Kate Folk on Conveying Emotion in a Way That Feels Authentic Yet Unfamiliar

Kate Folk on Conveying Emotion in a Way That Feels Authentic Yet Unfamiliar

An interview with fiction writer Kate Folk, for The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Kate Folk grew up in Iowa. In 2008 she moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco for no real reason, and continues to be glad she did. Her fiction has appeared in places like Word Riot, Colorado Review, Puerto del Sol, Gigantic Sequins, and the Tin House blog. She’s attended residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Vermont Studio Center, and was a 2014 fellow at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Kate currently serves as Associate Fiction Editor for the journal Your Impossible Voice and teaches writing at San Quentin State Prison through the Prison University Project. Find links to her work atkatefolk.com and hit her up on Twitter @katefolk.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I tell them I’m a teacher and if they press for details I say that I teach English and specify to adults, not kids. I don’t mention writing to people unless I’ve warmed up to them a bit and sense that they might be interested.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Comparing myself to other people.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

I would say figure out a writing routine that works for you, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you aren’t a write-every-day sort of writer. Don’t let Stephen King bum you out (I have, in the past). Everyone has a different process that works for them and feeling guilty about not doing enough has limited motivational power. Also, learn to love getting rejected. Make rejection work for you. Find a way to convert it to energy. Every time I get a rejection I imagine someone just slapped me in the face and I’m like “yeah, hit me again motherfucker!”

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Prob something involving a recalcitrant cat on a treadmill.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

My dad’s dad, who died before I was born. He was a high school art teacher and wore a kimono around his basement woodshop and smoked a hookah and was deeply troubled and beloved. Everyone who knew him says we would have really hit it off.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

The Genie from Aladdin, Clarissa from Clarissa Explains it All, Sam Neill’s character from Jurassic Park. And Scottie Pippen.

At ten I think I was still in my naturalist/paleontologist period. I wanted to study big cats in Africa. That was around the time I wrote a very earnest, overwrought thirty-page story about a cheetah named Damara who escapes from the zoo.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

The first thing that comes to mind is that Liam Neeson movie where his plane crashes in Alaska and he and a diminishing band of survivors have to alternately hide from and battle a pack of wolves. It would be like that except I wouldn’t be Liam Neeson, I’d be one of the tertiary characters who gets eaten by a wolf like right away.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

No, I’m too impatient and would just take off my clothes all at once and be like, what more do you want from me, I’m naked.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

I have the Mint app on my phone but I only check it when I’m trying to feel bad about my life choices.

How many times do you fall in love each day?


What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

I remember talking to a writer I’d just met at a literary event and she was saying if she couldn’t write she would die, like she could literally not survive without writing, and while I understood what she was saying I thought that was pretty grandiose. I would be physically fine if I was never able to write again. Maybe I’d start doing Crossfit. I think art is necessary to society generally, though, of course. I feel good knowing so many people out there are working on things all the time.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Jeez, this is almost as personal as that checking account question.

What are you working on right now?

A bunch of short stories in different states of completion.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

I admire writing that closely observes characters’ interior worlds. One of the things I find challenging in writing fiction is conveying emotion in a way that feels authentic yet unfamiliar and makes a reader nod and say, “Yep, I’ve felt that way too.” I think making this emotional connection is the most important thing writing can do. I personally need to figure out how to break out of the minimalist mold a bit.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Generally, the suffocating influence of tech culture and money. Specifically, BART should run all night, I mean, come on.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

That phrase fills me with dread… It conjures a nightmare vision of body-con dresses and waiting until midnight to go out to the club and sipping fifteen dollar drinks through tiny straws. I don’t go out really. I mostly just eat. I do love having a car. I got a ’98 Corolla three years ago, after not having a car for ten years. One of my best nights out recently was driving with my friend to this Filipino bakery, Starbread, in South San Francisco. We bought a 25-piece box of Señorita Bread (which is completely life-changing stuff) and ate it in my car and then drove to In n Out and ate that in my car. We were probably in my car for five hours that night and it was great. I felt sick and ashamed when I got home and for most of the next day. Upon reflection I’m not sure that was a great night after all. I also like going to the movies.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

I don’t know if it was that strange, but last year on Christmas Day I went for a run near my parents’ house in the Iowa country and the clouds had formed this white wall and inside it was carved a perfect almond-shaped patch of sky. That picture got fifty likes on Instagram which is huge for me. Also when I was on a bike ride across Iowa one summer we stopped at a pie vendor and some guy had an elephant in a pen and he was charging people to have their picture taken with the elephant. The elephant was just all hot and dusty and like, “What the fuck am I doing in Iowa?” It was pretty grotesque. It was like something from a Cormac McCarthy novel mixed with that Simpsons episode where Bart wins an elephant.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

Everything in my life costs either $130 or $8.95, so I don’t really know.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I would really love to be a man for a week just to see what that’s about.


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