Leyna Krow Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Leyna Krow
Photo: © Murray Krow

Leyna Krow

An interview with Leyna Krow

Leyna Krow discusses her debut novel, Fire Season, and how the location influenced the characters - and writing - of this book.

You live in the Pacific Northwest. How has this geography and culture influenced your writing? What most excites you about this region? How do you think this place shapes the characters in Fire Season, and did you do any special research to inform your writing?

Well, not to split hairs, but I actually live in the Inland Northwest. Spokane is on the eastern edge of Washington State. I did live on the west side, in Seattle, when I was in my twenties. But Spokane has been my home for the last decade, and it is a different culture and geography over here. Spokane is a great place to write about. It is unapologetically, unselfconsciously strange. Many of the weirdest details in Fire Season are true things that I found in my research and wanted to include in the story just because they were so delightful. But also, Spokane is kind of this underdog city that people either have never heard of or have a bad impression of. I like underdogs. I like this weird, friendly, earnest city. It feels like the sort of place where anything could happen, and that makes it an ideal setting for stories that are a little fantastical.

The characters in Fire Season are absolutely shaped by the setting. In the novel, Spokane Falls (which was the city's name at the time; the "Falls" was dropped in 1891) is almost a character itself in the ways its influence pushes against the protagonists. The men, Barton and Quake, are constantly struggling with the place—its very culture seems to stand in the way of their ambitions. Roslyn, on the other hand, likes Spokane Falls and moves through it easily, at times almost as if she is a part of it.

I did have to do a lot of research for this book. I was originally drawn to the story of the 1889 fire, but beyond that, I didn't know very much about the city's history before I started. I was just compelled by this particular event and all its coincidences and oddities, and so I wanted to write about it.

Did you always know you would write about the American West? What were some of the challenges? Are there any writers or depictions of this region that have made you think differently about how to tell these stories?

I've lived on the West Coast my whole life, and in Washington State since I was twenty-two. I'm not particularly well traveled. So, I'm not sure what other locations I would write about. That said, it can be nerve-racking to write about a real place, particularly the place where you live. I'm certain there are people in Spokane who know its history better than I do, and who will find fault in my portrayal. I definitely look up to other local writers who have set books in this region—particularly Sharma Shields and Jess Walter. They both have a way of capturing this place with honesty, but with an inherent kindness too. I'm also very keen on the work of writers who have reimagined Westerns in a fantastical way. Karen Joy Fowler's Sarah Canary and Colin Winnette's Haints Stay are two books I thought about a lot while working on Fire Season—the way they worked within that genre to do something unexpected.

This is your first novel, but you've also written a collection of short stories. How do you determine which form is the best fit for a particular story?

I really do consider myself a short story writer. My first collection, I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking, was published in 2016, and I feel a lot of my identity as an author is connected to that book. Novelist is not a word I've used for myself yet. Fire Season was the first story I've come up with where I felt that it had the potential to be a whole novel. But it did start as a shorter piece. It was originally focused on just one character who used the fire in Spokane Falls to better his own situation. The story wasn't very satisfying though, so I started to think about what other perspectives I could bring in, and that opened up the possibility of it being novel length. I loved the process and writing it, but it is also such a tremendous commitment to say, "Okay, I'm going to spend years on this one story. I hope it's good."

Fire Season is magical, historical, romantic, and suspenseful. Do you consider genre when you are writing? How do you see your work, genre-wise?

I like the term fabulist. It's kind of a mash-up of elements from magical realism, sci-fi, and horror, but always with one foot in the real world as well. I like the term weird too. Stories that have weird stuff, fantastical stuff in them—they're fun. It opens the door for a lot of humor, and I like to be funny. But weirdness also can give new ways of accessing old stories and new avenues for empathy. For example, with Fire Season, writing a character who is a prostitute in the Wild West is a cliché. Every reader already has an image of that character. But if she's magical, what then? You don't know her like you thought you did. That gives me an entryway to say something new. I never would have thought to write traditional historical fiction. That seems daunting. I needed to stay in the genre I knew, even if that meant working outside the bounds of a lot of people's expectation for historical writing.

What else are you working on? What's next?

I'm very excited to have another book forthcoming from Viking. It is a collection of short stories exploring women's relationships to power (or a lack thereof) in a variety of contexts. Almost all the stories contain fabulist elements—alternate dimensions, time travel, ghosts, made-up animals, etc. I think they are funny too, but also sometimes gruesome and a little mean. None of them have anything to do with fires or the 1800s, so that's been a nice change.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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Books by this Author

Books by Leyna Krow at BookBrowse
Fire Season jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Leyna Krow but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
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  • Jennifer Egan

    Jennifer Egan

    Jennifer Egan is the author of several novels and a short story collection. Her novel, Manhattan Beach, published in October 2017, has been awarded the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Her last novel, A... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Fire Season

    Try:
    Manhattan Beach
    by Jennifer Egan

  • Téa Obreht

    Téa Obreht

    Téa Obreht was born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia, and grew up in Cyprus and Egypt before eventually immigrating to the United States. Her debut novel, The Tiger's Wife, won the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction, and... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Fire Season

    Try:
    Inland
    by Téa Obreht

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