BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Author Interview: Karoline Fritz

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[Today, we sit down for an interview Karoline Fritz. Here, she discusses how her spirituality influences her writing; her novels, The Victorian, and The Story of Arbux; and her future projects.]

BookMusings: How would you describe your personal spiritual path? Do you belong to a particular tradition, or are you more eclectic?

Karoline Fritz:  My personal spiritual path is pretty simple right now, straightforward and (for me) easy to understand. It has taken me twenty-plus years to get to this stage, though. I grew up in a Lutheran home in the mountains of Colorado and learned, soon after my confirmation, that monotheism wasn’t for me. There were too many demands and expectations on me that I was unable to live up to, for which there were no explanations, and through which failures to comply seemed to be unfairly punished. Hell didn’t make sense for an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful god. Jesus didn’t have the time to talk with the little trainwreck that was me, neither did he seem to want to find the time to do so. I began reading fairytales and hearing about the Greek pantheon .…  I secretly harbored a grudge against all my fellow pastel-colored, hot-dish loving congregants and wondered where the magic was. I knew it was there, I could taste it in the air, I could feel magic and smell it in every cell of my body …  but when I entered the church (historic though it was, and bear in mind I still have a special place in my heart for that building) all the magic just vanished and left me feeling empty and judged as a failure. I was a failure at monotheism. I couldn’t stand the idea of a single entity, sitting over me for every second of my life, waiting for me to fail.

It wasn’t long thereafter that Thor bumbled into my life, hung over and grumpy, and explained to me that there was another way; that my ancestors (many) generations back had a relationship with not just the divine, but with every aspect of the magical and mysterious world around them. It was a life that included spirits and ghosts and scary stories and funny stories and punishments and rewards and accidents and surprises and whole, real, living humans who had to make horrible choices under horrible conditions.  

What can I say? I was hooked! I broke up with Jesus at that point. We both agreed we were stronger alone, and amicably separated our stuff and moved into our new lives. He to his life of public adoration and speeches, I to my life of private introspection, growth, and adventure.  

Today I’ve been walking with the gods of my ancestors for well over twenty years and every day I learn something about myself, about the gods, about my ancestors, and/or about the magical world around me. I have learned that the world will pour into me the energy I pour into it. I have learned that a person makes her own luck in this place. I have learned that I am not a trainwreck after all, but that I am an important part of the life path and community that surround me. I have learned how to be a human, unburdened by the chronic fear, the debilitating guilt, the nauseating shame that followed me through childhood. I have discovered magic. I have embraced it. And my ancestors and gods have been with me every step of the way, and will be for the rest of my life yet to come.

BookMusings: How does your spirituality inform your writing?

KF:  It didn’t used to. In high school I was just finding my voice, myself, and trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be. I was often told to “be myself” … but I had no idea who that was supposed to be. Today, my spirituality informs everything I do. Writing most especially. I have learned so many careful lessons in my life’s adventures. My inner self can’t wait to try to share those lessons, albeit gently, with anyone who’ll listen. My cellular programming toward storytelling is a perfect platform from which to spread these tales and lessons and I hope that even just a few people might take my words to heart and treasure the secrets and learn from them in their own lives. What good is a lesson learned if you cannot elevate another person in the same position? If I can learn from my ancestors’ lives, how dare I keep those lessons to myself? Knowledge is something to be shared. I am eager to do so.

BookMusings: Your first novel, The Victorian, combines the supernatural with mad science. How did you come up with the idea for this book? What historical events or elements did you draw on for inspiration?

KF: It’s a funny blend of my own life, actually. Like the dragon and the phoenix, my husband and I together form that connection of Mad Science and Supernatural. I often tell people that I am an imaginary creature, learning to be human …  and that my husband is my Alchemist, my Wizard, my Mad Scientist who studies and treasures me and keeps me on the right path. 

It was a natural blend for me, therefore, to make my first novel something so prominently manifested in my own life. Moreso, it was an obvious choice to place it deep in the mountains that raised me up and filled me with my magic.  

The idea itself came from an awful nightmare I had (as I’ve spent a life of enduring epic, prolonged, and terribly punitive nightmares; vivid, restless, cinematic and horrible). I Immediately told my husband about it, as I often do, and he effectively dared me to turn it into a novel. I had been whining about my mediocrity, how I never finish things, and what was I going to contribute to the world and then my husband just says “That’s a great idea.  Turn it into a novel.” And that’s what I did!

BookMusings: You second novel, The Story of Arbux, centers around the friendship between a boy and a giant. First, why a giant?

KF:  I needed to explore the human condition from the eyes of someone who, like me, couldn’t properly understand it. Arbux the giant was an excellent means through which to allegorize some very simple pieces of psychology with which that I had been struggling. 

In mythology, giants are terrible, frightening, evil creatures. Just like most of the wilderness and wild world has been portrayed since the beginning of human story telling. This was my chance to sort of apologize to the world around me for having accepted those notions when I was younger and admit (to myself, largely) that the world is so much bigger than what most people will ever admit or realize.

