Carmen Kern is a writer and photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona.
Her work tends to be infused with mythological creatures, the immortal and most things unexplainable.
When she’s not writing, Carmen is usually lurking in alleyways and barren landscapes taking pictures and foraging for story ideas. Almost every story she’s written has come from an image she’s captured. Carmen sees stories all around us, and loves getting out there to look for them.
Kai Raine: What can you tell us about the novels and novella you have in the works?
Carmen Kern: I am currently working on an urban fantasy novel which plays off of the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades. It’s about being forced into a life as a Queen and a wife and a part-time daughter with all choice being taken away. Persephone has found a way to break the bonds of the Underworld, to take her life back and make her own choices. But like most things in the world of the gods, nothing goes as planned and she needs to decide how far she will go to gain her freedom.
I’ve also been working on a novella series titled Satan’s Historian about Rucker, a History student with a warped view on life, waiting for Death. But nothing can prepare him for who shows up instead. A golden stranger bursts into Rucker’s life with a flourish and a job proposal––write a memoir. Rucker is introduced into a new world by this stranger who calls himself Lucifer. The Lucifer. And the death Rucker craved is held hostage in exchange for documenting the history of the most famous of fallen angels.
I’m reworking a previously finished novel called Soul Keeper that takes place in the near future where prisoner rehabilitation has taken on a new name––Redeemed. Pure Souls are programmed to erase the damaged souls of the Condemned. Once injected, the Pure hunts down the original soul in what is called the Soul Wars. What looks like a routine Soul War for Keeper, Hayley Seger, turns out to be anything but. Prisoner 53231 not only remembers his name, but who he was––he’s left with two souls at war for his body. Hayley covers up the botched Soul War and her life takes a dangerous turn as she searches for a way to save Vaughn and uncover dark truths about the company she works for––truths that will change everything and leave both of them running for their lives.
Kai: I love adaptations of fairy tales and myths! What made you decide to adapt the story of Hades and Persephone?
Carmen: I mentioned that my photos are inspiration for my stories, this one was no exception. I took an image in the Vancouver subway, it was all gritty and low lit. There was something about the photo. I made into a piece of photo art and kept wondering what it was trying to be. Because I was writing the Satan’s Historian story, my mind was in hell already (not sure what that says about me) but I thought about who would be taking a subway from hell. I’d read mythology, mostly Greek, from a very young age and as soon as the subway from hell came to mind, there was no doubt it had to be a story about Persephone. She journeyed to the Overworld every year. Of course, she’d take the subway, right? It grew from a short story to a novel with the encouragement of my writers group and a few other people who read what is now the second chapter.
Kai: Are there any other Greek myths or other folklore that you’d like to adapt in the future?
Carmen: There will be a sequel to the Persephone book with much of it playing off the myth of the god of death, Thanatos. He’s not talked about much in mythology and I think most people assume that Hades is death, which isn’t the case. This will be a continuation from the first book, with many of the same characters returning. I prefer to write about the secondary or lesser known gods, it gives me more freedom to fictionalize without staying as true to the characteristics we know about the well-known gods. I have plans to do a novella series with the ‘threes’ of myth; the Furies (deities of vengeance), the Fates, and the Judges of the Dead. There are three individual beings that work together under each of these titles. Seems that each of their stories would fit well into a trilogy. And Hecate, the goddess of witches is one of my favorite characters in the Persephone book. Her part was severely cut but she definitely needs her own story. You can see how one picture opened this whole can of worms––in a good way.
Kai: Why do you think we have this fascination with these ancient myths in the modern day, despite the stories having lost their spiritual and religious context?
Carmen: I think it is like anything else that is fictionalized, someone asks the question, what if? What if all these people/gods/beings we’ve read about in our youth were alive today and walking around. But I think that is the appeal, picturing them in our world. I think all of us like to imagine the ‘what if’ of things. Even more so in the supernatural or mythical things we may or may not believe in. Why was the X Files such a hit? It asked the same question we are talking about here.
Kai: Would you care to share some of your photos and tell us about them?
