Behind the Words: Kasie Whitener

Posted by on Dec 29, 2022 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Kasie Whitener

Kasie Whitener’s short story “Two Trunks” introduces readers to a character whose physical discomforts on a sweltering day at the zoo serve to inflame the frustration she feels over the state of her marriage. Kasie generously answered some questions about how her story came together, and she also filled us in on her vibrant South Carolina literary community and her two novels.

Veronica Montes: It’s been some time since your story, “Two Trunks,” was published in Spry Lit, so I thought we’d start this interview with the present and work our way back to it. You’re currently working on a cool project that provides creative resources for the writers in your region. Can you tell us about that?

Kasie Whitener: I’m co-host on a radio show called Write On SC that focuses on craft conversations and promoting South Carolina authors. We’ve been doing it for almost 200 weeks. It airs live locally on Saturday mornings and streams on podcast platforms. I’ve also been part of some creative entrepreneurship efforts through the Arts Commission and the Women’s Business Center helping not just writers, but musicians, dancers, chefs, painters, and other creatives establish businesses around their art. I’m the President of South Carolina Writers Association (SCWA), a 450-person professional organization here, and we’re working on a variety of different initiatives for growing the literary community.

What are some of the ways your writing practice benefits from your involvement in an active writer’s community?

There’s a lot of opportunity to talk about my own work in those events and conversations. Any time I present, emcee, or serve as a panelist, I’m able to share with the audience that I have work published. Also, being engaged with all those storytellers makes the work I’m producing stronger as I continue to learn about my craft by reading others. My involvement with SCWA includes four workshops that meet regularly to review and critique pages, so that’s also helped my work get publish-ready.

Congratulations on the publication of your novels After December and Before Pittsburgh! The titles make me think that these are the first in a series; is that right? What genre best describes them? What themes do they explore? 

Thanks! The books are a duet, so there won’t be any more in this series (as far as I’ve planned). I call them GenX fiction, but it’s commercial adult fiction leaning toward character-driven literary. The first-person narrator is a young man of 22 experiencing the first major tragedy of his life, the death-by-suicide of his best friend. Themes include growing apart from childhood friends, earning trust and confidence from one’s parents in our 20s, and overcoming addiction and idleness to discover and pursue one’s purpose.

Let’s dig into “Two Trunks.” In response to a reader’s comment you shared that “Two Trunks” was the first story you’d written in a long time. What was it about this story that inspired your return to writing fiction? 

Wow! Great question! I was leaving my full-time job in corporate training and exploring the possibility of a freelance writing career when my mom told me about the experience one of her friends had on a zoo field trip. I decided to write about the tension between the public woman and her private struggles. Many of my stories since “Two Trunks” have grown out of the conflicts I’m working through personally. So maybe it was this story that reminded me fiction is a place where I can safely process my conflicts.

The zoo makes for a sensory-rich setting. I’d love to hear about your choices. How did you decide which details would most effectively place the reader inside Tracey’s headspace?

The zoo is such a singular experience. We don’t see, smell, or feel anything like that spectrum of senses anywhere else. It’s at the same time natural and animalistic, and controlled and contained. I wanted to play with the parallels of caged animals and restrained women, with the expectations we have of natural beings and the suppression that we expect human women to self-inflict.

I’m intrigued by the idea that Tracey’s clothing is never quite right. Her lingerie feels performative; her zoo outfit makes her miserable. What insight into Tracey’s character did you hope this might offer readers?

Clothes are costumes. We wear them to hide our natural state of nakedness which inherently makes them obstructions to being our natural selves. I don’t think Tracey’s a nudist or exhibitionist; I think she can’t find the right fit – the clothes that would reflect who she is and what she wants, but be acceptable by the standards of wife, mom, teacher—all roles that define Tracey.

Claudia plays a small, but necessary part in this story. Can you share what you had in mind with her character?

She’s what Tracey thinks she used to be, a reminder that she was once young and fit and attractive and that life was easier, accidental even. Claudia reminds Tracey that certain realities of her womanhood—her internal female life—are changing simply because she’s older.

“Two Trunks” closes with an image that lingers after reading. How did you arrive at this evocative ending? 

Sometimes we have to learn to think of ourselves as the lioness. I want Tracey to be more aggressive going after what she wants, not waiting for her husband to instigate, but demanding the release. The final image is a challenge for Tracey—for all the Traceys out there.

Veronica Montes