MR: Hi Kate, glad you could join us here at Center Stage. You live in Scotland but work as an educator at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York—which tends to keep you hopping back-n-forth across the Atlantic salt pond. Meanwhile I noticed your book SATAN’S SORRORITY is set not far from New York in the state of Connecticut, which your central character Sandra DeLites alludes to as a Godforsaken wilderness. Were you born here in the states? And did you attend college in Connecticut by any chance?
KL: Hahaha—well-spotted there! I did indeed go to a certain state university in the wilds of Connecticut. I moved there from Cambridge and it was a bit of a culture shock. My brother had gone to SUNY New Paltz, so I expected this little college town with cafés and bookstores and there was…cows. Don’t get me wrong! I love the countryside. In the NY half of my life I live in a leafy village. But at that point I wanted intellectual excitement—not moos.
MR: Knowing you teach college courses—and as the title suggests, SATAN’S SORRORITY is set on a college campus—in what ways do think your work in academia has shaped you as a fiction writer? I know for example you write fiction under the pen name Graham Wynd, which I imagine may confuse folks on social media.
KL: My different noms de plume are just a way to label genres. The biggest complaint I hear about my writing is that it’s never the same thing twice. I’m a genre-hopper! I admit it. So when I can stick to a genre—like crime—I use Graham Wynd to reassure readers that it fits. Teaching is where I try out ideas I’m thinking about. Like my Writers on Film course: I’m working on a book about that and I float ideas and let my students tear at them. Sometimes it gives me little epiphanies about the work. Teaching, like all service professions, gives you an opportunity to meet all kinds of different people. Writers always need material. The best thing about academia is the flexible schedule. I was never good at working 9-5.
MR: You’ve described the books you write as “noir-ish.” What do you mean by that phrase? And did you have a particular kind of audience in mind when you wrote SATAN’S SORRORITY, which published in May 2018 if I understand correctly?
KL: SATAN’S SORORITY was in part an homage to some of the favorite horror films I grew up with on 70s television. As for audience, anybody who loves those old made-for-TV horrors and Hammer films will find it fun. I’ve written about that inspiration before, but it’s also noir. For me the appeal of noir is people who feel trapped with few options when a crisis pushes them to make desperate choices. Of course there’s a lot of occult stuff piled on top of that story but the thing to remember is while the gals believe completely in its reality, there’s nothing in the story that can’t be ascribed to over-heated imaginations.
LOVE IS A GRIFT on the other hand is much more purely noir. It takes place across four cities but the ambience is the same in each of them albeit with the local flavour. Dodgy men and seductive women who don’t trust anyone—and why should they? Your heart is a sucker who will let you down every time.
MR: Given the orgiastic sex-capades the gals in SATAN’S SORORITY wildly embrace, their libidos seem more over-heated than their imaginations, Kate. Are you sure “intellectual excitement” is what you were craving when you woke up in Moo-Ville, Connecticut back in the day? A mousey lassie you refer to as “The Demonic Virgin Mary” ultimately proves that actions speak louder than words. Sure the gal’s a headcase—but I admired her enthusiasm. One simply can’t learn everything just by reading books—or chatting in coffee shops.
KL: Experience is the first and most lasting teacher. About my own history I will say memory is unreliable. Was it Proust who said that you can’t remember things like they were or maybe it was Pete Shelley. I forget. There is some bona fide intellectual excitement in the perusal of ancient tomes and I spent a lot of my time in that institution deciphering a lot of texts hundreds of years old.
MR: You recently wrote a musical composition for LOVE IS A GRIFT. And since you study films, if you were directing a movie for SATAN’S SORORITY, how would you portray the sex scenes in terms of audio and visual? Would we more likely see a PG-13 or an NC-17 Adults only rating?
KL: I think SATAN’S SORORITY would have to break through all the milquetoast puritanism and show pure unbridled sexuality as joyful and wild. Pagan feasts of the flesh! Make people envy memories they don’t have. Absolutely a better sell in the European markets—though we’d have to have an alternate cut for China. More silk wafting around like they do in wu xia. I wrote a story years back inspired by one of my favourites, The Bride with White Hair.
MR: The college girls in SATAN’S SORORITY outlandishly behave with reckless abandon—to the point of committing murders. Yet you weave serious threads into this tapestry at times. One of these spurious creatures also gets sucker-punched by love … and not just in the heart. Considering the book’s zany nature, what prompted you to sew these serious patches into this quilt?
KL: Oh I don’t plan anything in life much. Honestly when I started I had a jumble of those old films, an idea about stealing the Munich Handbook and oh murder, as you do. Serious ideas come from my subconscious and we’re not really on speaking terms at the moment.
MR: Oh-oh, Kate—
I recognize that rat-tat-tat—Jesse “Heels” Rawlins just entered stage-right and she’s waggling a knife. Hope you remember those Emergency Exits I shared with you in email ….
Gee, Jess. Surprised to see you here. Thought you were stuck at Flash Fiction Offensive dreamin’ up a scheme to extort Bruce Harris and Bill Baber.
