K.D. Wentworth is an award-winning Tulsa science fiction writer with ten novels and countless short stories to her credit. In 2003 she retired from teaching at Keystone School in Sand Springs where she taught for 27 years. Her earliest recognition was the first prize in the Writers of the Future Contest in 1988, a contest for which she now serves as coordinating judge. She is secretary of the 1500-member Science Fiction Writers of America. Two of her short stories have been Nebula finalists. K.D.’s new novel, MoonChild, comes out this year. Be sure to visit K.D.’s website at www.kdwentworth.com.
By Lori Coggins
K.D. greeted me with a cup of coffee in her hand and her gorgeous Akita, Bear, at her side. Her living room is lined with shelves of books. As Bear retired to another room, K.D. talked to me about her career, her likes and dislikes, and the life of a science fiction writer.
How did you balance writing and teaching?
Not very well. I tried to write three pages a day. And so I’d come home and get with it. I sacrificed a lot of things. I sacrificed working out at the health club. I sacrificed performing with a couple of folk-dancing groups. I sacrificed being skinny. It’s very hard to get the proper amount of exercise when you work full-time and you come home and try to write. I never watched T.V. with my husband. I never did things like that. I was busy all the time.
How did you learn to write?
I always wanted to write. I just couldn’t quite figure out what. I took creative writing in college and that didn’t help me at all. Finally my husband suggested one summer that I stay home and write. I always got a part-time job because I have too much nervous energy to stay home and not work and that really messed up our taxes because part-time work is not taxed as heavily as full-time work. Every year at tax time he would be unhappy with me. So I went out and bought a whole shelf of books on how to write and just started reading them one after the other, and I committed two hours a day to writing. I was either going to read those books during that two hours or I was going to write.
When did it feel like the words were beginning to flow?
By the end of the summer it was getting a little easier. The connection to your subconscious is like a muscle. You don’t really expect to run a marathon the first time you try. You have to get your brain used to opening up that access. And it worked. It was still hard. It probably was a whole year before I could just sit down and write every single day and not stare at the screen and cudgel myself and have to get up and go wander around and think, you know. The stuff was there for me, and it was a particular joy when it was finally always there. It was addictive. It was the best part of my day. I talk to a lot of my writer friends, and writers seem to fall into two categories. Some of us regard writing as comfort food, and some of us regard it as torture. I’m the comfort food person. If I’m sad or unhappy, I just go write.
It sounds like your writing is a great outlet for you. Are there still times, though, when you struggle as a writer?
The problem is that you’ve got two parts to your brain. The subconscious is in your right brain. One of the books I read was Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight, who is one of the grand masters of science fiction. He was talking about how the subconscious brain is like living with a little old man named Fred. Fred doesn’t talk very loudly, he doesn’t talk very often, and he doesn’t talk at all if you don’t listen to him. So you have to learn to listen to Fred. It’s like a little, tiny voice whispering. Sometimes when I’m really stuck on a plot, I go do something boring that Fred doesn’t enjoy like laundry, and in the middle of doing something really mundane the whisper will say something like, What if she’s not really dead? and I go back to the computer
What is your process when you write a novel? Do you organize everything ahead of time?
I like to build it as I go. One of the things that kept me from writing for a long time was I kept hearing from people that I respected like C.J. Cherryh that you have to be able to outline if you’re going to write a novel. I would try and couldn’t do it, so I would give up for a while. After I became a professional, I asked a lot of novelists if they outlined or not, and it seems to be a 50/50 split. About 50 percent do and 50 percent can’t. It’s not don’t, it’s can’t. We can’t. It just seems to me that when I weave it as I go, everything is pretty much connected and grows out of what already happened.
Were you a science fiction fan before you were a science fiction writer?
Yes. I was a voracious reader. That’s a mistake some people make. They think they can be a writer without being a reader. They don’t read, but they want to write. C.J. Cherryh was a big influence for me, also Andrea Norton and Anne McCaffrey. I really loved all their work.
Did you read science fiction even as a child?
I loved fantasy. There wasn’t much science fiction for young children. There still isn’t. It’s very hard to write science fiction that young people can really grasp. But I remember just being so hungry to read all the Wizard of Oz books. And they were out of print when I was a kid and the library didn’t have them. Finally we realized my dance teacher had a complete set. He wouldn’t sell them to us. He wouldn’t let me take them home, but if I would come a half-hour early to dance class every time he would let me sit there and read one. So I read my way through the entire Oz pantheon by going to dance a half-hour early twice a week. I sure did want those books.
Do you still read a lot?
No. And I regret that. I was such a voracious reader that if I had known that writing was going to take reading away from me before I started I would have had to make a real deliberate choice.
What’s unique about science fiction writers?
People always want to know, Why do you write science fiction? That question used to seriously annoy me because I thought they meant, Why are you so weird? But I finally realized that if everybody wants to know they must really not be able to understand so there must be a reason, and I decided it was because there’s just a fundamental difference in the way the science fiction person looks at the world and other people look at the world. Most people think being just like everybody else is normal, which is a good thing, but we think its being ordinary, which is not the same thing.
What would your advice be for new science fiction writers?
Well, the good thing about science fiction is we still have a thriving short story market, which a lot of other genres don’t have. So it’s possible to break in with short fiction and make a name for yourself. Even with a few professional credits, people are going to pay a lot more attention to you. Now I have a slush pile because all the entries for Writers of the Future come to me. I know what slush piles look like, so you should do anything you can to put yourself a cut above and make it look like you know what you’re doing. I get a lot of stories that tend to be teenage angst stories. My boyfriend’s dead and I feel sad and my parents hate me, school is terrible.
Do you have any books coming out soon?
Yes. I have one that just came out in September, The Course of Empire, that I wrote with Eric Flint. I’m just going through the copy edit on the third Moonspeaker book, MoonChild, which will come out from Hawk sometime this year.