Kirstie Olley and her Cogs (Interview with author Kirstie Olley)

If Kirstie could be assigned a category, it would be the ‘upcoming author to watch out for’. Last year, she wrote the marvelous ‘Short Circuit’ and found herself whisked away to the Aurealis Awards in April as one of the finalists for ‘Best Fantasy Short Fiction’. Of course, the greatest thing about Kirstie is that she doesn’t neatly fit into any category; in fact she often defies them.

Rather than being the traditionally serious auteur who you often find at a coffee shop, staring into the distance—Kirstie is a bundle of excitement to be around. She’ll chat with you enthusiastically about the newest releases for the Xbox One and then jump right into a powerful story about the tribulations of being an author mother.

Iconoclastic, often hilarious and a fantastic wordsmith: Kirstie Olley stopped by to talk about her latest story, Nightfall, in the recently released anthology, 18.

I think everyone who’s ever dreamed of being a professional author has fantasized, at one point or another, of attending an awards ceremony with some of the most skilled authors in the country. As a first-time participant, what was the experience like?

Oh wow. There is so much I can say about this, but I don’t want to write an entire essay. It was the amazing mix of excitement and expectation. I didn’t get my hopes up (you did see some of the names in my category right?) but you’d probably laugh if you saw how many winners stepped up to the podium and explained they hadn’t prepared a speech because they really didn’t expect to win.

It was kind of terrifying gathering in the hall before going in. There were people I recognized from author photos but didn’t want to just go up and fan girl all over them – after all I was there as a professional. I didn’t personally, face-to-face, know anyone so it was one of the odd opportunities where you see me acting shy. I have this amusing introvert/extrovert personality. If I know anyone in a group, I’m confident and fun, but when I don’t know anyone I am quiet and have trouble introducing myself. I ended up pouncing on someone also by themselves and having a good chat with the photographer’s wrangler and one of the judges.

It was all just so much fun, even if it was a little daunting at first.

It’s interesting you were selected for a short story because you’re quite renowned for your flash fiction pieces. What would you say are the biggest differences between the two genres?

Renowned for flash? I do write a lot of flash, but it’s mostly as a challenge to myself. I always get too involved in my characters and blow out my word counts. Usually in a ‘now this will be an epic fantasy quartet’ way (I’m not kidding, actually happened once)

As for the difference, in flash fiction you’re usually focused on one lead character, their primary desire/need and one twist. You can have more, but that’s when things get messy and longer. Trust me, I’m a master of longer and messier.

No matter what you write, and one of the reasons I look forward to your work, is that you explore the effects of religious or fanatical ideologies on normal people’s lives. Nightfall queries if the groupthink of the flock is based on a lack of curiosity or true wisdom passed down by the ancients. While in another piece that you were tweaking, you explored the effects of a cult on young love. Why do you think you keep returning to these themes and exploring the impact of rigid belief structures on people’s freedoms?

Ah, this one can be a tricky one to answer, religion can be a touchy subject for some, but essentially my answer is because religion impacts everyone in both the real world and fantasy worlds. Even those who aren’t part of a particular theology can be affected by it. I think about religion a lot and a great way to explore these thoughts is in fantasy worlds.

The ending is quite ambiguous. I obviously can’t give it away to the readers, but let’s say Marrille is wrong. In those circumstances do you think she still made the right choice? That following her own natural curiosity and impulses were better than being subservient to the authority figures in her life?

This is a hard one to answer. To a certain extent you should follow the rules, but also, blind following of the rules isn’t always the best course. If you never think outside the box there’ll never be anything new. Even for the big rules there are grey areas. Should you not kill someone who intends to kill you? Sure you can try to incapacitate the attacker and run, but that might not work, they might get back up again and keep coming at you.

I believe Marrille did what she thought was best for everyone, and if you read the story you’ll know it was a sort of ‘damned if you do damned if you don’t’ decision.

As for the ending’s ambiguity, I’ve started working on a prequel story following one of the Last Lords which might make you think the ending is a little more this way than that ;p

There’s no way I can get through an interview and not ask about your world creation process. Every story you write, no matter where it’s set, feels so vibrant and full of life. How do you go about creating these fantastic backdrops and imagination spaces for readers to dive deep into?

I think my answer for this one might be a bit disappointing. I usually come up with a character and an action or desire and everything blossoms out from there. Saying ‘they just come to me’ sounds a bit evasive but usually that’s exactly what happens – or at least my best worlds come to me like that.

You might say the worlds are born out of the needs of the character and story.

My husband often likes to cite the theory that every possibility and every story is actually playing out in a parallel universe somewhere – so maybe I’m tapping into those other worlds!

On that note, you’re a gamer and video game players receive a lot of flack in the media for being unimaginative and needing constant stimulation. How do you feel playing games as impacted the way you write?

I think a diversity of worlds mostly. I used to write only traditional medieval fantasy, but the amazing fantastic worlds in the RPGs I love expanded my world, expanded my reading and my imagination with them.

Sometimes I think my stories are a bit like an RPG: a long winding story and then halfway through, just when you think the quest is pretty much complete, I flip the table over, laughing like a maniac and you realize there’s a much longer quest you have to complete before you take on the final boss(think Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time). Or at least I try to do that as much as possible.

On a side note, I disagree with the media’s view of gamers as well. Sure there’s an overly obsessed few who do nothing but play games and so become lost in them like drug addicts(I could get side-tracked by the topic of gaming and the neurochemical reactions related to it, but I’ll focus for now), but for the most part you just have to enjoy in moderation – don’t ignore your partner, don’t skip your homework – sounds obvious, I know, but when you’re young(and young at heart) it’s hard to have the strength to stop doing something fun and do something hard. That’s why parents have to step up and say ‘homework before video games’ or ‘only x amount of game time, then let’s all go out to the park and feed the ducks’. Ha ha, sorry, with a toddler in the house I’m discipline focused at the moment so it kind of surfaces in every conversation. /rant, I swear ;p

So, I guess the only remaining question is, what’s on the horizon? Can we expect to see any longer pieces coming out soon or will we be able to snatch up a few more short stories to tide us over until then?

Well, there’s no confirmed releases right now(some things are best not discussed until set in stone – or paper as the case may be) but there’s always the free flash fiction I post on my site to whet appetites while waiting for news, or you can check out ‘Short Circuit’ in Oomph: A Little Super Goes A Long Way.

Thanks so much for your time Kirstie and looking forward to hearing about your new projects soon. 

Kirstie’s Nightfall can be found in 18, a recently released anthology from Vision Writers, and is available from Amazon.

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