Karen Morris Herkes I write as K. M. Herkes mostly because it fits on the book covers better. Mostly.
Old enough to vote, not old enough to retire
Where are you from:
I was born in Illinois, spent my formative years in Southern California, and wandered Indiana for a couple of decades before moving back to Not-In-Chicago Illinois.
A little about your self i.e. your education Family life etc.
I’m a salesman’s daughter and teacher’s child. Two siblings, one older, one younger. I was the first child to drive a car and the last to buy a house. Married to a superhero who puts up with all my distractions and distracts me in all the best ways. Mother only to furbabies, and we’re currently a one-cat family.
I literally teethed on science fiction & fantasy; my dad’s copy of Cities in Flight has incriminating incisor marks in the cover. I read my first science fiction in fourth grade (Andre Norton, Moon of Three Rings) and was given the Narnia books for Christmas that year. I graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Biology, a teaching certificate, and far more credits in History than my career counselors thought prudent. I promptly went to work managing a pet store, because that made sense.
I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up, so I keep trying out new fields of expertise. I’ve been a office supervisor and a line cook, dug latrine pits and dosed sick fish, trained birds and taught high school. I sold books and trained booksellers with Borders Books & Music for nigh on 18 years, and I currently work at the registration desk in a library.
Fiona:Tell us your latest news?
A niece just had her first baby! Spouseman & I are thinking about taking our first cruise. Boooorrrring. In writing news, I’m wrapping up a novel set in my Rough Passages world and prepping the Rough Passages novellas for release as a print collection this October.
Fiona:When and why did you begin writing?
My first story was written below a chalk drawing of a horse and an acrobat, and read in part, “I want to work in a circus.” First grade. From there until after college, I hated writing and did as little of it as possible. Words and I have a rocky relationship. I loved them, but they refused to leave my brain in anything remotely resembling coherent order.
The day I bought my first word processor marks the moment I started writing for fun. Seeing my ideas appear in readable form through the magic of backspace, delete, and cut/paste thrilled me. It still excites me. I love the process of changing meaning by changing word order, substituting a synonym with subtle shift in definition or adding a single sentence here or there.
Fiona:When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I still don’t. I’m a storyteller and an author. Writing is something I do, not who I am. Writers suffer agonies of insecurity over their talent, wrestle with existential angst, bleed words onto pages, suffer crushing fears of rejection…the memes are legion, and I’m not very good at being most of those things. Some days I can manage angsty.
Fiona:What inspired you to write your first book?
A vivid dream sequence that intrigued me with its complexity. I should pause to point out that a lot of my dreams are like full-immersion movies. I’m in an adventure where I head-hop from person to person through exceedingly unrealistic scenarios. In this case, I kept wondering, “why were those people in a truck, in a battle, feeling the way they felt in my head?” And I decided to write answers. I thought it would be a short story. It turned into a novel. I rewrote it from scratch twice before deciding that no amount of revision would make it publishable and moving on. I posted it to Wattpad so I would stop fussing with it.
Fiona:Do you have a specific writing style?
A creative writing professor once called my style “Sneakily unreliable, and transparently sneaky.” She meant it as an insult, meaning that I needed to “simplify things” but it’s a valid description.
I write in tight third-person, describing events as characters live them, and I often buck convention and pick a character less involved in action as my POV for the scene. Since the narrators are interpreting events through the filter of their own experiences, this gives my work an initial feel of omniscient third which evaporates at the first internal comment made in italics. It looks reliable but isn’t. Since I prefer straightforward descriptions, it looks simple, but the unreliable narrator’s POV adds layers of depth and meaning that can be either ignored or enjoyed. Transparent, but not, like a soap bubble with shimmers.
It isn’t for everyone, but it’s not complicated either. I always imagine that professor waving a hankie at Mozart and saying, “Too many notes,” like the aristocrat in the movie Amadeus.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Some titles are hard. I couldn’t publish “Justin’s Big Adventure,” which was my sarcastic WIP label for Controlled Descent. That one is a tongue-in-cheek reference on the plane crash at the beginning (an uncontrolled descent) and it feeds on a theme in the book; things keep getting worse, but as long as the characters can go with the flow and steer their downward path, they’ll survive the landing. It took me another year to settle on the series/collection title Stories of the Restoration.
Rough Passages, on the other hand, existed as an idea before I wrote the first story, and almost was the name of the first story. It’s a call-out to The Silent Passage by Gail Sheehy–about menopause–and also a tiny nod to the Middle Passage of the slave trade routes; resilience in the face of inescapable change, oppression and dehumanization of the Other are the major themes I’m exploring. Which sounds more pretentious than it is, I promise.
When I realized I wanted to write a lot of short works in that setting, I gave the Rough Passages titles to the collection as a whole and labeled the individual stories with compound-word titles that fit their plots. It came together quite easily.
Fiona:Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Despite all my talk about themes, I’ve never set out to write a story with a specific message. I guess the main point of all the Restoration novels is that people matter more than things, but ideals are worth fighting for too.
Fiona:How much of the book is realistic?
I think all my human interactions, all of the political world-building, the scientific groundwork, and all of the settings are realistic. I keep my descriptions of specific personal powers and gadget macguffins vague in the Stories of the Restoration because the story is not about the technicalities. No one in Star Trek talked about how communicators worked, just to make one comparison.
The superpowers in the Rough Passages stories are deliberate violations of natural order, so they’re not realistic in that sense. I like to think I present how people handle those powers and their effects with scientific accuracy.
