The novel Deathlist is on its way to an early 2022 launch. It’s a visionary & metaphysical book written as a satire with some pretty irreverent and funny depictions of the Holy Trinity. That said, it is not a lightweight book by any means. We caught up with author Kathryn Atkins and have transcribed our interview here to get you as excited about her book as we are.
1. What was the inspiration for this novel?
ANSWER: Every time I saw someone in the news or heard of a person dying that seemed especially odd (like a child, or someone sitting on a bench, maybe) I began to form a theory that everyone had a specified death date. Our deaths are not chance because God has it planned out, as he does our birth! He has to keep track of it all and I think it’s in a huge database that the characters in the book and I dubbed the Deathlist. I still believe there might be one somewhere. Next, I began to imagine that humans were somehow allowed to know what their death date was. How would knowing it change how we live? That was the germ of the book.
2. How long did it take you to write the book?
ANSWER: Eighteen years on and off. I found an early draft of this book in a drawer dating back to 2003. It came in and out of the drawer and many times the characters changed, but the Deathlist was always the driving force behind the plot.
3. Who are your favorite authors and why?
ANSWER: I love Neil Gaiman. Terry Pratchett, who’s gone now. I like their quirky style, but with thoughtful, multidimensional characters, even if they’re not human, which comes through, I hope, in the Deathlist. I also like Christopher Moore, a satirist. I think the Deathlist stands up as a satire. But also, Amor Towles is a favorite because of his writing style. Rich. Deep. Experimental. There are so many it’s hard to pick!
4. You have published two collections of shorter works – stories, poems, and essays. What made you want to write a novel this time?
ANSWER: I wrote a novel this time because I couldn’t fit all the themes of it into a short story. Good and evil. Trust. Hope. Friendship. Life and death. Free will. It needed a longer character arc, and the scenes just kept coming. Plus, I feel very strongly that there is a Deathlist of a sort somewhere, and I had to write and finish this novel before my name popped up on the list.
5. In the story, Death (a female who loves designer clothes) is the main character. We learn right away that she hates her job and is not very fond of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Why did you make her the main character?
ANSWER: The main character at one time was a young man, not a woman, and not a celestial being. At one of my many rewrites, a novel coach whom I respect very much said Death was stealing every scene. That’s how she became the MC.
6. We also find out that the Deathlist was meant as a memory crutch for God. Why did you make this somewhat of a satire of some important beings? And how does God not know all this?
ANSWER: The book is fiction. But on the other hand, there might just be a limit to what God wants to remember. Or, he might have other things he’d rather be thinking about. Like playing golf or something. And about making this a satire, Oscar Wilde said, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” I felt the themes would more accessible and be easier to swallow if the book wasn’t too heavy-duty and preachy.
7. There are some odd things about Death. For one, she loves beautiful designer clothes, but for another, she has this horrible stench around her. Besides the fact that she has few friends, she also doesn’t know how she got the job of being Death or who her parents were. How did these come about? And why are these points so important to the story or the character?
ANSWER: Death dresses in expensive clothes to keep her from feeling so horrible about her job, which is depressing enough, but she rarely gets a vacation. She loves art, too. It’s another way to have nice things to offset her gloomy job. As for the smell, it has always been with her. It’s the stench of death and it drives her nuts. It’s a metaphor for a flaw that she sometimes has control over, but most times not. It’s part of her character arc, as is her quest to find out who her parents were and why she had been assigned such a thankless job.
8. The story takes place in Heaven, Hell, the Garden of Eden, and New York City. And it’s in the future. What made you choose these unusual settings for your novel?
ANSWER: The story starts in Heaven. Death and the Trinity are there as is the Deathlist. When the devil enters the scene later in the book, another POV character, Ariadne finds herself in hell as the result of her actions. The Garden of Eden is where Death goes to make some huge plot-driving decisions. New York City is where Death meets Ariadne, a website designer and the other POV character in the book. NYC is also the location of the book’s climax. It had to be New York. Everything happens there. The book is set in the future because, well, it could still happen, but also, it gives a slight authenticity to a dystopia that we could face if science progresses as it’s heading now.
9. The devil is pivotal to the story. Hasn’t the idea of God and the devil, good and evil been done too many times?
ANSWER: It’s been done a lot because the battle between good and evil has taken place since time began. The tension between the two at the edges of life and death and within and among literature and the arts, sports, and politics, war and peace cannot be overdone. It’s life. As a religious person, God and the devil exist. For other people, God and the devil are convenient personifications of good and evil. Each has the letters of the words in each name. Go_d and the _evil.
10. Do you have a favorite character?
ANSWER: I love them all. Death is me and she’s not. The Holy Spirit is another favorite. He’s a clotheshorse and cares for Death and Ariadne both. I like Ariadne because she’s got attitude. I do not like the devil. I do like Forceps, a nerdy tech angel in Heaven with a lopsided wing who is scared of Death, but he ends up being a good guy and helping her.
BONUS QUESTION: What are you working on next?
ANSWER: I’d like to write a non-fiction full-length work the next time. I’m thinking of a biography of a woman who is a role model for me. On the other hand, I would also like to write a musical. I don’t know—something on the order of “West Side Story.” Or a book about coffee!