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Chatting with Kathy Karch

Kathy Karch examines working as a science teacher and sci-fi author, SFWA mentorship, writing cycles, MFA experiences, extroverted writers, board games, Magic: The Gathering, SFF conventions, and Scrivener.

Chatting with Kathy Karch

Katherine Karch is a high school science teacher and author living on the North Shore of Massachusetts. She studied biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and creative writing at Lesley University. Her writing has appeared in magazines such as MetaStellar, Uncharted, Metaphorosis, and Radon Journal. If asked to describe herself, she would say that she’s mostly harmless, probably human, and definitely a nerd. Find her on Instagram (@katherinekarchwrites), Mastodon (, BlueSky (, and her blog (

Katherine is also the author of the short story "The Colony Ship's Companion" from Radon Issue 5.

Q: How does your career as a science teacher influence your work within the sci-fi genre?

You might think it would incline me toward writing a lot of science fiction, but the opposite is actually true. While I love reading science fiction, I struggle to write it. It’s strange. When it’s someone else’s story, I’m able to suspend disbelief or overlook scientific inaccuracies, but in my own work I get obsessively caught up in making sure the science is accurate and the premise plausible. Inevitably, the actual story I’m trying to tell gets bogged down and suffers. Hard science fiction is completely off the table. Forget about it. I’m better with social science fiction, which is less about the scientific details and more about its impact on people, but even then my “teacher” brain struggles to turn off. For whatever reason, that doesn’t happen as much when I write tales that are seated squarely in the supernatural, like fantasy or horror, so that’s what I end up writing more of.

Q: In the months after you get settled into full-time teaching, how do you work the creative process back into your routine?

When summer ends and September hits, my writing gets put completely on hold until the end of November. I spend the first three months of every new school year focused on getting to know my students, lesson planning, prepping labs, and grading papers. I also coach volleyball in the afternoons during the fall, so I’m also busy with that. It’s basically two teaching jobs stacked on top of each other, but it doesn’t last forever. When the first trimester closes at the end of November, I’ve usually found my teaching groove, and the volleyball season wraps up so I have more time each day to plan, prep, and grade.

As it happens, I belong to a writing group that runs a flash fiction contest each winter. The timing is perfect. I use the month of December to catch my breath and start feeling human again, a process that usually involves a lot of board games and movie watching with my family. Then, I dive into writing flash fiction in January with a bunch of incredibly talented writers. The contest provides the benefit of camaraderie. There’s a sense of “we’re all in this together” as we attempt this crazy thing that I love. The contest also has hard and fast deadlines, which I’ve found I respond very well to (probably because teachers live and die by such things). And with so many other people participating, there’s a certain amount of peer pressure and accountability built into the experience (in a supportive and encouraging way). By the time the contest ends, I’ve reintroduced myself to the creative process, re-established a regular writing routine, and rediscovered how much I enjoy writing.

Q: Tell us about your experience with your summer mentorship through SFWA under Julia Rios?

It was fantastic! Every year the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association runs a 12-week long mentorship initiative. As they state on their website, the program “aims to connect writers who have questions, whether they are emerging writers or have expansive career experience, with each other with the objective of providing community, sharing knowledge, and offering networking opportunities.” I was lucky enough to be accepted into the program and was matched up with Julia Rios, who worked with me from June to September.

Julia is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. Much of their work focuses on writing for young adult and middle grade audiences, but they’ve also been an editor for Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, and Fireside Magazine. They narrate stories for Pseudopod and Podcastle, too, so they have a tremendous amount of experiential knowledge under their belt. They are the driving force behind Worlds of Possibility, and they host the podcast OMG Julia! and the podcast This is Why We’re Like This.

Despite being an insanely busy human, Julia generously offered herself up as a mentor in this year’s mentorship initiative, so for twelve weeks we met every Friday morning via zoom to talk about writing goals, writing habits, industry trends, expectations, and self-care. They were incredibly generous with their time and their knowledge. With their help I wrote more consistently and prolifically than at any other point in my life. Part of that was not wanting to squander the opportunity to be working with someone as talented and knowledgeable as Julia. Some of it was not wanting to waste my mentor’s time, but most of it was just me feeling supported and encouraged and motivated by Julia.

