Interview with K. Willow
About the Author
K. Willow is a novelist and award-winning writer with a background in television, film, theatre, and soap operas. She writes dark historical and urban fantasty and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband.
1. How did you get started as an author? What or whom inspired you?
First, I want to thank you so much for having me here! It's exciting to be able to share the backstory of my saga and also my experiences as a writer.
So here goes...
My path to becoming an author began years ago. I'd say that like most authors, I loved, with an all consuming passion, books as a child. As soon as my mom, who was an English teacher and Reading Consultant in Connecticut, taught me to read at four, the world was open to me. And before then, my dad, an actuary, would read to me every night from books like A Wrinkle in Time and The Great Brain series. I loved books, and my Christmas list would include tons of them. And so because I loved reading books, as I neared graduating from high school and going on to college, I decided to do the obvious thing and become a doctor. That makes total sense, right? I was very conflicted, since I had an interest in medicine and loved writing. And I think I was scared to write, because how could one live off of writing. It seemed like a bleak prospect. So I enrolled in a pre-med program, but still confused, I talked to my dad, who said to me pretty matter-of-factly, "Why are you becoming a doctor? You're a really great writer." And I debated with him, but finally, I decided to leave the realm of Chemistry and Biology classes. At my university, the buildings that contained all of the science classes, were located in the same area, and this area was called "Death Valley." So I left "Death Valley" and found life in Locke Hall, where I began my life as an English major and absolutely loved it.
But I was still confused, as many college students are, as to what in the world I was going to do with my life, what kind of career would I have with this degree after I graduated. And somehow, I found myself at a seminar on a Saturday morning entitled, "Writing for Television." And I had found what I wanted to do! I had never known that such a career existed. After graduation, I began my first job at the National Headquarters for PBS, working in their programming department, first for children's programming and then for News, Information, and Public Affairs. I learned a lot, and then I decided to go to graduate school and hone my craft before heading off to Los Angeles. My husband and I had just married, and he was extremely supportive, and we drove cross country, and I started working in television and then entered into a few writing competitions, and won a spot in some, like the Cosby Fellowship Program at University of Southern California, the Disney Fellowship Program, and the NBC Writers on the Verge Program, and then became a Writers Trainee for ABC Daytime's One Life to Live. At the same time, I was also in a playwright's laboratory at the Robey Theatre Company. But still, although I loved all of this and learned a great deal, I was still trying to find myself as a writer, to have more autonomy over my work. Plus, I was tired of living in L.A., and I decided to study the craft of novel writing. And this is where I feel most comfortable, where I feel like I truly belong.
2. How many books have you written and in what genres?
I have completed one book, The Hidden Hills Saga. But I have a few other projects that I have started working on. The genres of these books are historical, dystopian, and fantasy. For some reason, right now, I am not as much interested in exploring the contemporary world. Perhaps, that might change one day. But I love to travel, and I think writing allows me to escape to other places and times when things were a lot different or to other periods in the future when things could be a lot different than our current world, which is sometimes so surreal it's hard to make any sense out of it at all.
3. What writing projects are your currently working on? What can you tell us about these projects?
Besides working on the next two books in The Hidden Hills Saga, I am currently working on two other series. One is a dystopian series set in the near future entitled "New World," and the other is a fantasy based more on reality, if that makes sense, entitled "Earth Angels." I'm enjoying both of these projects.
4. What does your writing process look like?
My writing process, unfortunately, looks like intense spurts of focus whenever I have a chance to write. This is something that I am trying to change, to become so organized that I make sure to find a place and a time to write regularly instead of making it a second priority to my other work, specifically the business that I co-own with my hubby. I wish I could churn out books all of the time and to not allow myself to be distracted by other things that seem to pop up and demand my attention everyday. But as far as my writing process. I am definitely a plotter. I think it's because I worked in television so much, reading and writing scripts, and everything begins with an outline.
5. Where is your favorite place to write?
Writing for me is so much like reading, so I like to curl up on a lounger or a sofa with my laptop and work on my project. I like to be comfortable so that I can easily lose myself in the story and envision everything that is happening. I also would love to try writing in a cafe with a Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino right beside me!
6. How important are the names in your novels? How do you choose names for your characters? Do you have any name resources you would suggest?
I feel as though names, as they are in real life, are very important to the characters and determining their stories, the lives they lead. I usually take a lot of time researching the names of my characters, especially their meanings. However, sometimes I just have a feel for a character's name, and so I choose that name.
7. What authors/novels that you enjoy would you recommend?
Although I write mainstream fiction, I love literature; so much of what I read is not actually popular fiction. I love Jane Austin, Jon Irving, the Bronte sisters, and Edgar Allen Poe along with modern writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and other international authors as well. Chimamanda wrote a wonderful book entitled Americanah, which through light humor explores the experience of a young, wealthy Nigerian woman who has come to America to attend university and who must navigate through race and racism in America, to which she has no connection or history. I absolutely love Chimamanda, who speaks of the tyranny or danger of the single story. As a writer, I am tired of hearing the same story over and over again, especially about the African-American experience. There are numerous stories and experiences, and I believe that they, like all stories, are worth telling. However, too often, on television and in the movies, we only hear one type of story.
When reading and through writing my own stories, I love to be transported to different worlds, whether it's through time or place. Outside of literature, I also love the original V.C. Andrews novels, perhaps because they are gothic family stories that have a lot of soap opera elements in them. But I absolutely hate the movie versions, because they seem so cheesy. For novelists, I recommend John Gardener, whose books On Becoming a Novelist and On Moral Fiction are truly inspiring and remind us as writers, we are creating art, and that's an important contribution to the world.
