This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.
Excerpt from K.T. Katzmann’s story “Death’s Pale Blossom”
On the night he’d chosen to murder his girlfriend, Xander brought twelve cloves of garlic, a wooden stake, and a meticulously selected bouquet of flowers. After all, if it was going to be her last night on Earth, Xander resolved to make it a perfect one.
Emily was (he was already thinking of her in the past tense, he noticed) always very particular about her flowers. He slipped her apartment doorman the usual twenty to guarantee his absence from the man’s memory and walked past, wondering about those plants of hers. It seemed odd for a dead girl to be so concerned about growing things.
He pushed it out of his mind. After tonight, it was an academic question in any case.
Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer? Did you always know that you wanted to be one?
I always loved story-telling, and looked up to creators, adoring all of the behind-the-scenes information on the nitty-gritty of content production. In elementary school, I wrote and drew my own comics. I started a science fiction story in late elementary school, but gave up the craft entirely after my mother read the back cover blurb I’d prepared over the phone. The embarrassment kept my inner writer hiding inside, surfacing only for plotting elaborate role-playing games and high school journalism.
Then, years later, I hit an incredibly boring session of a Star Wars role-playing game. Rather than follow Luke Skywalker around to run his targeting computer, I opened Word and spontaneously dashed off the first chapter of a fan fiction I’d been considering. The resulting niche fame from the following ten stories made me realize people liked my style.
I was finally sitting in an IHOP, planning a story, when I realized something. “Wait,” I thought. “I’m writing a fan fiction story about two side characters that I’ll have to completely create new backgrounds and personalities for. Why don’t I just create my own characters so I can actually own them?”
You have a wonderful sense of humor.
Thank you! In Jewish culture, that’s usually only said as a condolence by your mother after you’ve failed to get a date.
Have you ever done comedy?
Once, terrified, at the teacher talent show.
Stand-up terrifies me because it’s an immediate audience reaction. It’s the equivalent to writing fan fiction and having your readers able to administer electric shocks after every sentence. Also, I need to be on the same wavelength as the listeners, and I worry about getting too niche. I’ll never forget the day I made a “First rule of Fight Club” joke in a professional meeting and had someone call it an obscure reference.
Just listening to Chris Hardwick on Nerdist talk about the difficulties and struggles of stand-up makes me queasy.
But I did it, full of fear inside, and I made a cafeteria full of seventh graders laugh while their parents laughed or blushed knowingly at the jokes their kids didn’t get. My vice-principal admits he goes to those things to see how far I’ll push the envelope. Once, I did a bit involving shooting marshmallows into kids’ mouths with a catapult. The instructions I gave them were, “Stay still, close your eyes, open your mouth, and if anyone else ever tells you to do this, find a police officer right away.”
Having confirmed that I could do stand-up on some incredibly basic level, I was free (following teacher talent shows) to go back to my staples of Minecraft parody karaoke and doing Joker monologues from “The Killing Joke.”
Your protagonist, Mildred, in “Death’s Pale Blossom,” also has a fantastic sense of humor. And she is brilliant, too. But she is an unusual detective–a Jewish vampire. What gave you the idea to make a female Jewish vampire detective? And did you find it hard at all to slip into that persona while writing, or does it come naturally to you? 😉
Playing her for weeks in a role-playing game first didn’t hurt. Except my throat, when I had to shout in character. Which I had to do occasionally, because, y’know, I was Mildred Heavewater.
The Jewishness made her more accessible to me. I started making her Jewish in the creation process as soon as I chose New York for a setting. I’m a child of New York Jews living in a part of Florida described as the Sixth Borough; Judaism and New Yorkers goes hand in hand to me. A lot of her Jewish experience is based directly on my life.
As a bonus, both Judaism and vampirism are about rules, and I wanted to see how those intersected. Can a vampire Jew keep kosher?
The vampire part wasn’t that hard once I got the mindset down. In a world with government blood dispensaries, I viewed vampirism as being like those serious diseases that you can live with (at least for a while) but still completely changes your life. Mentally, I considered the word “vampirism” to always be followed by “sufferer” or “survivor.”
Also, I really wanted to write a vampire so I could have them changed as a teenager. I love the idea of a woman who has looked like a high school student since the Nixon administration. The inspiration for that probably came from an episode of Buffy where a centuries-old demon looks too young to buy a beer without an ID.
Truthfully, it was the female part that was hard.
Over the years, I’ve heard from women about how aggravating it can be to have a female protagonist written by a guy who just doesn’t care about accurate representation. I wanted to avoid making Mildred an insulting caricature of womanhood, so I consulted female friends.
And then, after listening, I apologized on behalf of my gender and sat in the dark awhile, worrying for my daughter.
