Herding the Dragon

Five + 1 Questions with author Kristina Elyse Butke

Today we have Five + 1 Questions with one of my favorite people ever! Kristina Elyse Butke, a fellow fantasy-writer from SHU! Let’s meet Kristina:

Kristina writes fantasy and horror, and occasionally dabbles in the world of digital art and comics. She has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and is adjunct faculty for the English department at North Central State College. Say hello to Kristina on her website or follow her on Twitter.

Latest Project:

I like to dabble in haiku! My latest poem’s at First Class Literary: Victor Stitches; Or, the Haiku Prometheus

Five + 1 Questions is a thing I like to do to generate conversation between writers and readers. I pick five questions from a list of 100 that I like to ask writers, by rolling dice (all very scientific), Here’s the questions Kristina got!
Do you read the same genre / style as you write, or do you read outside what you’re writing?

While I’ve dipped into other genres, I regularly read nonfiction, fantasy, literary fiction, science fiction, and horror. Since wrapping graduate school at Seton Hill, I’ve opened my mind to genres I wouldn’t normally consider outside of my own. I’ve read mysteries, romance, erotica, historical fiction, middle-grade YA…and it’s because I want to support my classmates and fellow writers. On top of that, though, SHU forced me to confront the reality that every genre has merit, and writers can learn so much just from walking outside of their comfort zone.

I like to call myself a writer of fantasy and horror, but I need to be a little honest with myself about what it is I write, and rethink that title. Fantasy is my predominant genre. But I’ve always liked works that have elements of horror to them, and although I enjoy reading straight horror from time to time, I don’t actually write it. 

It’s more realistic that I scrap the “horror” title altogether and just call it for what it is—dark fantasy. Author Alan Baxter defines it best: “[…] a work is dark fantasy if it deals with any elements of fantasy and/or the paranormal in a way that studies the dark and frightening side of our nature, psychology and the weird, sublime and uncanny.”

Although I haven’t seen bookshelves in stores labeled “dark fantasy,” if I flit between the horror and fantasy sections, I’ll find what I’m looking for after some digging. As for what I’m into currently? I’m obsessed with Sui Ishida’s Tokyo Ghoul series, which I think fits the dark fantasy genre perfectly. The fact that it’s Japanese manga is irrelevant to me. I’ll consume a good story no matter how it’s packaged.

What tropes do you think need to be freshened up?

“White man fantasy” and its outdated tropes need to call it in. While there’s the hullabaloo over the Hugos and geeks reacting against diversity, the outcry is not enough to stop the genre’s progression towards inclusivity. 

While many could argue that fantasy means “inventing whatever the heck I want to, because it’s fantasy,” or even worse, “it’s fantasy, it’s not supposed to be real,” one of the main components of successful fantasy is the suspension of disbelief. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (all the way back in 1817!) was right to suggest that a fantastic tale must contain “human interest and a semblance of truth” in order for readers to accept the absurdities that occur elsewhere in the story.  

In order for fantasy to endure, it must suspend disbelief by embracing reality. Fantasy must continue to acknowledge that readers of the genre are all ages, all races, and all genders, and to include characters and plots in fantasy that acknowledge this truth.    

Which writers have been your biggest inspirations, and what have you learned from them?

At one point, I stopped reading genre fiction altogether, and that was from the end of middle school all the way up to my freshman year of college. All I can remember is that I felt disconnected from the genres and their books, and felt tired of all of it. 

I don’t even know how this happened anymore, but at the end of freshman year, I found Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest and it reinvigorated the genre for me. It’s a work of historical fantasy, so while there are fantastic elements, the majority of the story is good, old-fashioned Celtic history, and feels very much based in reality. That might’ve been what drew me to the story in the first place—it was a fantasy that felt real. 

There were also some things that surprised me when I read it. There’s darkness in the book, and cruelty; but there’s a clear, constant presence of romance. I always hated romance because, like the genres I briefly abandoned, I was tired of it, and felt disconnected. Maybe it’s the tropiness of genre fiction that turned me away from everything during that period overall. But the romance in Daughter of the Forest felt real, and spoke of a love that endured. There was a presence that felt authentic, because such love was conveyed in simple imagery and gestures.  It made me realize that deep down, I actually adore romance (if done well).

While Marillier’s book turned me on to fantasy again, it was also the first book that made me want to abandon playwriting and consider the possibility of writing fiction seriously. It took a while for me to end my ties to theatre (for most of my life I wrote plays and musicals), but once I enrolled at Seton Hill, I knew fiction was the true dream worth pursuing.

What was the first book you read in the genre you write in?

In elementary school, the first traditional fantasy I read was “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis. The first traditional horror novel I remember reading was “IT” by Stephen King in the 7th grade…although, looking back on it now, I remember being a fan of everything R. L. Stine put down; not just Goosebumps, but Fear Street, too! Oh, the memories are coming back, because now I’m remembering Christopher Pike as well…

What genre have you never written in, that you’d love to give a try, and do you have any ideas about what you’d write there?

I would like to try my hand at science fiction, but I don’t think I can pull it off. Same thing with romance. 

…But if I could figure it out, I enjoy science fiction that deals with AI and robotics; as for romance, it would be something adventurous and historical.

And the plus one that is the same for everyone:
What do you wish I asked that no one ever asks, and what is your answer?

Um…this is really hard…

I suppose, deep down, I’ve always wanted someone to ask me to justify my interests and how they relate to what I write. Maybe it’s just another trope—the writer who feels misunderstood—but I’ve always wanted to have the chance to defend my choices and interests, and how they all fit into this bigger picture  that allows me to grow as a reader, thinker, and writer.

…But, that’d be several pages long, probably.