Today, I’m honored to welcome back to the blog the brilliant Kathe Koja, author of some of my favorite works, including Under the Poppy and Christopher Wild. If you’re not yet familiar with the author, Koja is one of our greatest and most daring living writers. Her fearless ingenuity of form and style, and her creative insights into society and humanity, are unmatched since, probably, the British modernists. It’s a thrill to (re)-introduce you to Kathe Koja today as she celebrates the release of her latest, a remarkable collection titled, VELOCITIES.
The difference between short fiction and long, between a story and a novel, between a poem and a story, between an aphorism and a poem, is velocity. The shorter it is, the faster it goes.
This might seem pretty obvious, and it is. It’s the obvious difference between a walk on the breezy cliffside and a leap into thin air, the days spent in another’s company and the quick chance meeting, the long savor of a bottle of wine and the eye-opening heat of a shot of whiskey. What’s short goes fast.
So a piece of short fiction has to be indelible. This doesn’t mean it needs to go for the shocking twist, although it can, or totally over the top, although it can—just like with any writing, the only unbreakable rule is it has to be good; everything else is a suggestion. But something pared down, cooked down, to an essence, brings all of its savor at once, so everything that matters has to be present, and nothing at all that doesn’t. You don’t get a second chance when it’s short.
What speed gives us, too, is intensity. When you’re going very fast, you have to pay real attention, because so much is coming at once, and it’s too easy to miss something essential until it’s much too late. That tightrope intensity is one reason I especially love reading short fiction, and writing it.
Writing a novel is definitely different (I’m busy with my 17th right now, DARK FACTORY), and I always know whether whatever I plan to write needs to be a novel or a story: the germinating feel is different, the width of the inner landscape, the characters’ complications, and to try to make one into the other nearly never works, at least for me. And a short fiction collection has one great advantage over a novel—every story is a new chance to connect with a reader.
I titled my new collection VELOCITIES, because that’s how these stories should operate: the reader is immediately given a moment, a situation, a character, and what happens next is what needs to happen, the resolution, or mystery, or darkness is achieved; and then it’s done. What I’ve tried to do with each story is offer that savor and speed in different ways—historical stories, contemporary stories, weird stories, horror stories—and in different places—the lonely desert, an ordinary strip mall, a high fashion atelier, a long-ago morgue, the quiet back steps—and hope that each story makes its own impression, that its taste lingers, the feeling is still there after the words are gone.
Look, he said. Look at all the stars.
She liked them young, young men; princes.
My job, senhor, was the pull the drapes.
Once, I said to Davey, I saw the Devil plain.
What he carried to her he carried in a red string bag.
Each of these begins one of the stories in VELOCITIES, starts in one place and ends in quite another, each with its own trajectory, each waiting for a reader to come and take the ride.
VELOCITIES: STORIES by Kathe Koja
RELEASE DATE: 4/21/20
GENRE: Collection / Dark Fantasy / Weird Fiction / Horror
SUMMARY: From the award-winning author of The Cipher and Buddha Boy, comes Velocities, Kathe Koja’s second electrifying collection of short fiction. Thirteen stories, two never before published, all flying at the speed of strange. Dark, disturbing, heartfelt and utterly addictive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathe Koja writes novels and short fiction, and creates and produces immersive fiction performances, both solo and with a rotating ensemble of artists. Her work crosses and combines genres, and her books have won awards, been translated, and optioned for film and performance. She is based in Detroit and thinks globally.
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It’s hot in here, and the air smells sweet, all sweet and burned, like incense. I love incense, but I can never have any; my allergies, right? Allergic to incense, to cigarette smoke, to weed smoke, to smoke in general, the smoke from the grill at Rob’s Ribs, too, so goodbye to that, and no loss either, I hate this job. The butcher’s aprons are like circus tents, like 3X, and those pointy paper hats we have to wear—“Smokin’ Specialist,” god. They look like big white dunce caps, even Rico looks stupid wearing one and Rico is hot. I’ve never seen anyone as hot as he is.
The only good thing about working here—besides Rico—is hanging out after shift, up on the rooftop while Rob and whoever swabs out the patio, and everyone jokes and flirts, and, if Rob isn’t paying too much attention, me and Rico shotgun a couple of cans of Tecate or something. Then I lean as far over the railing as I can, my hands gripping tight, the metal pressing cold through my shirt; sometimes I let my feet leave the patio, just a few inches, just balancing there on the railing, in thin air . . . Andy always flips when I do it, he’s all like Oh Jani don’t do that Jani you could really hurt yourself! You could fall!
Oh Andy, I always say; Andy’s like a mom or something. Calm down, it’s only gravity, only six floors up but still, if you fell, you’d be a plate of Rob’s Tuesday night special, all bones and red sauce; smush, gross, right? But I love doing it. You can feel the wind rush up between the buildings like invisible water, stealing your breath, filling you right up to the top. It’s so weird, and so choice . . . Like the feeling I always got from you, Baby.
It’s kind of funny that I never called you anything else, just Baby; funny that I even found you, up there in Grammy’s storage space, or crawl space, or whatever it’s called when it’s not really an attic, but it’s just big enough to stand up in. Boxes were piled up everywhere, but mostly all I’d found were old china cup-and-saucer sets, and a bunch of games with missing pieces—Stratego, and Monopoly, and Clue; I already had Clue at home; I used to totally love Clue, even though I cheated when I played, sometimes. Well, all the time. I wanted to win. There were boxes and boxes of Grampy’s old books, doctor books; one was called Surgical Procedures and Facial Deformities and believe me, you did not want to look at that. I flipped it open on one picture where this guy’s mouth was all grown sideways, and his eyes—his eye— Anyway. After that I stayed away from the boxes of books.
And then I found you, Baby, stuffed down in a big box of clothes, chiffon scarves and unraveling lace, the cut-down skirts of fancy dresses, and old shirts like Army uniforms, with steel buttons and appliqués. At the bottom of the box were all kinds of shoes, spike heels, and a couple of satin evening bags with broken clasps. At first I thought you were a kind of purse, too, or a bag, all small and yellow and leathery. But then I turned you over, and I saw that you had a face.
Many thanks to Kathe Koja for stopping by Roof Beam Reader again! If you’re already a fan of Kathe Koja’s work, I hope you’re as excited for VELOCITIES as I am. If you’re new to her work, welcome aboard! You won’t want to miss this.