‘Killingly’ excerpt in TriQuarterly

A missing poster for Bertha Mellish.

A missing poster for Bertha Mellish.

An excerpt from my next novel, Killingly, is now up at TriQuarterly, Northwestern University’s literary journal. This is the Mt. Holyoke College novel, the Honeycrisp apple of my eye, my current labor of love — sadly neglected this summer due to the demands of organizing a move to Hawai’i from Ohio. I’m en route at the moment, encamped in Oregon at my mother’s house with my two cats and working to be ready for a new semester at a new university. But I’m delighted and honored to see this excerpt appear in TriQuarterly and I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think. It begins at Mt. Holyoke College in November 1897, when Bertha Mellish, the girl in the broadside poster pictured here, has just vanished from her dormitory house. The TriQuarterly editors asked if I wanted to title the excerpt — it’s called “Some Little Lamb” because of a quotation I found tucked in a scrapbook created in 1897 by Katharine Shearer, a Mt. Holyoke student. A little card on one page of the scrapbook said:

All classes have some little lamb
Who loves to go to school …



Amazing news, reported belatedly

First: I’m moving to Hawai’i! Specifically, to Honolulu, to teach creative writing and literature at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. You can see my shiny official page on the UHM website. I am tremendously excited about this new position, not just because it’s tenure-track but because it will give me loads of opportunities to learn about Hawai’ian culture and writing and Pacific Rim literatures. My Wooster students have already made me promise that I’ll wear lots of sunscreen and send them photos.

This does mean I’m leaving Wooster a year earlier than planned. I’ll miss my students and my department colleagues very much (especially my amazing chair, Tom Prendergast). I had a great, if hectic, final semester here and I feel privileged to have taught these smart, earnest, sweet students for two years.

Me with my delightful Advanced Fiction: Linked Short Story students from this spring.

Me with my delightful Advanced Fiction: Linked Short Story students from this spring.

In other news, an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Killingly, will appear in the July issue of TriQuarterly. I’ll link it here when it’s up. I’m working on revising Killingly right now — along with revising my life to include fewer belongings and definitely fewer heavy socks and down coats.

Getting to Hawai’i is going to be a complicated adventure. (My cats have no idea what’s coming, poor babies.) I’ll post pictures once I’m there, but for now, here’s the Japanese garden on the UHM campus, snapped while I wandered around during my campus visit:

UHM Japanese garden


The draft done!

It’s been a busy summer and fall, blog friends!

I’m more than halfway through my second fall semester at the College of Wooster and I’ve just finished a draft of Killingly, also known here as “the Mt. Holyoke novel.” It clocked in at more than 151,000 words, which officially makes it a Big Book. (Alcestis was only 92K, much slimmer.) I’m delighted to be done with the draft, but it’s also a little weird, as I’ve been working steadily on the book just about every day since mid-May, and thinking about it since 2008. Of course there will be more to do, but I’m glad to have the first version down on paper.

I’m also teaching the dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel First Year Seminar again, as well as Intro to Fiction and Poetry. Both classes are delightful, as usual, as are my four new senior Independent Study advisees.

I was tagged for the Next Big Thing writing meme, which asks writers to answer some questions about their current works in progress. The writer who tagged me is Jessica Reisman, a writer friend from Austin, and you should all go read her answers to these questions, too, about her fantasy novel set on an alternate 1600s South China Sea.

Since I just finished the draft, I’m going to answer questions about that book rather than the three or four other things I’d love to write next.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

Killingly. I hope it’ll stick.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

A news story in the New York Evening Journal, circa 1900, that I found in the microfilm archives at the Harry Ransom Center while working there as a grad student research intern.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Literary historical fiction with a gothic/crime twist.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I can’t answer this question because, in my post-draft haze of affection, all the characters feel too much like real people to me! Uh. But despite the fact that this novel is omniscient third (sort of) and pretty long, I think it would be much easier to film than Alcestis. I’ve often tried to explain the way knowledge is revealed in the book by talking about Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

