Kit Reed is the author of Little Sisters of the Apocalypse. This interview was conducted by FC2 Fellow Rachel Levy in 2012 and published at fc2.org in 2017.
How did you first learn about FC2?
I’d read about FC2 for a long time, which meant that when I joined the board of National Book Critics Circle in the ’90s I was excited to meet Ron Sukenick who, I decided, looked a bit like John Updike, the big difference being that Ron was a warm, immediate, generous and — do I dare say lovable? — person. It was a delight to sit at board meetings with him, talk afterward, all that. After one particularly hair-raising meeting of the fiction committee, in which someone who shall remain nameless was fomenting revolution (I forgot why, I gather we didn’t rush to the barricades on her behalf as nothing came of it), we talked a bit and I told Ron about a short novel I’d just finished, Little Sisters of the Apocalypse, a transgenred look at war and the homefront and a society in which only the women left behind by men in the American Armed Forces remain on a posh residential island. Ron said he’d love to have a look at it.
Tell us more about Little Sisters of the Apocalypse.
Once he’d read the novel, Ron asked me out for coffee on my first proper literary foray to The Algonquin — before renovation, before Marriott bought and announced it’s going to be closed again for yet another set of renovations. We sat in the lobby talking at length and he set a pub date for Little Sisters. What’s it about? I guess you’d have to be there. I’d rather quote than try to explain it, so I’ll give you a scrap of Trini, my favorite biker nun — right, the Little Sisters of the Apocalypse ride their Harleys in the spiritual climate of the near future.
rmmm, rmmm. On the one of the highways of life, the mystery cyclists hit top speed. Wind sneaks into their black jackets and makes them billow. Like the writing on the wall, the silver crosses glint on their black helmets. The others may not yet have their orders but the leader knows where they are going; they are heading west toward the desert and Schell Isle, in a state so far away that it will take them days to get there.
Trini rides point. Sister Trinitas, who has been called to lead the group on this mission. Next come Agatha and Perpetua, followed by Celeste Marie, Virtua and Lucy. Fanning out behind them are the others, hard-riding women hell-bent on God, whom they pursue as if they expect to find Him somewhere on the hard road ahead of them. They are sixteen in all, an order of religious who wear motorcycle jackets over the vestigial habitsblack jeans, white blouses, black scarves that conceal and signify the neck chain and swinging crucifix: the Little Sisters of the Apocalypse.
Sister Trinitas rides her rebuilt Harley ’74 with the chrome wheels and the raccoon tails streaming; she took it in the Melee of ’00, from a dying biker. Dipping her hand into a puddle, she gave him conditional baptism and stayed long enough to close his eyes and say a final prayer over him …; if she can only ride a pure line on the highway of life she may hit Mach 4 and leap the requisite number of cars or span the appropriate gulf like a god-struck Evel Knievel and at lightspeed encounter the eternal.
— from Little Sisters Of The Apocalypse (FC2, Black Ice, 1994)
And the title? My daughter, the writer Kate Maruyama, gave it to me, whole, the only time somebody else has given me a novel.
FC2’s mission statement says, “The Fiction Collective Two is devoted to publishing fiction considered by America’s largest publishers too challenging, innovative, or heterodox for the commercial milieu.” Will you elaborate on what it means to write challenging, innovative, and heterodox fiction?
I used the word “transgenred” in the first answer. I made it up to explain what I do. Although much of what I write is SF, which is in this instance stands for Speculative Fiction, I’m less interested in questions of genre in what I’m reading than I am in how well it’s written. When a writer’s good enough, it won’t matter what slot Marketing and Sales chooses for the book, all that matters is the writing. I’ll read anything if I love the writing; I’ll write anything if I can write it well enough, and I do think FC2 is doing its best to honor writers who try to do that — work their tails off writing the best book they can about something they care about.
Steve Katz has written that the Fiction Collective began with the desire to “make a literature.” What does that phrase mean to you?
See above. Probably the answer stands for both questions. It’s not what a book’s about, it’s about how good it is.
For what FC2 backlist title are you an evangelist?
Little Sisters of the Apocalypse, I suppose! It was a Tiptree nominee when Black Ice published it, had a second life as centerpiece of my collection, Seven for the Apocalypse (Wesleyan University Press).
I think FC2 is a wonderful venue for writers who refuse to be jammed into categories. I’m grateful to FC2 and primarily to Ron, whom I still miss, for having the guts to give Little Sisters its first outing. Thanks for the use of the hall!