Interview with Kathy Burford

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The Little Golden Book version of THE LITTLE RED HEN apparently made a big impression on me when I was extremely young. The Little Red Hen asks other farmyard animals to help. When they refuse, she says that she’ll do it herself. According to my mother, whenever people would try to help me when I was a little kid I’d say “Hen do,” meaning that I wanted to do it myself.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in Dubuque, Iowa, and grew up in Iowa City. The state’s motto used to be “Iowa: A Place to Grow,” not too catchy but true. Iowans tend to be low-key and mild-mannered. I think that contributes to being aware of nuance and maybe a bit reserved. “Iowa niceness” has become a cliché. I don’t remember where I read it, but someone was contrasting southern expansive storytelling and midwestern terseness. The southerner says: “That bear was so tall that his head scraped the branches as he came roaring like thunder. His claws were sharper than razors” (you get the picture). A midwesterner says: “Mighty big bear.”
When did you first start writing?
I remember trying to type a story at my grandparents’ house when I was eleven or twelve. When my grandfather (who worked for the Telegraph Herald newspaper) asked what I was writing, I was slightly embarrassed to tell him that it was called “The Pride of the Peacock.” It was going to be an old-fashioned gothic suspense novel in the spirit of Victoria Holt (whose maiden name, by the way, was Burford). I didn’t get very far, though.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on HEXED IN TEXAS, another humorous fantasy. It’s set in San Antonio, where excavations at the Alamo have unleashed chaotic magic and activated something rare. The Russian witch Baba Yaga and the granddaughter of Marie Laveau clash when they come looking for it. I dearly love the character of Baba Yaga in Russian fairytales/folktales. As Andreas John notes, she is ambiguous: she might eat you or she might help you. In her traditional version (complete with her hut with hen’s legs) she has a part in my novel ELSEWHEN. But this is the first time that I’ve written from her point of view, which is fun. And I can also use a little Russian (which was my major).
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
It’s fun to create a situation and imagine possible outcomes: sometimes you don’t know ahead of time and actually find out as you write. It’s entertaining to put yourself in the heads of odd and not necessarily human characters and see things from their point of view (for example, being Baba Yaga’s broom). I enjoy making people laugh and making myself laugh. It’s great to share my stories with kindred spirits and reach readers who like the kinds of books that I like myself, often with a quirky twist.
Who are your favorite authors?
I write humorous fantasies myself and love Terry Pratchett’s works, especially the Tiffany Aching series. She’s a great character and the stories make you laugh out loud but at the same time are emotionally engaging. Another favorite fantasy writer is Diana Wynne Jones. And I still like L. Frank Baum’s Oz books for their inventiveness and of course for Ruggedo the Nome (later Gnome) King, who is featured in my book THE WIZARD WARP.

I love a lot of Victorian authors, especially Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens (particularly BLEAK HOUSE), and Wilkie Collins. I’ve read a lot of nineteenth-century social history and would like to write a comic Regency mystery series or maybe a steampunk mystery series. I also like current works set in the period, such as Susanna Clarke’s JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL and Peter Lovesey’s early mysteries.

Mikhail Bulgakov (THE MASTER AND MARGARITA) and Andrei Bely (PETERSBURG) are two of my favorite Russian writers. And I especially like Fyodor Dostoevsky’s NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND, which starts: “I am a sick man, I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased.” How could you not love it? As you can tell, I’m partial to unreliable narrators.
Published 2016-01-14.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Elsewhen
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 69,820. Language: English. Published: December 5, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
(5.00)
Our world (When) and the magic world Elsewhen (ruled by three rival sisters) are being forced dangerously closer together by the merging of technology and magic. As keeper of the stone, can Kayla discover the secret in time to save both worlds? A humorous fantasy for readers of all ages, featuring outlandish inventions, strange illusions, and peculiar characters.
The Wizard Warp
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 53,150. Language: English. Published: October 27, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
(5.00)
Computer role-playing gamer Ruth and her classmate Jesse, a novice player, change places with characters from their games. They are transported to a patchwork world where bits of games are being imported and the rules keep changing. They encounter a completely unexpected antagonist on an island in the middle of a poisoned lake and must learn the secret of how to get back to Chicago.