Saturday, June 30, 2012

Author Interview: Ken Chisholm

Editors' Note: We sent our authors eight questions, and asked them to answer five. Ken was the biggest over-achiever, and answered all of them, and told us to edit out what we didn't want to use. Well, we used them all. Because that kind of dedication has to be rewarded; and because we're all edited-out right now! ;)

Q: How long have you been writing, and what kind of stories do you most like to write?

A: Like a lot of writers, I started when I was a kid; handwrote a neighbourhood “newspaper”,  published my first story in my high school newsletter (edited by Douglas Arthur Brown), and then edited my college students’ newspaper (a formative experience). I’m fairly new to short story writing so, although I have written more speculative fiction than anything else, so I have to say I am still exploring what the form has to offer me.

Q: What sparked the idea for your story in Unearthed? Can you remember?

A: I was in my favorite coffee shop going for a re-fill and had the thought from out of nowhere I wanted to write a story about a character named “Mr. Dogg” and from there the other character names suggested themselves. I knew they were a team on an operation but it took me a long time to figure out what their task was. Writing the actual story happened very quickly.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing your story for Unearthed?

A: The characters were not quite human and I didn’t want to make them “cute” and their responses to certain “human” situations had to carefully calibrated. I lead storytelling workshops and always say that stories are about people so of course I had to write a story that wasn’t about people.

Q: What's the title of your story in Unearthed? In general, do you get the title first, or do you write the story first? Do you remember what prompted this particular title?

A: “Perfect Instruments” and it was the last thing I came up with for the story. I like inventing titles but rarely finish the stories to go with the titles. I have a dim memory of seeing or hearing this phrase somewhere when working on the story and it stuck because of the nature of the main characters.

Q: Please tell us: one book you've read recently, one book you're reading now, and one book on your to-read list.

A: In order of asking: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaaghe, and The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carre.

Q: What's the best/worst writing advice you've ever been given?

A: The best writing advice is always “if you write this, we will pay you, so go home and write”. The worst advice is always when someone, when I do tell them what I am working on, with the best intentions, off the top of their head, tries to give me story ideas. I appreciate the effort but it’s always more fun to puzzle it out on my own. Or, in general, anyone who says “You should write a story/play/song about X”. No, you should write it if it’s that great an idea; I’ll follow my own
enthusiasms, thank you.

Q: What are you working on now, or what's your next planned writing project?

A: I am finishing a one act play using characters, three generations of Italian-Cape Breton women, my friend Paul MacDougall (author of Distinction Earned) and I created and used in five other one-act plays.

I have a couple of short stories I am re-working (one I intend to submit to the next Third Person Press anthology), and I want to test my stamina on a longer project. And I continue to think up great titles for stuff I’ll never finish.

Q: Have you ever read something and thought, “I wish I'd written that!”? What was it?

A: “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, a short story by Tim O’Brien in his collection, The Things They Carried. A group of vets re-tell the story about an American soldier who figures out a way of getting his high school sweetheart to the remote medical aid base in the jungle where he’s stationed during the Vietnam War. Once there, she is consumed by the darkness of the war. It is a story as much about the nature of storytelling to help us figure out our lives as about the experience of Vietnam. Now I want to re-read it again.

Thanks, Ken!

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