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Posted in A Writer's Journey with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2009 by brandonlayng

DEALING WITH FRUSTRATIONS — An Interview with Nate Kenyon

BL: Bram Stoker Award finalist and P&E Horror Novel of the Year winner, Nate Kenyon, has been kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about some of the frustrations writers encounter during the process from first draft to publication. Thank you for joining me on the journey, Mr. Kenyon.

Since 2006 when your debut novel, Bloodstone, came out to rave reviews and became a bestseller for the original publisher (Five Star Publishing), you have had a meteoric rise with two newer books from Leisure Books who also reprinted Bloodstone. Has the response to your work been overwhelming for you? Or do you take it in stride and try not to concentrate on it when you work on your next project?

NK: I don’t see it quite the same way, I guess. I mean, I’m very happy with the success I’ve had so far. It’s one step at a time…I’m thrilled to have people reading my work, but I have a long way yet to go to get to where I want to be. The fact is, when you sit down in that chair to write another novel, you’re always starting from scratch again, and readers are going to judge you on that book. Whatever you did before doesn’t matter one bit. I’m nowhere near well known enough to have people pick up my work just from my name alone.

BL: Editing can be a bitch. It is the process of cutting out beloved parts of a novel that can be daunting or in some cases debilitating to new writers as well as the old hats. What techniques do you use to coach yourself through “killing your darlings”? Or are you the writer who cuts them and keeps them in a separate file in case you change your mind later?

NK: That’s a great question, and it’s one reason it took me nearly ten years from first draft to publication for my first novel, BLOODSTONE. I had a lot of great feedback, but the novel was 145,000 words, way too long for a first novel, and nobody wanted to take a chance on it. I had to cut a tremendous amount out of it, and a lot of those scenes were favourites of mine. It was very difficult. But eventually I got there! And as soon as I got it down to around 100,000 words, I had an offer.

The best advice I can give on that is to just approach the editing process as if it’s not even your book. Pretend a friend has hired you to make these cuts, and then go about it as ruthlessly as possible. Anything that doesn’t directly advance the plot or illuminate something important about character needs to go, no matter how well written it is.

BL: There are scores of articles in books and on the Web that detail advice on how to write a Query Letter, so I won’t go into that but rather I want to ask you how you’ve learned to cope with the frustration of waiting to hear back from a publisher you’ve submitted to? Has it become easier after the publication of your first novel?

NK: Yes, it’s easier now, particularly since I have an agent. But the early times were tough. I got good advice from another writer on that–he told me to make sure I always had something else in the mail, so that when the inevitable rejection came, I would have something else to look forward to the next day. He was right–and when that rejection comes in, get it back out to someplace else asap, unless of course you’re lucky enough to get feedback that can help you revise first.

BL: Finding the right publisher for a horror novel can be a trial in itself, especially with a lot of the big boys shying away from using the word “Horror” in their list of needs. Some writers of horror believe that if you want to sell your book you have to call it by; thriller, suspense and add on descriptions like paranormal, supernatural or psychological. Did you feel pressured by this kind of common viewpoint when you shopped around your first novel or did you feel disheartened by the lack of major publishers willing to buy straight horror? Has Leisure Books blatant pride in the Horror genre changed this trend of viewing darker fiction with a wary eye?

I did feel some of that prejudice, yes, but I don’t really consider myself a “horror” writer, or any particular kind of writer, for that matter. I just write the stories that I want to write, and although most of them end up dark and creepy, not all of them do. I leave the labelling to the publishers.

I think Leisure has brought some legitimacy to the mass market paperback horror novel, and they are one of the few publishers that has no problem declaring that they’re interested in that kind of work. But you can find horror everywhere–I find it amusing that there’s this huge fanbase for the Twilight series, and movies such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy are all time record breakers, and yet the mass media doesn’t want to label any part of them as horror. Did anyone really see the Scarecrow in Batman Begins? If that’s not horror, I don’t know what is.

BL: Writing can be a pleasure and a pain but it’s also a privilege and to be able to make it a career that you can put food on the table with is a rarity without any other income. New writers will look at the advances of writers like Stephen King and swoon with envy. What obstacles have you had to overcome to get to where you are, how did you manage them and what are your goals for the future of your writing?

NK: I’m lucky in many respects that I have a very good day job in marketing and communications, which allows me the flexibility to write what I want, when I want. So I’ve never really had to make that “choice” between writing books and putting food on the table. But there’s stress there, sure. Eventually I’d like to write full time, hit the bestseller lists consistently and become a “name” writer, but I’ll certainly take what I’ve received so far and be happy with it. I know how hard it is to get where I am now, and I won’t take it for granted.