I usually just say “It’s about a student who disappeared from Mt. Holyoke College in 1897,” but for a slightly longer answer, it’s about what happens to and between the people who loved her after she disappears. It’s also about being a woman who loves learning in 1890s America.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This is kind of a weird way to phrase this question…? My agent is Diana Fox and the book will not be self-published unless something goes very much not according to plan. Cross your fingers.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Since first having the idea, four years. Actual solid writing time, probably about six months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger; Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace; Donna Tartt, The Secret History. Also maybe some Tana French and Emma Donoghue in there too.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Reading too much George Eliot and Henry James. This is my pseudo-Victorian novel. In terms of the pastiche poetry and letters, A. S. Byatt has been a huge inspiration. (My guiding question at some moments during the composition of this novel was “WWASBD?” [What Would A. S. Byatt Do?])

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well… the fact that it’s set largely at a nineteenth century women’s college and includes the cat fancy, vivisection, secret Catholicism, a giant fire, a train journey to Jacksonville, itinerant Shakespearean actors, an ex-cop private detective who prefers men and reads Jane Austen, lots of pastiche including epic poetry in blank verse, a quasi-Victorian narrative style, a pretty kleptomaniac, Civil War veterans, and a Congregationalist minister, maybe?


Don’t forget to check out Jessica Reisman’s blog!

I’m tagging the lovely Amy Boutell and Chrissy Kolaya.


Wiscon revelry

Wiscon was great fun, especially the meals with friends, our reading on Saturday, and the Genderfloomp dance party Sunday night. I also really enjoyed our panel discussion on heteronormativity in YA dystopian novels, though I think I actually explained my ideas better to Malinda Lo, our moderator, the night before! More on that soon; Julia Rios of Outer Alliance recorded the panel for an Outer Alliance podcast, so I’ll link here when that recording is available.

I heard some great readings and panels, and, as always, lengthened my to-read list considerably.

For now, here’s a photo of Malinda, me, and YA author Neesha Meminger, ready for the dance party:

I have never worn lipstick that red before! It was part of femme-ing it up for Genderfloomp — it’s too bad this photo doesn’t show my vintage red velvet heels, passed on by a former housemate who is much better at being femme and wearing vintage than I am — and I kind of enjoyed it. It’s nice to see your own smile so clearly.

(Malinda and Neesha both have books coming out soon — check them out!)

Teaching, year 1: achievement unlocked. Also, Wiscon schedule.

Year one of full-time teaching: complete! I taught five courses (three of which were new preps) and supervised four senior Independent Study projects. It was tiring, but I had a great time and got to read some really wonderful student writing. In the fall, I’ll be teaching my first year seminar “Coming of Age at the End of the World” again, as well as introductory creative writing; in spring, I’m scheduled to teach intro again, as well as the advanced fiction/linked short story class I just finished teaching. I’ll also be advising a whole crop of senior IS projects. I love one-on-one writing mentoring, so I’m excited.

And now, novel writing. As of today, I have 37.5K words drafted. Starting last week, I’ve been aiming for 1K/day and hitting it consistently. When I’m not writing I’m usually:

  1. Reading: research and pleasure. Lately the research has included books on the history of vivisection and on schoolroom poets in the late 19th century, as well as some basic information about college debating practices before the turn of the century. Before that I was steadily reading through matchmaking-centric YA dystopians looking for trends. And I’m reading Wolf Hall, finally. I love it and want to eat Hilary Mantel’s brains. All of them.
  2. Doing yoga.
  3. Cooking.
  4. Running. Slowly.
  5. Going to end-of-year parties, retirement parties, farewell parties. Lots of people leaving! But also many people coming back from leave, new hires, etc. More on this soon.
  6. Watching procedurals on Netflix. I loved the hell out of Life and am excited for Homeland to come out on DVD/streaming so I can watch Damian Lewis be odd and damaged again. His Charlie Crews on Life is one of the most entertaining characters I’ve encountered in a while.

