Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Katherine Cowley Q&A

Day three of this year's Lit Blitz is Katherine Cowley's "A Perfect Voice." Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the story:
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with Clara as a character and what interested you in her point of view? 
For a long time I've wanted to write a story about a musical number that went terribly wrong, because sometimes I have been Clara, judging the merit of the musical numbers, and sometimes I have been on the other side, performing not-so-perfect music. A few years ago I was in a ward that had special musical numbers almost every week, and for a while I was asked to accompany many of them on the piano. Then one week I was absolutely terrible, so terrible that no one in that ward ever asked me to play piano for anything again. 
When I began writing "A Perfect Voice" at first I considered a character who is a regularly-attending ward member, but there weren't any stakes--there was nothing at risk for the character--and so I ended up choosing an outsider, a visitor who comes expecting something completely different. As I started writing, I realized that for Clara to have her visceral reaction to the musical number, she needed a musical backstory, and suddenly I realized her past "failures" and I felt a connection to her, for all the things I have failed at and given up on. 
This piece deals the relationship between music and worship, and specifically about the role of ability vs. sincerity in making music. As a writer, I'm curious about whether you think the same ideas apply to any creative endeavor, or if there's something distinct about music specifically? 
This is a question I'm currently wrestling with, something I'm trying to find the answer to. On the one hand, I think it's okay to set aside dreams--we can't all be bestselling authors, Broadway stars, Hollywood filmmakers, professional dancers, or in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And yet in the parable of the talents, the Lord expects even the servant with only one talent to use it and not bury it. Some of the best talks I've heard were not given by polished speakers; some of the best desserts didn't look that attractive; some of the most welcoming homes are messy and would never be featured in an interior design magazine. Ability is important, and we can develop our abilities, but even if our abilities in whatever creative endeavors do not compare to those of others, I'd like to think there's a place for them and that they can greatly bless both ourselves and those around us.
What would you like to see more of in Mormon Literature? 
I would love to read more literature set outside of the United States, and I would love to read Mormon stories not originally written in English that have been translated.
Where can we read more of your work?

Most recently, I had a fairy tale novella published about a magical, ugly princess who rides a goat and fights with a wooden spoon; her new husband goes missing and it's a story about love and loyalty and struggle. The story is titled "Tatterhood and the Prince's Hand" and can be found in Unspun: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales. In term of Mormon literature, I've been published in Segullah, in the Mormon Lit Blitz's Meetings of the Myths contest, and several times in the Mormon Lit Blitz (here, here, and here).  You can find links to my other published works on


  1. I always seem to be first to comment. Time zones will do that to you.

    Yeah, church music is usually more about participation than about perfection, though I try with my choirs--and something near-perfect comes out when we actually perform. Whatever happens, it's a prayer, and voice quality doesn't matter when you pray.

    I'll be studying this story to learn your secrets. Got any you want to throw at me?

  2. Mark --

    Great insight--"voice quality doesn't matter when you pray."

    Um, I don't know about secrets. I struggled a bit with the word count and had to really tighten some spots. The first draft I didn't do enough with the ending (because I didn't have the space for it). The next draft I reorganized a bit to hit the emotional resonance harder, but then I overwrote the ending (it was too on the nose). And then I cut and rewrote a bit more. If you want to see the drafts, I can email them to you.

    1. Endings are tough. I'm impressed that you recognized both the problem with the "not enough" and the "overwritten".

    2. For me, it's beginnings. Typically I have the exact ending line in mind and I write towards it. It's coming up with the right starting point and an opening hook that I struggle with.



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