rot isn’t a YA novel, but it has crossover appeal. What do you think defines modern YA fiction, as opposed to “adult” fiction? Can you see yourself writing YA in the future?
I think YA fiction deals with YA characters and their lives and concerns. Like, that’s a pretty basic answer, but it leaves room for a lot of kinds of stories, which is probably one of the things I love best about YA fiction – the wealth of stories that can fit under that umbrella. And I would love to write YA! (looks at pile of secret papers; says nothing)
An Unkindness of Magicians, your second solo novel, is coming out in September. Tell us about it!
My editor called it a “magical revenge thriller” and I kind of love that description. It’s about a secret group of magicians in modern NYC who use magic to duel each other (sometimes to the death) for social power and position. I think of it as Gossip Girl meets Swordspoint with magic.
[Magic? Revenge? Gossip Girl?! *bumps to the top of the TBR pile*]
Shameless pet question! Your [adorable and hilarious] cats, Viola and Maeve, are a stalwart presence on your Twitter account, and you mentioned recently that one of them even managed to print out one of your manuscripts. (They sound like the perfect assistants.) Will they ever show up in your books?
So the thing is, I have characters named Viola and Maeve in some of my short fiction. These characters are not my cats! And their names are from literature – Maeve for Medb in The Táin, and Viola from Twelfth Night. But Viola and Maeve (and Viola in particular) are two of the names that I always want to give my characters, so I hoped that by giving the names to my cats, I would stop giving them to characters.
THE YA QUESTIONS
If your real life adolescence was a YA book ... What would you, the main character, be like?
Okay, well, I’m an Arthurian nerd who went to private high school and is fatally allergic to bees, so I’m pretty sure Maggie Stiefvater already wrote the male version of this in Gansey from The Raven Cycle.
Who is your secret crush?
Yeah, I was never good with secret crushes. I pretty much walked around with heart eyes when I liked someone. I mean, I never told them, but it’s not like it wasn’t obvious.
What is your number one source of angst?
Some sort of evil wizard? That’s probably easier than anything I really did face in high school.
At what point would the reader pump his/her fist in victory?
When I win a major bout at a fencing tournament.
And who would play you in the film adaptation?
I am very bad at fancasting things, and trying to do so for my own life is terrifying! But I hope she wins an Oscar, whoever she is.
The real Kat. Photo credit: Shane Leonard
THE SLUMBER PARTY QUESTIONS
What is your secret power?
I can actually swordfight people.
What is your #1 favorite food?
Sushi! Especially spider rolls.
Tell me about your area of expertise.
I have a PhD in medieval literature, with a focus on visionary women. So: brave, badass ladies from long ago.
If you could assemble your own Ocean's 11 of fictional characters, who would you pick?
Morgan le Fay (from some of the Arthurian stories)
The Wife of Bath (from The Canterbury Tales)
Viola (from Twelfth Night)
Medb (from The Táin; I give my cats the names of ladies I like)
Meg Murray (from Madeleine L’Engle’s books)
Lila Bard (from V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series)
Kirit (from Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe books)
Aza Ray (from Maria Dahvana Headley’s Magonia books)
Gauri (from Roshani Chokshi’s A Crown of Wishes)
Prunella Gentleman (from Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown)
Tara Abernathy (from Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence)
What is your best karaoke song?
I have never done karaoke!
Tell me something scandalous!
I have never done karaoke!
What is your favorite adult beverage?
An Aviation. Erin Morgenstern introduced me to them, and they are a delight.
What book have you read the most number of times?
I am a serious rereader, so there are a lot of books that I’ve read more than once, but probably A Wrinkle in Time.
YA authors are so cool. Who would you give a BFF charm to?
Maria Dahvana Headley. I mean, we wrote a book together and everything. Plus, she’s brilliant and appreciates glitter eyeliner.
[An appreciation of glitter eyeliner always goes over well at FYA HQ.]
Out of all of the characters you’ve written, which one do you most wish you could be?
Um. Well. If I had known I was going to get asked this question, I would have written some happier stories maybe.
If you were invited to the FYA slumber party (and obvs, you ARE), what is the most crucial snack food and/or movie/or anything you'd bring?
The Princess Bride and really good chocolate.
And now: MASH!
Kat made three picks for each category, and I added a fourth. The magic number (chosen by a random number generator) was 3.
M A S H
No writers! (does that count?)
David Copperfield [What? She's writing about magicians!]
Number of Children
Writer (I like my job!)
So many dollars
Even more dollars
Can I get paid in vintage McQueen?
A lifetime supply of glitter eyeliner
Also a pug
And a horse
A very friendly tiger
A Volkswagen Bug
A penny farthing
Well, put Maeve and Viola on the back of the Vespa and head on down to Key West for your magical new lifestyle! Between your marriage to David Copperfield and being paid in a lifetime supply of glitter eyeliner, I'm sure you'll be the greatest unicorn tamer the world has ever known.
Thanks for stopping by, Kat!