I drafted a full outline and wrote the first half of a middle grade fantasy adventure novel with their help. To be clear, their role wasn’t to read my work or act as a developmental editor or anything like that. They just talked with me about the process, gave me organizational tips, and helped keep me on track. The novel project got put on hold when September rolled around, but Julia helped me acknowledge and accept that nearly all writers have cycles of productivity in their lives. Not writing for a week or a month or three months, they told me, doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. It means you’re a human being. It’s odd, but sometimes you need someone else to point that out to you, and Julia did that for me. I’m incredibly grateful for the experience.

Q: How was your MFA experience at Lesley University?

I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest. I entered Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program in 2016. That was an election year, if you’ll recall, and it was my first semester in a low-residency MFA program. Between trying to balance the demands of my job, the needs of my family, and the general trauma of a very toxic political environment, it was hard to stay focused on my creative writing. I muddled through, but I was definitely in survival mode throughout all of 2016 and a fair bit of 2017. As a result, I just wasn’t 100% present, mentally, and I think I missed out on a lot of depth of processing and deep learning. That had nothing to do with the quality of the program, mind you.

The faculty with whom I worked during my four semesters in the program were fantastic. All were smart, funny, thoughtful, and reflective. They helped me learn and practice the craft of writing effective and engaging stories. I’m still in touch with most of them, too, as well as with many fellow writers from my graduating cohort. Those friendships have lasted through to today. For me, the biggest benefits of the program was the guided structure it gave me and the human connections and relationships that I formed with established and aspiring authors.

Q: What is it like for you as an extroverted author?

It feels a little weird to describe myself as an extrovert, but I think it’s generally true. I love meeting new people and learning about them. New people are like new worlds waiting to be discovered. That’s why I enjoy going to writing conventions. So many new people to meet! Let me buy you a drink and pick your brain about anything and everything. I will talk to you for hours, if you’re willing.

That said, there are definitely times when the pendulum swings in the other direction and I become more introverted. I might be feeling spread too thin at work or I might be having a crisis of confidence after receiving yet another rejection letter on a story submission. Whenever I start feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I’ll retreat from the world for a while and hide in books (reading them, not writing them) or movies or TV shows while I recover and let my batteries recharge. Eventually, though, I’ll start missing interacting with people and will emerge from isolation refreshed and ready to explore again.

Q: As a board game aficionado, what is your favorite to play with friends?

My single favorite board game to play with friends?! That question feels cruel. How can you ask me to choose just one? I can’t do it. The best I can manage are my top five: Betrayal at House on the Hill, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Trivial Pursuit (any edition), and Balderdash. There are so many others that I love playing, but those are the ones I’ll never say no to.

Q: What draws you to Magic: The Gathering, and what color combination most appeals to you?

It’s such a great game! I got into MtG through friends who played when I was in college. They were very competitive and knew how to play. In contrast, I was much less competitive and didn’t know the game at all, so I played in a way that was completely illogical and unpredictable. My “agent of chaos” strategy didn’t win me many games, but it provided plenty of comic relief. After I graduated, I fell out of the MtG scene, but I kept my cards. I had shoeboxes filled with them packed away in storage. Fast forward twenty-ish years when I pulled all those cards out of storage and introduced my youngest child to them. It started out as, “Hey, look at all these cool cards with all these incredible illustrations.” It quickly transformed into deckbuilding, and testing of said decks against other decks, fine-tuning, adjusting, and naming the strongest decks (names like “Mom’s Deck of Destruction” or “Gabe’s Sneaky Spell Deck.”