Carmen: I’d love to share some of my photos. You can find many of them on my photo website. I also use a photo as inspiration for pieces of flash fiction. I’m trying to do one a week. This series is called, Postcards Found in a Shoebox. Past Postcards can be found on my author website. You can reach me from either site. I’ll share one of my favorites with you…
WEDNESDAY THE 24TH
She was crouched down in the corner, clenched up and tucked like a scared dog. The street was empty but for her and her crying. The kind of crying I don’t know what to do with. The hiccup, snotty kind. I asked if she was ok, if she was lost. She talked through her fingers, stuttered words expelled between shallow breaths. Her dog, Thunder had run off. Pulled the leash from her hand. She held out her palm, a thin red welt laid out like proof.
We searched the streets, me and her, calling and whistling. Found his black and brown hide tangled up in a bike rack outside a tattoo shop. He wiggled and howled and tucked his tail, knowing he’d done something wrong but not sure what.
She was already walking away when she spun around and yelled, thanks mister. Remember when you asked if there were any polite kids left in the world? I found one, right here in our home town.
Got me thinking that maybe the world ain’t going to hell after all. Got me thinking on the good stuff.
Kai: You display an Asimov quote about the role of sci-fi on your site, but the premises of your stories seem a little more in the ilk of spiritual or supernatural. What draws you to sci-fi, and what do you think authors of other genres can take away from it?
Carmen: This is such an interesting question. I’ve been drawn to sci-fi and fantasy as a young kid, and most of my stories have the genre flavors, new worlds, technology, magic and the world building that goes along with it. I also grew up the kid of a Baptist preacher, I guess you could say the spiritual ilk has always been in me as well. One of the things I love to explore is the humanity of each individual, how each of us has the capability to do good or evil or sometimes both. I think no matter what world I’m creating or technology the story has, my main exploration is about the character, what makes them do things and really, how good and evil aren’t always as different as we think they are. It’s something I think about a lot and no doubt, it seeps out in most of my stories. Sci-fi isn’t just about technology and space, it’s about the human condition living with and within both of those things.
Kai: What book or story influenced you as a child or teenager? How do you feel about that book or story now?
Carmen: I read so many books when I was a kid, my dad had an extensive and varied library, so I dug into it any chance I got between regular library visits. The book that sparked my love for Fantasy/Sci-fi was Madeleine L’Engle’s, Wrinkle in Time. I loved that the main character Meg, was a girl and a little bit quirky. I guess I could relate to that. But what really got me hooked in were the worlds she built, the planets and spells and magic––I had no idea I could go to other planets and experience magic in a book, not like that at least. It really was magic to me. I’ve reread the book several times and I can still sense that magic. I guess we’ll have to wait for a review on the movie coming out this year, but I hope, like so many of us do when our books are made into films, that they are true to the feel of it.
Kai: What’s a book, movie or story you’re particularly into at the moment? Why?
Carmen: I came late to the whole Walking Dead thing and I’m completely hooked. Like most shows in the zombie genre, the story isn’t about that at all, it’s about humanity and how we react and survive in extreme situations. It reminds me a bit of the Game of Thrones in that your favorite character might be slaughtered in any given episode but maybe that’s part of the whole appeal. I am also reading the last book of Justin Cronin’s series, The City of Mirrors. The way he put a new twist on the whole vampire story was so appealing. The apocalyptic world building and character development pulled me right in as well. I’d recommend these books to anyone who loves a story that explores the strength of humanity and their will to survive.
Kai: What’s the most crucial insight you’ve had about writing, as an aspiring author?
Carmen: I don’t want to sound cliché, but I have to say that perseverance has become one of the main words I take with me every day. I’ve wanted to quit writing so many times, after heavy rounds of editing and rejection after rejection of short stories and flash fiction. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like I’ll ever get my work out there. But every step, every story is me getting better at my craft and I’m practicing perseverance every day.
Kai: What’s one thing about you—your life, your habits, your favorite things, etc.—that people find hard to believe?
Carmen: I do have a slight obsession with fountain pens and knives made from Damascus steel. The knife thing makes sense, you know, in case the apocalypse hits but I’m not sure why I love the fountain pens so much––could be the awesome ink colors and the scratching sound it makes on paper.
Kai: If you died tomorrow, what would you want people to remember about you?
Carmen: That I wasn’t afraid of alleyways and believed in the unbelievable. And along my journey, I met other travelers, listened to their stories and they made me a better person because of it.