Editor’s note: In the print edition of this article, published June 26, the author’s name was incorrectly reported at K.A. Whitemore. Her name is K.A. Miltimore. The article has been updated.
In Kimberly Miltimore’s fictional universe, Enumclaw remains a very familiar destination — a close-knit community precariously balancing the lives and values of generations of quiet rural residents against the creep of city-dwellers and gentrification.
It’s just the tiniest bit more… fantastic than the real deal, which accentuates what’s both ordinary and extraordinary about the city.
Her first novel, “Burned to a Crisp” — No. 1 in the Gingerbread Hag Mystery series — follows Hedy (pronounced “Head-y”) Leckenmaul as she runs an unusual bakery just outside of downtown.
But while her creepy confections help pay the bills, her other passion is being a Waystation host to all sorts of “people” from the supernatural community as they journey from one place to the next.
Yes, this book is technically fantasy, but readers who tend to avoid the genre (whether they’re adverse to the complicated high-fantasy worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and Naomi Novik or just dislike the heavy focus on spells and potions in the works J. K. Rowling and Jim Butcher) may still find “Burned to a Crisp” to their liking.
“I liked the idea of magic when it’s more in a realism form, and that you could be bumping into it and not even realize it’s there. When you have those big, epic Gandalf scenes, that’s high fantasy, that’s big and bold and that’s fabulous, there’s a place for that,” Miltimore said. “But I think there’s also a place for something small and quirky and, ‘Did that really just happen?’ I like the juxtaposition of something a touch bigger than what we experience every day… I like being on that edge.”
Hedy herself is not magical, at least as far as she and the readers know at this point. In fact, despite her quirky hair, odd collections, mysterious heritage, and slew of unusual guests, she appears very normal.
“She’s more extraordinary in her ordinariness in this kind of genre,” Miltimore said. “Her main virtue is that she loves diversity, she loves the differences in these creatures and people, and she wants to support that, even though she’s doing it vicariously.”
Diversity and tolerance are two of the book’s biggest themes, and though it wasn’t the author’s goal to write a book focusing on those virtues, the spirit of the times led Miltimore down that path.
“It’s the times we live in. I started writing this book last year and I’m kind of a news junkie… there just seemed to be a huge growth of people talking at each other, not a whole lot of listening going on, and a lot of ‘Us versus Them’ thinking,” she continued.
On the surface, Enumclaw may not seem like the best background to explore this rise in tribalism, but Miltimore, who travels from her Auburn home to visit often, knows there’s some real friction happening just underneath.
“I’ve watched it evolve over the years — I used to come hear in the ‘90s and the naughts (2000s), and I’ve seen some of the changes in the storefronts you see now. You see a little more gentrification here — you could be in a suburb of Portland in some ways, here, some of the streets remind me of, where it didn’t used to feel that way before,” she said. “It used to feel more of a small town, rural, on the edge of Crystal Mountain, on the edge of farmland. Now people come looking for a taproom or looking for a coffee house.”
These sorts of changes have led to more than a few tensions that drive the plot of “Burned to a Crisp” — as Hedy’s home begins to fill up with supernatural strangers, strange and violent crimes start being reported all around town, and Hedy’s usual trusting demeanor falters as she wrestles with doubt and realizes she, too, has her own biases against others.
And while much of the book’s focus is on character development, Miltimore put just as much effort into making her fictional Enumclaw look as similar to the real deal as possible, using familiar locations as the high school and the library and even taking the old Olson house on Griffin Avenue to use as Hedy’s home.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Though this is her first published book, Miltimore said she has attempted to write several novels over the years, though none of the others came to fruition.
But when National Novel Writing Month 2018 came around, she was determined to finally finish a novel by the end of November.
To her surprise, it didn’t even take all month.
Part of her success, she said, was that she didn’t start by trying to plot out her story, “because I thought I would get stuck in my own head, as has happened in the past.”
Instead, she just put pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) and went with the flow.
Of course, going with the flow doesn’t mean the final result will be good, and Miltimore said a lot of credit should go to the online community that she let read over her drafts and give honest feedback and criticisms, something she felt she couldn’t always get from close friends and family.
Her second book, “In the Teeth of It,” took a little more conscious effort to create, she said, but will be published July 1, so fans of the first book won’t have to wait long for the sequel.
A third book is also in the works, and she hopes to have that published in the near future.
Readers can also enjoy a collection of short stories (“The Necromancer and the Chinchilla”) starring The Menagerie, a group of (nonmagical) animals that live with Hedy, and how they come to live with her in Enumclaw.
Her published works can be bought locally at The Sequel (where she plans to sign copies during the fall wine walk event) or ordered on Amazon.
For updates on her works and to read her blog and book reviews, visit www.kamiltimore.com.