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An Interview with Kim Berkley


Kim Berkley is a fantasy author, narrative designer, and freelance writer with a talent for productive procrastination and a fondness for cats.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I think my identity as a writer was shaped by a string of events, like beads on a necklace, rather than one single moment in time. The first may have been when I read The Hobbit’and The Lord of the Rings with my parents for the first time as a child. Tolkien’s work spawned my first fanfic—and several more thereafter. Another bead on the string was almost certainly when a friend introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s work in high school, and I realized just how much a story could change a person’s life. Many more beads were likely added by the uncountable days I spent sick in bed with migraines;on those days, I clung to two things: music, and stories. I think a part of my interest in storytelling is simply to pay forward some fraction of the kindness that authors like Robin McKinley and Donna Jo Napoli unknowingly bestowed upon me on those days—their stories saved me from myself when I was feeling my worst.

Many others have inspired and influenced me over the years, and not just fantasy fiction authors—Hideo Kojima, David Bowie, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Cassandra Khaw, just to name a few. ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books and RPGs like Mass Effect also led me down the path to trying my hand at creating my own interactive narratives.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

A friend planted the first seed, albeit by accident. We were brainstorming ideas for a visual novel game jam, and one of the ideas that we wound up setting aside was the idea of someone who could absorb other people’s curses. I’d had the idea rattling around in my brain after research for another project led me to learn about sin eaters, and somewhere in between those words and my love of magic, I found (or formed?) a concept that intrigued me.

So even though we didn’t use the idea for that game jam, I kept it in my back pocket. I pulled it out again when I decided it was time to return to working in ChoiceScript to create another interactive fiction project—my biggest and most complex one to date.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It wasn’t a straight or easy road. From conception, I had a very different title in mind—one I still like very much, and may use for a different (but perhaps related) project in the future. But after several honest talks with my editor and a LOT of brainstorming, we came up with Shadow of the Curse-Eater, which would more clearly represent the game but still has a nice ring to it.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Oh, I actually came up with some character theme songs for the main players at one point as a creative exercise. A few of my favorite picks (and no, I won’t say which characters they’re for): “The Seed” by Aurora, “We Have It All” by Pim Stones, and Ciara’s haunting cover of “Paint It Black.”

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’ve been doing this writing thing pretty much since the beginning. I started as a video game journalist making very little (I have done some work “for exposure and experience” in the distant past), and went on to a marketing job for a while before diving back into the deep, dark ocean of freelance writing post-pandemic. Currently, I work on a small localization team as a narrative designer—while working on Shadow of the Curse-Eater, my blog, my newsletter, and other writing and editing work I pick up along the way.

There are probably a lot of things my readers don’t know about me. I’ll pick just one for now: before I decided to pursue writing professionally, I was an art kid. I wanted to be a painter when I was a kid, but got more into photography in high school—and then took a sharp turn left and studied English literature and creative writing in college. (Okay, maybe not THAT sharp of a turn. I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm.)

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

For Shadow of the Curse-Eater, as I mentioned, it all started with a book about sin-eaters—unfortunately, I do not recall the title or author. But once I shifted the concept to one about curses, I spent a lot of time reading articles about curses and dark mythology around the world. I’ve also read (mostly listened) to quite a few books, podcasts, and speeches about burnout for comfort—largely because I fell victim to it myself toward the end of last year. My favorite comfort read for such times is Zen in the Art of Writing by Rad Bradbury, and my favorite comfort listen throughout this process (and anytime I’m struggling) is Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech for the University of the Arts 2012 graduating class: “Make good art.”

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

My perfect reader is someone who loves spending time in nature, at least in their imagination, because Shadow of the Curse-Eater is also rooted in my own love of green spaces and blue horizons. Hopefully, they’ll also be fans of furry ears, because the cast is quite diverse, and includes fauns, fairies, fox spirits, and werecats (oh my!), and many other types of wilderfolk besides.

I’d love for my readers to get something they need from my story, whether it’s hope, a sense of connection, or even just a fun adventure. If nothing else, I’d like my story to serve as a reminder that no matter how dark things get, there is always the potential for light and hope—although sometimes, you must pave the path to it (or even create it) yourself.

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