Author Interview: KM Pohklamp

Yes, Virginia, great things do happen on Facebook. That is where I met KM Pohklamp and I am so glad I did. I also had the chance to add her to my list of authors I wanted to interview after reading an advanced copy of Apricots and Wolfsbane.

K.M. Pohlkamp is a blessed wife, proud mother of two young children, and an aerospace engineer who works in Mission Control. She operated guidance, navigation and control systems on the Space Shuttle and is currently involved in development of upcoming manned-space vehicles. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain her sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano.

What inspired you to start writing? How long have you been writing? What about your latest book/story?

I have always loved writing – so much that along with engineering, I double majored in journalism. B.C. (that’s before children), I was a freelance writer for broadwayworld.com and worked at my hometown city’s newspaper as a sports journalist while in high school. Over the years I have developed my creative writing skills and am thrilled to be publishing my first novel.

Last fall, I read an article about forgotten females from history that profiled Locusta. Locusta was a female poison assassin from Rome (Gaul) and is considered to be the first serial killer. The fact the first serial killer was a woman struck me and the more I read about her, a story began to weave in my mind.

At the same time, my priest gave a sermon about how easy it is to fall into a cycle of sin and penance. Of course he was talking about minor offenses, but as a matter of reductio ad absurdum, I applied this concept to a murderer.

Apricots and Wolfsbane is a Tudor-period historical fiction/thriller following the career of a female poison assassin. The manuscript was an unofficial 2016 nanowrimo project (National Novel Writing Month), and while I did not complete the piece in the month (I’m astounded by authors who do every year), I had a first draft by January. Editing is always the long slog, but it’s rewarding to see a novel clean up, like a jewel being polished.

What influenced the way you tell a story?

After surviving years of AP English and college courses, my joy for reading was decimated. I could not withstand another “classic” that I was supposed to love. After college graduation, a friend put Anne Bishop’s Daughter of the Blood in my hands and begged me to read. I was hooked. I related to the strong, feminine characters. The dark aspects of the story drew me in as much as the jeweled castes and worlds Bishop created. The series rekindled my love for reading—but also showed me dark subjects can be approached with sophistication. A lesson I also took away from my favorite book, Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey.

How do you approach the art of writing?

I am a meticulous planner which dominates my writing process, beginning with extensive research for inspiration. I then develop lengthy spreadsheet outlines to work through pacing and strategize the best way to best tell the tale. (I am an engineer, after all.) When I’m ready, I start writing a piece in order, but about halfway through, end up writing the end and then filling in the middle. I find I constantly re-write the first chapter and could forever continue tweaking.

Finding time to write is my biggest challenge. It also seems inspiration comes at the most inconvenient times; often while I’m running or sleeping. My favorite place to write is in my pajamas, under a blanket with my laptop. Late at night, when the kids are asleep, I can go anywhere my imagination can create.

What do you read for pleasure?

I prefer books with strong, female leads, and am excited to add my novel to that list. Even though my novel is historical fiction, I read a lot of historical fantasy. As I mentioned earlier, my favorite books are the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey.

Your novel Apricots and Wolfsbane covers historical territory many readers are not familiar with. I found this intriguing and enjoyed the trip you took me on by leading me into the mind of Lavinia Maud, a “criminal,” in such a way that I identified with her, shouted out that she should make specific decisions and became emotionally wrapped in the tale.  How did you decide on this topic? I know your story is based on a real person, but what sort of research did it take to write about her? How did you go from real person to fiction?

Punishment for crimes in Tudor England were severe. Stealing an item with the value over one shilling was punishable by hanging. Even gossiping would find woman forced into a scold’s bridle, a metal cage that went over their heads. 16th century England believed society functioned better when everyone fulfilled the duties of their caste. Therefore, wives who poisoned their husbands were guilty of petty treason because their act challenged the husband’s superiority and rightful social order.

Yet poisoning was often the easiest way out of an undesired marriage, especially given the limited choices facing women in Tudor England. Poisoning can be accomplished without physical confrontation and also carried out slowly, over time, to minimize suspicion.

Not much is known about Locusta which left a lot of room for my imagination, and I did not want to duplicate her story, rather just let it influence my creativity. Most of my research focused on poisons, their symptoms and how to make them. I wanted to make sure the processes and equipment used by my main character (Lavinia) felt real without providing any actual instructions.

But enabling the reader to empathize with a cold-blooded murderer was my biggest challenge. For the reader to become invested in Lavina’s story, they need to sympathize with her struggle, to empathize when her heart breaks – to cheer for her, even when she’s killing.

This is the reason Lavinia has a clear moral line: she does not murder children, she is loyal to her patrons and does not kill without reason. She describes each murder with finesse instead of the detail found in a horror novel. The fact Lavinia is remorseful after each murder also helps with relatability, even if her beliefs are misguided. Finally, Lavinia’s longing for the magistrate’s love provides one conflict which will resonate with most readers, giving them an aspect of her life to personally connect with.

Lavinia has relatable weaknesses. She thrives with details and can reason through the most difficult purification. But she does not see the long game of those around her and fails to strategize appropriately.

Lavinia is also a reliable narrator, never lying to the reader. While she may be biased, she is also not a hypocrite.

Final words of wisdom?

This is so cliché but true: never be afraid to pursue your dreams, no matter how wild and unrealistic they may seem. You may not reach your goal, but trying is better than harboring regret.

Thank you, KM Pohklamp! You can find out more and buy this fantastic debut novel at the following links:

Website: www.kmpohlkamp.com

Twitter: @KMPohlkamp

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kmpohlkamp

Goodreads

Kindle

Amazon

Synopsis: 

Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies—to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Believing confession erases the sin of murder, her morbid desires are in unity with faith, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.

With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.