BL: What is the hardest part of the writing process for you? For some it is developing the seed of an idea into a full-grown novel complete with likeable characters, arcing storylines and sub-plots that don’t take over a story, while for others it’s working around the rest of their life to get in the hours it takes to write a book. Do you find your homelife can distract from your writing or add to it?

NK: I think juggling my homelife is probably one of the tougher parts of writing, yes, particularly since (as I mentioned) I have a day job. With three kids, that makes it difficult to find the hours. In order to write a compelling story, I really have to immerse myself in it, keep my mind focused.

BL: Horror magazines tend to include more author interviews than others. I sometimes wonder if others genres care as much about where the stories come from the way horror readers do. Do you think horror writers have to work harder to sell their work than the person writing the next literary/romance/mystery sensation? Are interviews a pleasure or stress for you at this point in your career and do you see yourself getting frustrated with the clichéd questions like; “Where do you get your ideas” and “Why horror”?

NK: I don’t think we have to work any harder, really–these days, all writers have to get out there and promote themselves or they’ll sink without a trace. There’s so little marketing money from publishers, and where there is usually goes to the name writers. So us mid-listers need to do more of it on our own.

I enjoy doing interviews because it gives me a chance to talk about writing, and that’s something I’m passionate about. Sure, there are clichéd questions, but I have stock answers for those I can use, and I always find at least a few unique and interesting questions in every interview that make me think.

BL: There is a lot of pressure to get an agent. What’s your take on this? Is it worth the frustration or do writers get scared of contracts filled with legal mumbo-jumbo that amount to selling their souls for a pittance advance and sliver of the royalty pie and frighten themselves into thinking they can’t sell their work for what it’s worth without them? Or is it a matter of finding an agent who wants to build a career instead of building a stable of one-offs?

NK: I think there should be a lot of pressure to find a GOOD agent. A bad one can be more damaging than not having one at all. A good agent should support you, be passionate about your work, responsive and happy to talk with you. They should know how to sell books. This is a brutal business, and you need a powerful advocate in your corner. The good news is that they are out there; the bad news is, you’ll have to compete with everyone else who wants to land them. But if you get one, they are absolutely worth it.

BL: The Reach has been optioned for film, congratulations by the way, but could you tell us a bit about what that experience has been like for you? Several writers like Ray Garton and Robert J. Sawyer have had options purchased for their books without the films going into production, do you worry that the same might happen or do movie releases like Twilight, The Box and Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door add to the excitement? How are your fingernails doing? I’d be gnawing mine off.

NK: Good question. It’s been a fun experience. I just try to sit back and let my agent do most of the work, and if something happens, great. If not, I haven’t really lost anything. I really like this company that optioned THE REACH, and I hope we can make a movie. But if not, we’ll move on to the next one.

BL: Do you find that writing novels has decreased your short story output?

NK: Yeah, I think so. Writing good short fiction is HARD. Maybe harder than writing a novel. I was never a huge short story writer anyway, and now it’s tough to justify the time put into it for a relatively small return, when books need to be written. Still, I get a real thrill out of finishing a good short story and seeing it in print, so I don’t think I’ll ever give them up completely.

BL: I want to thank you again, Mr. Kenyon for taking the time to answer what became more than a “few” questions and finish off by asking what future publications we can keep our eyes out for? Maybe you could give us a brief description of your next novel from Leisure Books, Sparrow Rock, coming out in Spring 2010?

NK: Thank you! SPARROW ROCK is my favorite novel I’ve written so far. I LOVE this book. Here’s the jacket copy:

They were just a group of high school kids looking for a place to party. They didn’t know the end of the world was coming. Now, alone and trapped belowground in a state-of-the-art bomb shelter, they are being stalked—and the creatures that come for them through the dirt and ash are like nothing anyone has ever seen before.

There is a new ruling life-form on earth, and these six humans are the only remaining prey.

Welcome to your worst nightmare. Welcome to…Sparrow Rock.

It’s a wild, dark, thrill ride of a book, the first I’ve done in the first person, and there are some huge twists that I don’t think anyone will see coming. I can’t wait to see the reaction readers have to this book. My editor called it a “modern classic of horror,” and I hope many others will agree. We’ll see! There’s major movie studio interest too. SPARROW ROCK is due out in May 2010.

Other than that, I have a limited edition of SPARROW coming from Bad Moon Books in the spring, and there will be a couple of neat surprises with that. I’m writing several short stories for a secret anthology that’s going to be amazing, and I am signing on to write a novel based on a major gaming franchise–details on that should be released soon. A lot of readers have been asking for a sequel to THE REACH, and I’m considering writing that as well. Lots of things happening, which is the way I like it.

Find more about Nate Kenyon on the Web.
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