Interview with Kat Michels, author of In a Time Never Known
14 Mar 2018
What can you tell us about your new release, In a Time Never Known?
I don’t pull any punches in this book. There is already so much out there, both fiction and non-fiction, that white-washes the past by sweeping the nastiest bits under the rug until all that remains is a pretty picture of the good old days when things were simpler and better. I didn’t want this book to join those ranks. Therefore, you will find an accurate portrayal of life in the 1800s. Women had no rights and the consequences for stepping out of line was often physical. Enslaved Southern blacks had it immeasurably worse. Even the trusted, favorite slaves who were personal servants in the big house of plantations lived with the constant fear that their every little comfort – I use that word loosely – could be taken away at a moment’s notice by a capricious whim. This was a time of corporal punishment and rampant sexual abuse, and then a war broke out, giving the green light to wide spread violence and upheaval. That backdrop, when painted realistically, is not for everyone. But that is the world in which this story takes place, which makes the actions of the women all the more remarkable. Both my fictional women, and the real-life women who inspired their story.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
This question has been much harder to answer then I thought it would be. I started writing stories and poems as soon as I learned how to write. However, oddly enough, I never considered myself a writer. It was just something that I did, and despite the fact that I did it well, it wasn’t one of the things that I considered a passion. It was more of a compulsion, just something I had to do. In retrospect, I can see the moments where the burgeoning writer in me tried to get out, but got shoved back for one reason or another. The truth of the matter is that for most of my life, if people asked me if I was a writer, my answer was no. It wasn’t until I was in college, for the second time, that a professor asked me to stay after class one day because he needed someone to write the narrative for a documentary, and I was his girl. I told him that I wasn’t a writer, and he very matter-of-factly informed me that yes, I was. He had read all of my papers and I was clearly a writer. As he was not the kind of professor that you ever wanted to let down, I gave it a shot and it turned out he was right. I wrote the narrative, the documentary turned out great, and we won a couple of awards. The next year he tapped me again for a similar project with the same result. Not only was I a writer, I was now an award-winning writer. Not even I could ignore that. At this point, the idea for In a Time Never Known had been working itself out in my head for over a year, so I decided that I was going to write a TV show. It was going to be the next great period drama on HBO or Starz. By this point I was living in LA and one of the first friends I made had worked in the movie industry for years. I pitched her my idea, and she pitched a better one back at me – she said that I was describing a book. That yes, it would make a very compelling TV show, but it needed to be a book first. As before, I gave it shot and she was right. So I don’t know if inspired is the right word to use, as I was more guided into a vocation that everybody could see was a perfect fit, except me.
Who is your favorite fictional character from literature?
Roald Dahl’s Matilda. The girl’s wicked smart, fights back against bullies, and doesn’t let anybody discourage her.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
Bringing a voice to those who have been overlooked; to the stories that have been forgotten. This book is fiction. However, it is based off the lives of real female spies who operated during the war. I have written mini-biographies on several of those Civil War spies as well as other women scattered throughout American history. They did amazing things, yet received little to no recognition for their work simply because they were women. Through my writing, I get to resurrect their stories from the shadows and let them live again – both their real stories, and their spirits through fiction. I love that.
What is a typical day like for you?
An average day for me involves working, in one capacity or another, for 10-12 hours. Monday through Friday you can find me at my day job. Most authors don’t earn enough from their books to live on, especially debut novelists. So I work my 9-5 to pay the bills, and then juggle my social life and writing on evenings and weekends. I would love to say that I have a routine down and everything runs smoothly … however, most days you’ll find me running around like a mad woman trying to keep all of the balls in the air. Until, of course, I say screw it and let everything drop so I can work on one thing. More often than not, that one thing is my writing.
Where is your happy place? Why does it bring you joy?
Hogsmeade – not the fictional place, but the actual place at Universal Studios. Walking through the archway and past the Hogwarts Express you walk into a place of magic that was first viewed in the mind, then in the movies, and finally in real life. It is, of course, all fake, but sometimes you just need to let yourself escape reality and suspend disbelief for a little bit. I live twenty minutes away and have a pass, so sometimes I’ll go and grab dinner at the Three Broomsticks to unwind for an hour or two. Disneyland is a close second for similar reasons. It’s just farther away, so I don’t make it as often.
What scene in In a Time Never Known was your favorite to write?
The battle scene was particularly fun to write. I studied stage combat for seven years, so I got up and acted out most of the fight to help me get the descriptions and the flow of the violence correct.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
Two quotes – “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” by George Bernard Shaw, and “Leap and the net will appear.” by John Burroughs.
I always wind up coming back to these quotes when life gets hard. I’ve had a lot of loss in my life, so the first time I read the Shaw quote, I felt like he was talking to me specifically. Like he was granting me permission to feel seemingly opposite emotions in times of high stress without feeling guilty about it. Just because my mother/aunt/grandfather/friend/etc had died, did not mean that I cared for them less just because I took a moment to enjoy my life. I’m often described as being serious and intense – old-soul gets tossed around quite a bit too – so a reminder to loosen up and have some fun every now and then is a good thing. The Burroughs quote speaks to me because life is too damn short to stand on the cliff looking at what you want on the other side. Sometimes you have to jump and have faith that you’ll grow wings on the way down, a net will appear, or you’ll survive the impact.
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