Todays post finishes my current round of interviews (for now 🙂 ), and brings an interview with Kevin Wallis. Kevin is a writer of short stories, getting ready to move into the novel world. I really enjoyed his interview, and I hope you do too.
JGA: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started writing?
KW: Sure, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to an unknown like me. I really appreciate it. Talking about myself is boring, so in a nutshell, I’m 38, my knees are 88, I live in Sugarland, TX, married my dream girl 11 years ago, have the 3 most kick-ass kids in the world, and my measurements are 38-24-36.
Oh yeah, I write too. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment I “started” writing, but I have tried to write stories since childhood. I remember trying to write stories about the Marvel comics heroes I used to read, except my X-Men always ended up in the middle of some demented horror story rather than Salem Center, New York. In high school, I had a couple of stories published in the school “literary” journal. The stories were cheesy and ridiculous, but I remember thinking that they must have had some merit for them to be chosen above all the other cheesy and ridiculous stories submitted. But, yeah, I’ve had stories bouncing around in my skull for as long as I can remember.
JGA: I hear you with having stories bouncing around in your head all the time! How do you go about the actual process of writing?
KW: Most of my writing actually gets done at work. (Don’t tell my boss.) On slow days, I can usually get a few thousand words down. I carry my handy green notebook wherever I go (my coworkers always ask me what the notebook’s for, and it’s fun to make stuff up to mess with them. “Yeah, I use this to document any errors I see you making”), and I usually write my stories longhand first. This gives me the room to edit as I transcribe the story onto my laptop. The problem is that I can barely read my own writing, so if I let a story sit too long in my notebook, I can’t read the damn thing when it’s time to edit.
JGA: How do you personally like to read your books these days?
KW: I recently told my publisher that Kindles are the devil’s toys. I can’t stand them. I need to feel paper in my hands. Great books are called “page-turners” for a reason, not “scroll-downers.” That being said, I am not naïve enough to deny that e-books are the future of publishing, and although I will never own one, I will ride the wave and try to use it to my writing career’s advantage. Besides, the majority of my book’s sales have been in e-format.
As for me, I read nearly everything except hardcore romance novels. I switch genres often so as not to grow bored, so from day to day I may be reading horror, mystery, sci-fi, historical fiction or nonfiction, biographies, satire, short stories, a graphic novel, you name it. As long as it’s paper and Fabio’s not on the cover, I’ll probably check it out. No offense to the fantastic Fabio, of course.
JGA: After spending the last year only using an ereader, I couldn’t imagine going back to paper permanently – to each their own 🙂 Which authors (or books) have had the most influence on your writing style, and why?
KW: As primarily a horror writer, I was of course blown away by Stephen King as a kid. I read my first King book when I was 10 or 11, and from there discovered H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker, both of whom completely changed my idea of what a horror story could be. However, as far a writing styles go, I am blown away by the cadence of John Steinbeck’s words, the poetic prose of Ray Bradbury, and I have recently become a huge fan of David L. Robbins’ writing style. I try not to consciously emulate any of them, but I would be lying if I said they don’t influence my work.
JGA: How do you go about planning your writing?
KW: I’m a big fan of outlining, and it’s probably because I can’t keep too many thoughts straight in my head at the same time. (My wife says it’s because I’m not a woman, but that’s for another blog.) So my handy green notebook is full of indecipherable scribbling, the blueprint for a scene of dialogue here, a list of underdeveloped plot points there, everything’s in the notebook. I have no problem straying from a master outline, and the joy of writing comes from doing just that and letting the story take you where it wants to go, but I usually have a pretty good idea where I’m headed. I even outline each chapter of a novel before I write it, listing the major points I want to cover, and this prevents me from inadvertently leaving something important out. The way I see it, outlining helps me silence the voices in my head I want to ignore and focus on the most important voices at any given moment. Or maybe I’m just loony.
I’ve also discovered that nothing gets the creative juices flowing like camping under the stars. My most popular story, “The Taking of Michael McConnolly”, was based on a camping trip with my brothers, and I have had more good story ideas while sipping brew by a campfire than anywhere else. (That story was awarded Honorable Mention by Ellen Datlow for Best Horror of the Year. And yes, I just tooted my own horn. Sue me.)
