BookView Interview with Author Kodie Van Dusen

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we talked to Kodie Van Dusen about her writing and her debut novel,  Birds in the Black Water , a marvelous blend of magical realism and occult fiction. (Read the review here).

Van Dusen began winning awards and publishing in poetry anthologies from a young age. Her narratives are shortlisted in multiple competitions, including the 2022 Braun Book Awards. She studied psychology and spent several years helping clients resolve personal problems through the power of narrative.

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Tell us some more about your book.

Birds in the Black Water is a dark, paranormal drama exploring the intersection of mental health, maternal instinct, and grief. As a counselor, I often turned to storytelling to help clients explore difficult feelings in a safe, creative space. It’s a tool I used myself after losing a friend to mental illness. This book was my playground for trying to make sense of the loss and working through all of the guilt, blame, and ‘what if’s that haunted me afterward.

Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

After my friend passed away, I knew I wanted to use storytelling as a way to honor him and to

make sense of his death. He believed in my writing more than anyone I knew, so it felt right. The only thing I knew going into the story, however, was that I wanted it to include horses, and a scene based on how attending his memorial service made me feel. This led to a lot of rewrites, sloppy plots, and genre changes as I worked through my feelings on the subject.

It wasn’t until I was in the middle of reading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-5 that the final form of the story began to emerge. Vonnegut’s book uses speculative elements to address the horrors of war and the post-traumatic stress left in the wake of such unthinkable events, which got me thinking about mental illness as something existing in a dimension touching ours but still unseen. I loved the freedom that speculative elements allowed me while working on the story.

While the book itself leans more paranormal drama than horror, it started a new love affair for me with addressing dark, difficult questions through a speculative lens.

What makes this book important right now?

There are a lot of horrifying things happening in the world, and I think that social media especially makes people feel like the weight of the world and the burden of change is on them. While it’s important to influence positive change in the world, there are also limits to how much change we can actually bring about, and I think it’s a struggle for a lot of people to find peace.

This book, in many ways, is about recognizing the limits of our agency in the world without falling into despair or feeling that we’re completely powerless.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

As long as it takes―in the case of Birds in the Black Water, almost five years from idea to final product. It’s a shame because I don’t really believe in pumping out books for the market, which might be shooting myself in the foot. With the way social media and marketing algorithms work these days, publishing certainly seems to favour authors who are able to put out many books at regular intervals, but I worry that I would be sacrificing quality for quantity if I followed suite.

One of the hardest parts of the writing and planning process for me is finding the answer to the question I’m raising with my work. Every story, for me, starts with a question: in this case, could I have prevented my friend’s death? It takes time to strike a balance between saying something meaningful while also creating a story that’s accessible to your audience; however, I do believe the writing itself will get faster and easier with every book.

How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?

I never saw myself writing horror or even horror adjacent. I always thought I would write literary, but literary felt exclusive; I found only certain types of people want to read literary fiction and there

was an element of snobbery to the way I tended to write in that genre. I often sacrificed good storytelling for flowery language and found myself saying things like ‘you either get it or you don’t’ which, while true to an extent of any genre, was really a cop out from working hard, rewriting, and honing my craft so that I could connect with readers.

Horror happened almost by accident. The subject matter of my book was somewhat horrifying for me to contend with and centered around death. I’m known for dark, bittersweet endings. I like grappling with ideas of religion, the unknown, and unsettling philosophical questions about what it means to be human. My goal was never to write horror, but if the shoe fits…

What really cinched it for me was the way the horror community took me in though. I joined the Horror Writers Association when plans for publication were underway, and I love the mix of odd balls and enthusiasts I’ve connected with. The members have been so supportive and welcoming that I changed plans for what I would write next and decided to stay for the long haul.

Writing is such a solitary pursuit that finding a community makes all the difference.

What does literary success look like to you?

A space devoted to writing, with time devoted to writing, and a small but consistent group of readers who look forward to what I put out next and don’t mind if there’s a bit of a wait between books. I don’t need to quit my day job to feel I’ve succeeded (I think I’d get bored with that anyway), I just need writing to be something that is a serious enough part of my life that there’s no guilt in setting aside time and space in my week for it the way I would a 9-5 job.

How can fans stay up to date?

Make sure you’re following me on my Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts where I regularly post updates, giveaways, and announcements about future projects. If you sign up at my website, you’ll also get exclusive members only content and have the chance to beta read my new releases before they’re released to the public.

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