Karen Heuler is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Splendid City. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the state of Liberty, water is rationed at alarming prices, free speech is hardly without a cost, and Texas has just declared itself its own country. In this society, paranoia is well-suited because eyes and ears are all around, and they are judging. Always judging. This terrifying (and yet somehow vaguely familiar) terrain is explored via Eleanor – a young woman eagerly learning about the gifts of her magic through the support of her coven. But being a white witch is not as easy as they portray it in the books, and she’s already been placed under ‘house arrest’ with a letch named Stan, a co-worker who wronged her in the past and now exists in the form of a cat. A talking cat who loves craft beers, picket lines, and duping and ‘shooting’ people. Eleanor has no time for Stan and his shenanigans, because she finds herself helping another coven locate a missing witch which she thinks is mysteriously linked to the shortage of water in Liberty.
What’s Karen’s favorite bit?
We’ve all heard about characters that write themselves, or run away with the plot. All that means, of course, is that the author finds that character fun to write about, and that most assuredly applies to Stan the cat in The Splendid City. He’s a delight. He’s bold and brassy and has more confidence than a politician (should he be a politician?) He’s proud of eavesdropping, lying, trickery, all of it. He thinks he’s smart. He has a tendency to take out his small pistol and shoot people who annoy him. “I never kill them, you know,” he brags. And he only allows himself one shot a day.
My other main character, Eleanor, is short-tempered, well meaning, and stuck with Stan because of her own failure to deal with him when he was a man. She was a novice witch and she turned him into a cat, without authorization and without putting the key into the spell that would allow him to be turned back to a man.
By the way, I support her decision. If I ran into Stan, I would smack him in an instant.
But because of Stan’s provocation and Eleanor’s unauthorized transformation spell, they are exiled together to Liberty, a state that seceded from the U.S. and declared itself a republic, or perhaps an empire. Liberty has a president who provides perpetual parades, car giveaways, and nougat throws, and the city streets have animatronic presidential heads that ask how you’re doing. Sure, some people disappear. Sure, a river is missing and that’s blamed on those nasty Easterners. And a witch is missing, too, which doesn’t bother Stan (why would it?) but it is part of Eleanor’s redemption to find that witch.
Though Liberty might seem like a fun place to visit, what with all the parades, it’s a bunch of lies. The parades are to support the president, and the protests are rigged. You have to pay for water, and it’s not cheap. Plus, they keep giving Stan the wrong kind of salsa on his fish tacos. On the other hand, Stan loves to eavesdrop and people say the most ridiculous things. He is always delighted with that.
He stays out late, he eats and drinks too much, he can’t resist insulting people, and he’s alert to every possibility for self-improvement. Liberty gives him so many opportunities to sneer at people or manipulate them. Try to call him out on being a cat rather than a man and he’ll simply say, “My dear sir, I have a rare skin condition that makes me look like a cat.”
He is, in fact, anything he wants to be, depending on the situation.
He’s a bad boy. And a cat. I’m in love.
Karen Heuler is the author of The Splendid City. Her stories have appeared in over 100 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, from Conjunctions to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to Weird Tales, as well as a number of Best Of anthologies. She has received an O. Henry award, been a finalist for the Iowa short fiction award, the Bellwether award, the Shirley Jackson award for short fiction, and a bunch of other ritzy awards. Her stories and books often feature women facing strange circumstances on this world and others. Karen Heuler lives in New York City with a large dog and two alarmed cats.