Sunday, 30 April 2017

Chatting with Ken Stark

Welcome to the blogsite, Ken. Thank you for joining us.
Q. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

A. Thanks for having me, Paul. It's an honour being here, but you started out with toughest question for an introvert to answer! Between a a desire for privacy and a sneaking suspicion that no one could possibly be interested in my life story, my usual response is about as exciting as dry toast. But I've been working through it, so let's see….. I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver; home of Terry Fox, Rick Hansen, the 2010 Olympics, Yvonne DeCarlo and, as it happens, two of the most notorious mass-murderers in Canadian history. I worked in the armoured car industry for 30 years, only recently started to call myself a writer out loud, and when I'm not writing, I like to paint. There, see? Toast. Well, okay, the Yvonne DeCarlo thing is pretty cool…..

Q. Do you like to read or do you prefer to listen to audio books?
A. It's a close call, actually. I prefer to do my own reading, but audiobooks come a very close second. I've always loved listening to old-time radio shows, so I guess the transition came naturally. My Ipod is stuffed with audiobooks, and I'm more than happy to let someone else read to me if I'm too busy to sit.

Q. Do you have a kindle, nook, or reading device yourself, or do you prefer to read from printed versions of a book?
A. Given a choice, I'm sure I will always opt to hold an actual book in my hands, but there are massive advantages to ebooks. First and foremost is the cost. I can take a chance on an unknown author for the price of a cup of coffee, and I've come across some great books that I probably would never have heard of if I stuck to brick and mortar bookstores. Secondly, and I know this will be considered sacrilegious by most of your readers, I don't keep a lot of books. Unless there is a sentimental connection or it's something I'm likely to read over and over again, most books I buy end up in the collection box of the local library. But with an ebook, I can keep it forever and not have to add more bookshelves.

Q. What drove you to begin a writing career?
A. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, but after a few rejection slips in my teens, I wrote only for myself. It was only in the last few years that I had a change of heart. I'm not sure if it's advancing years, or just too many stories in my head that had to get out, but I decided that it was finally time to take another crack at a publisher. If I had known about self-publishing years ago, I probably would have given it a go, but I'm glad I didn't. When I look back on what I wrote even ten years ago, I don't see much that I'd want anyone to read.

Q. Do you write to a target – word count – every day, or do you have another writing discipline that you could share with us?
A. I am probably the least disciplined writer on the planet! I know I should have a self-imposed daily word count, but I just can't do it. It makes it seem too much like work, and after too many years holding down a job, the last thing I want is for writing to feel like work. I do write every day, though. Sometimes it amounts to little more than editing a few paragraphs, but other times I'll spend ten or twelve hours at the keyboard. And honestly, those days when I can shut out the world and spend an eternity in a universe of my own creation are the best days.

Q. Do you write from imagination, personal experience, or a mixture?
A.  It would be nice to think that everything I write is drawn directly from the well of my imagination, but that simply isn't true. Certainly, the storyline itself is born of imagination, but just like every other human being on the planet, I am a product of my environment, and I encounter a hundred things a day that might eventually find their way into my scribblings. The line-up at the grocery store, the traffic jam on the highway, the homeless guy on the street corner..… The trick is knowing when, where and how to combine those experiences, and to what outlandish proportions each of them might be blown to make the story work.

Q. When choosing a geographical location for a plot, or storyline, do you select places you know well or just pick them at random?
A. It all depends on what the story needs. If it's set in a microcosm, i.e. in a single house, or even in a single room in that house, then naming a location might actually take away from the story. Small town? Anywhere will do, just as long as it's in keeping with the storyline. After all, you wouldn't set a Voodoo priestess loose in ancient Athens, right? Wait a minute….that's not a bad idea……hmmm….. But if the story requires a cityscape as a backdrop, I'll look at what works best for the story and plunk my characters down wherever that place may be. In the case of Stage 3, I needed a big city, high-rise buildings and limited avenues of escape. San Francisco fit the bill perfectly, and it just so happened that I'd spent quite a bit of time there as a younger man, so it was a no-brainer.

Q. I’ve always argued that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader first. Do you think that is true or false?
A.  I agree for the most part, but I do get hung up on the word 'need'. Certainly, everything a writer reads adds a little more paint to the palette, but actual life-experience can add subtle nuances of shade that we otherwise wouldn't have even known existed. Consider me as a child, writing my stories as best I could. What did I know of love and sorrow and the emotional rollercoaster of a failing relationship? I could have read about such things 'til the cows came home, and my words would still have rung hollow. Now, I'm not saying that we have to experience every little thing about which we write, but I think every experience we do have tends to add more to the story than whatever we might have picked up from reading another author's words.

Q. Would you describe yourself as an avid reader?
A.  Despite my previous comment, absolutely. Whether writers need to read or not, every single writer I've ever met is an avid reader, and I've often wondered about this literary 'chicken and egg'. Do writers start writing because they loved reading, or did they always love reading because they had some innate desire to write? I lean toward the former, but the jury is still out.

Q. Do you have a current ‘work in progress’? Can you tell us anything about it?
A. Now that Book 2 of the Stage 3 story is with my publisher, I am working diligently on the long-promised Arcadia Falls. It's a YA horror novel that I've been forced to relegate to the back burner for far too long. I don't want to give anything away, so I will just say this; I asked my best friend's teenaged daughter what she wanted to read, and she replied, "Something scary, with a monster, and some kind of mystery." And so, Arcadia Falls.

Q. Which gender and age group are your books targeted at?
A. With the exception of Arcadia Falls, I've never tried writing to a target audience. It's far too much work!  Besides, I don't think I'm clever enough to be able to target a book to a specific reader. When I wrote Stage 3, I naturally assumed that a book about zombies would appeal to a mostly male audience, but what did I know? As it turns out, at least half of the readers I've heard back from were women, and they loved it!  Now, I'm sure that a wiser man than I could figure out what aspect of the book each demographic liked and disliked, but to what end? Ultimately, I write for myself, so the best I can hope for is that a few others might enjoy coming along for the ride.

Q. What is the best piece of advice you could give to someone starting out on a writing career?
A. To paraphrase Harper Lee, the first thing a writer has to develop is a thick skin. 95% of publishers will drop your hard work in the trash before reading a line, and most won't even bother to send a rejection letter. Even if you get published, a certain percentage of people will hate every word you ever wrote, so you can have a ton of great reviews, and you'll still get one stinker that makes you question everything you do. But even as you contemplate failure and the crushing of all of your hopes and dreams, keep at it! Keep writing, because that's what your heart tells you to do. You might end up with a best seller, or you might wind up giving your stories away, but someone somewhere is sure to be moved by the words you wrote, and that's the whole point, isn't it?

Q. Do you have links on twitter or any other social media sites?
A.  Yes, and I invite everyone to stop by! No need to 'follow' or 'like', and I don't have a mailing list, so no pressure. There are a couple of short stories and a blog on my website, and a contact page if anyone wants to send me a message. I can't guarantee a response, but I promise I'll see it.

Twitter: @PennilessScribe