Behind the Scene: Krystal Powers

Posted by on Mar 31, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Scene: Krystal Powers

In her short story “Loving an Ant Sadist”, Krystal Powers provides readers a tender meditation on family, sisterhood, and the challenge of maintaining old bonds with siblings as we age. Complicating these themes is the fact that one of the siblings in the story is stricken by debilitating disease. Told in a series of vignettes ranging from childhood to adulthood, the story also evokes the cool sun-faded beauty of coastal, small town New England. Over a couple of emails, Powers shared with me some thoughts on her story, its setting, and more.

Joshua Peralta: Your story “Loving an Ant Sadist” is full of details that reveal a familiarity with the New England coast–the grassy sand dunes of Ogunquit, Maine, the worn, quilt-covered beds in old beachside cottages, a suburban Boston ranch house. Your bio mentions you live in the Boston area. Are you originally from this area, and do you think of yourself as a regional writer? 

Krystal Powers: Yes, I’m from Milton, MA originally. It was a lovely place to grow up. The New England coast is special to me because I grew up taking trips here, to my family’s house on Cape Cod and to Maine with my mother and sister for “girls weekends” in Kennebunkport. As for the quilts, my mother is an avid quilter, so I have personal experience with worn, well-loved quilts. Am I a regional writer? Yes…now that I think about it! The two young adult novels I have drafted are set in New England, and most of my short stories have been set here. Thanks for asking!

What are the titles/premises of your YA novels, and what inspired you to write for a YA audience? 

Both of the novels are YA historical fantasy. Both are titled Whisper and Shift, for now. 

The first book, very generally, is set in Salem MA in 2018 and in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials. It provides a fresh take on the trials, I hope. 14-year-old Anna, who learns she is part of a secret society, must save Mary Bradbury, a woman who, like many others, mysteriously escaped from Salem’s jail only to return to the town after the trials were long over. This mission is not for the faint-hearted, and neither were the 1690s in New England. 

The second book is similar in terms of structure, but the main character is Sam, a 14-year-old boy whose family just went through a terrible divorce. Sam lives on Boston’s historic Back Bay neighborhood, and he belongs to the same secret society Anna (from the previous book) belongs to. His mission is to help a girl who is going to be sold into child labor, and he teams up with the spunky Rose, the potential victim’s friend, to attempt to complete this mission. This book has in its background lots of research about women’s suffrage and the early nineteen hundreds. It is set in 2018 and 1918.

What is it about this area of the country that sets it apart from the rest and attracts you as a writer?

Maybe it’s because I’m an English teacher in a New England town, but I feel that the rich writing history of the area (Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Hawthorne, many others) combined with severity of the four seasons shape people here into reflective, complex creatures. And writers need to be both! The landscape here is constantly changing, and maybe that is what attracts many writers to it. The beaches here are so beautiful because they are so fragile—the Atlantic is a powerhouse of an ocean, and she is the boss. Dune grass and hardy beach roses cling to the shore, daring to bloom only for a quick season, and always with caution. Hurricanes and blizzards remind us that life is fleeting. I like to believe that the ocean and the weather bestow onto New Englanders a curious combination of resilience and resignation. 

Do you have a favorite Northeastern writer or work set in the New England region? Who or what is it and why? 

Hopefully it’s not too cheesy if I say Henry David Thoreau? His Walden and “Civil Disobedience” are probably my favorite pieces of writing to teach. Living near Walden Pond doesn’t hurt. I also love Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. I believe she is a New Englander. If not, boy did she do her homework. When I was a kid I read everything by Elizabeth George Speare, and sometimes I return to her work. 

In “Loving an Ant Sadist”, you present a relationship between two sisters that seem, especially personality-wise, a bit mismatched, but whose love and concern for each other comes through in their continuing presence in one another’s lives. What was your inspiration or even your models for such a sisterly duo? 

My mother is one of twelve, and throughout my life I have asked lots of questions about their childhood. Even though they grew up in different times, and sometimes very different circumstances, my mother and her sisters stay present in each other’s lives. Julia, my sister, is more similar to the story’s narrator: she’s kind and calmer than I am. Sara is a combination of people in my family, myself included. If one thing has always been true about sisters, it’s that they keep each other’s secrets—and take them to the grave. 

As someone who used to love to investigate the lives of insects as a kid, I enjoyed the focus and playfulness of the opening scene. In these days of structured outdoor play and attention-grabbing digital devices, do you feel like children are still encouraged to explore their environment and develop their curiosity about nature’s most common mysteries by direct observation of or participation in them? And what, if anything, do you see as the importance of such explorations if it takes time away from developing video gaming, social media and computer literacy? 

Screen time and phones are such a complex issue in education. On the one hand, devices can be usefulfor accessing information, for communicating with students and parents. But on the other hand, in the classroom I definitely see a need for more unstructured, relaxed time where teachers and students feel comfortable “getting into” the magic of a subject like literature. Unstructured play is so important for kids AND adults. People need to be able to let nature in, and that can’t be done with a phone in front of your face! One of the best things about childhood for me was summers of unstructured playtime at summer camp and down at my family’s capehouse. It’s one of those elements of growing up that I know shaped me, and that I hope to pass on to children.

Joshua Peralta lives in Oakland, CA. “The First Days” is the opening piece from 3rd & Orange, a novel-esque poetry & prose project that will be finished soon. Other poems from that collection have appeared in the journals Ariel, Riprap, Spot Lit Magazine, and most recently on TheGoodMenProject.