Every week, host Adam Sockel interviews a popular member of the literary world about their passions beyond what they're known for. These longform, relaxed conversations show listeners a new side of some of their favorite content creators as well as provide insight into the things that inspire their work.
Going on a King's Quest with Sangu Mandanna!
Sangu Mandanna, author of The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, has always loved to unwind after a busy day. Her favorite way to do so involves the simple, repetitive tasks of pointing and clicking. She first remembers playing with tamagotchi before graduating to the computer games of her youth that she would play with her father.
Adam and Sangu discuss their shared love of the King’s Quest games from Sierra gaming, Sangu’s love of older games like The Last Express and Fantasy Life as well as the joy she now finds in the soothing world of Stardew Valley. Sometimes we all need an escape, be it books, video games, or anything else!
Books mentioned in this episode:
The Lido by Libby Page
Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher
Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Enjoyed this episode? Be sure to rate and review us on whatever platform you listen to your podcasts and send your feedback to [email protected] If you email us proof of your review, Adam will send you a personalized book recommendation via email!
Adam Sockel: You’re listening to Passions & Prologues, a literary podcast where each week I’ll interview an author about a thing they love and how it inspires their work. I’m your host, Adam Sockel. And if this is your first time listening in, so glad you’re here. If you’ve been here for a while, thanks for coming back. Really excited about today’s conversation. It’s a discussion I had with horror author, Dawn Kurtagich. We are rounding out the end of October with one more spooky season style author. Dawn has written three phenomenal books, The Dead House, which is an epistolary ghost story told at a schoolhouse and the trees crept in, which is a psychological cabin in the woods style story where two siblings go to live with a distant relative in the middle of the woods and the woods truly creep in and in and in on their cabin. And Teeth in the Mist, which is a Faustian story told over three different timelines where a demon haunts the same space where three different generations of people are trying to explore. Dawn is the third horror novelist that I’ve had on during October. If you are just joining, you can listen to Rachel Harrison and Alexis Henderson both from earlier in the month. In fact, Alexis Henderson’s book, House of Hunger is one I’m reading right now, which is very creepy. You can go back and listen to that particular episode if you want to hear all about the book, but I highly recommend it. It is getting rave reviews and for good reason. It’s a perfect book to round out the end of October, as are any of Dawn’s books as well. Before I get into my book recommendation for the week, I just wanted to give Dawn a special shout up. We talk about Xena Warrior Princess today, but then this conversation expands further than any other that I’ve had so far on the podcast. Now we talk about mental health and the small things you do in life to take care of yourself. Dawn shared a story about when she was quite literally on her death bed and then we expanded into basically the things that make authors, authors. The way that they notice stories in the world. And then we tie it all the way back to Xena Warrior Princess because this podcast is nothing if not sprawling, although we eventually find our way. It’s very, all who wander are not lost type of episode. My recommendation, in addition to checking out any of Dawn’s books or Alexis Henderson’s House of Hunger is Siren Queen by Nghi. Nghi writes phenomenal magical realism, fantasy style books. One of her previous books was The Chosen and the Beautiful, which is a queer, magical, realism, Great Gatsby. The book that I just finished reading Siren Queen is a story about… In kind of old timely Hollywood, like a silver screen, 1920s esque Hollywood. But it is one where the monsters aren’t on the screen. They are the people that put the movies together. It’s fantasy where people sell their names in years of their lives for the chance to become a star, for the chance to be in the movies, in the pictures. It is haunting and creepy, but also just a whole lot of fun. Highly recommend. That’s Siren Queen by Nghi Vo. And if you would like additional book recommendations from me, again, if you’re new, I hand out book recommendations to anyone who emails me at [email protected] All you have to do is leave me a rating and a review wherever you listen to your podcast, whether it’s on Spotify or Apple or any of the other different podcast listening avenues. Just leave me a review and a rating, screenshot that, shoot me an email at [email protected] I’ll be happy to give you some book recommendations. And if you want, you can always follow me on Instagram and TikTok, Passions & Prologues. I do book recommendations all throughout the weekend, both of those. So, okay, that is all the housekeeping. I am overjoyed for you all to listen to my conversation with Dawn Kurtagich on Passions & Prologues. Dawn Kurtagich, my old friend from many, many years ago when we met in Orlando, Florida in a library conference center. So excited to chat with you today, but what is the thing you are crazy passionate about that we’re talking about today?
Dawn Kurtagich: I am so excited to talk about this. I’m so excited. I can’t even explain. We are talking about the iconic, the one and only, Xena Warrior Princess.
Adam Sockel: When you sent me this, as you’re saying, I like squealed. I’m so excited. So the first thing I want to ask you is how did you discover Xena? Do you remember your first experience? What was your introduction to Xena?
