Women In SFF Author Spotlight – Liz Kerin (THE PHANTOM FOREST)
Liz Kerin is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and author, who earned her degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her debut novel THE PHANTOM FOREST was released by publisher Inkshares in 2019 and she is currently working on a follow-up. She is based in Southern California where she lives with her husband and two unruly dogs.
Welcome to the Hive, Liz. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Well, it’s STILL quarantine where I live, so I’ve been reading quite a bit! I’m in the middle of Kindred by Octavia Butler right now—which has been a major thrill so far. I also recently finished Circe and My Dark Vanessa, both of which probe so many interesting themes about women, particularly this idea that women must feel free—and safe— to tell their own stories.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Okay… so… confession time, I do not play D&D and have zero context. But I love elves. Elves of all kinds, but particularly Tolkien elves. And I’d love to wield a badass golden trident. I guess I’m a sea-elf? Listen, I’m bad at this game but I love it.
Sea-elves sound fine to us!
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I’m a major plotter who makes hundreds of playlists. I do not, however, always stick to my outline nor do I always listen to my playlists when I’m writing. I like to let the characters show me who they are and tell me what they’d actually do in a given situation instead of forcing the narrative I outlined. But I can’t start without that outline, I need a compass of some sort—even if I smash it into a million pieces by the end. As for my playlists, I use them for long hikes in the woods where I go to think about my project and what’s going to happen next. When I’m actually writing though, I often need complete silence. My snoring dog provides enough of a soundtrack.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
When I was ten years old, I read two books that completely changed my perception of what a story could be and made me want to become an author myself. Both were fantasy/speculative fiction by female authors: The Giver by Lois Lowry and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I was bowled over by the worldbuilding and the coming-of-age themes really spoke to me. As an adult, it doesn’t get any better than Margaret Atwood. I have “Nolite Te Bastardes Caborundorum” tattooed down my spine and I’m furious we do not yet have our MaddAddam TV series. All I do is try to dreamcast this show. I dream of working on a screen adaptation of one of her works, as I’m also a TV writer.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Quarantine TV viewing has been all over the place for me. I’ve been watching Mrs. America and the newest season of Westworld, but I’m also watching 20-year-old seasons of Survivor. Most of all, I’ve been on my Switch playing Animal Crossing. I just got all the fruits yesterday and learned to plant money trees! I’m all over the subreddit and I love playing with my friends. It’s the purest, most soothing way to take a break from all the turbulent news.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
I’d drive up the California coast to Big Sur and go camping with my dog. There’s nothing I love more than coastal road trips, it’s when I feel most relaxed and when I get my best ideas. I love the moment where you enter the woods and lose cell service. It’s like traveling to another dimension.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I can’t say too much but I’m very excited! It’s a speculative horror/fantasy novel (not YA – this skews more adult/NA) about mothers, daughters, and monsters. It has a coming-of-age element that’s deeply personal for me. I’m also working on a play and have a movie and a TV project in development. I’m always typing away in multiple mediums!
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most helpful advice is to listen so you can hear the note-behind-the-note. Don’t go blue in the face defending your choices. Figure out why someone feels something isn’t working. This goes double for listening to your sensitivity readers. Take them at their word if they say something rubs them the wrong way.
Least helpful? Probably this idea that you MUST write every day. I have to take days off, especially when I’m working on multiple projects and if any of those projects are deeply personal in nature. It’s the same reason I can’t go to therapy and unload for 7 consecutive days. If you’re cutting your heart out and pasting it into your work, be kind to yourself and take breaks if you need them.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I buy special “writing candles” that I only light when it’s time to get to work, and if it’s nighttime I’ll treat myself to a glass of wine. I often change scenery, too. Pre-quarantine I had three different cute cafes I’d rotate between. Nowadays, I go to the garden on my balcony and bribe myself with homemade dirty Chai lattes. Bribery with food and drink is key. If none of the above work, I know it’s time to take a day off. I’m pretty attuned to that.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Ancient Greece. I’d go immediately and never come back. I want to commune with the gods and oracles, hang with some cute water nymphs, and direct a tragic play.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
I love a woman who’s not afraid to be angry. Women seeking vengeance and justice are my absolute favorite. But she should not be ashamed of her softness. She cries if she needs to. She wants to feel love and wears her heart on her sleeve. She gives herself permission to be whole. A character I really fell for was Sister Night on the show Watchmen. She embodied all of these qualities. I loved her with every fiber of my being and I hope we see more like her.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Speaking of powerful women thirsty for vengeance, the book DEVIL’S CALL by J. Danielle Dorn packs a huge punch. This is a visceral, compelling story of a pregnant, persecuted witch in the old American West seeking revenge after her husband is murdered. It was released by my publisher in 2017 and I scream at everyone to read it.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
My work centers female characters who aren’t afraid to be angry and messy, set against cinematic, fantastical backdrops. I want to transport you to another world and introduce you to whimsical characters who might seem on the surface like they’re not of this Earth… but when you take a deeper dive you realize you know them and you love them.
Thank you so much Liz!