The first thing I read by Nicole Kornher-Stace was The Winter Triptych from Papaveria Press … which utterly stunned me. Winter. Queens. Ghosts. Roses. Castles. And that cover, oh that cover. Stunning writing, visceral imagery, a story that disturbed and stayed, sitting in the back of my mind, eating all the chocolate and donuts and sniggering while it did so.
Now I’m happy to note that she has a first novel coming out via the wonderful Small Beer Press. That novel is Archivist Wasp, and I am waiting for my copy to arrive. *perches like vulture on mailbox, scares postman* She is also the author of Desideria and Demon Lovers and Other Difficulties.
And she likes Adventure Time, so how can she not be awesome? Archivist Wasp is forthcoming in May 2015 from Small Beer Press – and the thing with the pre-ordering can be done here.
What do readers need to know about Nicole Kornher-Stace?
That’s a tricky one. I’m pretty boring. I write stuff! I have a seven-year-old. He’s more fun than I am. I have ferrets and I walk everywhere and watch cartoons and play video games and board games and drink far too much coffee and I can’t draw for shit and I spam the crap out of my Facebook friends with articles about space exploration. In parallel universes/timelines, there’s one of me who’s a paleontologist, another who’s an archaeologist, another who would probably have gone into MMA if she weren’t so injury-prone, another who would have gone into astrophysics, and another who would have tried to be an astronaut as long as she never saw the movie Gravity, because any desire to actually leave solid ground would have been instantaneously thrashed right the hell out of her.
Who were/are your literary heroes/influences?
I can’t think of anyone specifically. Not because I’m a unique snowflake in no need of influence from anyone, but because I draw from everywhere. My favorite writers are the ones who very clearly write what they love. I have consciously drawn courage from them when I ask myself okay, self, do we write the Marketable Thing or the Book that Is Our Heart? and the answer always seems to be the latter. Hence my lack of World Fame and Great Fortune. I’m okay with that though. Come to think of it, I did go through a phase as a teen where I basically wanted to be Angela Carter and Tanith Lee. Definitely shows in some of my early short stories, I think. Today I’m really unsure. I read everything.
From whence came the inspiration for Archivist Wasp?
This might be a long answer. Fair warning. Okay, so. I’ve had these three characters kicking around in my head for about half my life, but I’ve never really known exactly how to put them together in a story because they live in very different times. In hindsight I’m not entirely sure why I wanted them to be in the same story, given that, but there it is. Very simply put, two of them are near-future supersoldiers and one of them is a very-far-future, very-post-apocalyptic ghosthunter-historian-priestess. In her world, ghosts are visible. The idea being, in the way that light pollution makes it hard for us to see the stars today, the sheer prevalence of humanity in its billions drowns out our ability to see the “unseen,” in this case ghosts. So, countless generations after the apocalypse, ghosts are visible to all, but nobody can really interact with them. The Archivist’s job is to capture and study them to try and glean clues about the long-dead world Before. Since ghosts can’t talk to people beyond mindlessly repeating their dying words (at best), this proves difficult, but it’s all they have. Unfortunately, being Archivist is not a voluntary position, and they’re ostracized from the town, respected and feared in equal measure, kept alive on offerings that the townspeople leave them. Kind of a witch and scapegoat all in one. Every year, on the Archivist-choosing day, she has to fight three upstarts from the pool of potential Archivists. She either dies and one of them takes her place, or she lives to remain Archivist another year. So the only way out of this position she doesn’t want is to be killed. This all is very Golden Bough-inspired, obviously. But honestly this book is a science fiction book embedded in a dark fantasy book, a mash-up of everything I love. Mythology, ridiculous action scenes, constellations, comics, Unlikely Alliances, partner stories (these people could be the stuff of a buddy-cop movie with very little difficulty), Descents Into the Underworld, etc. Then it turned into a YA novel because I wanted to write The Book I Would Have Wanted/Needed to Read as a Teen. So I guess the tl;dr: answer would be I just threw all that stuff into a pot together and stirred.
What was the story/book that made you think ‘I want to write!’?
I’ve always wanted to write. But I think it was the Datlow/Windling Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthos that told me unequivocally what I wanted to write. Apart from my dad’s old SF collection, those were my first exposure to speculative fiction at age 10 or so, and they blew my mind right open.
Name five fictional characters with whom you’d like to lift weights.
Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and Vasquez from Aliens. They would both smoke me and it would be glorious. Ysabeau Wilce’s Hardhands, because I would beat his ass, and that too would be glorious. Actually I’m just going to go ahead and count Sarah and Vasquez twice. They could both teach me plenty if I didn’t combust with envy first.
How did you link up with the Most Excellent Small Beer Press?