Dawn Kurtagich: It was such a profound moment for me. It could be out of a cinematic movie. I was after school… I was like nine or 10 maybe, and I went to school and I cycled home at this particular school and had all these hours to kill before my mother got home. And I used to leave the TV on and make all kinds of weird food concoctions. So I went round the corner to the kitchen and I heard the soundtrack. I heard this amazing soundtrack by Joseph LoDuca. It wasn’t the main theme, it was just the very first opening. And I came back through into the lounge and there on the TV screen was this image of this misty field and through the mist, this warrior woman riding on a horse through this mist. And it was so… I just couldn’t stop looking. I think I just stood in that spot and watched the whole episode. It was like it was made for my soul.
Adam Sockel: That’s amazing. And so I’m trying, because I feel like in my mind… So my experience with Xena was, when I was younger my grandmother had water on the brain which caused her to basically have dementia. And so she had to have full-time care and every Sunday… She lived about an hour or 45 minutes away from my parents’ house. And every Sunday we would go and spend the day there. And she enjoyed having the TV on. And I also specifically remember whatever channel it was, the local channel, it was always Xena on Sunday afternoons.
Dawn Kurtagich: Yes.
Adam Sockel: And so in my mind it was always… I’m literally on the Wikipedia page right now. There was over 130 episodes of it. It was on forever.
Dawn Kurtagich: Not enough.
Adam Sockel: Do you remember what it was about the show that captivated you?
Dawn Kurtagich: So many things. I just realized you said it was on Sunday. For me, it was on Wednesday. I lived in South Africa at the time and I just realized Wednesday’s my favorite day and I could never tell you why, that’s why. I just realized because Xena was on every Wednesday. And since I was like nine… Yeah, sorry, profound moments. I love so much about Xena. I think mostly for me it was… The initial thing that drew to me was that there was this powerful non-apologetically confident woman seeking redemption for a life of evil. They really went there and she was just cool. Initially it was just that she was cool and I wanted to be cool in that way. But later on it was things like the friendship with Gabrielle, the lesbian subtext, which I argue is actually bisexual subtext. Thank you for my bisexual peeps out there. It was the music. They weren’t afraid to really go to dark places. There was an episode where Gabrielle’s daughter kills Xena’s son. I mean what? You’ve got this profound friendship and you’ve got this darkness. I was like, God, they really go there. But then it also had episodes where they poked fun at themselves and it was like [inaudible 00:08:31] and they broke all these rules. At the time it was very groundbreaking.
Adam Sockel: And I feel like now having seen… Because people who might not know, it was a spinoff of Hercules. Kevin Sorbo, who has since gone on to be a garbage human. Whereas Lucy…
Dawn Kurtagich: I know, what is that?
Adam Sockel: I don’t know.
Dawn Kurtagich: Literally Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo arguing on Twitter. I was like, this is real life right now.
Adam Sockel: But when you talk about Lucy Lawless.
Dawn Kurtagich: Oh, she’s amazing.
Adam Sockel: Yeah, and like you saying, how they weren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. I feel like that has come through because you can see everything Lucy Lawless does now is incredible. And she never takes herself seriously. I can just see them in those episodes being like, okay, here’s what we’re going to do and her just being like, yeah that sounds totally…
Dawn Kurtagich: Yeah completely. I was so wrapped up in… And not just the show, just their lives as well, the actors’ lives because they just seemed good humans. So yeah, there was sort… The funny thing to me about Xena is this show was set broadly in ancient Greece. And so basically, if you don’t know, it’s this infamous female warrior. She’s traveling through ancient Greece, seeking redemption for a life of sins that she committed before. And she meets this morally pure girl, Gabrielle, who becomes her psychic and they just travel through the countryside writing wrongs. But simultaneously they encountered Julius Caesar before and around 44 BC. They also are involved in Troy, which is around 1100 BC. But then they’re also encountered a pregnant Mary and Joseph in one episode in the year zero. They interacted with the young Homer in the 8th century BC. They fought beside Budok in AD 60. It was such a funny poke and all these massive historical events. But Xena was a cool part of all of them.
Adam Sockel: I wonder if that was them starting the show. And I almost said grounded because not grounded is an absurd word to use, but I wonder if that was them being… The first couple of seasons being like we’re going to keep it in this world. And then them being like, oh my God, we are so… We need more. And just being what other myths and fairytales, fables can we use and all these different stuff.
Dawn Kurtagich: People aren’t going to show… I almost feel like Xena was Rob Tapert’s and all the directors and all the producers love baby, and they were just like, I find this thing cool, let’s just throw it in and see what happens and no one’s going to check. It feels like a passion project.
