This week we have a visit from Katrina S. Forest, whose wonderful mid-apocalyptic short story “The Poisoned City” appeared in TFF #31 back in 2014, and is now the title story in her self-published collection The Poisoned City and Other Stories. She answered a few questions about her writing, collaboration, and learning d/Deaf sign language.
Katrina S. Forest is a preschool teacher by day, speculative fiction author by any-other-time-she-can-get. In 2009, she had the pleasure of attending Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, and her short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues, ranging from Flash Fiction Online to Crossed Genres. Her kids think she’s eccentric, but don’t say so because their vocabularies aren’t that big yet.
TFF: Your short story “The Poisoned City,” in TFF #31 two years ago, has a Deaf protagonist, a life-saving android, and a whole city trapped in post-apocalyptic quarantine. Where did the plot and the characters come from?
Katrina S. Forest: That story had an odd origin. I misheard something on a show I was watching and thought one of the minor characters was secretly an android. Then while the show kept going, I got stuck on this concept and started forming a plot around how the android might be holding a cure for some type of disease or poison. I was working on another story that had a deaf protagonist at the time, and her no-nonsense attitude seemed to fit right into the role I was looking for with the delivery person. So she got an alter-ego in that story and I got to turn my moment of confusion into a fun, creative project.
Would you like to have a robot assistant? What tasks that you hate would you happily assign to them?
KSF: I hate driving. I would be happy to have a robot drive me places. Of course, the car itself would likely be the robot. I am currently hoping that robot cars become the norm before my kids are old enough to get their driver’s licenses.
If you could choose, who (real or fictional) would be your companion in a post-apocalyptic scenario?
KSF: Hmm… let’s go fictional and say Hermione Granger. If I’m in a post-apocalyptic scenario, a companion with useful magical powers is a must. (Or am I thinking too practically about this?)
“The Poisoned City” was also the story that helped you gain acceptance to Clarion West a while back, I believe. What was the experience of such an intense, residential program like?
KSF: It was pretty crazy. Mostly all our time was spent writing, reading, or talking about writing or reading. It was six weeks of entering a completely different world. A lot of writers dream of writing as a full-time job, but this was more than that. It was writing as a full-time job in a building with seventeen other people doing the same thing.
I’ve heard other Clarion graduates say they’re divided as to whether the intense writing tuition or their new “family” of co-students was the best thing to come out of the workshop. Which is it for you?
KSF: I think it’s the family. Everyone there treated everyone else like a professional. It was okay to experiment and write something bad; you didn’t feel like you had to prove yourself to the group. I think often times in critique groups, writers feel pressure (valid or not) to show they’ve got some reasonable level of skill. They may only put forward work they don’t really plan on polishing anymore. I know my work has improved after Clarion West, but I think a lot of had to do with learning how to be critical of it and seek out people who will tell me what’s wrong, not just people who will pat me on the back and tell me I’m doing great.
Your current collection, The Poisoned City and Other Stories, explores the themes of what makes us human. Can you tell us a bit more about some of the stories, and how they approach this theme differently?
KSF: The collection largely consists of stories I’ve sold previously, but there are a few new ones in there, too. Some of the stories are about characters who are losing their human bodies. One character begins trading her flesh limbs and organs for synthetic ones. Another character is slowly transforming into an alien species. In these stories, there’s someone who views the protagonist as less than human, even though the person inside is the same.
Other stories focus on the commonalities we share—our emotions, our wishes, our desire to connect and communicate. Hopefully it’s a collection that people enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Have you ever thought of writing a sequel or prequel to a famous story?
KSF: Several times. When I was younger, I kept wanting to write a sequel to Rikki Tikki Tavi. I later got into Greek Mythology and I’ve taken several shots at writing a novel about the three gorgons. I always felt like they got shortchanged in the whole Perseus myth.
What is it like for you to engage with the Deaf community as a non-native speaker? You’ve mentioned that you have an editor who helps you with cultural sensitivity and accuracy, for example. How does that work?
KSF: So far it’s been very humbling. I’m fortunate; my area has an organization that, along with providing communication services for the deaf, also provides education for the hearing and organizes events to help bring the communities together. I’ve been taking ASL classes there for a few years, and all my teachers have been wonderful. I’m looking forward to when my skills are such that they don’t have to slow down their fingerspelling quite so much for me.
My editor is Chase from Chase Editing. We connected on a writing forum originally, and since then, he’s edited one of my novels and several of the short stories in my collection. For those stories featuring a deaf protagonist, he’s pointed out moments when I might not be portraying my character’s experience or culture as accurately as I could be. He also points out overuse of “that” and my comma splices. Thankfully, these are my more frequent errors.
Can you recommend any books (speculative fiction or otherwise) by Deaf authors or with Deaf protagonists that our readers should be aware of?
KSF: Deaf in America is a collection of essays by a variety of authors; that was one of the first books I read when I wanted to learn more about Deaf culture. If you’re into comics, El Deafo is a wonderfully heartfelt and honest book, exploring author Cece Bell’s childhood through vivid artwork (of bunnies!). Ms. Bell mentions that while she herself is deaf (with a lowercase d), she has not yet “pursued a direct role” in Deaf (with a capital D) culture, and her author’s notes at the end helpfully explain the terms for readers. If you’re a fan of YA, I recommend the blog Disability in Kidlit. There are a lot of books featuring Deaf and disabled characters that aren’t necessarily written by authors with that life experience, so getting the input of at least one voice from the community is invaluable to me as a reader.
I understand you’re currently working on a novel in collaboration with another TFF author. Can you tell us anything about that work yet?
KSF: I can tell a little, I think. The author I’m working with is Sara Patterson, whose story “A Sense All Its Own” was featured in Accessing the Future. The novel takes place in that story’s setting with Sara’s character on a world-saving mission alongside one of my own characters. Our book is tentatively titled Feral Prime, after the destination that the characters are headed towards.
Do you write differently when you do it as a collaborative work?
KSF: In the case of Feral Prime, the book is told from two POVs, so we each work on the chapters featuring our own characters, then we swap for editing. I’m going to miss it a lot when I write my next solo work… having someone guiding the book’s direction with me as we go is a huge advantage.
What can fans of Katrina S. Forest look forward to in the near future? Any more stories or other publications on the way that you can sneak preview?
KSF: Most all of my writing efforts are going into Feral Prime right now, but anyone who’s interested can always check out my website for updates: katrinasforest.com. Thank you so much for the opportunity!
Thank you for answering our questions, Katrina!
You can find Katrina’s short story collection at Amazon and other online booksellers. The first appearance of her story “The Poisoned City” was in TFF #31.