Kele Lampe

[This issue, we sit down for a quick interview with Kele Lampe. Under her pen name of Katherine Lampe, she is the author of the Celtic myth-based urban fantasy/mystery Caitlin Ross series. Here, she discusses her spiritual path, her books, and her writing process.]

Eternal Haunted Summer: How do you describe your personal spiritual path?

Kele Lampe: I identify as a Witch, but not a Wiccan. That is, I claim the word, but I don’t share many of the beliefs of straight-ahead Wicca. Rather than believing in a dualistic god (Lord and Lady), I’m a hard polytheist, for example. That means I believe in many gods and goddesses as separate entities in and of themselves, not as aspects of some larger entity or truth. I believe these gods can and do interact with us, though some choose to ignore us or just don’t care we exist, and that’s fine, too. I also practice a kind of animism; I believe the Earth and everything in it is alive and more or less aware and should be treated with respect and thanked when it takes care of us. I don’t have a set time or method for doing ritual, though I do use some symbolic magic and have done big rituals in the past. Mostly I believe in living a respectful life and treating the world around me as sacred.

EHS: As Katherine Lampe, you are the author of the Caitlin Ross paranormal mystery series. First, why did you decide to write a paranormal series?

KL: Writing a paranormal series just kind of happened. When I was younger, i always wanted to write big, sweeping epic fantasies, but as I progressed as a writer, many  of those I read plain irritated me. I didn’t like the view of magic and magic users that was presented in many of them — often that magic is this uncontrollable force and magic-users will necessarily become corrupt or unbalanced in some way. I wanted to write about a person who lived a magical life in a quieter way, but still had power to achieve miraculous things. And I wanted to base a series more on this-world magic, including ritual magic and shamanism, which I felt I could portray better than I had seen it portrayed elsewhere. I had pretty much had it up to here with mysterious spellbooks and high destinies and Witches being either oversexualized teenaged girls or irredeemably evil (and sometimes both). So I set out to write what I wanted to see more of in the books I read. 

EHS: The series has an underlying Celtic mythology. Why Celtic, and what bits of Celtic lore did you most enjoy weaving into the story?

KL: I’ve always been fascinated with things Celtic. With the myths and stories, yes, and also with the culture. When I started writing the first book in the series, The Unquiet Grave, I had just broken up my Celtic band because a couple of the members of it just never could get it together and function as professional musicians, and there were a lot of hard feelings I had to sort out. So it seemed natural to me to put Caitlin, my protagonist, in a similar band situation and let her work through my issues for me. That led to the ongoing thread of having Celtic music play a role in the books, and also to each book taking its title from a song in the Celtic repertoire. And it really has helped restore my love of the music and the songs.

Aside from the musical elements, I really enjoy the character of the goddess Cerridwen, who has been one of Caitlin’s patron gods and shows up from time to time. She just really tickles me, this powerful goddess of death and rebirth manifesting as a barefoot woman in a kitchen, with her bubbling cauldron, and being as likely to hit you with her wooden spoon as to give you any sage advice. I’d have to say a lot of what I get from her, I channel from somewhere, because her character isn’t built into any of her myths that I’ve read. But I imagine her as being like someone’s crusty grandmother, the kind with a tart word for everyone who does really love you but has an odd way of showing it. Someone who’d rather give you what you truly need than what you think you need or what you want.

EHS: What sort of research went into the Caitlin Ross books? Were you surrounded by stacks of books?

KL: I’ve been surrounded by stacks of books my whole life. *laughs* But really, it’s true; I read anything and I remember what I read, at least well enough to know where to look for it if I need it again later. My husband is also well-read, and he’s had a wide experience of various walks of life — everything from working in construction to community corrections and driving a cab. I can consult with him on a lot of things. I refer to Google a lot, and if I can’t tell where to go, I have a friend who’s a former librarian who is amazing at research whom I occasionally ask for tips. I do a lot of reading of subjects I’m not up on, but really I prefer to ask people when I can because they’re more likely to be accurate and have the actual experience that I’m needing, whether it’s asking a former trauma surgeon where a character can get shot without dying or asking a trans man about his experience in society and what kind of things get erased or missed. People as references are always better.

EHS: Caitlin’s husband, Timber, is the focus of the short story collection, The Fits O’ the Season. Why did you decide to focus on Timber in this anthology, and what was your favorite part of his background to explore?

KL: Those stories came about by happenstance, really. I used to say Timber never really “spoke” to me — not that I didn’t understand him enough to use him as a character, but that it felt removed, not as if he and I were having a personal conversation where he was telling me his story. Well, one day I got booted out of bed at way too early o’clock in the morning by him *yelling* at me that he had a story for me and I had to go write it *right now!* So I sat down and wrote it just as fast as I could; I can’t remember how many pages it was, but it took me most of the day. And that was the story of Timber starting college in his twenties and struggling with a recurrence of his heroin addiction. After that was done, I thought, “Gee, i wonder if I can write Timber’s point of view at will and without him yelling at me” — under more controlled circumstances, so to speak. I decided to write about Timber taking on the Ring of Omicron, and what happened between Timber and Caitlin after, which turned into the next three stories in the collection. So then I found out I could write his POV at will.

My favorite part of his background — that’s tough. Writing Timber is so intense because he lives totally in the moment and he’s so focused on each moment as it comes. I really enjoy all of it, because it’s such a change from writing Caitlin, who is much more heady. But I’d have to say my favorite thing I’ve done with him so far is a story that hasn’t been published yet, “How He Left,” about Timber in high school and how he ran away from home the first time. It’s just heart-wrenching watching him go through all the stuff a young teenager goes through and knowing he’ll come out all right eventually, but still wondering how the hell it’s going to happen.

EHS: There are currently seven books in the Caitlin Ross series. Are you planning more?

KL: I have plans for at least three more. Plus, I have two Timber stories that aren’t published yet and a third I’m halfway through. But I got a little burnt out on that world and needed to take a break. I hope to get back to it soon, because they’re stuck back in 2012 and I need to at least get the timeline moving again. 

EHS: You are also the author of the fairy tale collection, Dragons of the Mind. How did you decide which stories to include in the collection, and are there any that you saved for a second collection?

KL: That was another experiment. I had just read Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A.S. Byatt, which had a number of original fairy tales in it. And I wondered, since I’ve always loved fairy tales, if I could write an original one. So I took the form of a three helpful servants tale, partially, and wove it into my love of cats, and created the story “Whiskers and Fur.” So I found out yeah, I could write an original fairy tale. After that, I just played with the forms for a while, doing updated versions of a couple and merely taking elements from a couple of others to put into short stories that were only fairy tales peripherally. And when I had a number of them, it occurred to me that I could just choose to publish them as a collection, so I did. And to answer the second part of this question, I don’t have any others saved up. I haven’t felt moved to write fairy tales since that period, though I hope I do again at some date.

EHS: What other projects are you working on?

KL: I’m ashamed to say at the moment I’m not working on anything. I’ve been going through a long dry spell writing-wise, where nothing seems to hold my attention or interest  me long. Occasionally I open up the next Caitlin Ross book and add a few words to it, but I can’t find the story, though I have elements of it.