Adam Sockel: So when you first discovered it, had it been on for a little while and it was in syndication or was it something that you were discovering in real time? I guess, what was your kind of weekly experience? Was it something that you were like, I’m going to sit down every single week and I can’t miss this? How did it work for you?
Dawn Kurtagich: Yeah it was that. So I don’t know if we in South Africa got it maybe a year after the fact because I feel like I started watching it in ’96, but it started airing I think in ’95 the first time. But I could have my dates mixed up because I traveled a lot as a child and nothing was stable except Xena. That was the thing that I had in my life that was stable. And so yeah, I would wait religiously for it to air. And I moved to the UK in the middle of maybe season three or something or four. And every now and then I’d be waiting to watch it and I had my video recorder ready to record the episode and every now and then they would play cricket or dog competition shows. And I was so furious at the TV people for depriving me of my oxygen. But yeah, I waited with bated breath and then they started airing the repeats on Sundays so I would get a double dose essentially.
Adam Sockel: Yeah, I wonder if it is… Like you said something is… Because I remember you telling me the first time we met how your childhood was, like you said, you were all over the place. And I wonder if… Because I feel like a lot of things we like as kids have to boil down to nostalgia when we look back at them. But I wonder if this part of it was, it being like a stabilizing force for you in your life?
Dawn Kurtagich: I think it was the first time that I’d seen something that felt like it was for me. I don’t remember ever having an experience before that where I felt a little bit seen. I was just this weird loner. I liked to play with sticks like staffs. And then Xena comes along, she’s got a sidekick who has a staff and it felt… And the thing about Xena is that I love that it poked fun at itself. It wasn’t so serious. And that’s very much in my character to poke fun at myself and to just be a bit nerdy and silly. But I think maybe you’re right. I think also the fact that it was reliably there and I could always tune into Xena. Now that I’m thinking, I think it was sort of a stabilizing force for me. Something to rely on.
Adam Sockel: Do you think it… Has the character building or the show itself had any effect on the way that you write your books? Do you think there’s any through line to either… Like you said, the relationships or just the changing tones? Anyone who has read your books know that they’re very dark and creepy and we have…
Dawn Kurtagich: You’re welcome.
Adam Sockel: Yeah. And we had a joke, I think the first time. You are one of the most bubbliest, lighthearted, wonderful people I’ve ever met and your books are so creepy and dark and I’m like… Do you think there’s any connection between the show and the way that you wrote the books?
Dawn Kurtagich: Do you know what? I think maybe yes, because like I said, Xena really wasn’t afraid to go dark when they broke up the friendship. I think even in one season there was a season where Lucy had gotten pregnant and they had to write the pregnancy into the season, I think it was season five. And the writers were talking about breaking up the friendship as an idea of Xena and Gabrielle and then having this persecutory element where then Gabrielle goes off killing a bunch of people because she can’t accept the fact that Xena’s child is not evil like her child. And Xena is then in this reverse position chasing Gabrielle. And I thought, I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed that storyline. But the fact that they were willing to go there and the fact that they’re willing to go so dark, I think has influenced me because nowadays Xena’s not very dark, but at the time it felt so. They were really willing to cross lines. And that really… I think that did affect me because I like to go dark. My mind is a very dark place. So it’s like therapy. I think the other thing that influenced me with Xena was this profound friendship. So I love friendship stories and I’m always sort of trying to find a truly significant friendship story. And the other thing of course is that I always write, all my characters are characters with very dark interiors. So the Dead House, you’ve got Kaitlyn who because she’s only ever known night, she is very morbid, very dark, sarcastic. She’s a very, very… She’s a very dark character. Silla as well, very depressive, things have happened to her. She’s been in this protector role. Again, very, very dark. And in Teeth you’ve got Roan who is so full of rage and so full of this dark power. And I think she is the most Xena like character I’ve created. And I think maybe I channeled a bit of that sort of dark past element. I love that. I love a dark past, especially in a woman.
Adam Sockel: Yeah. Do you think you would ever write a story in the mythological world, not specifically of Xena, but in that type of world, do you think you would ever write a retelling or re-imagining of a story like that?
Dawn Kurtagich: I have. It was my very first book, very inspired by Xena, very inspired by a specific Greek mythos. And it was the very first book I queried and I’ve written it 23 times.
Adam Sockel: Oh my God.
Dawn Kurtagich: I’ve written this book… I started imagining it when I was 10 straight after Xena started. And it has been with me my whole life. So it’s this huge story that means so much to me. But the research involved has been a life’s work and there are logical problems I haven’t yet been able to solve, which when I queried, I think I wasn’t able to translate this into story yet because I hadn’t developed enough as a writer. But it does exist. And I’m hoping 24 is the charm. I have literally back to back deadlines and I haven’t been able to have a block of time to really dedicate to this. But yes, I have done it and I am hoping it will be out there one day.