I even got to the movies and finally saw The Hunger Games, which I liked better as an adaptation than I’d expected to (especially the first bit, pre-Games).

And, this weekend, I’ll be at Wiscon!

My schedule is as follows:

  • Outer Alliance party Friday night, assuming my flight gets in on time
  • 4 pm Saturday: Adaptations, a reading featuring Malinda Lo, Meghan McCarron, Jen Volant, and me — guess I’d better remind myself which snippets of Killingly I want to read.
  • 8:30 am Sunday (groan): Heteronormativity in YA Dystopian SF (me, Malinda Lo, Neesha Meminger, Julia Rios)
    • One of the biggest trends in young adult science fiction in the last few years has been dystopian novels about matchmaking or marriage. The vast majority of these novels feature heteronormative societies in which deviation from heterosexuality (and, to a lesser extent, traditional gender roles) is not only not done, it is largely erased as a possibility. Because these novels focus on romance, love, and sexuality, the fact that queer sexualities are almost entirely absent from the texts suggests a number of interesting and potentially problematic things about the discourse on girls and sexuality in YA science fiction. The panelists will discuss these popular novels and the representation of gender and sexuality within them.
  • 8:30 am Monday: Responding to the Literary Canon (me, Dr. Janice M. Bogstad. Jeff Heard, Eddie Schneider, Patricia C Wrede)
    • Writers can respond to the literary canon in a variety of ways, from explicit adaptations to interrogations (like Le Guin’s conversation with Virgil in Lavinia) to more subtle revisions (Hamlet lurking in the structure of Atwood’s Oryx & Crake). What constitutes a good adaptation of another work? What defines an unfaithful adaptation? What crimes against source material would you like to outlaw?

I’d promise to post again soon with a Wiscon update, but in fact I’ll probably be doing the above activities for most of the summer. My goal is to finish a draft of the novel before the fall semester begins. Wish me luck!

MFAs, bisexuality, and an announcement

First up, a link to a great post on the eternal MFA question. I’m directing four senior independent study projects this year, all in creative writing. None of my students will be going directly to graduate school for creative writing, though three of them are considering applying in the future. Their projects are due at the end of March, and we don’t meet weekly after that as we have all year, so we’ve been having conversations about grad school.

Robin Black shares criteria for deciding whether an MFA is right for you, and they’re not all precisely what you might expect. I think Black’s right to say that student temperament is incredibly important (though maybe difficult to self-evaluate, which is why it’s always helpful to talk to advisers and friends about this choice). I would put even more emphasis than Black does on the cost of the degree, though. Repeat after me: you should NEVER go into debt to get a graduate degree unless you’re certain it will lead to a decent-paying job upon completion. If you’re in the humanities, you simply can’t be certain. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to grad school — I’m very glad I did! — but that, as Black suggests, you should know the costs and benefits involved in your own situation.


Second: a link to another great post, or essay, really — Seth Fischer’s “Notes from a Unicorn” at The Rumpus. Seth is bi; so am I. This is one of the best and most thoughtful approaches to the topic I’ve read, illuminating not only the author’s own experience of bisexual identity as a man but the ways bisexuality is often obscured by straight people and gay rights activists alike. Whatever your sexual orientation, please go read this.


And finally, a quick announcement: I’ll be reading at the University of Texas on March 21, at 4 pm in Parlin 301. I’ll talk a bit about Alcestis, since some of the audience may be students who are currently reading it in class, but the reading will focus mostly on Killingly. If you’re in the Austin area, I’d love to see you there. (And if I know personally, email me and we’ll talk dinner plans.)

Happy new year!

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see the back of 2011. Really — I can’t. It was a year full of professional milestones, and I had a wonderful time teaching my first classes at Wooster this fall and getting to know the town and college, but it was harder on the personal front. I’m looking forward to 2012 with optimism and anticipation. I fully expect the spring to be crazy — I’m teaching three classes rather than two, and my senior IS students will be finishing their projects — but I also hope it will be rejuvenating. I’ve been amazed by how widespread this sentiment about the new year has been. I can’t think of another year when I’ve heard so many people express relief at the passing of the old year and hope for the new one, in a way that seems heartfelt rather than rote. I guess it’s just been a hard one for all of us. May 2012 bring positive change for you, too.