One of the things I faced writing Mildred stories and novels is the sexism a professional, outspoken woman would face in modern-day Manhattan. What I learned is that I could make up the most over-the-top, cartoonish, Captain-Planet-villain levels of misogyny and harassment I could think of.
Then I’d throw it at my female friends and they’d say, “Oh, yeah. That’s happened. They also tend to do this while they’re doing it.”
Still, despite all that, I identify with Mildred on a fundamental level because we both worry that we never really grew up and fear that everybody else will realize it. Also, we both love Columbo.
Have you ever encountered real-life monsters? If so, please tell us about them!
I stopped believing in ghosts after I saw one.
I devoured ghost and monster books in elementary school, reading so much Daniel Cohen that the librarian begged me to read fiction. I’d just finished “Ghosts” by Seymour Simon (which I blog about at http://iwritemonsters.com/i-write-monsters/2016/10/18/a-childs-first-cosmic-horror-berkeley-square-number-50) when I saw a ghost in my room.
It was a flickering, static, man-sized image across the room from me, and I would have been terrified if it hadn’t been Batman.
Not just any Batman, mind you. It was the exact image used in the title screen in the NES Batman game, a common publicity shot of Keaton standing stiff as a board. I remembered some ghost book (The Simon one or World of the Unknown by Osborne) mentioning that spirits might just be images played back by our brain. Okay, I thought. There’s one puzzled solved. I never believed in ghosts an iota more after that day.
I still love reading and writing about them, though.
You’ve listed Terry Pratchett, H.P. Lovecraft, and Douglas Adams as favorite authors. What is it about their writing that you admire so much?
Terry Pratchett, as a fantasy writer, wrote the most realistic people I know. They’re not the Good-aligned or Evil-aligned cutouts from the cheap fantasy books I inhaled by the dozen as a teen. They’re full-fledged people that act like people.
From him and Douglas Adams, I learned that you can go for funny and sad at the same time. That’s the reason why, out of all of Adams’ work, my favorite is his travelogue about finding endangered animals, Last Chance to See.
I love Lovecraft because I adore his science fiction monsters. I got a real kick out of fleshing out shoggoth society in my upcoming second book.
As a final note, I love Roger Zelazny for, if nothing else, teaching me in the introduction to “Unicorn Variations” how selling a short story actually works.
If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process–or monsters–what would it be?
One thing about publishing: if you self-publish, you’re also going to self-market. Learn from others what to do. Get on the Kindle Writer’s Café boards! No one will discover your book if you don’t make a path to it.
About monsters: Keep some sesame seeds and silver handy, wear your pants inside out, and resist the urge to eat human flesh. That should keep you safe in most situations, barring certain parts of Miami I grew up near.
Do you find that you often return to the same themes in your work? And if so, what are they?
Jewish mythology is one. I once ran a role-playing game for my friends where I learned they were keeping some kind of betting pool. After the game, it turned out everyone was betting on how many sessions it would take me to have a proper Jewish golem show up in 1890s New York.
No one won. I was making an effort to try new things, and had already realized I used golems too much.
Bullying comes up a bunch, because I’m a teacher who fights bullying who listens to bullied kids at my Gay Straight Alliance club and went through bullying myself.
Also, the drama of functional relationships. I’m a comic book lover, and a married friend and I often discuss how the moment a superhero gets married, the writers break the couple up somehow. One writer once said in an interview that marriage takes away the drama. He had no idea how much fascinating drama and (how many) conflicts you get even in a stable, happy relationship.
Also, monsters. Every good monster is a metaphor I want to unwrap.
Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?
Ozric Tentacles. Writing sessions involve me blotting out the world with instrumental prog rock. I’m listening to them right now.
Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?
The second Mildred Heavewater novel drops this year, so I’m excited about that. In no particular order, I also have on the backburner a story about infernal foster care, a fantasy novel set during Babylonian times, and a humorous biographical look at Lovecraft’s Abdul Al-Hazred. You can find updates and craziness at @iwritemonsters andwww.iwritemonsters.com.
Also, I’m always working on future Mildred books. I have to. Neither she nor I are happy when I stop.
About K.T. Katzmann
K.T. Katzmann wrote a book about a Jewish vampire and a Bigfoot who fall in love while working for the NYPD. Despite all this, he is somehow still allowed to teach children. Florida’s like that. K.T. discovered mysteries from Howliday Inn and became hooked on monsters from the first hit of Godzilla. His favorite authors are Terry Pratchett, H.P. Lovecraft, and Douglas Adams, and he thanks years of boring public school classes for giving him the time to read them all. He lives in the lap of sunshine and insanity surrounded by Cthulhu idols, his ever-patient wife, and two toddlers who can already name all the Universal Monsters. He can be found at @iwritemonsters on Twitter or at www.iwritemonsters.com. Mildred the Jewish vampire girl detective’s further adventures can be found in the novel Murder with Monsters.