Adam Sockel: I find it interesting because… And I might be you remembering this incorrectly, but Xena to me felt like a show that was, not monster of the week, but a story of the week type of a thing. Even though there was continuous carry through, almost like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer had. It’s like a monster of the week, but there’s a whole arc as well. And so I don’t want to call them light, but it’s like you’re going to spend 30 minutes with this story and you could randomly watch one any time and be like, okay, I can jump into this. Whereas your books are so layered and deep and there’s so much to them. I think about, And the Trees Crept In, still so often because it’s just this circular… You just keep going down and down and down. I remember feeling, not lost, but entangled in a labyrinth when I read it and I was just like…
Dawn Kurtagich: Oh yes.
Adam Sockel: Yeah and so I find it interesting that you were inspired by this, where like I said, your books, you’re talking about writing a book for the 24th time. How do you go about writing a book? I think we had a conversation about this one time. There’s so much to your books. How do you go about laying out your stories? Because you’re never, I’m just going to write a straight line story.
Dawn Kurtagich: I tried that. I can’t do it. Yeah, I can’t do it.
Adam Sockel: Like Teeth in the Mist has three different timelines and it opens with a timeline that’s separate from all the other timelines that’s actually in the books. How do you go about planning? And especially with so many different deadlines, how do you go about building out a story like that?
Dawn Kurtagich: You know what? If I had an easy answer that would be the ticket. I’d be turning up books so fast. Each book is its own beast. But I think that I’m starting to understand certain things about my process. With regards to the Xena element of the question, my favorite aspect of Xena were the overarching things. And when they went really deep into very dramatic sort of issues that spanned seasons. So I think that those are the things that stuck with me. I like to go deep, but also just as a person, I’m a very obsessive, when I like something, I dive into it very deep. Also, Buffy, we could talk about that forever. I love Buffy. So when I write, it becomes a bit of a fever. I’ve got tons and tons of notebooks. I go through bouts of graphomania where I just write and write and write and write. I think that I mostly see the world as an emotion scape and in sort of words and images. So when I’m writing a book, I’m really trying to feel my way through it. And so say for example, I have the nugget of an idea, the way that I build it out is not usually through logic, which would be much easier because I really struggle with the logic of things, because logic is unemotional and is boring to me. So I try to block out the emotion of what I’m trying to do. Also, I’m fascinated by words and sentences and the rhythm of things. So I have got notebooks just full of… I’ve got a word collection where I just write down words that I’ve liked or word… Or what do they call them? Like music worms or something. When you get a sentence stuck in your head, you can’t get rid of it.
Adam Sockel: Oh, like an ear worm.
Dawn Kurtagich: Yeah, that’s it, an ear worm. So I get that with sentences and I try to figure out what is it about the sentence that is ear worming me. So yeah, it just boils down to an obsessiveness. And somehow in the midst of all of this, a book ends up being formed. I think that once I’ve got the story down and the emotion down, but then I can switch off the emotions and deal with the logic. But for me it’s a very chaotic sort of throw paint at the wall process.
Adam Sockel: We’ll be back with more Passions & Prologues after this break. And now back to Passions & Prologues. We were talking before, we started recording about querying and the novel that I’m currently querying… I woke up one morning as it never happened before. I hope it happens again sometimes soon. I woke up with an image of a boy walking away from a circus and turning around and was just gone. And he was in the middle of the field and I wrote, I don’t know, 1200 words and 13 minutes. And I was like, okay, I don’t know what this is, but whatever it is, I know I need to keep working at this. And I tease that out into a story. And then when you were talking about getting a sentence or an idea stuck in your mind, I had this image of a person watching a cellar burn down and he was looking at the cellar door and he was struck by… He’s like, isn’t there a phrase about cellar door and how beautiful it is. So the same thing, I couldn’t… I didn’t know what it was, but I was like, I just wrote down a sentence like that. But for you, does the story… So for Teeth in the Mist, again, very, very layered story. Did that start with an idea of a story or did that start with a sentence or did that start with a character? What do you see first before you start to go into your own mind?
