K. A. Laity is the author of Pelzmantel, Unikirja and many other easier to spell titles. She is Associate Professor of English at the College of Saint Rose and writes a weekly column for the global women’s lifestyle network, http://www.bitchbuzz.com/. She also writes romance as Kit Marlowe (http://www.kit-marlowe.com/) and erotic romance as C. Margery Kempe (http://www.cmkempe.com/).
Now…please sit back, sip on your favorite beverage and enjoy getting to know K.A. Laity:
GRACEN: For many of us, September brings the start of NFL and College Football. In the confines of these games, many writers find inspiration for stories and heroes. In honor of these forces of nature, we want to know…Do you watch NFL or American College Football or both? Neither? Or, are you the type of person who thinks of a round, black and white ball when you hear the word, "football"?
K.A.: I don't watch American football. It's incredibly boring to me. Ten seconds of action and then lots of standing around in armour so thick you can hardly see the human. Real football on the other hand is a lot more fun.
GRACEN: Personally, I like all that armor when it's my child playing the game. I don't know how he moves, but I like it! =D What is/are your favorite NFL (or college) Football team(s)? If you don't watch the game or have any favorite teams, do you know someone who does? Who is this person to you and what is (are) his/her favorite team(s)?
K.A.: I have friends who support Arsenal and friends who support West Ham so I cheer according to whoever it is I'm with. I have a friend who supports Man U, but I won't cheer them.
GRACEN: As with any sport, many of us American Football fans have favorite players. Do you have a favorite NFL (college) player? Who is it and why do you like him? If not, does anyone you know have a favorite NFL (college) player? Who is this person to you, who does he/she like and why?
K.A.: I grew up playing sports. There were four baseball diamonds and a football field behind my house. So for me, sports are for playing not watching. I've never understood the hero-worship of athletes.
GRACEN: I agree, K.A. I don't get the hero-worship of athletes either, but even my boys suffer from it. While not every area has an NFL team to call their own, most areas have a college team, and in some cases more than one and books like Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger have brought to the forefront the popularity of college football and how it can make or break careers and people's lives while the movie We Are Marshall told the true story of how college football can impact an entire town. How strong is college football (NCAA or lower divisions) in your area? If American Football isn't present, what is the big college sport in your town and what college(s) is (are) the best in that sport?
K.A.: I'm delighted to be in a contested zone sports-wise (upstate NY near the MA border). There are as many Mets and Yankees fans as Red Sox fans, and football is evenly spread between various teams whose names escape me, so there's no monolithic fan base. Living in Texas was hell: football is a religion there (so is Christianity, apparently).
GRACEN: LOL So true, K.A. Football is a religion in Alabama just like in Texas, people eat, sleep and breathe college football. So, if you're not into American Football, what sport is your favorite? What's your favorite team and why? Who is your favorite player?
K.A.: If I must pick a sport, it's croquet. My favourite player is me with a cold beverage in my hand and a fetching hat on my head. I do have a crush on Mesut Özil, though.
GRACEN: Hey, I like playing croquet! Some fans cookout, gather with family and friends or go to a sports bar to enjoy good food and beer while watching the game. What kind of festivities do you (or have you) participate(d) in for a game of your favorite sport?
K.A.: Well, I spend the summer watching the World Cup in various pubs around London. The city hummed with the sound of vuvuzelas. It was good.
GRACEN: Watching a game on TV certainly isn't as exciting as actually being part of the crowd. In many areas (Wisconsin and Alabama being big ones since this occurs everywhere for every sport as long as weather permits), people arrive at the stadiums early to cookout, drink beer and socialize with other "tailgaters". Some even get into the act by playing a rag-tag game of impromptu football with people they don't know. What kinds of pre-game activities and food can be found in the parking lot before, "the big game"?
K.A.: I would like to think champagne brunches with caviar and lobster thermidor accompanied by wit rivaling the Algonquin Roundtable, but I suspect I would be mistaken.
