1:1 — Kayla King
Welcome back to another edition of 1:1. I’m at Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa in New Hampshire, seething with envy as I wait for Kayla King’s graduation ceremony to conclude. I’m surrounded by golf courses, spas, mountains, and even freaking dog sleds!
But most importantly, this is where Kayla has been attending writing residencies as an MFA candidate at Southern New Hampshire University. Today, she becomes an MFA recipient, and she’s agreed to put off her celebratory spa treatment for a few minutes to tell us what inspired beautiful stories like Penumbra, Calculations, Exulansis, and the Gray and Shaw series. Here she comes now. Better douse my jealousy with this final finger of whiskey.
1:1000: Hi KAYLA!
— Hugs —
KAYLA KING: Hi, Mark! What’s up?
1:1000: My blood alcohol level. JUST KIDDING! But seriously, let’s start from the beginning. When did you realize you want to dedicate your life to writing?
KK: When I was in middle school I wrote quite a bit of poetry, but it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I realized I wanted to be a writer. I took an Experimental Writing class and fell in love with fiction! Then I went to college for 1/2 a semester for interior design before finding a writing program at Buffalo State College.
1:1000: What was it about this class that made you realize how much fun writing can be?
KK: Up until that point I’d never tried anything other than poetry, but finding the right story made me realize how exciting it could be to create characters and worlds from my own head. Though it was only 14 pages, that story gave me more inspiration than anything that year. Also my teacher was oh so encouraging. I think I was the only one who actually cared about the class, and he saw that. Also my best friend was in the same class so that made a huge difference.
1:1000: What was this awe inspiring story about?
KK: It was a fairytale retelling called THROUGH. I’ve since taken the idea and created an entire world that will (hopefully) span a series of 5 books. The first two are completed, but are in dire need of revisions. It took all of my favorite characters from childhood and changed them into new people. I guess it was my way of figuring out what would happen post-high school…
1:1000: So when you say “characters” from high school, are we talking fresh takes on established fables, or real people with notable personalities?
KK: The latter.
1:1000: Is this best friend of yours one of the characters?
KK: He often pops up in the strangest of places — something another character might say or do that reminds me of him after I go back and reread what I’ve written.
1:1000: Is he still writing?
KK: He is! It’s strange. I don’t think ten years ago when we became friends that either of us imagined we’d be writers. He’s written a few short stories and poems and great letters from his time abroad in Spain this past summer.
1:1000: Then why is he not writing for us?
KK: I’ll have to ask him, but I think he’s scared of Pinterest.
1:1000: Yes you will. This can be off the record if you’d like, but does this friend of yours inspire the Gray and Shaw stories?
KK: Actually, no. I’ve never had this question before, because I think people just assume we’re dating. We definitely say we’re soulmates, just not in a romantic way. He is actually the inspiration for EXULANSIS. I think there is a line in that story where it says you don’t have to be IN love with a person to love them. And I think this kind of platonic love doesn’t always make for the kind of heartbreak I give Gray and Shaw — spoiler alert.
1:1000: Why did you decide to go against Cupid’s wishes and kill Gray and Shaw’s relationship? Do you feel any of the pain you imposed on you readers?
KK: Strangely, because I began with the end of their relationship in a non-1:1000 story called Valhalla, it was not as emotional as another I’ve been working on, which is the actual day Shaw leaves. In Valhalla, there is some time since they’ve been apart. The wounds are starting to heal, but are ripped open when Grayson buys Shaw’s published book. I read a snippet at my last residency and a few people did tear up, and they didn’t even know Gray and Shaw. I think the more you know about them, the more heartbreaking it becomes.
1:1000: And where can your Grayson and Shaw fans read this, Valhalla?
1:1000: Let’s talk a little bit about your residency. As someone who sold their soul for a steady paycheck, I’m interested to know what it’s like to throw caution to the wind and focus solely on fiction?
KK: It’s great! And a little bit scary, too. I love getting together with other writers and talking about writing and books and words. It’s beautiful, but residency puts you in such a vulnerable position. You give away your work and listen to others discuss it in front of you. Good and bad. It’s not always easy to stay in the “cone of silence.” Ultimately, feedback makes us better writers, and there are times I’ve had to remind myself that while sitting and waiting ALL week for my peer workshop day.
1:1000: It’s amazing how much other people’s opinion can help.
KK: Too often, I think we’re blinded by the fact that WE wrote the stories to see their flaws.
1:1000: Amen. Too close to the canvas. So are residencies part of a grad program, or are they separate things?
KK: My MFA is low residency, so for the past two years I’ve gone to NH for two residencies a year. They last a week and have peer workshops, craft workshops, readings, etc. And then when we return we have deadlines each month to send work.
1:1000: That sounds like the academic experience of my dreams!
KK: It was great!
1:1000: If I wasn’t already buried in student loans from advertising school, I would give it a shot. Alas, maybe in another life.
KK: Yes, student loans. Those will kick in about six months after the new year begins.
