Friday, March 6, 2009

KC Dyer: Grotesqueries I have known and loved

HALLIE: I met KC Dyer at the wonderful Surrey International Writers Conference in Vancouver. She was the one in charge of coordinating speakers (aka herding cats). Wearing a red mini skirt with bright purple-and-yellow striped tights, her long blonde hair cascading in curls down her back, a smile lighting up her face, she’s the kind of person one doesn’t forget. Her fifth book novel for teens, A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW, is just out.

KC confesses a secret fondness for inducing nausea in teens and can often be found sharing some of the greatest grotesque moments in history with large groups of high school students.

Welcome to Jungle Red, KC. Please, tell us how you channel grotesqueries into your fiction?

KC DYER: Picture this:
Bodies pressed together; many bodies. Where skin touches skin there is sweat and stench, but extremities are always cold. Any air available is foul; fetid with the mingled breath of dysentery, malnutrition and slowly rotting teeth. There is no food beyond powdered grain crawling with maggots and puddled with a few drops of grey water to take a form that is burned black before somehow being choked down. A place where any germ can become a plague through sheer proximity. A place where death is never welcome, but always, always present.

And this is the best alternative.

I have a new book coming out this week. I write for kids and teens, and A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW is my fifth published story. All writers know the varying degrees of soul-baring that emerge with the production of a novel. True to form, after five books, I’ve found out a couple of things about myself. Turns out I’m a bit of a history fan – real history, not the theatrical version. I don’t like dates and battles and kings and queens. I simply have a yen to rip a hole in the fabric of time and plunge into the lives of real people who lived as though no one would ever look back on them in awe. And I kind of like the gross bits best.

I write time travel stories. In another life, I used to be a teacher, and the juxtaposition of the lives my students led -- in relative comfort and safety, generally with access to clean water, high standards of health and education, and families who loved them – as compared with the standards under which those who came before them survived, always struck me as problematic. Even in those days, I was big on telling stories, and since my audience was primarily teenagers I soon found – and I still find today – that there is nothing like a decently running sore or mucous-filled buboe to grab the attention.

So, though I have written of Kings and Queens, and of artists and geniuses, it is the gruesome realities of everyday life, be it in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, or aboard one of the coffin ships bringing pioneers and pestilence to the New World that seem to most capture my chosen audience. The Black Plague, The Reign of Terror, The Irish Potato Famine, The Smallpox Epidemic – ah, good times, good times. But I hope you believe me when I tell you that my secret goal is not only to turn stomachs. Instead, these gruesome scenes are my route in – my way to demonstrate that deep inside the folks who lived through the monstrous events in which happenstance placed them, there was a streak of something that allowed them find the strength to not only persevere, but thrive.

I see every story as a promise to the reader. You know – a little bit of blood and pus is a great way to capture attention, and a small price to pay for the resolution of a tale well-told.

And if you are interested, you can read more about what I am up to with my latest novel at my blog leftwriter , or my website at

HALLIE: I confess, my own favorite grotesque moments from history involve guillotines and blokes getting drawn and quartered. In classic lit, you can’t beat the bloody mayhem in Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” And I’m sure I’m wasn’t the only kid who used to sing:

When you see a hearse go by
You may be the next to die
They'll wrap you in a bloody sheet
Then throw you in about six feet deep
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
The worms play pinochle on your snout
Something, something, something... (that rhymes jelly beans and fresh whipped cream, I do believe.)

What is it about kids and worms? Ah, nostalgia.

KC will be with us today, so please, share your pet grotesqueries.


  1. Welcome KC! Hallie, now you've got me singing "Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher's guts..."

    KC, I admire anyone who can write for teens. Wonder how you figured out that was your audience? And what do you make of the success of the Twilight series?

  2. Hank chiming in:
    And me without a "spoooooon!"

  3. You really want some grotesqueries? This early in the morning? From like, real life?

    I often tell the story of the brand new assistant district attorney who was called away from dinner to a crime scene. Two brothers had fought over their spaghetti dinner. One splattered the other's head against the wall. With a 12 gauge shotgun. I'll leave the scene (and the ADA's reaction) to your fertile imaginations.

    Then there was the day my daughter (seven at the time) took some of my fire photos to school for show and tell. Without my knowledge. Included in the set? Close-ups of a meth head who'd passed out in his car, crashed it into a wall, foot firmly planted on the accelerator. The tires spun until they caught fire and the rest is...history, as they say. Needless to say, the kids thought the photos were pretty cool. The teacher, principal and other parents? Not so much. After that, no one would sit with me at the PTSA meetings and my DD was suddenly very popular. LOL. Kids. Gotta love 'em.

  4. KC,
    You are a woman after my own heart. I love the every day grime of history and the comparisons to our own world. What a great thing to teach teenagers, who can't help but think they suffer catastrophe if say, they can't get the car that night.

  5. Hi Roberta,

    I think it's just immaturity, actually. I write stories of the sort I really like to read -- lots of adventure, swashbuckling, chases in the dark -- and of course the gory bits. Somehow my publishers thought those books would best suit teens, so presto! I am a YA writer. But teens have a lot of demands on their time these days, so if I can grab their attention away from computer gaming and tivo, I consider it an honour to have a fan base in that age group. (And I secretly have lots of adults who read my books, too!)

    Thanks for asking!


  6. Dear Silver,

    Ah -- contemporary gore. And of course the kids love it!


  7. Dear Jan,

    Well, my main goal is just to try to entrance my readers. My second book, SECRET OF LIGHT, was set in the Renaissance. Now, the kids I talk to in schools all know about Leonardo as the artist behind the Mona Lisa. But they perk right up when I put him in a contemporary context. He designed weapons for many of the heads of Europe. We spend a LOT of time talking about the massive crossbow he invented and just how many people it would slay in a single shot. I figure if they find out something interesting in my books (my MC in that book actually steals one of young Leonardo's codicils) then maybe they'll finish my story with a yen to learn more.


  8. Hallie...isn't it
    "they eat your eyes, they eat your nose, they eat the goo between your toes"?

    Where is the spot in my brain that remembers that? And why can't it be filled with something useful?