Interview with Kathleen Mahnke, author of the Planar Helix series

Description of the Planar Helix series

Planar Helix grew out of an urban fantasy setting. The universe expanded from the idea of “90’s DC goth scene” to layers of intersecting reality. Where do supernatural creatures come from? What is magic? How does it world in this world?

These questions led myself and my creative partner Naga Mii to ask another important question. Did we create supernatural creatures through our fantasies and nightmares? Were we created to be preyed upon by more powerful creatures? I picture our world as a seed of creation, intersecting and running from other realities that are all on the brink of destruction.

Universal questions play against personal ones. Maybe large forces are getting ready to collide, but what about a single person who is coming to power and exploring this world? Even in the midst of fantastic events, life unfolds.

Kathleen Mahnke Author Biography:

I have been writing since I was young. Most of my writing was reports for school papers or essays for a rebellious writers group I started in my teen years. I’ve started and stopped many creative writing projects. Nothing came out as fluid and meaningful as it was in my thoughts. Planar Helix is the first novel I have (almost) brought to completion.

It is awkward to try to describe myself on a personal level. I grew up climbing trees and going fishing, riding horses and target practicing. I always had a book in my saddle bags and my mind was wandering through adventures when my body was curled up under a tree.

As I made friends I found myself drawn to people who loved to read, or loved creative pastimes. Nerd culture invited me in and adopted me. Role playing became a new way to not only enjoy a creative idea, but to interact within it. The freedom of creating rather than passively reading stories appeals to me. This created inspiration to write my own adaptation of these shared adventures. I suppose you could say that becoming social brought me full circle back to writing alone in a comfy corner.

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The Interview:

Q. How long have you been working on the first book in the Planar Helix series and when do you think you’ll be done?

A. It’s a bit of a grey area when I started. Planar Helix was born of a collaboration between myself and my lover, Naga Mii. We moved from talking about a world, to him running a role playing game based in the world, to me falling in love with the unfolding story and my main character, Maria Luna. I started officially writing about a year ago. Naga Mii got busy with work and I kept being excited about my project. It traveled away from the original story and turned into something else. At some point along the line he stepped back and became my sounding board rather than my co writer. At first it was sad not to have creative collaboration, but then it became liberating to make all the calls and create a related but unique world with its own wonders and torments.

I am about three scenes from having the first draft of the first book written. I was about a month or two from being done, then broke my hand. Typing is now tedious, so I’ll double that. Maybe I’ll be done with my first draft in four months, and have it edited a few months after that. Let’s say before new year.

Q. What inspired you to start the books and where does the name come from?

A. I mentioned some of the inspiration. I’m a big tabletop geek. It has always fascinated me to play a character within another world. Of course, I am spoiled. Fantasy/supernatural/sci-fi fiction are readily available to the point that it is hard to mention all the amazing authors that have influenced my writing. J.R.R. Tolkien, N.K. Jemison, and Jim Butcher are the highlights when it comes to Maria’s universe.

Q. How much do Maria and Beauregard’s sexuality play into the flow of your stories and the plot lines?

A. I almost excluded details in their trysts. I had a fear of being labeled as a romance author. I also worried about fantasy genre readers discounting my work if it was considered “smut.” Then I realized how much of a social construct that bullshit is. A male author is “gritty” if he includes explicit scenes. A female author with the same level of detail gets called a “lonely housewife.” Fuck that.

Maria is a passionate character. Denying her sexuality for fear of being misunderstood only capitulates to a society that judges women for the same behavior it rewards in men. Her love, her passion, her experiences are all a part of her story.

Beauregard being her lover makes him a part of this story. Initially, Naga Mii had intended for Beau to be more of a foil for Maria’s activities. He was introduced as a lawful character that would be the voice of reason at times, or an opponent when Maria went too far. Then there was a scene we played out in which Maria saw into his soul. Beauregard’s eternal effort to be a better person in a shitty world made Maria love him. So, I brought that romance into the book. Her decisions affect his life, and vice versa.The fact that they are vastly different people helps add a bit of depth to their dynamic. I like that Maria and Beau have a lot to teach each other.

