Distant Shore Publishing interviewed Kate Gragg on her debut novella, The Gentleman Thief. Full of wit and whimsy, this book reflects her love for fantasy, fun and stories of all kinds.
Hi Kate! Tell us a little about your back story
I grew up in the midwestern United States and spent most of my childhood wandering around in the woods and making up stories about what I found there. When I got older, I went to film school to study screenwriting, and now I live in Los Angeles and work on TV and movies in Hollywood.
How did you get into writing?
I got my first professional writing assignment when I was sixteen, when an editor friend of my family’s had another writer fall through and needed a last-minute article for his magazine. I still write for him! In high school, I was heavily involved in theater and won some small playwriting competitions, and in college I branched out into screenplays as well. The Gentleman Thief is my first novel, but it definitely won’t be my last.
How did you come up with the idea for The Gentleman Thief? Where did your inspiration begin?
I always enjoy stories about someone who’s in a place they don’t belong but figures out their own way to succeed anyway. I knew I wanted to tell a story about someone having a fairy tale adventure who wasn’t heroic, or even particularly brave, who has to use other skills like creativity and resourcefulness to succeed. The minute I started thinking about who Joe was I knew he was the type who’d end up in a lot of really improbable scrapes and always find a way out of them, which is how the opening chapter came to be.
Was there any particular themes you were keen to include?
I wanted Joe to be a working-class hero who isn’t impressed by rich people and refuses to take them seriously, and I thought it would be interesting for his first adventure to function as his delayed entry to adulthood. After living in a very small world with very small goals all his life, Joe now has to think about what else is out there. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, and Joe doesn’t leave his willingly. But by the end he’s glad he did.
How was the process of writing The Gentleman Thief?
Slow! At the time I was writing this book I was working three jobs, two of them writing jobs, so finding the time to work on this book was something I had to be very intentional about. I learned a lot about how to put myself in the right frame of mind to write, and I think the next book will go a lot faster.
What do you love most about the fantasy genre?
There’s something thrilling about sitting down to a blank page and knowing that you can put absolutely anything you can imagine on there. Any time the plot had me stuck, the fact that it was a fantasy novel meant I could make up anything I wanted to get out of it. And since Joe isn’t an experienced adventurer, I didn’t have to know any more about how magical things work in this universe than he did.
Who was your favourite character to write?
Clifton Crome. Villains are always fun, and Clifton’s exactly the kind of useless, stuck-up jerk I’d love to see get comeuppance in real life.
What kind of a world did you want to create for your characters?
I wanted to show a world that’s more fun to live in if you’re working-class like Joe, where all the color and excitement is on the streets and in the wild. Being rich in Joe’s world means you have to sit indoors and do what other people tell you to all the time, which is why Lydia would much rather have adventures with Joe.
Who are your favourite authors/books?
Patricia C. Wrede is a huge influence on me, particularly her Enchanted Forest Chronicles series. I like to think I’d handle meeting a dragon nearly as well as Princess Cimorene does. My lifelong love for Damon Runyon comes across in how much fun I had writing the scenes with the gang of thieves Joe falls in with, and I wouldn’t be half as good at writing dialogue for rich twits if I hadn’t read so much P.G. Wodehouse.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Write! Even if you’ve got nobody to read it, even if you don’t know where the story is going, just sit down and write every day. Every page you throw out is a step closer to a page you’ll want to keep.