Kristina Pérez holds a PhD in Medieval Literature from the University of Cambridge and a non-fiction title based on her research, The Myth of Morgan la Fey, is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. In 2012, she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Hong Kong University's Journalism and Media Studies Centre. As a journalist, her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal Asia,Departures, L’Officiel India, Condé Nast Traveler, CNNGo and the South China Morning Post, among others. She is also the author of A Hedonist’s Guide to Beijing. She is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.
1. Congratulations on your forthcoming book nonfiction book, The Myth of Morgan la Fey. I’ve always loved Arthurian legends! Can you tell me first interested you about Morgan?
Thank you, I’m pretty psyched! As for how I originally became interested in Morgan, I’m going to have to give you a fangirl answer. When I was thirteen years old, I discovered The Mists of Avalon and it was pivotal moment in my life. I became obsessed. I decided right then and there that I wanted to write the definitive book on Morgan one day. Hopefully, I have!
2. Your book examines the way that she has evolved over the centuries. How has she evolved?
Morgan’s trajectory over the past millennium has actually been more of a devolution from Celtic Sovereignty Goddess to Fairy Mistress to Witch. My study investigates the ways in which the changing portrayal of Morgan la Fey provides insights into fundamental gender dynamics that still inform the construction of self in the Internet age.
Morgan continues to play a key role in cultural zeitgeists ranging from Elizabethan England to Second Wave Feminism because of her inherent duality as both a Mother and a Lover. Western culture consistently seeks to control female sexuality by splitting a woman’s identity into either a Mother or a Lover, i.e. a Madonna or a Whore. Morgan’s endurance in the popular imagination is, in my opinion, a direct result of her refusal to have her roles divided or let her identity be fractured. And this denial creates a persistent tension that fuels her descent from goddess to wicked enchantress.
3. Apart from The Myth of Morgan la Fey, you are also in the process of writing a young adult book, Warwick Hall. (As someone who loves anything Victorian/Gothic/detective, it looks super-intriguing!) Can you talk a bit about it?
I, too, have a passion for all things gothic and macabre. Poe has long been one of my favorites. Without giving too much away, WARWICK HALL is a cross between a Victorian Gothic novel and a teen detective story: Veronica Mars meets The Woman in White. At Warwick Hall Academy, both the living and the dead have secrets. Two girls––one alive, one not––team up to solve the mystery of the menacing presence that haunts them both. The answers are hidden somewhere within the school grounds, where everyone is a potential suspect and trusting the wrong person could get you killed.
4. I often have Brontё or Austen novels dancing about in my head as I write. Are there any books that inspire you? What is it about these texts that enrich your own stories?
As a medievalist, I pretty much live and breathe the heroic culture, sagas and epic poetry. I couldn’t get away from it even if I wanted to. It informs the way I conceive my characters as well as my world-building. I also tend to think of plotting––and life––in terms of quests: certain goals that need to be achieved in order to move onto the next phase, all of the mini-climaxes culminating in the One Great Challenge. It will surprise absolutely no one that I was an avid Legend of Zelda player in the 1980s. (I saw myself as Link rather than the princess, by the way).
5. Apart from writing, you are also an academic. How does your academic background help or limit your creative writing?
There are a number of ways in which being an academic influences my writing process. I’m not sure if it hinders me in any way except that I am a very firm believer in outlines! My core concept for any WIP is essentially a thesis statement. While my fiction is certainly character driven, I try never to lose sight of my initial ideas about the overarching theme. Also, the first stage in any new idea is research, research, research! Since I actually really enjoy reading academic journal articles (the horror, the horror!), I will usually begin with a cursory search in a digital archive such as JSTOR regarding historical events, literary motifs, folklore or even period clothing.
6. You recently concluded a Visiting Assistant Professor position. What did you teach? Does your teaching experience in any way affect your writing?
Well, I’ve taught medieval literature in the past, of course, as well as lots of literary, gender and psychoanalytic theory. Most recently I’ve been helping to design cultural studies courses for journalists. Since I’ve also worked as an arts and culture reporter for a number of years, I feel strongly that a basic grounding in art and cultural theories is a prerequisite to insightful and analytical journalism in this arena.
7. Can you explain a bit about what the Madeleine Project is?
Yes, indeedy! Part of my misspent youth was enjoyed in Paris and so I’ve always had a penchant for Marcel Proust who is probably the most famous self-published author in history (before E.L. James, that is). He penned the 1.5 million-word tome, À la recherche du temps perdu (translated as either, In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) between 1913 and 1927.
In one of the work’s most famous passages, Proust recounts dunking a madeleine––a shell-shaped French pastry––into his tea and being instantaneously transported back to his childhood. Proust’s madeleine is now interchangeable with the idea of involuntary memory: when cues in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort.
As a teenager, Proust poured his heart out in a Confession Album––the ancestor of the modern-day Slam Book––which was all the rage in the 1880s. Proust’s questionnaire became the template for interviews used by the US TV program, Inside the Actor’s Studio as well as the back page of Vanity Fair magazine.
The Madeleine Project therefore uses a modified version of the Proust Questionnaire to recapture the moments that influenced writers’ artistic and professional paths. The goal is to create a collage of experience that allows authors, agents, editors, and readers to interact in a new way.
8. How do you find time to write with your teaching load? Do you stay up late, get up early? Work like mad during office hours?
I received my first Filofax when I was twelve––clearly my dad didn’t know what to get a twelve-year-old girl ;-) I remember clearly that it had Minnie and Mickey Mouse designs on all the pages. I used to pretend that I was Penny from Inspector Gadget and longed for my own computerized version; now I have an iPad, so I guess that dream came true! Anyway, that’s a round about way of saying that I am obsessively organized and strict about keeping to the schedules I set myself. So when I allot time to write, I write.
9. What helps you write? (i.e. do you have a favorite movie, snack, song?) What do you do when writer’s block hits?
Music, definitely. I have an infinite number of playlists on my iPad. I have playlists to suit the general mood of certain WIPs, specific characters, and types of scenes––i.e. Love Scenes, Epic, Duels etc. I don’t believe in letting writer’s block dictate your creative process; when I have set a time to write, I write something, anything. Even if it’s unrelated to my WIP.
10. Ok, this is the fun question. If you had the chance, which literary character would you duel and why?
I’m going to have to say Morgan la Fey, even though I would lose. I would just love to see her in action: turning herself into stone, wielding Excalibur…regardless of the fact that I’d probably end up imprisoned in her Val Sanz Retour (Valley of No Return), frozen in a block of ice from the waist down while my head is engulfed in flames. But maybe, just maybe, I could get her to pity on me, bundle me into her barge, and transport me beyond the mists to Avalon. Now, wouldn’t that be something?!
Watch her very cool book trailer for WARWICK HALL. (Why yes, I have already watched it three times this morning!)