Please help me welcome Kitty Shields with a fun interview and her new release!
Please tell us a little about yourself, where are you from? Where do you live now? Family? Pets?
- Although I’ve lived in a few cities like L.A., Boston, Albany, right now I’m just outside Philly which is where I grew up. Interesting facts about me: I once helped move a curl of the Statue of Liberty, I started a Bookbinding Barbie Instagram account and she traveled around the country, and I’ve taken art classes in the back of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I have a black cat named Jinx, who I wanted to name after the cat from Hocus Pocus, but I remembered it wrong. (That cat’s name is Binks; can you blame me?) Generally, I’m an all around geek girl.
Where did you get the idea for Pillar of Heaven? Was there anything unusual, any anecdote about this book, the characters, title, process, etc, you’d like to share?
- Pillar of Heaven came from the frustration of being stuck in a barista job post-college and trying desperately to get out of it. It was right before the 2008 recession, the economy was incredibly slow. No one was hiring and it felt like my entire generation was stuck. In response, I started writing this story and it’s evolved with me as I learned how to write. It’s set in Boston, which is where I was living at the time, and a lot of the places mentioned in the book are real. I did a #traveltuesday tour on my Instagram through a lot of those places to give readers an idea of where things occur. The funniest thing about Pillar is that the evil boss, Mr. Waites, is named after my boss at the time who was, in fact, the nicest guy ever. I really needed a surname though and I was so burnt out I couldn’t think of anything and then Waites stuck.
Are there any tricks, habits or superstitions you have when creating a story?
- For me, my biggest “trick” is allowing myself to daydream. I don’t think people let themselves do that anymore, like give themselves time and space to space out. We’re conditioned to be always on the go, always moving. There’s this collective image we have of a writer sitting at a computer or in front of a blank writing book and being struck by lightning as the story magically flows out of them. Conversely, writer’s block is staring mournfully at the blank screen or page just waiting. It’s weird. I am constantly composing in my head. Whether that’s during my commute or in the shower or just lying on the couch—I spend time with my characters prompting them with new conflict and seeing what happens. When it feels right for that moment in the story and those characters, I’ll commit it to the page. And later I still might delete it. That’s okay. Like with any creative endeavor, you have to learn to let bits go.
- My other trick is to not rush the story. If I hit writer’s block, I save, close out that document, and open another. Usually, I have anywhere from ten to fifteen stories in progress. Some, like Pillar, I’ve had for years and the story just isn’t there yet. I don’t worry about it. It’ll be finished when it’s ready or it won’t. I think, in this way, I’m on George R.R. Martin’s side of the time debate.
What book have you read that you wish you had written?
- I’d have to say Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson. She writes these sharp literary books that weave myth, identity, and tragic love together. Sexing the Cherry follows a few characters including the Dog Lady, a giantess who breeds dogs on the banks of the river Thames. Another character is the Dog Lady’s son Jordan, who goes on the journey with Darwin to the Galapagos and also falls in love with one of the twelve dancing princesses. It’s not a long book, but Winterson has this ability to cut with her words. I have legitimately flinched while reading her books, or stopped and put the book down, taken a deep breath, and had to marinate on a sentence I just read. She is not for everybody. And I don’t think it’s that she’s super profound or her work is life-changing. I do think she writes on a wavelength that affects me. My work tends to be a little absurd and (hopefully) funny, but I would love it if it’s on a wavelength for someone else. That my work affects them, in a good way, and stays with them the way Winterson stays with me.
Do you have another occupation, other than writer? If so, what is it and do you like it?
- I am a certified bookbinder. Yup, that is still a thing. I do repair work, build custom boxes, and rebind books so that they look like they came out of the Hogwarts library. A few years ago, I did an internship with the National Parks Service, working on conservation for books from the library of FDR. That was super cool. Bookbinding is a great compliment to writing. Writing occupies the mind, whereas bookbinding forces you to slow down and be patient, while it occupies the hands. It’s sort of my resting space from writing.
What do you love that most people don’t like and wouldn’t understand why you do?