1:1000: Then let’s not dwell on that sobering reality. Outside of academia, what shapes your writing? Books? Movies? Television? Music? Dance? Alcohol?
KK: Definitely books and movies! I’ve been obsessed with the movie Comet. It feels like what I’m trying to accomplish with my Gray and Shaw stories. And I do believe it was Hemingway who said “write drunk, edit sober.”
1:1000: I always get that backwards.
KK: As far as inspiring books as of late, I loved The Bell Jar and am currently reading 10:04 by Ben Lerner. If I’m struggling while working on my upcoming novel, Dream Catchers, I often read Neil Gaiman or Scott Westerfeld. I’m most definitely classified as a bibliophile.
1:1000: That’s a good classification for someone in your line of work. Back to the writer behind the words, what life events have shaped your writing? What’s your family makeup? Have you ever used writing to get over a hard time?
KK: I have an amazing mom and stepdad who give me endless support, plus a younger sister and brother. In my writing I often focus on the idea of leaving and I’m sure this has some psychological roots grounded in my past. So I guess I would say my writing has always helped me get through the difficult times in my life.
1:1000: If it’s not cutting too deep, can you vaguely share some of these difficult times?
KK: Sure. I’ve never had the best relationship with my father, and much of my writing about tough relationships comes from this. The novel I’m working on has an aspect that deals with difficult familial relationships. While Camryn’s father is not exactly like mine, much of what Camryn feels comes from my own feelings. Another event that still comes through in my writing is from high school. In tenth grade I had a large group of friends, about six girls who I’d pretty much survived high school with, and one day they all got up from the lunch table, and left me to eat by myself.
1:1000: Oh Kayla! I would offer you a sip of my third Bulleit, but I’m afraid I just finished it.
KK: That’s quite alright. I’m just so happy I didn’t have a Facebook at the time, because this was right when cyberbullying was becoming a big deal and it was difficult enough dealing with them in person, let alone on the Internet.
1:1000: People always talk about how writing about the things that trouble us makes it better, but does it ever make it worse for you?
KK: When I go back and read my writing and see the scars from those wounds still present — that’s when it hurts. Thinking I’m over it, but knowing I’m not, that’s when the writing hurts.
1:1000: That is a painfully beautiful realization. Getting back to a happier topic, romance seems to also play a big role in your writing. How have your personal romantic relationships shaped stories like Gray and Shaw?
KK: I haven’t experienced anything as heartbreaking or long-term as Grayson and Shaw’s relationship, but that’s what is so fun about their stories. There actually might be more truth in Calculations than any Gray and Shaw story. Their stories started because of a creative writing class I took at Buffalo State College. There was a guy who wrote these beautiful stories about women he’d loved. And I was in love with his writing. Sometimes Shaw reminds me of him. Also the song that Shaw plays for Grayson on the train the first time they meet is by his favorite band.
1:1000: Did the man match his writing?
KK: We parted ways after that class and I haven’t seen him since. So I think often the Gray/Shaw stories might be my imagination still running wild with something that never came to fruition. I think at our core, writers are wonderers, and sometimes I wonder about the “what if” and that inspires me more.
1:1000: It’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, we get so many stories out of “what ifs.” On the other hand, it makes us constantly question our actual life. No wonder I … so many writers drink. It’s like, “SHUT UP, VOICES!”
KK: I think it is interesting that so many people assume writers are always writing about themselves — as in every word is truth — When maybe we’re just writing about our shadow selves, the people we might’ve been.
1:1000: I know I prefer my shadow self. He’s a hell of a guy.
KK: My shadow self doesn’t watch nearly as much Netflix
1:1000: HA! Same. My shadow self was probably in one of your residencies, so you’ve got that over me.
KK: I think I remember your shadow self from one of those interesting dinner chats.
1:1000: Not likely. I’d be too busy stuffing my face with all the New England shellfish my student loans could afford. Anywho, I know you’ve got a big evening of celebrating ahead of you, and dogsledding is on my bucket list, so let’s wraps this up with a final question. Aside from continuing to be a part of 1:1000, what does post-grad life look like for Kayla King? Both your real and shadow self.
KK: Right now I’m applying to fellowships, hoping I can continue in academia. I would love to teach creative writing. Long-term I’m hoping to one day get my novel published. I’m hoping to travel more. But I definitely know I’ll be writing every day. And maybe complete a Gray/Shaw novel.
1:1000: For dummies like me, what all does a fellowship entail?
KK: It depends on the fellowship. Most often it is funding for a year (maybe more) for your writing. Some of them require you teach. Some don’t. I would love to land one that gets me some teaching experience so I can get a permanent teaching job. I think they’re trying to help artists focus on their art.
1:1000: What a beautiful world it would be if more artists could do such a thing.
KK: What a world indeed.
1:1000: Well, Kayla, your fellows at 1:1000 are rooting for you. However, we cannot yet pay you. Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice your art for a marketing job. Stay the course!
KK: That’s the goal!
Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on December 31, 2015.