Dawn Kurtagich: I mean, it’s different with every book. For Teeth, I was in the mountains and it was a very misty day and there was this very eerie feeling in the hills. It was the slate mountain here in North Wales and these slate rocks were sticking out of the earth like teeth, hence the name of the book, Teeth in the Mist. And there was this fallen piece of slate that had sort of not landed flat and there was this dark space underneath it. And I just got this weird sense that there was something in there, some malevolence. And I thought, there is something evil in these hills, I want to know what it is. And I took a photograph of that moment. So I have this photographic thing. And so for that one, it was the imagery of the actual day plus this feeling and this creepy idea. But for Teeth, it was two things, the image of a girl, and it was her diary entry. I was writing a diary entry, and every now and then I would scratch in one of the words. And so that each of these scratched in words read separately was a hidden sentence that sort of stuck out in a 3D way from the page. So that was a very… It wasn’t necessarily the image, it was the text on the page of lifting up off the page to reveal a hidden message. With The Dead House, that was just life. A way for me to explain a series of things that had happened in my life. But often it’s just like you, an image, a scene, a character. But it really is from everywhere. And it’s so interesting when people ask about the generation and the genesis of ideas because they are everywhere. And it’s interesting to because I do things very instinctively and it’s difficult for me to find a logic to it because I really just bounce from fiasco to fiasco in my life. And it’s only when people ask me what I’ve done that I’m like, oh wait, did I actually do… How had that actually worked? I suppose interviews are a way to be self conscious about your life. But other than that, it’s really so random to me.
Adam Sockel: Well, and I also think, I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit for just being aware of your surroundings. I think to me, I think a lot of what writing is for me anyway is like, yes, you come up with an… You saw a dark space in a mountainside under slate, and yet you came up with an idea based off of that. But you were also, if there was anyone else around you, they weren’t looking at that and being like, what is in there? I know what you mean because I’ll be… This time of year in Ohio and where I live, we live in a very… Ohio is a very agricultural state. And so I live in the middle of a city, but if I drive 10 minutes in any direction, I’m in cornfields. And so it’s like that…
Dawn Kurtagich: Oh, I love that.
Adam Sockel: Yeah. And so it’s this thing about… For me, I’ve always been struck by I am always 10 minutes from the middle of nowhere at any given time.
Dawn Kurtagich: Oh yes.
Adam Sockel: And feel like it’s so easy for me if I ever wanted to, to just disappear. And so to me I think… That’s why I say I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit. Because I know hundreds of people who live around here and no one else has ever had that idea or if they have, they haven’t put it to paper. Just being able to disappear in 10 minutes type of a situation. And so I do think a lot of, yes, writing is a craft and you have to work in all these things, but the ideas have to come from somewhere.
Dawn Kurtagich: That’s true.
Adam Sockel: And if you’re not aware of your surroundings the ideas are…
Dawn Kurtagich: Nothing can happen. I mean, I have a fascination and a love affair with life. I feel so lucky and so profoundly blessed to be here. And I don’t like or enjoy big world affairs. I feel not inadequate, but of incapable mentally of handling a lot of the things that go on in the world. It hurts me too deeply. But I am fascinated… The other day my husband was laughing at me because I was just going on and on and on and [inaudible 00:27:23] about this apple that I was eating because I just found it so amazing that nature gives us these little balls of sweets that we can just literally take off a tree and eat. And it’s so profoundly beautiful to… So I have this weird thing where I obsess over small things and this love affair with nature. So I’m always considering things like that because it was so close to being gone. And maybe I was always this way. I think maybe I was always this way. Just I think that’s the obsession thing comes in. I’m always thinking. And I think a lot of artists have rich internal worlds. You probably do as well. And maybe when you are a kid, you’ve spent a lot of time imagining and daydreaming. I know I did. So my inner world is very, very rich. And because it’s so normal, maybe you don’t realize how much you do it and how much you pay attention to. So yeah, I think you’re right. Good perspective to have.
Adam Sockel: Yeah, I just think it has a lot about being perceptive and aware. I took my dog for a walk this morning in a local park and we were walking on a trail and we’re recording this in the end of September. And it’s the first… It was almost like nature knew the calendar was turning to the [inaudible 00:28:40] equinox here. And so it literally turned into fall on the first day at fall.
Dawn Kurtagich: I love it.
Adam Sockel: It was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So this morning it was 55 degrees and overcast and it had that smell, that nature smell where [inaudible 00:28:55] starting to die. But it still smells almost sweet. Honestly, this is in my mind a perfect, And the Trees Crept In smell. It’s like…
Dawn Kurtagich: Yes.
Adam Sockel: It’s like decay has this sweet smell to it.
Dawn Kurtagich: [inaudible 00:29:10].
Adam Sockel: Yeah and so I found myself… I was walking my dog and he was sniffing stuff and I could smell nature kind of starting to die. And I always joke, at the time when nature starts to die is when I feel most alive. But I could… There’s that sweet sickly smell and I was touching every tree that I walked by and I was hearing the crunch underneath. And I just think a lot… I know I don’t know what it’ll be, but I can tell you at some point I’ll write a scene in something that will have those descriptors from this morning. And it’s like… I just think there’s so many opportunities to find those things if you just look around. So I’m like you. I couldn’t write eloquently about the Queen’s funeral that just happened or…
Dawn Kurtagich: No, me neither.