- Philadelphia. No, seriously, as a city we are inordinately proud of ourselves and, let’s be honest, we don’t have real reasons to be. Our sports teams are meh, our fans are aggressive, and we beat up Santa Claus. But when you’re born here, you are genetically coded with this ridiculous pride in Philly. We love our pretzels, cheese in a can, and wooder ice. Linguists have studied our colloquial terms because they are unique in the entire U.S. Exhibit A: jawn, which can mean anything depending on the context. We have a museum dedicated to medical oddities. We were founded by a Quaker and have one of the highest murder rates in the country. If you had to categorize the “Philadelphian Spirit” it would be a poltergeist. But I can’t help it; I love this city.
What do you want readers to come away with after they read Pillar of Heaven?
- Honestly, I just want people to enjoy themselves. This is not a book intended to change your life. It’s about the absurdity of life, from coffee culture to corporate espionage to classic rock. If you come away feeling like it was money well spent, I’d be happy.
What actors would you like in the main roles if your book were made into a movie?
- I actually have this up on my website here.
What is your favorite quote?
- “All times can be inhabited, all places visited. In a single day the mind can make a millpond of oceans. Some people who have never crossed the land they were born on have traveled all over the world. The journey is not linear, it is always back and forth, denying the calendar, the wrinkles and lines of the body. The self is not contained in any moment or any place, but it is only in the intersection of moment and place that the self might, for a moment, be seen vanishing through a door which disappears at once.” From Sexing the Cherry by Winterson
What do you want your tombstone to say?
- Boo! No other words on the front, just “Boo!” and then a side plaque saying there is no body here, just a writer who has a terrible sense of humor.
Your favorite Place you’ve visited
- Edinburgh. Would totally visit again. Would live there if I could get a visa. That city just has history in its bones. Like you can feel it walking around. I loved it. 10/10 would go again.
Thank you, Kitty. Such an interesting and fun interview. I am fascinated that you’re a bookbinder. Very cool. I laughed at your comments about Philly. Although…your sport teams haven’t exactly been meh lately since the Phillies went to the World Series and the Eagles are in the Super Bowl! 😀
Do you stop assassins from killing your evil boss or help them out?
With the holidays looming and student loans coming to call, Kate McGovern needs to find a good-paying job and fast, preferably away from the masses of caffeine junkies and coffee snobs. But finding a job sucks. Finding your first proper job after college when you have no experience and no idea what you want to do really sucks. Then Kate’s favorite customer puts her up for an executive assistant gig with one of the richest men in Boston. And suddenly, Kate’s luck has changed. The catch? Her new boss expects her to read his mind. Literally. And she’s pretty sure he’s evil. No big deal. First jobs are always tough, right?
“I’m sorry,” Kate said. “We’re out of the cinnamon dolce syrup.”
In response, the man glared at Kate as if she, personally, had gulped down all of the cinnamon dolce syrup in the back room moments before he walked in just to spite him. Kate couldn’t really blame him. Honestly, she thought of doing things like that all the time. She called it coffee espionage, and it got her through the day.
For example, she’d spent the better part of the morning rush imagining grabbing a bottle of syrup, cinnamon dolce or otherwise, shaking it like a soda can, and spraying it all over the line of customers. Kate could just see of all those housewives with their Gucci bags and businessmen with their Rolex watches dripping with sticky, flavored syrup. It appealed to Kate on a deep level. This was coffee espionage, and Kate was a master. At least in her head. And also when she gave awful people decaf espresso instead of regular because they deserved it.
Coffee espionage was what kept Kate sane. Sometimes she wondered if she could be convicted of coffee espionage. Then she wondered if jail was better than the post-college slump and surmised, in this economy, it probably was.
Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GFV95K5
Kitty Shields (she/her) lives outside Philadelphia, where she writes to overcome the fact that she was born a middle child with hobbit feet, vampire skin, and a tendency to daydream. In her spare time, she binds books, takes bad photos, and tries to avoid the death traps her cat sets for her. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University in 2015 and has been published in several journals including The After Happy Hour Review, Furious Gazelle, and Sick Lit among others.