8. Where is my favorite place to read and to write?
I think I am comfortable reading basically anywhere, but wherever I am reading, I like to feel comfortable so that I can focus entirely on the story and getting lost in the vision and away from reality. It's as though when reading and writing, I am curling up with my favorite stuffed animal or a cute, furry animal and I am hugging it close. Except it is instead a book or my trusty laptop, which I love so much and can transport me to different places and time periods and can also connect me to different, interesting people who are the characters, heroes and villains, in my stories!
9. What period in history interests you most?
I am most interested in the Victorian era, life in England and America during the reign of Queen Victoria. I'm not sure exactly why, but my guess is it was a time in which class struggles truly came to the fore and one can easily see the transitions, the before and after, during this period and also the Edwardian period. The style of dress, the manners, the way women were viewed and their views on the world seemed to change, or at least they became more open about them. I think the start of the Industrial Revolution also affected this. And we began seeing the changes all over the world, including and especially in America with the challenges to the slave system and of course the Civil War. The time of accepted oppression in the west started coming to its climax and final end. My interest in history also likely inspires me to explore stories that could be set in the near future through the dystopian genre. And maybe because we have seen the world go through so many horrible events, and it still continues in all its beauty yet still with terrible problems, I don't write dystopian novels set in a destroyed, desolate world, just a world that still looks similar to today's but is more advanced but is still a product of all of the challenges that we are facing in our modern world.
10. If you could choose someone famous to star in one of your books made to a movie, who would you choose and for which character?
There are so many wonderful actors and actresses. The most important factor in choosing an actor to play a character is the absolute talent and skill of the actor. There are many attractive people who play in movies but can't act that well at all, and then that takes the viewer out of the story, especially after they have read the novel version. I would choose based less on fame but more on the quality of the acting. I like actors like Jennifer Beals, Meryl Streep, and Glenn Close. I also love actors like Matthew McConaughey and Lynn Whitfield. I could definitely see Lynne Whitfield playing Mrs. Franklin.
11. What inspired the idea for the Hidden Hills Saga? How did you come up with your idea for Ice Whispers?
The Hidden Hills Saga is based on the idea of what is slavery and what is freedom and whether these lines ever blur. The titles for each book are: Book One ("Ice Whispers"), Book Two ("Crystal Threads"), and Book Three ("Liquid Chains"). The books are all a part of a continuous saga that follows all of the characters introduced in Book One, "Ice Whispers," through this period before the Civil War.
I've thought a lot about why I chose to write this story set in the antebellum South, especially given I originally had no intention of ever writing a story about slavery, because I was so tired of seeing and hearing the same story over and over again. These stories are important and need to be told, but I like to experience different stories.
So here is what I came up with after thinking long and hard about this question...
I love stories, whether they are found in books, on TV, in movie theatres, or on stage! But I am often tired of seeing the same stories told over and over again. As a result, throughout my career as a writer, I have always been interested in telling different stories, especially from characters whose experiences and perspectives are rarely told. I love historical dramas and am avid lover of shows like Downton Abbey, House of Eliott, etc. And I am a huge Jane Austen fan.
However, every time that I've seen stories about slavery in the American South, I feel as though I see the same story. Yes, I love Gone with the Wind, and the harsh realities that are depicted in Roots and most recently 12 Years a Slave are necessary as part of the American lexicon. But there were other stories, those that are often unheard. And don't those types of characters have the right to also be heard? Aren't their stories worth telling?
It is strange for me to sit back and really analyze the reasoning behind the stories that I write. But here goes...
I was inspired by the idea of free blacks, who did exist before the Civil War in the North and the South, including in places like Louisiana and South Carolina. I was inspired to write a story about freedom and slavery, and the way both of these states of being play out. There are certainly physical forms of slavery, but there are forms of mental and economic slavery. There are people, even today, who may be physically free but still mentally enslaved. And I wanted to explore this. I think people need to empathize with each other and understand that everyone goes through struggles and pain, that people share the same emotions, and though we may not all experience the same exact experiences, we can certainly relate to how it feels to be misunderstood, rejected, and mistreated. Although the three women on whom this saga focuses are so very different, they all are in some way enslaved. And though they are not perfect...none of my characters are ever perfect. In fact, they are often a hot mess! I'd like for people to try and understand them. The wives of plantation owners could often themselves feel imprisoned.
Lastly, I think what also propelled me to write this story was my desire in a way to push back against the depiction of slaves as just victims. They were victimized. Absolutely! But despite that, they found ways to be victorious. They could figure out ways to secretly defy the horrible system of slavery. They found ways to survive and subvert the system. For example, the spiritual songs that they would sing while they worked on the plantations often had secret codes embedded within them, as did the quilts that they crafted. And no one suspected. It was quite genius. In The Hidden Hills Saga, Lolley is also a character who finds a way to use the system to her advantage, to take control of her destiny rather than allow her destiny to be shaped by the circumstances in which she is born. She uses her brain to rebel against a society that sought to imprison her. And just as slavery was not just a physical state, the act of rebelling could and can be done in different ways, including mentally. The three characters may not be heroines in some ways and they may not be villains in some ways, but they are survivors, women who were trying to free themselves from the chains that had been thrust upon them.
12. What other hobbies do you enjoy when you are not writing?
My absolute favorite hobby is traveling! My husband and I love to travel. We are huge nerds and love to go to the bookstore or to the library and read. We love learning, and through traveling, you learn so much. We've done cross country road trips and traveled to different states, Europe and the Caribbean many times. We also recently went to Morocco, and we hope to travel to new places. We love to visit the tourist sites and the museums, but also we absolutely love immersing ourselves in the culture and trying to experience life as the locals as much as we can, especially by getting out of the tourist traps and going to local markets, etc. I also see and meet so many interesting people and find connections with them despite that they are from a different culture than I am. Through reading and writing, I also am able to experience this.
Check out my review for ICE WHISPERS.
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