Adam Sockel: Anything like that. But like you, I could be like, I had a banana this morning and…
Dawn Kurtagich: Life becomes so sensual and so rich when you stop overlooking these small moments. Because I remember so clearly, when I was in liver failure and I was bedbound. And also then when I was in hospital, I did not care about the fact that I hadn’t been published. It meant nothing to me. Before that, it was my entire obsession. I was obsessed with my career. And obviously before transplant I hadn’t been published. But when I was in my deathbed, I did not care. The only thing I could think about obsessively was going to the beach and building a sandcastle. That’s the only thing. I needed the smell of the waves. I needed that briny air. It’s the only thing I cared about and my family obviously. But these small moments that I was going to lose. And it was such an eyeopening experience to me. And I remember that when I take myself too seriously. And publishing is such a rat race, it’s such a beast. It’s so hard. It’s so full of disappointments. But when you take a step back and you look at the wider picture and you enjoy the process of creating this art, it becomes such a joyful thing because you don’t care about the outcome, it’s not as important. You still care, but not that much.
Adam Sockel: Yeah, there’s Marieke Nijkamp, they are a young adult author. They wrote the book called, This is Where It Ends, which is just one… I think Time named it one of the 100 best novels of the century. And they’ve written so many wonderfully powerful books. But I remember hearing them give a speech at Book Con or something and we’re pretty friendly over the years and they said… Because much like you, they had a sickness when they were younger that was supposed to take their lives. They weren’t… And they said in the speeches, you’ll be astonished at what you appreciate and what you don’t care about when you’re not supposed to be alive.
Dawn Kurtagich: Seriously. So true. And it surprised me so much because I had spent my entire existence thinking about and working towards story. And I love story. I’m obsessed with story. But it’s just that you can be obsessed with something and not be overtaken by it. And the funny thing is, I have been more productive since I stopped caring about the outcome, since I’ve just started enjoying the process and writing stories that amuse me and entertain me. And also accepting that I’m a morbid, weird girl and some people are not going to like what I do. I go very dark. I enjoy very dark because I have a life of trauma behind me that allows me to cope with this. If you accept that and you stop worrying about the outcomes and what people will think and what the results will be, you can’t control it. You can’t control that stuff anyway. Whether you are worried or not, it’s not going to change anything. So you might as well have a good time. You could be dead tomorrow and that for me is so freeing, so freeing.
Adam Sockel: I need everyone listening to know this isn’t just Dawn saying this because we’re in an interview. Before recording, you literally told me you have half a book to finish and you have a month to finish it.
Dawn Kurtagich: Who needs sleep? Honestly, I just thrive so much better when I just don’t worry about things. I read an interview somewhere, I can’t remember where it was, where Colleen Hoover was saying that she’s designed a life where she doesn’t have stress in her life because she just doesn’t cope well with it. And I thought, you know what? Hell yeah, good for you. I’m going to do the same. These small incidental things pass. They pass whether or not, like I said, they pass whether or not you broke yourself down worrying about them.
Adam Sockel: I received, it’s actually a Cameo message, the app Cameo from a musician that I really love. The person who sent it to me knew I was going through a lot of hard times. And what the guy said was, I have found that life is best lived with brief periods of violent change. And it was kind of saying what you’re talking about, basically it’s… His point was you’re going to experience absolute chaos, but then in between those brief periods of chaos it’s going to stop. So just don’t worry about it while you’re in it. Embrace the chaos, but don’t get stressed out about it. It’s all going to simmer down. I really like that.
Dawn Kurtagich: And that’s nice to say that people don’t have hard times. It’s very hard to… When you’re in a mental health crisis, which I’ve been in several times, but in particular in 2020, it’s very hard to imagine that things will get better. It’s very hard to… You think that you’re in the dark place forever. So the work I’ve been doing with myself, I’m not doing it with anyone, but I’m just doing it for my own benefit is to realign my brain passages so that it becomes habit to assume that things won’t be bad forever. To fall back on that when your brain is trying to trick you.And I read somewhere something where they said, what happens if you ask yourself, instead of saying, what happens if I fail? What happens if this terrible thing happens? Ask yourself, what happens if it works out? What happens if it works out? What happens if all the hard work that I put in pays off? And it was such a simple realigning, using a brain pattern that already exists to change the narrative. I find that really help. It’s so funny how we got talking about this.
Adam Sockel: Yeah, this is so…
Dawn Kurtagich: But it’s important.
Adam Sockel: Yeah, absolutely. And listen, I totally know what you mean. People won’t see this but I’m going to pan down. I literally have a… My sweatshirt is literally a mental health sweatshirt. It’s like…
Dawn Kurtagich: Oh, I love it.
