Talking about Success, Love, and Whimsy with Kimberly Karalius

Kimberly Karalius Author Photo
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There are several authors and artists who I have long admired from afar but never dreamed of one day actually talking to and knowing a little better. Kimberly Karalius is one of those people, an author whom I’ve admired greatly from the first story of hers that I read.

It began in what feels like ages ago, 2011, when I joined an online writing community called Figment, where people post what they write and can read each other’s writing, post comments, and often develop some lovely friendships. I don’t remember exactly how I came upon Kimberly’s profile, but I will always remember the fascination I felt after I finished reading “The Princess and Her Shadow,” a short story that encouraged my own entrance into the world of whimsical writing.

Now, several years later, Kimberly has since published a couple of books, and I finally worked up the nerve to talk to my role model, giving me a chance to find out the answers to some burning questions I’ve had all these years.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Love Fortunes and Other Disasters
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How and when did you come to consider writing as a possible career?

Around high school. Before then, I was obsessed with cartoons and dreamed of turning my stories into comics and TV shows. I joined the high school newspaper as an editorial cartoonist but ended up falling in love with the written word. The more I wrote, the more I realized that this was the medium that worked best for me (though I still doodle and sketch, of course!) I discovered that I enjoyed writing novels more than anything and knew it was what I wanted to do.

What would you say is the most difficult part of being a writer?

The double-edged sword of telling people I’m a writer. On one hand, it’s so fun to reveal what feels like a delicious secret and get to talk about books and writing and all that good stuff. On the other hand, it can sometimes get awkward when I meet non-readers, especially people that visibly cringe when they hear “teen fiction” or “fantasy.” (Yes, that happens!)

This is a cruel question, but if you had to choose a favourite character, setting, and detail from any story you’ve written, what would they be?

My favourite character so far is Stig Hemming from Pocket Forest; he’s like a deer, easily frightened and doe-eyed. I don’t blame Harriet at all for trying to figure him out. My favourite setting is the Student Housing Complex in Love Fortunes and Other Disasters. Seeing Fallon, as well as the other students attending high school, make her own home away from home there was exciting to create on the page. My favourite detail is the way the canal cruise booth looks in Love Fortunes and Other Disasters. Nico’s family owns the most popular canal cruise business in Grimbaud, but he’s usually on ticket-selling duty at the booth: it’s a striped booth with a statue of a mermaid squeezing a heart in each hand. No one in his family remembers why the statue is there or what it symbolizes, so it becomes a point of speculation for many of the townspeople.

Another cruel one—what are three books you cannot go without or would consider to be the biggest influences on you?

The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake—I’m counting this as one book since my copy has all three books bound together. Peake is a huge influence on my writing and I can’t imagine going anywhere without creepy-wonderful Steerpike, fanciful Fuchsia, or fluttering Doctor Prunesqualler. Peake’s characters are strange and his writing is lush, like a painter swirling layers of meaning and mood on each page.

Echo by Francesca Lia Block—by far my favourite Block book.  I’ve been reading Block since I discovered her in junior high; she was my first introduction to magical realism, a subgenre that I love dearly and love to write in. The characters and imagery are fantastic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread this book.

The Complete Fairy Tales by George MacDonald—I love fairy tales, but my favourite fairy tale author is George MacDonald. The Princess and the Goblin is beyond amazing, but I chose this collection because I love his smaller fairy tales as much as the longer ones. And there are so many good ones collected in this Penguin edition like The Light Princess—it always makes my heart race!

Love Charms and Other Catastrophes
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Do you constantly have a desire to write or do you find that some days you’re forcing yourself?

It varies from day to day. Sometimes I’ll wake up itching to turn on my laptop and start typing. Other days, I have to sit myself down and hope words appear on the document. Totally normal. Writers don’t write in a void; that means that life can be a big distraction. My mind might be cluttered with thoughts of paying bills, upcoming events, or what my dog is likely doing while I’m at work (sleeping, I bet). But ideas come from life, even the mundane tasks, so it’s important to pay attention—and then, on hard days, find time to write in the spaces between.

Have you ever had to deal with hurtful negative criticism?

Absolutely. It just comes with the territory. When Love Fortunes and Other Disasters hit bookstores in May 2015, I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the reviews. When I read negative reviews, some were harder to swallow than others. I’m happy to say that it gets easier as time passes and the thrill of having your debut book published softens. It’s impossible to make every reader happy; they bring themselves into each book they read, and that’s a great thing. Hearing from readers who connected and enjoyed my stories means even more now than it ever did.

What influenced your writing style to create such whimsical and intricate stories?

Fairy tales and cartoons. When I was little, I knew what kinds of stories I loved and devoured as many of them as I could. I loved reading or watching my favourite fairy tales being retold over and over. My favourite cartoons were the weird ones, like Courage the Cowardly Dog and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. I also watched a lot of anime and read a ton of manga, big influences on how much fun it is for me to blend magic with reality.