JGA: Your book, “Beneath the Surface of Things“, is a collection of horror short stories. What is it that appeals to you about the shorter form, and how did you get started writing them?
KW: I originally started writing short stories because I was terrified of starting a novel. I wanted to practice the craft first, find my voice, so to speak. Like any writer, my early short stories are God-awful pieces of trash, but they were an invaluable learning tool. Once I started getting my short fiction published, I gained confidence, and publishing my own collection through Bards and Sages Publishing was my proudest moment as a writer.
I actually look at the collection as the beginning of the end of my short story career, however. Although an occasional short story still pops into my head and demands to be written, I would like to concentrate on novels, and hopefully find some success in that arena.
JGA: What is it that drew you to writing horror?
KW: I could write thousands of words on this subject, but I’ll spare those readers who have toughed it out with me for this long. The short of it is this: I really don’t know. It’s just always been a part of me. As a kid, I would rather sneak into my mother’s room to watch The Howling instead of joining my siblings for Bugs Bunny in the living room. King and Lovecraft and Barker and McCammon just spoke to me more than any other writers. I was plagued with nightmares as a child, and maybe writing down what I dreamt was a form of therapy for me. I do write non-horrific stories, but more often than not, any story I try to write about fluffy bunnies will ultimately have those bunnies donning clown makeup and eating someone’s face off.
JGA: Who are the readers would enjoy “Beneath the Surface of Things” the most?
KW: I cover a lot of themes in the book, from theology to child abuse to the redemption of past mistakes, so I hope it appeals to a vast audience. However, I can say from listening to feedback that those who are easily offended might want to pick up the latest Danielle Steele instead. It is primarily a work of horror, and is thus quite R-rated, so yes, there is violence, yes, I use the F-word, and yes, there are more than a few corpses scattered about. There is even some good old-fashioned intercourse. But I don’t write horror for the scare alone, and I believe many, if not the majority, of the stories in the collection can appeal to even the most casual horror fan .
JGA: That sounds suitably horrific. 🙂 What other items are you working on at the moment?
KW: Like every other writer, I am currently working on a novel. My master plan is to land an agent once the book is finished and hopefully sign on with a major publishing company. Either that, or curl into a fetal ball, drooling on my pants and wailing at the stars as agent after agent laughs at my pitiful attempts to make a living in this business. Whichever.
JGA: What are your thoughts on the current growth of self-publishing that’s occurring, now that ebooks have become more commonly available. Is it something you might consider in the future, or would you prefer to stick to the “traditional” publishing route?
KW: Personally, I have no interest in ever self-publishing, and I do not buy self-published works anymore. The reason is that I have been burned too many times. While I know there is a hell of a lot of very high-quality self-publishing available, including the self-published work of several close friends, I have had the misfortune of buying too many works that were horribly written and edited and obviously self-published because no respectable publishing company would represent the work. When absolutely anyone can self-publish absolutely anything they want, then get their friends and family to blurb about how great it is, well, it lacks legitimacy to me.
So I want to go the traditional route. I want my work to be represented by an agent who will then shop it to the big boys, and hopefully one of them will bite. If not at the first offering, then I will keep writing until they do.
JGA: If you could somehow change reality and become the author of any published book instead of the person who originally wrote it, which book would you make your own and why?
KW: My favorite book of all time is Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, so I suppose I would like to one day write something that affects others the way that book affects me. I read it every year, and I never tire of it. I Cliff-noted it in high school, but I was probably too immature to appreciate it back then. Plus, it inspired my sister-in-law to call hemorrhoids the Grapes of Ass, so there’s that.
James Clavell’s Shogun is a close second. That book stands the test of time like few books can.
JGA: Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven’t asked?
KW: Good Lord, Jason, put these kind readers out of their misery already.
Seriously, thank you for the time. I am sincerely grateful. And I hope some of your readers are heavy enough drinkers to pick up a copy of Beneath the Surface of Things.
You can see all the short story collections Kevin has work in on Amazon via this link.