Adam Sockel: Yeah, totally know what you mean.
Dawn Kurtagich: So vital. I’m so delighted that people are talking more openly about mental health and people… Okay, so to completely put this on the table, I nearly took my life in 2020. For me, it was because of a medication, incorrect medication thing that they did, my doctors. So it was resolved and thankfully nothing happened. But if nobody talks about this and there’s all this stigma, especially with men, I don’t understand why there’s this stigma with mental health in men. But if that is eradicated, you can save lives and it becomes normal. You talk about it and it’s so much easier to deal with once you know someone else understands.
Adam Sockel: Yeah and I have found… Because it took a really long time for me to talk about my mental health and I have… It’s strange because anyone who knows me on the surface looks at me as a very outgoing, bubbly, communicative person. I mean, I’m literally hosting a podcast where I talk to someone for an hour. But my family told me that recently, I was going through some stuff, my mom told me, you’re a deeply private person. I’m like, what are you talking about? But from a mental health standpoint, the hardest thing for me was admitting I should go see a therapist. And then as soon as I started seeing a therapist, like weekly and then every other week and however often I needed to go see her, it’s so much easier for me to talk about the fact that I go to it. The hardest thing to do is say, I should go talk to someone. And then the moment you go talk to someone and they just frame stuff where you’re speaking about framing stories and they just help you frame things. I would say something, I’d be like, well I’m causing this to happen. And she’d be like, no you’re not. Let me frame it another way. And it’s like… It’s not that there’s anything wrong with you or that there’s anything that needs to be fixed, it’s that they can just help you better understand what’s going on.
Dawn Kurtagich: Yeah, absolutely. I had the same experience when I was in therapy and I thought I had no experience at the time of therapy and I thought, I’m going to talk about my childhood, blah, blah, blah. I really was so skeptical and it was actually just rewiring how I perceive things. And not only was that massively helpful, but also hugely fascinating how the same narrative can be viewed in all these different ways and how it’s influenced by the things you consume and your childhood, whatever. But yeah, absolutely. I’m so happy that you’re in therapy and that it’s helping you. I’m so delighted.
Adam Sockel: It’s the best. And even I’ll like to make it a little bit lighthearted. I’ll be talking about my dog and I’ll be like, I just feel… So I got this… I have a camera that looks into my house while I’m gone and I can literally watch my dog who has anxiety, I’m like…
Dawn Kurtagich: Oh no.
Adam Sockel: I literally see him barking at the door and told my therapist this. And she’s like, okay, how does that make you feel? I’m like super anxious. And she’s like, why do you look at it? I’m like, great question, I don’t know. And she’s like, do you think because you feel the need to take care of everything and everyone else at all times, even your dog. And I was like, hey, you know what?
Dawn Kurtagich: That one hit home.
Adam Sockel: Yeah. It’s like I said, it doesn’t always have to be me talking about what is causing me panic attacks and have to cry in the bathrooms. Sometimes just me being like, it’s stressing me out watching my dog on the camera and [inaudible 00:39:19] so stop watching your dog on the camera.
Dawn Kurtagich: Oh yeah, maybe I can do that. Honestly, because it doesn’t occur to you. Actually, and to take it back to Xena, this is another reason why Xena is so awesome because did deal with mental health issues. Wasn’t afraid to deal with these things. Wasn’t afraid to deal with guilt and heavy, heavy mental health topics. Yeah, just fantastic.
Adam Sockel: Yeah and listen, you brought it… You did my host job for me as you brought it back around, so good job to you.
Dawn Kurtagich: Honestly, I usually bring things back to Xena.
Adam Sockel: So actually has there… I have two more questions for you. One, has there… Well actually three more questions. Has there ever been anything literary? Have you ever read a book that made you feel the same way as Xena? The answer might be no. I don’t know. But did you ever read anything that you were like, oh, this is giving me that same feeling?
Dawn Kurtagich: Not exactly the same as Xena. I remember being fully invested in Circe the book, Madeline Miller. And I remember all Shea Ernshaw’s work, especially Winterwood. I read that in a period of time where I was struggling with the reason for my writing. Why am I doing this again? I had severe burnout and I was struggling to see why I did this to myself, because writing is hard. And I read Winterwood and it just reminded me of why I fell in love with writing. So that’s a book I point to a lot to say, please read this. It’s so beautiful. I think also, I can’t believe I didn’t mention this one. My favorite book of all time is Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. And she was so gracious enough to blurb Teeth, which I mean nearly… If you told me Lucy Lawless had blurbed my book, I could have reacted more insane. But next to her, Juliet, I like fell out of my chair. But she wrote this book and I think it gave me Xena vibes in the sense of that every time I read it, I feel like I’m home again. And I think it’s because of the atmosphere she creates with this ancient forest in the same way that the ancient world in Xena makes me feel like home. So those are the three that I can sort of point to off the top of my head.
