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Interview: Dawn Kurtagich, award winning horror author

"I say go wild! Use whatever you want to. Throw out the damn rule book. Who made it, anyway? Use whatever you want, only: learn your craft and use these things well."

 In July I had the pleasure of participating in YA Thriller Con for the second year in a row. This gave me the opportunity to interview some talented, wonderful authors and I was lucky enough to have Dawn Kurtagich on the panel. Of course, I invited her to visit my site and was delighted when she accepted. There is so much to learn from Dawn's experience, please read on and dare to tell me otherwise. Welcome Dawn Kurtagich!

GG: What attracts you to this age group and this genre?

DK: Coming of age stories have always fascinated me because they are usually about firsts. There is a novelty about a child or teen experiencing something for the first time with wonder and, yes, with terror—rather than the jaded experience of age. I felt stuck in my teen years for a long time, in my mind, and needed a way to explore thoughts, events and also traumas from that time in my life in a safe way that made it… dare I say: fun? Horror is a safe genre for me. I go to horror when I am scared because the horror I gravitate towards is fantastical and/or otherworldly. I want an escape from real horrors and the intrigue of the supernatural sufficiently distracts and intrigues my mind that I can forget other "real" things for a good long while. I want to look into Pandora's box, but I want to do it in a way that won't end the world. What better way than in the pages of my imagination?

GG: Have you considered writing for adults or children?

DK: Yes, I write for adults, but I can't talk about anything in that area for a little while. Same for children. I want to write in all categories because I exist, mentally, in all those categories. When I first began writing, it was other people who told me where my book fit. I didn't start out writing YA or adult. I wrote for me. Other people shelved me where they thought I fit. As I then learned more about YA I realised that it was a truly precious space that I wanted to live in for a good long time. But yes, I write for children and adults as well. I am too dark to stick to YA and too dorky to stick to adult forever.

GG: Different genres? Would you do so under another name?

DK: I will always write dark, though I have a longing to write a truly uplifting story. I think I have it in me, and when it comes it'll be left-field for a lot of my readers. I would use pen names if I felt that I wanted to divide certain types of story from my main brand. For example any IP work or genres that are vastly different. In the case of different genres, it would be to protect readers who are not looking for the brand of dark I explore with my main pen from experiencing that unwittingly.

GG: Another author once said to me that authors are constantly writing the same book over and over again using different places and characters. Can you comment on this? Do you agree or disagree, why or why not?

DK: I think that can be true. For me, I explore similar themes because they are things I wrestle with in my mind or based on things that have happened to me that I haven't been able to work through yet. The monster within is a big one, partly because of some OCD traits I have with ruminating over the moral nature of things. I am fascinated by a collection of ideas that seem to have stuck to me like barnacles. Power. The nature of outsider friendships. What is belonging? What is the self? How well do we really know ourselves? What happens if we lose ourselves—if we look in the mirror and the person looking back is a stranger? What is reality? The things I revisit tend to be ideas. States of being. Emotions. So, yes. I think this is true.

GG: In one of your podcasts you said you were a big fan of the twist ending and that you love unreliable narrators and red herrings. Are these literary elements that you were always attracted to or did you learn to use them as your writing got stronger? Would you recommend that writers play with these and other devices or only use them if they came "naturally" to their writing?

DK: I love tricks. I love a clever twist. When I read a book and an author manages to totally divert me in a believable way (I despise nonsensical twist endings that make no sense or are a cheat), when they use psychology to bend my own perception—I love that. What skill it takes! What ingenuity and precocity! I was always delighted by them when done well. It's a knife-edge here. So when I learned what these things were, I studied them and I dissected why I enjoy them. In the end it comes back down to intrigue. I simply love a good surprise. I love it when a twist comes and my response is "Of course! My God, that was obvious—why didn't I see that?" And I immediately turn back to page 1 and read again looking for all the things I missed. As to whether a writer uses them: I say go wild! Use whatever you want to. Throw out the damn rule book. Who made it, anyway? Use whatever you want, only: learn your craft and use these things well.

GG: You play a lot with form in your writing --using different fonts, excerpts from other books, outside notes--again is this something that came natural to you? Does this come from a background in poetry or other genres?

DK: This came naturally to me. Honestly, I have no idea how my brain works on the best of days. I follow my curiosity. I follow the weird logic of my dyslexic, brain. Playing with form intrigues me—I focus a lot on the psychology of how a book is digested. How the story is consumed and perceived. I want to have a specific effect, like a niggling thought that you can't get rid of, or a sense of dislocation, or a feeling of claustrophobia. I want to make it an immersive experience. I am visually motivated (I can't read a book with an ugly font or displeasing text to space ratio because I find it intolerable) so I focus on that too. The visual nature of the text laid out on the page. The shapes the words make. The rhythms in the mind. I also just want to play! To amuse myself. House of Leaves definitely had that effect on me and influenced me. It was the first book I read where I was wholly immersed and delighted by what I saw, not just by what was happening. It was a work of art as well as a story. It helps that it also terrified and intrigued me.

GG: What are you working on now?

DK: The only thing I can currently talk about is the sequel to Teeth in the Mist (title not yet released), which comes out in 2023. I'm having a lot of fun with it. I hope to have more to share soonish.

GG: You mention you grew up in a variety of places, including the bush, (full exposure: I have also lived in South Africa and I'm married to a South African) do you still travel a lot? Would you similarly take your own kids traveling? Do you ever locate your novels in Africa?

DK: South Africa is such a fascinating place, but it is also a place of massive trauma for me. I don't think, as of writing, that I would go back. (I still enjoy South African food and music). I do love travelling however, and have a huge bucket-list of places I'd like to visit—Antarctica being one. I've been told that the colours there are astonishing. My travel right now is non-existent because of covid. I'm in a vulnerable category so, for the moment, travel is precluded. If I had children I would absolutely take them traveling. What fun that would be! I have written an adult novel set in Africa closely related to some of the traumas I mentioned earlier, and we'll see if it ever ends up in other people's hands. It's a scary and oddly liberating thought.

GG: Anything you wish to add?

DK: What lovely, thoughtful questions. Thank you.

You're very welcome, Dawn. I have no doubt that readers are grateful for the valuable information you've shared and would love to read more about you. To follow Dawn: 

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