That’s a funny story, actually. I have a tendency to write things that get labeled as “unclassifiable,” so here, true to form, I’d written this book that several agents refused to touch. I got a pile of lovely personalized rejections basically saying there was nothing wrong with the book itself, just that it would be a hard sell, as a YA-ish with no romance or love triangle or high school drama. “Teens will find nothing to relate to” was a line that appeared more than once. Which is fair enough, but someday I’m going to propose a con panel that discusses why exactly books written for all other age groups (preschool picture books, early readers, middle grade, and adult) can be about anything, but for some reason YA has to have these tropes slotted in or it’s not YA. It’s not like our imaginations atrophy when we graduate from MG to YA and then regrow when we start reading adult books. It’s bizarre and insulting to teens. ANYWAY. Meantime, I was bemoaning my lack of agent-finding-success to Ellen Kushner and Ysabeau Wilce over dinner at Readercon a couple years back, and they gave me a lot of useful agent names (all of whom rejected me, wah wah) but Ysabeau also expressed interest in reading the manuscript. So I sent it on over. A while later I find out that she, being the sneaky sneaky instigator that she is, had sent it over to Small Beer telling them they need to read this now. And I guess they did, because then I got an email from Gavin saying they’d like to publish it, and I basically fell out of my chair. I’ve loved Small Beer’s books forever, and being edited by Kelly Link is pretty much as amazing a learning experience as you’d expect. It’s a hell of a thing to be part of, and they’re honestly the ideal publishing house for me. They gave me zero pushback on the lack of romance/love triangle/high school drama aspect. Kelly managed to intuit exactly what I was trying to do with the weaker points of the book and how to shore them up in just the way I would have chosen. And, as Ysabeau told me once, with Small Beer I’ll be at absolutely no risk of them coming to me and saying “okay so here’s your cover with your protagonist in a tight dress with her ass sticking out in the reader’s face.” And so it was!
Tell me about The Winter Triptych and its glorious cover by Oliver Hunter.
Oh my god, that cover. I have apologized to people who have bought that book because there’s basically nothing I could have put inside that cover that could ever possibly have lived up to it. Okay, so. When I was maybe ten? my dad found me some used-bookstore copies of those Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthos, and I devoured them. It was my first experience with fantasy and horror geared toward grownups, and if my parents had any idea what they were giving me, they probably would have held off a few years. Lucky for me, they didn’t! Anycase I started writing and submitting stories pretty much directly afterward. I think one of the high points in my writerly career is that I was getting personalized rejections from really high-end SFF magazines at age 12. I didn’t rewrite any of them after they got rejected a few times, just moved on to other projects. All but “The Winter Triptych,” which I found myself going back to and reworking every few years or so until it ended up in its present form. It’s a very (very) loose Sleeping Beauty retelling. With a monster. Everything’s better with monsters.
When you’re in the mood to read, who is your first choice?
I’m always in the mood to read! I don’t have a first choice, I’ll read everything. I like to read very different things back-to-back. Right now I’m very much enjoying ZEROBOXER by Fonda Lee, which is about zero-gravity MMA in space. Basically the best elevator pitch ever and I’m pretty jealous I didn’t write it first. Another book I really adore, which came out last year and flew way farther under the radar than it deserves, is THERE IS NO LOVELY END by Patty Templeton, which is an alternate history about the Winchester Mystery House. It’s funny and sexy and awesome. There are a number of writers that I will drop everything and run for a preorder page if I hear they have a book launching soon. A few off the top of my head: Haruki Murakami, Lauren Beukes, Jeff VanderMeer, Kelly Link, Margo Lanagan. Or another volume of SAGA. Oh my god so good. I may or may not have a recurrent daydream in which ARCHIVIST WASP gets a graphic novel adaptation illustrated by Fiona Staples. But I digress …
What’s your favourite short story ever and why?
Oooh. Hmm. I’m not sure I have one favorite. I read all kinds of stuff, and I have a deep abiding love of every kind of stylistic prose. The last short story that really broke my brain trying to figure out how the hell did she do that? was “Jack Daw’s Pack” by Greer Gilman. My favorite short story read recently was “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander for Lightspeed. Both very different and very interestingly told. I highly recommend both.
What’s next for Nicole Kornher-Stace and Archivist Wasp?
I recently drafted the sequel, and my first readers seem to really like it! I find that immensely reassuring since I’ve read very few sequels and written zero of them before this, so I’d gone into it pretty much blind. I loathe exposition and infodump, and my least favorite part of the sequels I have read is that section in the first couple of chapters that piles on the backstory for the benefit of people who are coming to the sequel first. So I had to figure out how to integrate all of that organically. Tricky! I’m pretty happy with it though — once it gets going it’s pretty fast-paced the whole way through, and I love these characters more than anyone I’ve ever written. I’m already plotting their third book. Honestly I could just write them books forever and be happy.