Please welcome Kira Jane Buxton to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Hollow Kingdom is published on August 6, 2019 by Grand Central Publishing.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Kira: Thank you so much for having me! As a child, the very first short story I ever wrote was about an overweight dragon. I may have peaked too soon.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Kira: I’m definitely a hybrid of the two—a plotser or a panter maybe. I tend to try to adhere to a basic plot outline, but then veer off to uncharted territory and follow characters I didn’t give permission to take over the page. One of the main characters from Hollow Kingdom—Big Jim—was actually supposed to be a little boy, but he just burst onto the first page in all his gutsy glory and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Writers only think they’re in charge of a story.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Kira: It’s usually being patient enough to hone in on the idea before starting to write. I also tend to get in my own way. When I relax and have fun with it all, I tend to do my best writing. The other most challenging thing about writing is stopping. I live to write, but am starting to become a bit comma shaped. Thankfully, Ewok (my dog, a Brussels griffon) reminds me to get up and go for regular walks.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Kira: I love to spend time outside each day. Here in Seattle, we’re so fortunate to live amongst some very beautiful trees—fir, cedar, pine, birch, alder. Trees, like books, change brain chemistry, and I feel it’s a privilege to be near them. I have befriended two wild crows who visit me every day, and also spend time with a feisty charm of hummingbirds. Time in nature or reading about nature tends to spark that creative light for me.
TQ: Describe Hollow Kingdom using only 5 words.
Kira: Crude crow must save world
TQ: Tell us something about Hollow Kingdom that is not found in the book description.
Kira: The main narrator is a crow named Shit Turd (S.T. the crowtagonist), so we have his bird’s eye view of what’s happening to humanity, but there are also interstitial chapters from various animals around the world. I wanted to explore the minds of animals, but also to have a global view of what the apocalypse might look like. I grew up in Asia and the Middle East, so my wanting to explore more of the world in my writing was probably inevitable.
TQ: What inspired you to write Hollow Kingdom?
Kira: I adore crows and had wanted to write about them for a long time without knowing how. I was driving when I finally got the idea. “What if a crow is telling the story of what happened to our species? What if a crow is talking about our extinction?” I’ve always loved animals, humor, and been an advocate for conservation, so I’d say Hollow Kingdom is the conflation of my passions.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Hollow Kingdom?
Kira: I loved researching animal and tree facts for Hollow Kingdom. I read so many delicious non-fiction books about the natural world, from Peter Wohlleben’s The Secret Live of Trees, to Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of An Octopus, David George Haskell’s The Songs of Trees, The Wisdom of Wolves by Jamie and Jim Dutcher, Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds, the list goes on. What I found that anything I fabricated or embellished wasn’t half as fascinating and exciting as what’s happening all around us in nature.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Hollow Kingdom.
Kira: Jarrod Taylor did the gorgeous cover art for Hollow Kingdom. He absolutely nailed it. The periphery of the jacket has a nod to the Himalayan blackberry takeover, and the Seattle skyline features prominently underneath S.T. the crow. One of my favorite things is the purple markings on S.T. that represent rain falling down onto the Space Needle and the skyline. Dennis the bloodhound is on the spine of the novel, which is perfect. Also, I am utterly obsessed with cephalopods, and on the back of the jacket is the most beautiful rendering of one. It would make a beautiful tattoo.
TQ: In Hollow Kingdom who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Kira: One of the easiest characters to write was S.T., the crow. Perhaps because it took me so long to figure out what shape this book would take, and perhaps because I spend a lot of time with crows and get to enjoy their varied personalities and many antics. My female crow friend inspired a lot of S.T.’s behavior and character. The hardest was trying to write from the perspective of a hummingbird. I sat for ages trying to “hear” a voice, which ended up being a Highland cow (again, I’m not in control very often).
TQ: Does Hollow Kingdom touch on any social issues?
Kira: At its heart, Hollow Kingdom is an environmental parable and my love letter to the natural world. My hope is that readers remember to look up and enjoy the sky and listen to what the birds are saying. To notice that everything around us is communicating. I know there have been periods of my life where I’ve been so busy, I’ve forgotten to engage with nature, and I don’t want that to happen again. I hope that as a species, we can reconnect with the natural world and remember that we share our home with many incredible creatures.
TQ: Which question about Hollow Kingdom do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Kira: Oooh! I love this! “Are the animals based on the real personalities of animals you know?” Many of them are. Genghis Cat is based upon one of my own cats. Others are based on animals I’ve had encounters with either at my first job (I was a volunteer at a zoo as a child when I lived in Indonesia) or at some point in my life. To quote a line from the book, “Life isn’t the same once you know just how deeply a tree feels.” I think that applies to close encounters with all living things. My life has been touched and changed for the better by the wonderful creatures I’ve met.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Hollow Kingdom.
“The trees hum and sing to one another, breathing love and story. They cannot run.”
“You can fuck off now. I have nothing more to say to you.” (Genghis Cat speaking the language of felines everywhere)
TQ: What's next?
Kira: I think our vociferous little crow still has more to say! I love exploring the minds of animals, so I hope I get to stay in this world a little longer.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Kira: Thank you so much for having me and for these wonderfully refreshing questions!
Grand Central Publishing, August 6, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
One pet crow fights to save humanity from an apocalypse in this uniquely hilarious debut from a genre-bending literary author.
S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle’s wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.
Then Big Jim’s eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn’t quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies–from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis–fail to cure Big Jim’s debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity’s extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.
Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.
Kira Jane Buxton’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, NewYorker.com, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Huffington Post, and more. She calls the tropical utopia of Seattle, Washington, home and spends her time with three cats, a dog, two crows, a charm of hummingbirds, and a husband.