GRACEN: Your pre-game activities would probably be more entertaining, K.A.! As with any sport and any fan with favorites come the not-so-favorite and sometimes downright hated teams and or players due to rivalries, ethical or not-so-ethical reasons. Are there any teams and or players that just get (or got) on your nerves more than any other? Who is the team/player and why?
K.A.: England's team in the World Cup this year was atrocious. They lost me £10. At least I got it back in ale.
GRACEN: We've had our fun, now, let’s switch gears and focus on your writing, K.A.…Since we enjoy reading as much as we enjoy writing, tell us, what books/authors are you reading right now? Why these books, why these authors?
K.A.: I'm reading Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus because she figures in my next project; I'm reading a biography of Dorothy Parker because I am addicted to writer bios and I love Parker's wit; I'm reading a book on Night of the Hunter that a friend lent to me. I don't generally read much fiction, but I have a manuscript from a fellow writer that I can't wait to read, except I also have a manuscript that my editor just sent back, so I'll have to work on that first.
GRACEN: There are many reasons that bring us to the genres we write in and many more that keep us from writing in the genres we love. Is there an element or genre that you love and enjoy reading but will never use yourself? Why?
K.A.: I don't think there's anything that I would rule out. My problem in establishing my "brand" as the PR mavens call it, is that I write across genres so much of the time and create mash-ups that don’t quite fit any particular genre: interstitial is the only way I can be.
GRACEN: Heroes and heroines can be anything we choose to make them, whether the girl next door or the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. With your latest novel/story that we're promoting here today, Pelzmantel, how would you classify the hero and heroine? Why did you choose (do you think your muse chose) to write them that way? (Without giving too much of the plot away, please share with us a bit of dialogue between the hero and heroine to demonstrate what makes you classify the hero and heroine the way you have, thanks!)
K.A.: For the names, I chose two of the most hated characters in the medieval Icelandic novel, Njal's Saga, Hallgerd and Mord. I'm perverse that way. They're both royals, but he's been a pampered young man and she was raised in exile. When they first meet, things don't go well. Oh, and her friend Nana (our narrator) has become a fox:
GRACEN: Oooo…that snippet ended much too early! I wanted to read more. Since every good story needs a villain to make it interesting, tell us about Pelzmantel: Who is the villain (if a big part of the story is the mystery of the villain, we'll let you be vague,=)!)? What does he/she look like and what is his/her personality?
The lad below us offers his hand up to help Hallgerd step out from the hollow of the tree. She clutches me tight. I get only the briefest glimpse of the lords and ladies gathered below, arrayed in their bright hunting clothes, before Hallgerd turns and makes her slow way down the trunk of the tree behind the nimble youngster. Reaching the soft ground, the princess faces the curious crowd, chin in the air and arms wrapped possessively around me.
“Well, well, quite a wily prey we have caught today, eh friends? Pray tell, Karl, what do we call such a creature? I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a pelt as this!” The smiling king reaches out to Hallgerd’s mantel and strokes the soft fur. I growl as menacingly as I can and he pulls his hand back nervously.
“Goodness! Perhaps we should let the huntsmen take care of that creature for you, little one.”
“Never! You shall not touch her—him!”
Fortunately, the young king find amusement in this sharp girl. “Do you know who you address, my fine lady?” He turns to the hunting party with a sizable grin. They take their cue and titter appreciatively as he continues to scold Hallgerd, who remains sullenly—and wisely—silent. “Why, I am the king. You do not wish to displease the king, now do you my dear?”
Hallgerd takes another tack. “This fox saved my life. I owe it protection.”
That really makes the king guffaw. “Such a noble lady! Whom do I have the honor to address?”
“I am no one of any importance…your majesty,” Hallgerd adds with distaste. She casts a discerning eye over his own wardrobe, an excess of finery seldom seen in her more practical world.
“No one of importance? Yet you are dressed so well. I do not recognize the cut of your coat, but it is a very fine mantel—surely you come from a dukedom nearby? Perhaps to the south, where they get more of the sun?” He brushes a very pale hand against her soot-blackened cheek. A couple of the ladies shriek with laughter at that,
waving their handkerchiefs at his recklessness.
“I am no one and nothing but a poor kitchen maid,” Hallgerd replies through clenched teeth, “this cloak my only treasure.”