Having a lonely, single giant, then; an impossible creature that ought not to exist scientifically; lost and confused in a world that hated and pursued him …  accompanied by a brave young man who had felt nothing but love and inclusion and empowerment …  it seemed like a healthy match to send out into a scary, mean planet and come out stronger on the other side.

BookMusings:  The Story of Arbux weaves back and forth between past and present, as the now-grown boy relates his adventures to his own grandson. How did you go about plotting the story? Did you write it by the seat of your pants? Carefully outline it to keep the different time periods straight? 

KF:  It was a mix of both. My writing style starts with careful plotting, outlining, planning, scribbling, hoping, dreaming, wishing, wanting, inspiring, and copious and delicate note taking. I literally tell myself everything from hair color to the shape and size of the doilies on a neighbor’s couch table, regardless of whether or not that neighbor ever comes into the story. I populate and occupy a world in my own mind and then as things are in motion, I sit back and watch things happen.

And Arbux is a great example of many things taking place for which I had no anticipation, plan, or outline.

I have to let both sides of my brain play, in that respect. If I rely too heavily on the outline, the writing gets dry and forced and it withers in the light of other readers’ needs. If I rely too heavily on chaos and waiting for inspiration to hit me in the moment that my fingers touch the laptop? Well that’s either going to end in frustrated tears or some wandering, dithering, fantastical bucket of goop that will be unintelligible and obscure and worthless to anyone including myself. There’s room for both.  There needs to be room for both in my process. Balance, ya know?

BookMusings: What sort of research goes into your writing? Are you surrounded by piles of books?  

KF: I am, and ever have been, surrounded by the spirits of the past in the form of books full of pages and words just waiting to come alive for my eyes again. I do lots of research. I reach out to people in the great wide world, too, if I find myself in need of a sea captain who can advise me about life in the North Atlantic, for instance. I reach out to family members, or even complete strangers living on ancestral farms who may or may not know something about the places or people I’m trying to breathe life into. I haunt libraries. I watch documentaries. I engage every tool I can discover, like a drug addict, until every single possibility has been consumed and exhausted if needs be. 

I try to start from a place of familiarity, at least, however, which is why I don’t yet have novels about Ethiopia or Guam or deep sea diving. My stories always come from a personal place, and always have a few fingertips in my own private reality. They’re best when they can live next to me in my every day life. That also makes sorting through my research a lot easier because I can quickly discern gibberish and lies from the real thing.

BookMusings: You self-published The Victorian, but released The Story of Arbux through Saga Press. What advice can you offer other writers who are considering the self-publishing route? And, in your experience, how does self-publishing differ from going through a publisher?

KF: Self publishing was a delight. It’s called “vanity” press for a reason and it was, honestly, exactly what I needed at the time. I didn’t want to be the next Neil Gaiman, you know? I just wanted to have something done with a barcode on it and an ISBN. It felt great. It was super validating. It was expensive, and I’m not sure I’m in the black yet, on that investment, but it was a delightful adventure on par with some of my international travels. Well worth the price, in my opinion.

For my second book, when I bumped into Saga Press, it was a game-changer. Not only did I find someone interested in moving product, but I found a team of strong and intelligent individuals who were interested in forwarding the messages and stories I was telling. I don’t have it in me endure ten thousand rejections, and months of editorial negotiations, to make my work marketable to a larger publishing house or their audience. Finding this more magical publishing house made all my wishes come true. I still can’t believe my luck!  

BookMusings: What other projects are you working on?

KF: Oodles! I’m currently struggling with a coming-of-age story for women in their 40’s … of course based in a land filled with magic and superstition and folk-tale narratives. I also have been reading some of my father’s genealogical research and have attempted to turn one of our own true family histories into a smaller story. Beyond that, I have entire hard drives full of short stories, lies, dreams, wishes, hopes, and impossible adventures, all of which are begging for my attention. All of which, Larisa [Hunter of Saga Press] is hoping I will shine up and send her way post-haste. Did I tell you how lucky I am to have her in my life? How lucky am I? All of it. That is how lucky I am. All. Of it. 

BookMusings: Will you be attending any book fairs, conventions, or other events in the foreseeable future?

KF: I did one small author’s fair, years ago. It was fun, but it was also exhausting. I suffer from a common affliction among my writing peers:  people exhaust me. I’m still a very shy person and engaging with groups of people (even friends and family) can drain me. It’s always a healthy and exciting and fun thing to do, and I always enjoy playing the part of a winning, gregarious artist on display. But I do love my little house and my little desk and my little cat and when my brain monsters allow me to be creative and spin my silken stories; that is when I am at my best. Being the artist on display is always a part to play, and I play it well, but it takes energy. Now that I can “be myself,” and I can do so on my own terms, I have a safe place from which to play all the parts I need to play in life.  

 

I don’t think I’ll do lots of conventions. I doubt I’ll ever be on some whirlwind book tour, but every now and then a few public appearances will keep me sharp. So sure, attending these things is on the table. It’s not a priority however.  

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

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