Fiona:Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Alison’s job interview (Controlled Descent) and Valerie’s evening at the carnival (Extraordinary) are the closest thing to any real events in anything I’ve written. I make the rest up. The whole speech about “any resemblance to figures living or historical is strictly coincidental.” Yeah. That’s my work.
Fiona:What books have most influenced your life most?
My life? Hm. I’ve read so many… my writing is influenced heavily by Lois McMaster Bujold, Susan Dexter & Patricia Wrede, and I have to give a nod to Sharon Lee and Steve Miller as well.
Fiona:If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Not sure what’s being asked here. Someone who’s acted as a mentor? The closest is my copy-editor Sharon Stogner, whose observations are invaluable. She’s pretty much the only person who’s offered me specific, practical advice on the craft side. I have critique partners whose opinions I cherish but they’re not mentors.
If you’re asking who I would pick out of a constellation to critique my work and guide me through the wilds of professional authoring, I would put Patricia Wrede, Lois McMaster Bujold, or Sarah Monette on my list.
Fiona:What book are you reading now?
Imminent Danger and How To Fly Right Into It by Michelle Proulx. It’s light, snappy YA-friendly space opera with a romance lean. Loads of fun.
Fiona:Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Kameron Hurley, Katherine Addison (aka Sarah Monette) and Ann Leckie aren’t new to the world but they’re new to me, and all blew my mind in one way or another over the last year. On the indie side, M. A. Ray and Misha Burnett are two bright shining stars whose work I love to pieces because they have style and depth and stories that make me stay up late.
Fiona:What are your current projects?
A WIP that’s sort of a prequel for Controlled Descent but not really, two more novelettes for the Rough Passages collection, and a short story tentatively titled, “Alexis Hightop and the Gargoyle Tea Party.”
Fiona:Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My Borders alumni network. We worked together for years and still keep in touch, and they’ve been cheerleaders and supporters since I first announced I was going to try to publish my writing. My new library co-workers have been far more interested in my independent publishing than I expected, too.
Fiona:Do you see writing as a career?
It’s my vocation, yes; it’s the thing I do that defines my life. I refuse to call it a career. There’s too much social baggage attached to that word, assumptions that money is the main goal, along with upward progression from lower to higher status. If I considered writing a career, I would have to consider myself a failure. I won’t do that.
Fiona:If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I am an incorrigible tinkerer, and I believe in Paul Valery’s declaration that art is never finished, only abandoned. I’m sure there’s something I would change, but I won’t.
Fiona:Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve been telling stories since I learned to talk. The interest in writing only happened when
Fiona:Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure! My current work in progress, tentative title Prodigals, takes place 5 years before Controlled Descent and deals with Carl & Parker’s tenure with the Mayhem & Havoc security company.
Here’s the start:
Terry Johnson watched the man across the desk from her in much the same way she would watch a live mine being disarmed nearby. It was probably harmless, if handled correctly, but she wouldn’t want to bet her life on it. Alan Edward Parker was not the kind of man who would ever be entirely safe. Like that figurative landmine, he was inherently dangerous.
“You want a job,” Terry said, echoing the plea he’d just made. “You. Want a job. From me.”
She’d gotten burned badly the last time Parker worked for her. Now he was back in her command post—a laughably pretentious title for the manager’s office of an apartment building—asking for another chance. She had no business taking chances. She’d already taken one by accepting the clients in the walled estate next door. The whole family had left their common sense back in the Restored United States when they emigrated to escape new taxation laws, and their quirks made the job of protecting them more than a challenge. This was a complication she didn’t need.
And yet I’m going to risk it, she admitted to herself, conceding the internal argument. That didn’t mean she had to make it easy for him. “It’s nice to feel wanted,” she said, “But after the way you left, why on earth would I ever take you back?”
Her first words brought Parker leaning forward with a surprising look of hope in his hazel eyes. He wasn’t one to show his feelings. Ever. The unusual emotional display faded when he caught the sarcasm in Terry’s words, and he was heading for the exit before she finished the question.
“Hey!” she said sharply. “I’m not done with you, Eddie Parker. Don’t you dare run away again.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Action. I have to force myself to write action involving more than a few people. Big battles bore me.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Lois McMaster Bujold, writer of subversive social message novels dashingly disguised as gung-ho testosterone-filled military space opera. A conversation about one of her books can careen from speculation on which characters should couple, through a discussion of violence as a diplomatic tool, to a philosophical debate about the impact of reproductive technology on cultural development. All the topics are in there. You can take them or leave them.
Fiona:Who designed the covers?
Different designers, and I’m always looking at new art. The talented Rachel Bostwick has done many of my beautiful novelette covers, Niina Cord designed the one for Controlled Descent, and I did the current one for Powerhouse just to see if I could.
Fiona:What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Deciding which story to tell, and whose POV should take center stage at any given point.
Fiona:Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learn more about the craft of writing and I learn new revelations about my own creations every time I finish a story. There’s no one thing that stands out.
Fiona:Do you have any advice for other writers?
Take all writing advice with a pinch of salt and a hefty splash of skepticism. Shake vigorously and serve over icy resolve. Garnish with humor.
Fiona:Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for visiting my imaginary worlds.
Fiona:Do you have a blog/website? if so what is it?
https://dawnrigger.com/ is my current author site. I blog there about writing, life, book reviews, dreams, and so on. I also archive all my book excerpts on that site, and I recently added a list of links to the assorted free fiction I’ve left scattered about the Interwebz.
Amazon Authors page