Adam Sockel: Yeah, I know what you mean about feels like home. That’s me with The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. That’s my safe space.
Dawn Kurtagich: Yeah, I haven’t read that one yet, but it’s on my list.
Adam Sockel: Dawn. Oh, you need to. You’re going to love it.
Dawn Kurtagich: [inaudible 00:41:51].
Adam Sockel: So I know before I started recording you told me all these different things that you’re subbing right now. Is there any book stuff you can talk about? You can tell me no and I can…
Dawn Kurtagich: The only thing I can talk about is Teeth two. And I have just over a month to finish it. It’ll be fine. I’m not panicking at all. Nope. I’m loving it. You know what? Teeth in the Mist two is giving me Xena vibes in that whole dark redemption thread thing where a woman has a dark past and has to come to turn with it. And her view of herself is evil. That’s a huge thread in Teeth two. I’m enjoying it. It starts right where Teeth in the Mist one leaves off. I hope it’ll be good. I’m not sure. But the other thing I can tell you that I haven’t said anywhere else is that there are three books in the series. I know, I have to deliver the third one in December. I know.
Adam Sockel: Dawn, I feel like you need to fight for your right to get longer deadlines.
Dawn Kurtagich: Do you know what? I feel like I need to instate a rule where I don’t work in the month of December because I love… Well I love Halloween and autumn is my favorite, but Christmas just beats it a little bit. And I really just want a solid month off to do all the Christmas things. All the Christmas cookies, all the reading by the fire side. I always have deadlines in December.
Adam Sockel: Oh my gosh. You are insane. Okay, last question for you. I always ask everyone before they leave, but what is a recommendation that you just want to give? It could be a book, it could be a TV show, it could be… Somebody gave one that was a protein shake. Anything that you want to recommend that people should check out? It can be a book. It can always be a book. But anything you want.
Dawn Kurtagich: All right. Let’s see. Well, Xena number one, if you haven’t already because amazing. I really enjoyed Penny Dreadful. I’m not sure that a lot of people did. What am I enjoying at the moment? I was watching this series called Into Night or Into the Night, which was this fantastic, I think German series where people bought an airplane and then discovered that the sun is killing people. So they have to continually fly towards the night. And I thought that was really interesting given my history with the Dead House and my fascination with and my fear, I’m severely nyctophobic, my fear of the dark. So that was good. Also Dark, the series Dark. Have you seen that one on Netflix?
Adam Sockel: Yeah.
Dawn Kurtagich: That was fantastic. And then anything that… Oh, what’s his name? The guy who did The Haunting of Blind Manner and The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass. Oh, I love him.
Adam Sockel: Oh, Midnight Mass was incredible.
Dawn Kurtagich: Right? It was so good.
Adam Sockel: Mike Flanagan.
Dawn Kurtagich: Thank you. He’s a genius. I love him. Oh, What We Do in the Shadows. Love that too. Anything vampiric really.
Adam Sockel: Oh, we are so [inaudible 00:44:49] people. These are honestly, these are all [inaudible 00:44:51]. I’m just going to add to it. What people listening to this will know, that you’re going to hear this in October, read one of Dawn’s books. Are you kidding? Read all of Dawn’s books. But they are like the perfect… I’m really excited because October is the episodes, where you and Rachel Harrison and Alexis Henderson. I’ve set it up with all my favorite creepy female authors, like horror writers.
Dawn Kurtagich: Yes.
Adam Sockel: Yeah so…
Dawn Kurtagich: Do you know what? I’m so excited about Alexis’s new book. I cannot wait for House of Hunger. I fully expect that to be amazing. Have you read it?
Adam Sockel: I haven’t read House of Hunger yet. They didn’t… When I interviewed her for this, the book, they didn’t even have digital copies of it yet. And I was like…
Dawn Kurtagich: Oh man. I think it comes out in October, right? Or has it come out?
Adam Sockel: Yeah. It comes out in a couple weeks. So they are [inaudible 00:45:37].
Dawn Kurtagich: Go Alexis.
Adam Sockel: Yeah. Well this was so, so much fun. Dawn is doing this under the weather as well. Well thank you for joining me, Dawn.
Dawn Kurtagich: You’re so welcome. This is really, really good. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Adam Sockel: Passions & Prologues is proud to be an Evergreen podcast and was created by Adam Sockel. It is produced by Adam Sockel and Sean Rule-Hoffman. And if you are interested in this podcast, in any other Evergreen podcast, you can go to evergreenpodcasts.com to discover all the different stories we have to tell.
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