Q. Do you think your space-aged vampires are more aligned with science-fiction, fantasy, horror or paranormal romance? Where and when do the genres blur?

A. The genres blur to the point that I’m not sure what genre my writing is. I don’t consider them space age vampires as much as alternate dimension vampires. That may be splitting hairs, but I feel my model of existence is more interconnected than separate planets. I picture the Planar Helix to be something nobody can entirely comprehend, but something that can be manipulated and understood well enough to travel between planes. Are they planets, or layers, like an onion, or are they chunks of reality orbiting and intersecting one another? Part of the plot is exploring those questions.

Q. As a queer author, how important is it to you to write and represent queer characters and cultures in your stories?

A. On some levels it is just a natural side effect. Maria has roughly my sexuality. A lot of my characters have sexuality brought up as the story progresses. I do my best to represent their intimate lives without highlighting it. I dislike when authors write as though queerness needs to somehow be showcased. It’s just a part of our lives, and therefore our stories.

In other areas, it is important to me to represent sexual identity evenly. For instance, I wrote a short story that had a transgender individual as a villain. I chose to go back and include a positive representation of a transgender person so that I would not have a one-sided or purely negative representation of my T’s in the LGBTQ family.

Q. How does multiculturalism play into your series?

A. The foundation of my universe was built with my lover, who is a first generation immigrant from Burma. A lot of Maria’s family dynamic is a mixture of his stories, my experiences, and memories of my Tia Lucinda. As a white passing child of a Chilean immigrant, Maria faces a lot of “otherness.”

Beyond the main character, there are a lot of underlying themes that include multiculturalism. The setting is 90’s Washington D.C. Since the area had a large black population, my story does as well.

Naga Mii is my first sounding board if I have a question about portraying multicultural characters honestly. He helped me have the courage to portray Maria’s shortcomings. I used some of her social interactions to show the awkwardness of perhaps having good intentions, but being ignorant in black spaces. As she grows in many other ways, she also grows in cultural understanding. As a white author, I feel responsible for including these underlying themes and not flinching away from the effort of writing a diverse world filled with diverse people.

White authors tend to 1: leave out people of color, 2: fall into writing POC’s as stereotypes, or 3: write POC’s as if they were white, then casually mention the character is of another ethnicity. So somewhere between here and there I fell back on my research nerd skills. I’ve asked friends of color who are authors or fantasy readers what they like to see, or hate to see when it comes to portrayal of people of color in fiction. I’ve read books featuring multicultural casts. I also reached out to people of color who have to do with the lifestyle of individual characters. For instance, I contacted an all-black biker club to ask questions about portraying Ace’s organization. Ultimately, my characters and world are written with love and respect. With all the chaos, magic, violence, sex, and politics, I hope that it shows through to my readers.

Q. Maria seems very empowered. Do you consider her a feminist character?

A. In the deepest sense, yes. A lot of her story is about finding her strength. While she is a deeply flawed character, and her relationships show that, she builds her own beauty and creates her own life.

Q. Do you find any challenges related to writing as a woman in male dominated genres?

A. I touched on some of it. There is more judgement. A character who grows, adapts, loves, fails, and picks themselves up to try again gets looked at differently if it is a female as opposed to a male character.

Q. How was it outing yourself as an author at your first public event as a creator, Chico-Con?

A. On one hand it was terrifying. I found myself alone and facing an intimidating task. For much of the event I was handing out fliers. It was irksome to explain that I didn’t have books to sell yet. On the other, it built my confidence to be in public promoting my writing.

It is of note that I was the only female writer at the event. The guys at the con were welcoming. However, I find it odd that in nerd spaces I am either welcomed and protected as a woman, or cross-examined and shunned. It is strange to rarely be treated as just another face in the crowd.

~ by Sumiko Saulson on August 13, 2018.

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