Also, mysterious Mayan calendar predictions aside, isn’t “twenty-twelve” just so much more satisfying to say than “twenty-eleven”?

I didn’t get as much work done on Killingly this year as I meant to, mostly for the above-mentioned personal reasons, plus that whole “first semester of teaching” thing, which is pretty time-consuming. But I did get some work done! And I’m delighted to say that I’ll have a student assistant helping me to dig up more research material this spring. If all goes well, I hope to finish the book in summer 2012. I’ve also been writing some nonfiction, partly inspired by the reading I’ve done with one of my IS students.

In March, I’ll be back in Austin briefly to give a reading at UT before zipping down to San Antonio to present a paper at ASECS 2012: “Delarivier Manley Understands the Ladies Better than You: The Female Wits and Feminocentric Satire.” I’m also hoping to attend Wiscon this spring. Anybody else planning to be in Madison?

I meant to post a multitude of things in the last month or so, some still open in tabs from the first time I read them. (I prune my tabs regularly, but still, it’s no wonder my Firefox loves to give me the spinny rainbow wheel.) Here are a few of them:

And finally, something that makes a dreary January day a little brighter, at least if you grew up with the Buffy kids and still like a good vampire show now and then. 2011 would not have been possible without yoga and Netflix streaming.

A very happy new year to you all.

Things I love about teaching right now

Mid-semester update edition:

  1. Sitting in a room full of students who are working intently on a writing exercise. Some of them are usually frowning. But they’re all creating.
  2. Discussing writing ideas or revision plans with my senior Independent Study advisees, then having them return the next week with surprising, original, clever work inspired by our conversations. I feel unbearably and excessively proud of them.
  3. Hearing my first-year seminar students voluntarily refer to Riddley Walker, a book many of them struggled through, as we discuss other texts.
  4. Seeing my first-year seminar students walking around campus together.
  5. Watching familiar names pop up on my course rosters for next semester as registration progresses. If you’ll pardon a warm-and-fuzzy Internet emoticon moment: <3!

Alcestis Twitter chat this Sunday (Sept. 4)

On Sunday, September 4, at 2 pm Eastern time, the #FeministSF book chat on Twitter will be discussing Alcestis. Djibril Alayad of The Future Fire has kindly organized this chat and I am so looking forward to snooping and possibly participating! If you’ve read the book, please do join in — and even if you haven’t read the book, feel free to check out the conversation by searching for the #FeministSF hashtag on Twitter. You can contribute to the chat by posting a tweet which includes the #FeministSF hashtag.

You can also see a list of other books that are scheduled for future chats, or are being considered for scheduling, on the Feminist SF wiki.

Hope to see some of you on Twitter discussing the book!

Links again

Because that’s what you get this summer, apparently. I’ve been working on Killingly and course prep and an eighteenth-century abstract this week, and I’m wiped.

The Hairpin has a great interview with Kate Beaton, who talks smartly about many things, including dramatizing history in comic form and why people reacted so weirdly to her calling-out of sexism in comics. And for your enjoyment, a recent Hark! A Vagrant strip sure to delight c18 nerds: Fop Gun.

Thriller writer Will Lavender describes his path from writing literary fiction he wasn’t satisfied with to writing what he loves.

A long piece in the Atlantic about the development of the current YA market.

And a lovely review in PW for my friend Merrie Haskell’s forthcoming middle-grade book, The Princess Curse.

About Alcestis


Beutner renders her multilayered heroine with beauty and delicacy, and concerns herself with no less than the intricacies of the soul.

Publisher's Weekly

About me

Katharine Beutner

I write fiction and creative nonfiction and teach at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. My novel Alcestis, a retelling of the Greek myth, is available from Soho Press.

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