PW: You've recently published Wrong Things, a short fiction collection co-written with Poppy Z. Brite, and From Weird and Distant Shores, a collection of your contributions to shared-world anthologies. Do you find it hard using your distinctive personal style to elaborate worlds and characters created by other writers?
CK: I don't find it difficult. The voice of the stories is the voice I write in, and the voice in which the stories occur to me. Writing for shared worlds presents certain challenges: these are the rules, how far can I bend them, what can I break and how can I make this my own and still leave it what it was to begin with. But it's always very important to me to respect what the original author had in mind, both in tone and the fabric of the characters, so I try not to wander too far from what I feel they had intended.
PW: Do you feel that your collaborations have had an impact on your noncollaborative work?
CK: Undoubtedly. My work on The Dreaming, a spinoff from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series for Vertigo comics, took up four years of my life and taught me a lot of self-discipline, among other things. But I don't think it's changed the way I write, and that's because I'm fairly insistent that what I'm writing is me, and not a pastiche of someone else.
PW: You've acknowledged the influence of Algernon Blackwood's classic horror tale "The Willows" on Threshold, your second novel. Could you describe its genesis, and some of the challenges you faced writing it?
CK: It was an extraordinarily difficult book for me. Maybe it was just sophomore jitters, but at one point I shelved the whole manuscript and started over. At one point I read "The Willows" again, and it opened some doors in my mind, and helped answer some questions for me. To me, Blackwood is someone like Ramsey Campbell or Lovecraft, who have had a big impact on the sort of stories I write. I don't know if, offhand, I could say what it was about Blackwood's story that struck me, though I suppose it's the idea of two worlds, and an encounter with the thin spots where they connect. Certainly that's what Threshold is about.
PW: Would you say that Threshold was your attempt to approach a classic horror theme in a modern way?
CK: I think so. I certainly didn't say "I'm going to sit down and write a very retro novel," but I was very consciously thinking about the work of writers like Blackwood and Lovecraft. I've gotten very fixated on the idea of exposition in horror, and how if we have real-life encounters with the unexplainable, they're usually very short, and we don't have nice little answers for whatever they are. While the encounters in this novel aren't that brief, they're just the tip of something too big to comprehend. I guess it's what Lovecraft would call cosmic horror. Whereas in Silk [her first novel] my focus was on the inside or inner space, in Threshold, I was concerned with the big thing "out there."
PW: Aspects of your work as a paleontologist seem to be creeping more into your writing. Is this a metaphor that you've been trying to perfect as a vehicle for your ideas?
CK: I would say so. I think initially I kept paleontology out of what I was writing, partly because I thought nobody else would be interested. With Threshold I decided I was going to write about it. It's a great metaphor for what I'm trying to accomplish in my fiction: dealing with the ideas of the past, things that have been hidden and parts of the past being uncovered. When I just relaxed and let two parts of myself—my writing and my work as a scientist—come together, it all just made a natural connection.