Introducing Our Debutantes: Katherine Karlin

On April 20th, at our 3rd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will celebrate seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we’re interviewing each author about their debut book experiences. This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Katherine Karlin, author of Send Me Work, a captivating collection that includes the story she published with One Story, “Muscle Memory.”

1) Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

We had a visiting author at Kansas State, Dana Johnson, whom I knew from USC where I’d done my graduate studies.  It was a very successful event, and after her reading a bunch of us went to a bar to hang out with Dana for a while.  I got home in the early evening, full of beer, food and companionship, and I lazily checked my email to find the note from my agent that Northwestern University Press would publish my short story collection.  It was a lovely end to an absolutely lovely day.

2) Your collection includes “Muscle Memory,” which you published with One Story in April, 2008. What has happened to you between appearing in One Story and publishing Send Me Work?
Quite a lot.  When One Story published “Muscle Memory” I was living in Los Angeles, working towards my PhD.  By the time Send Me Work came out I was teaching at K-State.  So I went from grad student life to faculty life, and I’d moved from Los Angeles to the town of Manhattan, Kansas.  I wrote a novel in that time, and established my relationship with my agent, Barbara Braun.  I got my first house, and I got my dog.  He’s a Kansas dog.  A rescue.

3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers about turning a group of individual stories into a book-length manuscript?
The revision process was fairly painless.  Most of these stories had been published and I got great advice along the way from some wise editors, Hannah Tinti having been the most rigorous of them all.  Northwestern thought we needed one more story to round out the collection, so I wrote a new one, “Geography,” which is the final story in Send Me Work.  I wrote it the summer that BP was spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and that disaster haunts the narrative.

My stories are not linked by character or setting, but they are linked by the theme of work, and this motif evolved naturally for me.  It is just what interests me, as a writer.  I’m not very big on romance or on domesticity.  Some of the tightest connections I’ve made in my life have been with co-workers, and I wanted to explore those close bonds in my fiction.  So the theme kind of presented itself, and I realized after writing and publishing several short stories that I had a collection.

4)  Many of the stories in Send Me Work have women doing unusual jobs (like welding in “Muscle Memory”). What kind of research went into this collection, and how do your own work experiences play into your stories?

Many of the stories are drawn from my own work experience, particularly the stories that are set in oil refineries.  I worked in a Delaware Valley refinery for several years, and I worked along the Houston Ship Channel.  Like Destiny in “Muscle Memory,” I had a job in the toolshed of a Louisiana shipyard, where I learned how to weld.  I think these experiences helped give a certain depth to the settings, the descriptions of work, and to the characterizations, even though none of these stories is autobiographical.  I also tapped the expertise of my friends.  For “The Severac Sound,” I used everything I learned over the years from Philadelphia Orchestra oboist Jonathan Blumenfeld, whom I’ve known since we were in our teens.  Jane Harris, who is a railroad engineer for New Jersey Transit, taught me a few things about the railroad.  I have pretty interesting friends.

5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?

I’m most looking forward to meeting the other writers whose work I admire, and to seeing my good friend Bonnie Nadzam, the author of LAMB, who has been a mentor to me in so many ways.  I’m proud to have her present my debut.

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