Author's Ink

We grow writers!

Interview with Kirsten Mortensen, by Courtnie Dotson

Q.     Where are you from?


A.     Outside a tiny little town in Central New York, which makes me one of a dying breed in America: a person who grew up in a profoundly rural environment.  Now, though, I live in the suburbs of Rochester, NY, so I suppose that means I’m gradually becoming more normal.


Q.     Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?


A.     Would you like superficial information or the deep stuff?


Q.     Deep, please!


A.     Cool.


How’s this: I am ultra-sensitive to people. I don’t know as I’d call myself “psychic,” exactly, but I read people so well it’s uncanny, sometimes. And I have extraordinary dream recall. If I wrote down my dreams every morning I’d have no time to do anything else, because I remember so many details. I’d have to write 8-12 pages per dream, and often recall three or four.


I actually think that is related to my being a writer. Dreaming is very similar to writing. Once in a while I even become aware that I’m dreaming during the dream, and start changing things around or deliberately switching points of view among the dream’s characters.


Q.     What do you do when you are not writing?


A.     I try to eat and sleep once in a while. I try to read at least an hour or so every day. If the weather’s decent, I like to golf. And I chauffer my teenager around. But seriously, I spend the majority of my waking hours writing. I have a salaried job as a writer for a marketing firm, I blog, I journal, and I write both fiction and non-fiction books and stories. I write a lot.


Q.     Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?


A.     That’s a difficult question. I have fallen so hard for a number of writers. But a good way to answer it might be this:


1.      Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim on Tinker Creek.  Reading that book was a profound experience for me. The essays are so beautiful and intelligent—but when I finished it I also wanted to cry, because I felt that a book I wanted to write, myself, was already written. So that was kind of wrenching. 


Pilgrim taught me that writing has an emotional soul and an aesthetic that can hit you very, very hard.


2.      Hemingway, because he was a master at leaving things out. In life, you learn about people and you learn peoples' stories by observing them and piecing together little clues. As a reader, the books I most enjoy  give a similar experience. I love when a writer allows me to discover things about his or her characters. This isn’t easy to do, however, because if you leave out too much the book will just be cryptic, or the reader will become confused.  But it’s something I aspire to as a writer.


3.      Raymond Chandler. Because he transcended genre. My fervent hope is that indie publishing will let writers break out of the rigid genre framework that has been established by traditional publishing. Not that it isn’t useful, but in the end the genre framework is really a marketing tool: it lets writers and publishers target niche audiences who seek very specific types of reading experiences.  The problem is, if you incorporate elements of genre, but don’t adhere to all of its conventions, your novel doesn’t “fit” anywhere. My novel “When Libby Met the Fairies,” is an example of this. It’s sort of a romance, it has paranormal elements, but it’s also kind of literary fiction. It doesn’t fit anywhere. But people who read it tell me they love it, which ultimately is what matters to me. So Chandler is my hero, because although he wrote detective fiction he was also very much a “writer’s writer,” who is respected by lovers of literary fiction as well as genre readers.


4.      Wodehouse. There’s nothing quite like reading a book that makes you laugh out loud, over and over. I’ve had readers tell me that my comic novel, Can Job, makes them laugh out loud. It’s the highest praise I can imagine for that book.



Q.     Do you ever research real events, legends, or myths to get ideas? Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?


A.     Yes, I sometimes research real events. For example, one of the plot twists in Libby riffs on an early 20th Century scandal known as The Cottingley Fairies. You can read about it on Wikipedia,  The short version is: two little girls claimed they saw fairies and produced five photographs of them. Arthur Conan Doyle is one of the people who was fooled.


Q.     What do you think makes a good story?


A.     The same things that make life interesting. A proper balance of the expected and unexpected, an emotional investment. As a writer, I function as the reader’s “eye of perception.” My goal is to guide the reader to perceive a series of events that he or she can relate to on an emotional level, to build up the reader’s tension about those events, and then offer some sort of release.


Q.     What does your family think of your writing?


A.     Good question, I’ll have to ask them!


Q.     What book are you reading now?


A.     I am always reading multiple books at once. For fiction, I’m trying to alternate between classics and indie writers, so I’m focused now on finishing up a 19th Century French novel, Charterhouse of Parma,  by Stendhal.


Q.     Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?


A.     Bosley Gravel is one. He’s a serious writer who I expect will do very well. And of course all the writers on AI!


Q.     What are your current projects?


A.     I’m currently revising a novel, Loose Dog, that I drafted a number of years ago. It’s a 1st person POV book, narrated by a dog catcher who breaks up a dog fighting ring. It’s romancy but also has an action angle. Loose Dog is the second novel I finished, and with the two others I’ve written since now published, it’s time to go back to it and apply everything I learned since I last touched it.  I think it has the makings of a very enjoyable novel and can’t wait to bring it out. I hope to do so in spring of 2011.


Q.     Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

A.     One of the potential pitfalls for aspiring writers is that they will rely too much on advice from other aspiring writers. You will meet a lot of very very smart aspiring writers out there, but make sure you also apprentice yourself to people who A. Have been around for a while and B. are continuing to succeed as writers despite the mind-boggling changes that are going on in publishing right now.  Husband and wife Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are examples of writers who have been around a long time and have extensive experience with every part of the business, from writing and editing to publishing and working with agents. I highly recommend spending time on their blogs; there’s a wealth of information on both.