“But what are you doing in the woods, child? So far from home?”
“I—I ran away,” Hallgerd says and I see the gleam of the story-teller in her eye. Go with it, my girl!
“Ran away? Dear me!”
“My parents wanted me to marry a warty old man and I couldn’t bear it because he was so unkind. So I ran away—many days—until I was nearly captured by evil robbers, but this fox—he saved me…”
“How did he do that?” the king asks breathlessly.
“He—he ran at them, barking and growling. They thought it was a wolf, I believe, and they were quite frightened.”
The king steps a little closer but keeps away from my muzzle. “And this fox? Why do
you think it helped you, child? Do you enchant animals regularly?” More laughter from the lords and ladies follows this suggestion.
“No, I do not. But he is one of the animals whose pelt is sewn into this cloak so we have special bond. We must protect each other.”
“Fascinating! What shall we call you, my child?”
“They call me Pelzmantel for my coat of many furs,” Hallgerd replies, burying her face in my fur.
“Well, little Pelzmantel, your story has touched my heart. Shall I rescue you from your woodlands adventure and give you shelter in my kitchen?” He chortles at his gallantry to one so unlikely, but notices his fine lords and ladies murmur restlessly now. “I know my cook can always use a good kitchen maid. Are you a hard worker?”
“Yes, your majesty.”
The king already walks away, bored with this novelty. “Well, if you can keep up with the horses, follow us back to the castle and I’ll put you to work in the kitchen. Come, ladies, gentlemen! Let us return to the castle and enjoy the fruits of the hunt.” They turn away from us and mount their fine horses.
K.A.: His name is really Maldachta, which is Old Irish for "evil speaker" but he gives his name as Thomas, which was the name of someone I particularly detested at the time I wrote it (beware the writer's wrath!). He has insidious charm, which is the kind of thing that really provokes me. I see through people like that and can't understand why others don't.
GRACEN: Besides a villain to create havoc, every good story needs conflict (some problem to be resolved) to make it interesting, tell us about Pelzmantel: What is the major conflict? How does it affect the characters' lives in the story?
K.A.: The novel is a retelling of the Grimm tale, All Fur, which is a kind of donkey skin fairytale. The princess who is denied her heritage must live in disguise in exile. Her father—who tried to marry her—is left behind with the evil Thomas, the land falls into disarray, the princess works as a kitchen maid and Nanna trades skins with a fox.
GRACEN: What scene did you have the most fun creating and why? (Please, without revealing too much of your plot, share some of that scene with us!)
K.A.: My favourite is when Nanna convinces the fox to trade skins while she is imprisoned. There's magic and cajoling but the real reason the fox agrees is surprising and, I hope, touching.
GRACEN: Some authors have trademark elements or personality traits that can be noticed in every book they write. Do you have any trademark elements or personality traits that tend to pop up in your books whether you want them to or not? (Example: Many of Amanda Quick's Regency era heroines are considered "originals" and are on the fringe of society even if socially accepted in certain "polite" circles.) What are some examples?
K.A.: I like to think humour is one of my trademarks. My characters usually use humour to cope with the terrible situations into which I throw them. Not surprisingly, my characters are often liminal figures with a foot in at least two different worlds. In my next novel, Owl Stretching, this becomes quite literal.
GRACEN: What is your favorite kind of ending for a book (dramatic, action-packed, typically tied with a big red bow, suspenseful, cliffhangery, low-key, etc.)? Is this evident in the ending of Pelzmantel? Why or why not?
K.A.: I don't know that I'm enamoured of any particular kind of ending. Every story has it's own trajectory. You can guess that as a fairytale, Pelzmantel ends satisfactorily, though there is some ambiguity. Evil seldom simply disappears. I don't like things to wrap up too neatly most of the time, but I also write romance which has to do so.
GRACEN: What do you hope readers take with them after reading your story?
K.A.: I want people to see the magic of the Middle Ages: the real magic! There's an essay in the back of the book that explains some of the things I used in the story and the way people looked at magic back then. I can't seem to help being a teacher.
