This is one of an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.
E.E. King is a performer, writer, biologist and painter. Ray Bradbury calls her stories “marvelously inventive, wildly funny and deeply thought provoking. I cannot recommend them highly enough.” Her books include Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife, Real Conversations with Imaginary Friends and Another Happy Ending. She has won numerous awards and been published widely. She has worked with children in Bosnia, crocodiles in Mexico, frogs in Puerto Rico, egrets in Bali, mushrooms in Montana, archaeologists in Spain and butterflies in South Central Los Angeles. Her short story “The Grammarian’s Grimoire” was published in our Autumn 2015 issue.
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3288 Review: How and when did you start writing? Was there a specific event or moment which sparked your interest in the written word?
E.E. King: I wrote when I was very young, but left the pen, and computer, to pursue ballet, theater, painting and biology. About 2002 when I began writing seriously, daily. I was extraordinarily fortunate to have Ray Bradbury as my champion and mentor. He had been in my father’s writing group and I visited him weekly for many years until his death. His greeting was always, “Have you written today?” I can still hear him saying; “I am your Rabbi and your Priest. This is your temple. Now go forth and WRITE!” I have always been a vociferous reader, and I was lucky to have grown up being read to and told stories. I began by writing a children’s book—a story and novel. Then I wrote stories—hundreds of stories—before moving on novels.
3288 Review: Teaching is its own particular skill-set, apart from the skill being taught. Given your experience with Mr. Bradbury, do you also work with up-and-coming writers, as a teacher or mentor?
E.E. King: I love teaching. It is a special skill. Part of the magic of teaching is that you always learn as much as you teach. I have taught for many years – all ages – from improvisational theater, horticulture, biology, art, English and storytelling. Given the right atmosphere even the shyest and dullest student will unearth gems that leave you amazed at the depth of the human heart. Nowadays I’m mostly doing occasional lectures or speaking on panels at conferences.
But I welcome any opportunity to teach and am always happy to help new writers as I have been helped.
3288 Review: Your story “The Grammarian’s Grimoire” falls within the fantasy genre, but with a very light touch, and a feel which is sometimes closer to magical realism than fantasy. Beyond Bradbury, who (and what) were your influences here? Have you always written fantasy or did it grow from other writing experience?
E.E. King: Well – I grew up reading the great short story writers, John Collier, Roald Dahl, Saki—and of course Bradbury, O. Henry, de Maupassant. I love the unexpected twist. I am also a fan of magic realism. I like unexpected image, the rose that smells of sorrow, or desire, the coffee that lies in the bottom of the cup like low expectations, especially when you’re out of cream and sugar.
Naming writers who have influenced, not only my writing, but my work is always difficult, because there are so many and invariably I have to leave out most of them.
I love Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Alice Hoffman, Barbara Kingsolver, Isabel Allende, Mark Twain, Thurber, John Irving, John Steinbeck, Jodi Picoult, E.B. White, T.H. White, anyone whose name begins with “J”, “M” or “R”. Also Shakespeare—I love Shakespeare, and Lewis Carroll…and … I rest my case.
I’ve always written and loved fantasy, especially when it dwells in the those foothills and mists that separate the real from the imaginary, in the borderlands where things merge.
As a child I always imagined I might discover the rabbit hole, or open the closet into another land, so naturally I tend to go there in my work.
Also, studying science makes you realize that the “real” world is often at least as wacky and fantastical as any concoctions of the imagination.
3288 Review: Twain wrote “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” Most of your stories, wherever they end up, seem to start in the real world; in recognizable places. Is it the place which inspires the story, or do you start with a story and then find a place to anchor it? And how do your stories evolve during the writing process?
E.E. King: I like stories that start in the real world, then magic happens. Gods visit earth, ghosts give grammar lessons, slaves turn into butterflies.
Tales begin in different ways. Sometimes it starts with an idea, a place or a plot, others times stories write themselves.The muse dictates and the writer records. That might sound a bit affected. But it’s the way with stories, if one writer will not pen them, they move like an airborne virus, seeking an open mind, and a receptive pen.
Science is the same, it’s why Darwin and Wallace conceived of evolution at the same time.
3288 Review: In addition to writing, you are an accomplished artist. How much do these creative pursuits interact? Have you ever, for instance, had an idea start out on a canvas and end up in a story?
E.E. King: The answer is no. I painted for many years, and now, in my dotage, I write. Now I paint when people pay me, or I get an attractive gig. I have a creative yen toward one discipline at one time. I think it’s not unusual. Evelyn Waugh began as a painter then turned. Not that I’m comparing myself, to Waugh—except in desire. But I think it’s more usual to do one at a time. Ray Bradbury first painted the Halloween tree, then wrote it. But his artistry was always primarily in words. I’ve never written a painting, or painted a story. However now is not the end times, and I plan on a long dotage. I also hope for more attractive gigs! I recently auditioned for a play—this shows that the future holds infinite opportunities. In my real dotage I might return to painting, or maybe I’ll make colorful, tasty porridge. How many dotages can one have? I think every five to ten years, beginning at thirty.
3288 Review: How do you feel your writing has evolved over your career? What have you set aside, and what have you picked up along the way?
E.E. King: I began by writing shorts. I didn’t edit much. Ray Bradbury used to say throw it up in the morning, clean it up in the afternoon and throw it out there—and I did. Now I edit more.
Also, I am on my fifth “real” novel. By “real” I mean one large story, not dozens of connected tales. Writing a novel is more work than the starstruck inspiration of stories.
When I’m writing shorts, ideas fly into and through my head faster than Trump hair jokes on a windy day. In novel mode I inhabit a slower world.
3288 Review: What are you working on now? What will we see from you in 2016?
E.E. King: I published my first novel, Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife: All You Need to Know to Choose the Right Heaven in 2010. It got picked up in Spain in 2012.
In 2011 I published my first shorts collection, Real Conversations with Imaginary Friends. The publisher went out of business, though the book is still available on Audible.
A year later my second collection, Another Happy Ending, came out, also with a small press. This press also went out of business. The book is available on Audible.
I now have four books at very big publishers I’m waiting to hear from. Will they come out this year? I doubt it. The big publishing houses take a long time to decide and a long time to publish. I have some shorts coming out in various anthologies, Futuristica Volume 1 and Nameless Magazine. I always publish a fair amount of shorts. Links can be found on my website, www.elizabetheveking.com.
I just finished a novel, Electric Detective, about a Private Investigator who’s struck by lightning. This supercharges his biophotons, allowing him to see into other dimensions. I’m currently working on a dystopian, magical realism novel about a young woman growing up in a world where Isis has won.