JHR: Nice to see you, Kate. But first of all Mick I would never extort Bruce and Bill. I’d merely make them a “mutually-beneficial” offer they couldn’t refuse: and they’d happily pay us to keep possibly embarrassing photos and tawdry crime details from ever becoming public.
Meanwhile you didn’t seriously think I was gonna leave you and Kate to play Center Stage footsies all night did you?
JHR: That was a rhetorical question, Mick. Everybody knows your mind is always in The Gutter.
As for Dr. Laity, she hasn’t bolted for an exit. So my intuition tells me she wants to play 6 Stabs. Knowing the hounds of hell couldn’t keep Mr. Messy Business Jason Beech from attending this show—and since you cherish these hardwood floors, Mick, I asked Jason to bring a roll of heavy-duty plastic sheathing.
Ha! Here’s Jason right on cue. Guy’s a true professional. Why don’t you dim these lights, and then join your lovely audience. I see one empty seat between Douglas Cronk and The Professor on the center balcony in Julian Gallo’s private box. Jim Shaffer and Paul D. Marks are up there, too. And Beau Johnson’s got paper bags in case you hyperventilate.
For readers unfamiliar with the 6 Stab format, I’ll ask Kate Laity six quick questions. And in turn I get to stab her each time she answers one. So let the fun begin.
JHR: Math ain’t my forte, Kate. But LOVE IS A GRIFT contains about 27 stories of sex, death, and crime—with the central stories that you mentioned taking place across four key cities. What are those four cities?
KL: GRIFT takes place in Galway, Brussels, Helsinki, and Dundee. The short stories after happen all kinds of places: Dundee, New York, Houston, London—yeah, a bunch are in London.
JHR: Do the suspense tales in these four cities all revolve around one particular femme fatale? If so, then what’s her name—and can you share a few bits about her or the demons that drive her?
KL: It is one femme fatale but you can’t ever really be sure what her name is because she uses a different name in each chapter of the novella. When she discovers that a certain kind of men can be wrapped around her finger she finds ways to make that pay. The theme song for the book gives hints about the truth of her story but you’re not going to believe anything she says, are you? I wouldn’t. She’s the kind of woman for whom too much is never enough. Looking for that big score but it won’t give her peace.
JHR: Meanwhile you’ve got a story in this collection titled, “Psycho Motorcycle Dolls.” Sounds like an acid trip. Without giving away the plot what drives the action in this tale about these crazy babes?
KL: A young woman and her too-posh fiancé are going out into the West Country to visit his parents’ place and have her looked over (and probably down on, too). But before they get there they have a run in with a gang of motorcyclists. To their surprise, the bikers are all dames--or is that witches? Anyway, they have a yen for bloody magic and things are about to get real dark. Think Hammer Horror…
JHR: Two part-question; two stabs, Kate. Back in Europe once again, readers will encounter a tale called “Somewhere in Slovenia.” Have you been to Slovenia, Kate? And if you don’t plan much—and you and your subconscious aren’t on speaking terms—how do you choose the locations and settings for your stories? Do you toss knives at wall maps and see where they stick?
KL: I have been to Slovenia! I was invited to the fab Alibi crime writers conference where Renato Bratkovič makes sure all the writers are given superb food, Gora pod Lipo and all the Laško Noir they can guzzle at Bar Grega. All you have to do is write a story to read for the Sunday night presentation in the wine cellar. I highly recommend it. Slovenia is a gorgeous green country. It seemed unkind to write crime stories about it, but all that food! Heh, so I managed it and had fun and then even when I got back found I had a few Slovenia stories to tell—some inspired by Slovenian punk legends Res Nullius. And the other cities in GRIFT I have spent quality time in—I lived in Galway for a year, a good friend used to live in Brussels, I have cousins in Helsinki, and of course Dundee is where I love to be. All the pubs and restaurants are real, of course!
JHL: Since this stiletto-blade has got ya singin’ like a punk canary, how did you wind up writing the musical composition for LOVE IS A GRIFT?
KL: I wanted a title for the novella that captured the feel of noir and mistrust that’s always a part of the genre I guess. Musing about titles in general as I drove around on errands, I recall I was in the parking lot at the bank and I thought LOVE IS A GRIFT and then suddenly it was turning into a song in my head. I scribbled it down on an envelope. I didn’t think it would actually be recorded but why not? I’m grateful to Julie Beman and Eric Bloomquist at Cool Ranch studio for making it happen. They brought in the other musicians that made it really swing. Maybe I’ll hang out a shingle on Tin Pan Alley!
JHR: Well folks, I need to get Dr. Laity stitched up. And Douglas Cronk just handed me a note from Mick and Jason saying, "Your mess, Rawlins. We've hauled ass to do some drinking. You clean up."
Only fair I suppose. But sure glad that you could join us. I'm including some links below for anyone who's interested in listening to Kate's song composition LOVE IS A GRIFT, or reading some of her thoughts on films. One of these influences includes the book, OFF THE RECORD 2-AT THE MOVIES, a charity anthology co-edited by crime author Paul D. Brazill. Y'all stay safe out there. Cheers!