GRACEN: Sounds fascinating, K.A.! Best of success with all your novels. Your Pelzmantel cover is fabulous, so kudos to whoever the artist is! It was a joy and pleasure to have you join us today.
A woman who's a fox—a kitchen maid who's a princess—and a walnut with a wardrobe!
I run off into the night. Patches of late snow still lie on the ground here and there and I run through them exhilarated by the sharp coldness of it on my fur. Everywhere are scents! I can recognize many of them but not all. I can still smell the dampness of the dark cell, even the unevenly cooked fowl on the dish. The pungent aroma of the ointment overpowers my senses and I stop at one of the irregular piles of snow to wipe the bulk of it from my forehead. Better but still the scent lingers, amazing!
I run across the courtyard, fearless, easily, my four legs flying with the easy joy of it. It is difficult to pull my mind back to the task at hand. I want to run and run and run. I have not felt this energy for many a year, maybe not since childhood. And he called himself old! He does not know age yet. I admire the play of my muscles—musical!—and jump whenever I can, over bushes, over logs, over snow banks.
Skirting the village itself, I head out toward the south, casting around for the scent of the princess. It distresses me, though I am not surprised, to find that I pick up almost immediately the smell of the hunting dogs. They were tracking her after all, though surely since night fell they had to return and wait for morning light. I don’t need it.
I follow the dog tracks for some time and finally, as the pack spreads out, beneath their odor I sniff the beautiful scent of lavender and rose—the princess! It is unmistakable. Unfortunately, the tracks of the hounds continue to follow her too. Surely, I scold myself, if they had captured her Thomas would have come to me to gloat. They cannot have caught her yet.
At the first stream I can see where she has waded downstream to try to throw the dogs off the scent. Many tracks line the banks in a wild riot of smells and confusion. But a trampled area shows that they found her trail again and hurried after it. Too bad. But my princess is wise. At the next stream, she wades even further though surely that night was very cold and she must have suffered for it after. I hope her mantel has kept her warm, a good gift to have and no mistake. But the dogs eventually discovered her track far down the stream and were off once more in pursuit. Again I feel a stab of fear. Has she made it, is she still free?
At the third river I lose her entirely. So too did the dogs. Footprints of the dogs and trackers wander for miles up and down the stream…and then turn back. They lost the trail! Hurrah! But now I realize that I have as well. And despite my initial elation, I am beginning to feel tired and cold. No warm fire to keep the chill away tonight. Where did she go? I wander up and down the river for some time. What should I do? Find a place to sleep and begin again in the morning? Ah, but the scent is already faint, perhaps it would be gone by then and if it should rain, ah, then what?
I sit down on the bank and curl my tail around my paws. It does help to warm them. I look around the banks of the river where I last smelled Hallgerd’s scent. What did she do to foil her pursuers? It seems an unremarkable stretch of land, if anything the banks are rather tall and the trees are old and tall, their branches spreading across the sky, hiding the moon’s new face. A glimmer of an idea pops into my head. I look up and down both sides of the brook. A ha! A likely one over there. I splash through the cold water, convincing my toes that this is essential work and that we will soon be with the princess and warm. On the other side, I look up. Yes, with a desperate jump, she could have made it to that low-hanging branch. But how to tell? My body is much too small now to make such a leap. If only I could be sure—maybe? Is it only wish furthering the hope that I catch a slight whiff of rose?
I walk around the mammoth tree which must be at least as old as I am. If she did climb up there, where did she go next? I look around to the big oak’s neighbors. There—that one, surely. Not quite as huge, but sturdy, a low branch that she could easily have reached, intermingled with the oak’s own branches. And from there? No where to go but into that thicket of pines. Certainly though, they could not hold her weight, nor even mine, little creature that I am now and yes! There! Broken branches and the lovely perfume of lavender and first roses. Clever girl!
Places where you can find K.A. Laity:
Buy link: http://www.immanion-press.com/info/book.asp?id=394&referer=Hp
Book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjbzVflTCq0
Chapter One: http://www.scribd.com/doc/36865887/Pelzmantel-Excerpt