Guest-blog spot: KATHE KOJA

I am very privileged to introduce this month’s guest-blogger, Kathe Koja. She has been in the business of writing for 25 years and has given us many thought-provoking and memorable stories over that time. Her books include (for adults) The Cipher, Bad Brains, and Skin: and, for young adults, Buddha Boy, The Blue Mirror and Kissing the Bee. She has also written many short stories with Bary N. Malzberg. Her latest novel, Under the Poppy, will be out October 2010 and is being developed into an ‘immersive’ stage show. Many thanks to Kathe for taking the time to write this!!



I don’t know if the word I want is “bemusement”, but I certainly feel something between nausea and wonder when I hear writers talk about tailoring their work to market trend bullet points or writing conference how-tos or something someone once said online about What’s Hot in Publishing Today. Before How To there is, or should be, Why To. Why do you write, stories, novels, essays, poems, whatever? Why do you sit behind the keyboard, the notebook, in the first place, or at all?

The best answer I’ve ever heard came from the great Flannery O’Connor, who said she wrote because she was good at it.  I understand that to mean she wrote because it was a necessary – maybe THE necessary – component of her being, of the way she had existence in the world; and she knew this was so because in the development of her talent, that act of writing felt right to her, it came naturally: she had the gift. And in the exercise of that gift, what she made kept getting better and better (though not, of course, without a lot of effort – she was a slow writer and a dogged and champion rewriter). She did it because she was good at it, and because she was willing to give it everything she had every time she did it, we now have Hazel Motes, and the serial-killing Misfit, the awful Mary Grace and the even more awful Mrs. Turpin, and Parker and his Jesus-ly tattooed back. We have the novels and the collected stories; we have the world she made out of the world she observed.

Now superimpose those bullet points and publishing currents onto Flannery O’Connor and her gift and her methods; try to, anyway, if you can stand to do it, and then wonder what might have become of that world and those characters, what stories of hers we would still have, if we would have known about her, at all – if she had stopped to seriously think and consider just what Current Market Trends had to say to her. If she had consulted anything other than the gift, the swimming images, the ideas, the struggle, the calm daily ferocity of the page… Well. You tell me.

If we’re serious about our work, if we’re really writers, then we’re Flannery too, and the only way we’ll ever get the book in our heads – the one we need, beyond everything, to write, and know, with effort and laughter and despair, that we CAN write – that world we’ll make sent whole into the world around us, is to stop worrying about current market trends in publishing and who says what’s going to sell to what house in what format, and sit down and write that novel, story, poem, whatever, until it’s the best writing we can produce. In my own 25-year career, I know that the outcome is always best when I work in joy, without a single thought in my head as to what will eventually become of the finished work in the marketplace; like THE CIPHER, or STRAYDOG, or UNDER THE POPPY, I didn’t think or figure the angles as I wrote those books, I just wrote them because I needed to, because Nicholas and Rachel and Rupert and Istvan were, are, my Misfit and my Hazel and my Mary Grace.

If you’ve got the gift, you’re good at it, and if you’re good at it, we need to hear exactly what your Mary Grace, your Misfit, has to say to us. So please go sit down and write until it’s the best work you can do, until it’s done, and then send it out into the world. Nothing else matters. Just write the words.

Kathe’s website can be found here.

One Response to “Guest-blog spot: KATHE KOJA”

  1. I have read Buddha Boy and Kissing the Bee and liked both of them.

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