Have you ever scrapped a story idea? If so, have any parts of it been “recycled,” or are they perhaps still waiting for their time in the spotlight?

Oh, definitely. I have folders with stories I wrote back in middle school that I still hope to recycle someday, if not pick right back up where I left off! The only story ideas I end up scrapping are ones that I’ve only toyed with it my head. If it makes it on paper, I’ll use some piece of it someday in a story.

How do you usually come up with ideas for a story? What does your creative process usually look like?

My story ideas usually start with little pieces of ideas—a half-eaten sandwich, a shipwreck, a girl with three legs—that I start stitching together. The fun is in the challenge and it also helps that I never say no to any ideas when I’m first starting out with drafting. Once I’ve got my characters and plot, I’ll sometimes make character boards and jot down notes. But I’m a “pantser,” mostly. I only outline a chapter or two ahead as I write the first draft, but I’m trying to outline more with future projects to see what that’s like.

Pocket Forest
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Your first novella, Pocket Forest, is not very well known, but the first print run sold out within hours. What was the experience like? Was it the first book/story you got published?

Technically, yes, Pocket Forest is my first published book. Deathless Press is a small publisher that prints handmade fairy tale chapbooks. Chapbooks are usually under 10,000 words and poetry, though I’m happy to see that prose is starting to make a space for itself in the chapbook world. After I submitted my manuscript and Deathless Press said they wanted to publish the story, I worked with the editor to revise it. Our changes truly made Harriet and Stig’s journey all the better. The best part was the handmade aspect. I still have a few copies of them hidden away in my closet. They’re very tiny, delicate books with a splash of colour on the inside from unique endpapers. Even though the print edition sold out so quickly, the e-book version is still available on Amazon.

What served as inspiration for Love Fortunes and Other Disasters, if anything?

Love Fortunes and Other Disasters began from some silly conversations I had with my friends and fellow English majors in college. We used to lament the fact that girls severely outnumbered boys on campus, so we planned to become glamourous spinsters after graduation (with mansions, butlers, and cats… well, dogs for me. I’m a dog person). I wanted to put that idea into a book, but I knew it would be challenge since I wanted to write young adult fiction. With their whole lives ahead of them, why would teenagers worry about the possibility of spinsterhood or bachelorhood? The answer to that question became Grimbaud, the Town of Love, and Zita’s 100% accurate love fortunes.

Did you ever base your characters on people you know?

Not usually. I’m sure pieces and scraps of people I know end up in my characters, but I don’t do it consciously. I like to create characters from scratch; it helps me explore them. Developing my characters would be a lot harder if I was picturing my next-door neighbour or a high school crush!

The queer relationship with Nico and Martin—was that planned, or did it evolve over the course of writing and editing?

From the second Nico was born in my head, I knew he was gay and that he was in love with a boy who might not be. He made it easy for me; at times, I had to remind myself that this was Fallon’s story, since writing about Nico’s struggles with love was such fun. It was very important to me to make sure that diverse couples were represented in Grimbaud. The town is accepting of all love. Boys liking boys and girls liking girls? Just part of everyday life.

Of course, Grimbaud has its own prejudices and problems, but most of that stems from the townspeople’s fear of being alone. It’s scary for them to imagine not finding love in the Town of Love, and anyone not dating is looked upon with suspicion or outright confusion. When Fallon joins the rebellion, she and her fellow teens are fighting against that fear and way of thinking as they challenge Zita’s love fortunes.

I loved how sweet and heartwarming Fallon and Sebastian’s relationship is. Do you think that kind of genuine, perhaps old-school romance is still popular in fiction or is it disappearing?

Thank you! It’s hard to say if it’s disappearing or not. I think it depends on the type of story authors are writing. For me, the nature of Fallon and Sebastian’s relationship was clear from the start. Being set in a town like Grimbaud fostered that kind of old-school relationship, since it’s a town where sweetness is expected, along with a certain naivety that is both a strength and weakness for the town.

First Kisses and Oher Misfortunes
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Do you have any projects planned after you finish telling the story of Fallon and the gang?

Yes, plenty more! I’m currently working on my next project for Swoon Reads. Which, I must say, does not have love charms or tape recorders in it.

Is there something you think people wouldn’t know or expect about you?

As clean and age-appropriate as my stories have been, I’m not-so-secretly a fan of gory horror and suspense, usually mashed together in anthology TV series. It started with watching Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Now I’m proud to say I’ve watched every episode of Tales from the Darkside and Tales from the Crypt. I haven’t finished Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone yet, but I’m slowly working through them. I love the twists in these episodes, the shock of not seeing a character death coming or the mysterious ways in which characters get what they wish for—or don’t.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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