Thanks to social distancing and “stay at home” orders, some people are finally reading that really, really long novel they’ve been putting off for years. But for people who still can’t find the time, or the inclination, might we suggest a short story or two. In the following email interview, writer Kathe Koja discusses her new short story collection Velocities (paperback, Kindle), as well as the upcoming reissue of her 1991 novel, The Cipher (paperback).
Photo Credit: Rick Lieder
To start, does Velocities have a theme, and if not, how did you decide what stories to include?
Velocities was assembled primarily by feel — less like a jigsaw puzzle and more like searching through the drawer for things you know are there, waiting till your hands find the right things, the right parts, then putting them together.
In a similar vein, does Velocities have a framing device like the one Ray Bradbury used in The Illustrated Man?
Velocities is grouped in thematic sections — “At Home,” “Downtown,” “On The Way, ” “Over There,” “Inside” — stories that seemed to belong together, to speak in particular ways to each other. Only the “Inside” section has only one story, but it’s so far inside it had to stand alone.
So what genre or genres do the stories in Velocities cover?
I don’t really think in terms of genre, when I write or when I read. Most of these stories could be considered weird fiction, some are straight-up horror, some are set in the future, some in the past. The only genre I can say they all belong to is Kathe Koja fiction.
And should we read anything into the fact that the cover typography makes it look like the book is called Velo / Cities?
Anyone is free to read anything at all into any aspect of this book!
Woo-hoo! Anyway, it’s been my experience that short stories are a good way to get to know a writer. Do you feel the stories in Velocities are indicative of your style?
For sure, a reader can use Velocities as a barometer to decide whether or not they’d like my novels. Those novels range over genres — horror, historical, contemporary, biography, YA — but the voice is the same.
Speaking of which, are there any writers who had a big influence on any of the stories in Velocities but not on anything else you’ve written?
Have to say no.
What about non-literary influences? Were any of the stories in Velocities influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
No on this one too.
Eleven of the thirteen stories in Velocities have been published before. Compared to how they appeared in those journals, are the versions in Velocities the same or did you change anything about them?
I never rewrite or revisit any of my stories or novels. When I’ve finished something, it’s already as complete as I can make it, with as much care and skill as I can offer in that moment. The stories in Velocities were all written at different times, in response to different prompts: some in response to an editor asking for a story, some I wrote because the character was there. If I were to sit down with those characters or editorial prompts now, the stories would be totally different. Which is why I don’t rewrite.
Along with Velocities, Meerkat Press are also going to be reprinting your novel The Cipher this September. What is that book about?
The Cipher follows a dead end couple, Nicholas and Nakota, as they find an inexplicable hole that also finds them. And everything goes way too far, and then some.
People have asked me for years when The Cipher would be back in print — the collectible copies are very pricey — so I’m delighted that Meerkat Press is making that wish come true in September. A fabulously gritty audio edition is also in the works.
Aside from any typos, have you changed or added anything to this new version of The Cipher?
The Meerkat version of The Cipher has a heartfelt and gorgeously written afterword by Maryse Meijer [The Seventh Mansion]; she’s one of my favorite writers, and knows her own way around the weird.
Are there any stories in Velocities that you think are most like The Cipher, in the sense that if someone like that story or stories they’ll like The Cipher as well, and vice versa?
No one story in particular, but if a reader enjoys the voice, the darkness, and yes, the velocity of Velocities, then that reader will I think enjoy Cipher. Never know till you try…
Earlier I asked if any of the stories in Velocities had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But do you think any of the stories would also work as a movie, show, or game?
“Baby” and “La Reine d’Enfer” would make fierce, intensely visual, short films or anthology segments. I’d love to see what a director with a taste for the weird could do with either or both of these.
Finally, if someone enjoys Velocities, which of your novels would you suggest they check out and why that one?
Skin might be a good fit — it’s dark, immersive, and moves along with, yes, velocity.
Or if a reader’s interested in what’s coming next, my newest novel Dark Factory, is coming to life in real time on Patreon [which you can support here].