Then, this past summer, I stumbled across an open MtG play night at a local comic shop (Paper Asylum in Beverly, MA). My kid and I showed up with our favorite 60-card decks only to discover that MtG had changed! It had evolved far beyond what I knew from a few decades ago. People were playing with these things called “commander decks”? I had no idea what anyone was talking about, but the folks at the shop were super nice. They welcomed my son and I in and lent us spare decks and taught us the new rules and new playing style. Now, we’re there almost every week with our new decks (starter decks we bought at Paper Asylum, not home built decks). I like to play a green-red deck. My son prefers a rainbow deck. I still rarely win, but for me that was never the point when playing Magic. I’m just there to hang out, have some fun, and cause a little good-natured chaos.

Q: How did the pandemic impact your writing life?

Not well. Figuring out how to teach lab-based science classes remotely was like trying to learn to play the violin, only the violin is in a different room from the bow. It felt impossible. None of my existing lesson plans worked over Zoom, so I had to throw everything out and start over from scratch all while trying to deal with the stress of helping my students navigate the emotional and psychological trauma of the pandemic, while also trying to manage my own emotional and psychological trauma and that of my own kids. The only way to do it was to say, “This year, I just have to be a teacher. Next year, I’ll get back to being a writer.” So, I spent 2020 just trying to make it to the next day. I spent 2021 trying to recover from 2020. Technically, I had the time to write, but I didn’t have the emotional energy to write. I was burned out in a big way.

It wasn’t until winter of 2022 that I actually started writing again. Even now in 2023 I’m still seeing the impacts of the pandemic in the tone and themes of my stories. A lot of what’s bubbled up and found its way to the page in the last few months are stories of isolation, loneliness, and making sacrifices for the benefit of others not because you want to but because you have to. This winter, when that flash contest starts up, I’m going to set the goal of writing some upbeat and hopeful stuff. We’ll see if I can manage it.

Q: Would you recommend genre authors attend SFF conventions?

Oh my gosh, yes! If you’ve got a book to promote, cons can be a great way to boost sales and build a fan-base, but I attend cons for the sheer pleasure of immersing myself in the culture of the SFF community. There’s an energy at the SFF cons I’ve gone to that’s almost electric in its intensity. A mutual love of SFF bringing fans and writers together, everyone eager to share that mutual love with everyone else. It’s easy to strike up conversations with folks while browsing books or waiting for a panel discussion to start or even just standing in line to get a coffee. 

You never know who you’ll meet or what will happen. I once chanced to have breakfast with Samual Delany at ReaderCon because the hotel restaurant was busy and the waitress asked us if we’d mind sharing a table together. He and I chatted over oatmeal and eggs about our favorite SFF authors and pets and food and travel. It was great. I’ve made so many “con friends” over the years. I talk to them regularly via discord and other social media platforms, but I only get to see them in person once or twice a year at conventions. It’s something I always look forward to.

Q: Are you still a fan of Scrivener to organize your manuscripts and help you write?

I am, but only for novel-length projects. I’ve tried to use it to write short stories and flash pieces, but the program isn’t really designed for shorter projects. For that stuff, I stick with Microsoft Word (and sometimes Google Docs).

Not everyone likes Scrivener, I know, but it works well for me. It has a ton of features that help me stay organized when I’m writing a long piece. I like to create and add keywords to chapters and scenes (location names or character names) that allow me to search for and see which story elements appear at what spots in a novel when it’s time to start the revision process. I’m a very visual person, so I like that there are multiple ways to “view” a manuscript (editor mode, corkboard mode, and outline mode). Everything can be color-coded, too, which I like. 

Scrivener also lets me import web addresses into a project, so I can access research-relevant websites without actually leaving the program (a feature that helps me avoid internet distractions). And it has a “back-up project” feature that greatly reduces the chances of me losing data. At the end of every writing session, my files automatically back-up to two different locations (one in the cloud and one on my hard drive) and I can quickly and easily prompt it to back-up a project file to a third location with just a couple of extra clicks. Scrivener has a lot of horsepower and is–for all the features it provides–remarkably cost-effective.

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