INTERVIEW: Kat Howard, Author of “A Tornado of Dorothys”

Kat Howard’s short fiction has been performed on NPR as part of Selected Shorts, and was included in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2012, edited by Rich Horton. You can find her work in Lightspeed, Subterranean, Apex and various other magazines and anthologies. She lives in the Twin Cities, and you can find her on Twitter as @KatWithSword.

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

“A Tornado of Dorothys” is about a girl named Dorothy who goes to Oz and discovers that she is part of a story. It’s a familiar story, and there are certain expectations about how it will be told, but she wants to make her own choices and tell her own story.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

In a way, the seeds of inspiration for this story were planted before I even thought about being a writer. In grad school, I was the TA for a course in American Literature, and the professor assigned The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I had never read it before, and one of the things that stuck with me was the in the book, Kansas is horrible. There is no logical reason that Dorothy would ever want to go back. So when you asked me to write for this anthology, the first thing I knew was that I was going to write a story about a Dorothy who could choose not to go back to Kansas.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

I think it had the usual challenges – which are also delights – that are encountered when writing a reimagining of an existing story. You look for the places in the original material that you can push on, and change, and be in dialogue with, and you engage with that material, but at the same time, you have to make sure that you are telling your own story.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

One of my dearest friends in the world is named Dorothy. I wrote “A Tornado of Dorothys” for her.

But also, I wrote this story at a time when I had been thinking a lot about the nature of home, and what it meant to have the ability to choose where home was. It’s a very powerful choice, and I wanted to try to engage with that a bit in my writing.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I reread The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

What is the appeal of Oz? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

I think one of the appeals of Oz is that it’s a place where potential is recognized. There are these characters who are on a quest to find the thing they feel is lacking in themselves – a brain, a heart, courage – and then they have someone else stand up and say, “Here it is, in you.” It’s very clear to readers and viewers that those characters already possessed those things, and yet that moment of recognition is still incredibly powerful and moving. I think that’s something everyone longs for – to have that part of themselves that is who they are truly recognized.

What are some of your favorite Oz memories (whether from the books or the various movies, or other “reimaginings”), and what makes them your favorites?

The movie version of The Wizard of Oz scared me silly when I was a kid – the Flying Monkeys! (also, when I was very young, I was afraid a mean lady would try and steal my little dog), but I still get chills whenever I hear Judy Garland sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It’s just so beautiful, such a terrific expression of longing.

And clearly my Oz is a very musical place, because my other favorite Oz-related thing is the wonderful song from Wicked, “Defying Gravity.”

What do you think about the new Oz movie coming out in March, Oz: The Great and Powerful? Excited? Dubious? Some combination of both?

I’m intrigued. I find retellings and reimaginings of stories to be very interesting – that need to balance the recognizable pieces of the source material with making the story new and fresh. I think a good retelling is one that not only stands on its own, but also makes you think about the original in a new light.