For today's blog, I emailed a set of interview questions to KT Perleberg, the author of the fiction piece "Hummingbird," one of the stories we're publishing in this year's Ivory Tower. The questions dealt with various aspects of her life, her writing, and "Hummingbird" in particular. So as not to keep you in suspense with a long-winded introduction, I'll keep this concise. Below are KT Perleberg's responses, as well as the questions themselves. Come to think of it, you could have figured that out for yourself without me telling you. Oh well. Anyway:
What sources do you draw inspiration from as a writer?
I draw inspiration from most everything around me, though I notice that I get most of my ideas at the beginning of a new school year or semester, when everything is busy and new and I'm surrounded by new people. Sometimes a particular character will be drawn from a movie I've seen, or even songs I hear on the radio.
The bio you gave us for the "Contributor Bios" section of the magazine says you're a Film Studies major. How did you decide on that as a major, and how do you think that relates to your writing?
I think a part of me has always known I was going to be a Film major. For as long as I can remember I've loved movies, and the more I learn about how they're made the more I'm in love with them, picking them apart and figuring out how they work. To me, it's all storytelling, in the end, whether it's written down or played on a screen.
What sorts of films do you most enjoy? What influence do you think they have on your writing?
I can usually find at least one thing to really enjoy in any film I watch, but I definitely have a taste for more films off the beaten track. I have a particular fondness for Tarantino, Allen, Coppola, and Russell. Like I mentioned before, just about anything can influence my writing. A character, a scene, a song, even the way the camera shifted around Bradley Cooper in the first therapist's office scene in Silver Linings Playbook can make my fingers itch to write.
In your bio, you said that you wanted to act, produce, and write screenplays in the entertainment industry after graduation. Do you also plan to continue writing short stories?
I don't think I could stop writing if I wanted to!
In addition to fiction, have you written any other types of creative work, like poetry, memoir, essays, and screenplays?
For a brief time in my middle teens I dabbled in poetry and songwriting, but didn't take to it as much as fiction. My dad and sister are very talented songwriters and musicians, so I always felt like I ought to give it a shot.
Of the many types of written works (novels, short stories, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, essays, research papers, the backs of cereal boxes, etc.), which do you enjoy reading most, and why?
As fascinating the backs of cereal boxes may be, I've lately been enamored of graphic novels. Mixed media like that has always interested me, and reading a comic book at the end of a long day is a great way to decompress while still immersing myself in great storytelling.
What is your favorite genre of fiction (realistic, historical, romance, science fiction, fantasy, etc.), and why do you enjoy that genre more than others?
Fantasy and science fiction are great, but I have a hard time enjoying them without a good dose of realism thrown in. Magical realism and stories about the real world that's just a little shifted to the left are definitely my favorite, because it makes the story and characters that much more relatable.
Who is your favorite author, and why? How much does his or her work influence your own?
Neil Gaiman and Matt Fraction are my favorites of the moment. They're very funny, though--Gaiman in a more dry, sneak-up-on-you sense where you can read part of his book, put it down, go about your life, and then in the middle of washing the dishes you suddenly get the joke and you're giggling into the soap suds. Not only that, but both authors have a very distinct narrative voice, which I always try to convey in my writing, even when I write in third person rather than first. I love having very opinionated third-person-omniscient narrators.
Who or what do you think is the greatest influence on your writing, and why is that?
There is no one person or thing that is the greatest influence on my writing. The whole world is constantly barraging me with new ideas from all sides. Sure, I might go through phases where I tend to focus more on a certain type of relationship, or a turn of phrase, or the way a fire feels when you sit too close but can't tear yourself away, but there's never just one thing. It's a sea of voices all clamoring to be heard at once.
In the literary world, there is a tendency to regard stories that focus more on plot and less on character--such as those of many old science fiction writers like A.E. Van Vogt--as less literary or less skillful than those which focus more on character and less on plot. What is your opinion regarding this attitude? Do you feel that character-driven stories are indeed superior to plot-driven ones, or do you feel that both types of story are more-or-less equally skillful, just in different ways? Or are you a rebel, who feels that the plot-driven story is actually superior to the character-driven story?
Each type of story demands just as much respect as the other, in my opinion. With the vast amount of pre-existing stories out there, it can be a real challenge to come up with an original and engaging plot, so anyone who is able to come up with something bright and new is a hero in my book. The same goes for characters: it's not easy to make a hero who is flawed enough to be relatable without composing them of clichés.
What is your process when you write a story? For example, do you know the plot of the story beforehand, or do you make it up as you go along? Do you write for large chunks of time at once, or do you space out your writing time into small, regularly scheduled intervals?
Usually I get either one specific scene, idea, or character in my head and build the rest of the story around that. Sometimes I'll be writing the early exposition of a story (I typically write in chronological order) but an idea for the last scene or the climax will be sitting in my head, and the words will come together just so, and I'll have to stop and write that in a second document before I lose it, then shape the story to lead the way there. I don't like going back to work on small projects in increments again and again; it's typically all or nothing in one sitting for me. I get everything down, let it stew for a few hours or days, then go back to reread with a fresh eye and fix anything that feels out of place. I never schedule when to write--it starts to feel too much like work--but I try to write a little bit every day no matter what. Even putting down one sentence makes it a little easier to sleep at night feeling accomplished.
"Hummingbird" is about a world in which hearts are literally the source of human emotion. How did you come up with such an intriguing idea for a story?
Like with my favorite types of fantasy/science fiction, I love the idea of a world exactly like ours but shifted a little to the left, with one thing changed and therefore changing everything. It started when I read a compilation of short stories called Machine of Death, about what the world would be like if a machine were invented that, with just a prick of your finger, accurately predicted exactly how you would die. That idea sat with me for a long time, and so when it came time to write a story for one of my classes I decided to take that idea and play it around in my hands for a while. One thing led to another, and here we are.
The main character of "Hummingbird" is Lizzie, a girl who has no emotions. Where did the idea for her character come from?
She came a little bit from several of my most-loved fictional characters, actually. Part was from an online forum discussion about Sherlock Holmes, from the BBC series Sherlock, a modern take of the Victorian hero who plays at purging himself of all emotions to better understand the world around him. Another part was Black Widow from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who pushes aside her own wants and feelings to disguise herself in the lives of other people. And the last was Spock from Star Trek. The one thing each of these characters, and Lizzie, have in common, is that at the end of the day, even the most heartless of people still reach out for human connections, whether they want to or not.
I notice a pattern in subject matter between this story and your first story (a girl who can't feel, a puppy who can't bark): both are about characters who are unable to do something that is considered "normal." Is this reflective of a lot of your writing, and if so, why?
Not entirely indicative, no. Recently I've been experimenting a lot more with testing my comfort zone in writing stories like "Hummingbird," but I used to stay relatively safe when it came to plot devices and character traits. Now I've become much fonder of the world-weary, damaged, and societally "wrong" characters that are so often the ones who need support the most, but don't seek it out of pride or fear.
Can we expect to see more submissions from you in upcoming issues of Ivory Tower? In other words, do you plan to submit again, so that future classes producing the magazine can look forward to reading your work?
It would be my genuine pleasure.