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Friday, January 17, 2014

Kenneth W. Cain interview pt 2 of 3 (Life and fiction)

In your guest post at SF Signal, you say your collection examines the human condition. Why? What are you aiming for?

Every story I write is, in a way, a self-examination of myself. Obviously, not everything in my stories really happened, but there are pieces of reality in each story that I’ve explored and expanded upon, trying to dissect the essential element of the detail that made it so significant in my eyes. That is my condition, and as I’m a human, well, you see what I mean.

As to what I aim for in a story, that’s an easy answer. Have you ever finished reading a story and then found yourself staring out into nothingness and asking, “What did I just read?” I want nothing more than to be the catalyst for that reaction. Rumor has it that whenever I succeed, somewhere, a demon gets its horns.

So you are in league with Satan? [Wink, wink, nudge, nudge]

Ha! How does that old Kids In The Hall skit go, "EVIL!" Either you know that reference or you don't. If you don't, though, Santa likely won't bring you any gifts this year. I'm quite the opposite actually. But I think it's a fun to joke around about anything.

Speaking of the human condition, one of my favorites of yours is "Spaceship Earth" where it appears the next generation feels woefully unprepared for the challenge of running the planet. (This assessment may not be yours.) How do you generate a story, from the germinating idea to finished product, in general and/or in particular, as in this tale or in "Shards". What do you start with?

I love ”Spaceship Earth,” and your assessment is pretty much spot on. Usually, my stories take form quickly, after a verbal or visual encounter. For instance, the idea for my story “Split Ends” came from watching a mother angrily brush her daughter’s hair poolside, while on vacation. After only a few seconds, the story had fully formed in my head. However, they don’t always come that fast. Sometimes it takes two or more occurrences to form something interesting. In those cases, I’m kind of like an evil scientist, tossing chemicals into a vial in hopes of producing something diabolical.

You say in one interview that writers are always learning. What lesson did you find hard to learn? What are you learning now?

Well, I mentioned coming into this being a bit naïve, and I think many aspiring authors tend to do the same. You have this feeling that everyone is going to dig what your putting out. But things rarely come together so easy. Once you realize that, it’s just like any other job. You have to want it bad enough, to love doing it, and work at getting better constantly. So perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned, is to show some patience. There’s no hurry. Yes, I’m getting older and I can hear death’s footsteps approaching from down the long corridor of time, but I’ve slowed my approach to writing, and it’s paying off.

As to what I’m learning now, I have a lot of people to thank in that regard. Firstly, whenever I read a book, I internalize my own writing. But I’ve also been fortunate enough to have some really incredible authors offer me advice. Sometimes, even the praise can be incredibly eye opening if you pay close attention. It’s a never-ending process. You never see a pro athlete stop working out, or slack off on improving their game. Writing is the same way. You have to work really hard and put your brain through a good workout.

You walked away from writing and returned. Why walk away? Why return?

The thing is, again admitting my naivety; I’d expected things to happen quickly. But also, I needed them to happen fast. I have two kids, and I felt this enormous pressure in trying to reinvent myself. I worried whether my kids could be proud of what I was doing, and whether I could consistently provide for them financially. I lost a lot of sleep those days, frustrated by my lack of success. I decided to walk away mostly due to my responsibility to my family. If not for my wife, I likely would have kept on walking. She steadied me, calmed me down, and refocused my career.

Does she have a sister, or do you two accept cloning requests? 

Funny you should ask. She does have a sister, but she's already taken. As to the clones, that sounds like a wonderful money making scheme.

You were a graphic design artist. How do you see that as shaping your fiction?

I love art. I think most creatives do. But there is a process to any design, whether it be on canvas or a computer screen or a piece of paper. Writing requires a similar process. In the end, it’s always about the composition, isn’t it? So I think knowing there is a process, and a structure to what I write has helped me a great deal.

How do you juggle fiction and life?

It isn’t easy. When my father got sick, my wife and I decided one of us might need to stay home to care for the kids. At the time, the company I worked for had been less than steady, and I was eventually laid off. A couple of years after, the company went under, so it seems things worked out the right way. Anyway, at least until the kids are both in middle school, I’ll be writing full-time. I write every day. I work out. I clean the house, and have a list of chores. I take the kids to school each day, and sometimes I pick them up, or take them to activities. Every day is busy, but I make the most of it, trying very hard to get as much done as I can. You have to make the time.

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