Welcome to the five hundred and eighty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Kenneth Weene. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. You can also read Ken’s short story ‘Curbside’ and guest blog.
Morgen: Welcome back, Ken. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Ken: Such a kind question: most of the time I feel like I’m floating in the air someplace between here and there. Geographically, I’m in Arizona, which is in the southwest US, but I grew up in New England and spent many years in New York.
As a kid I loved reading and always wanted to write. So naturally, I went to college to study economics and then got a doctorate in psychology. I grew up with an abiding belief that one should never follow ones dreams only ones nightmares. Luckily, in the past few years I’ve grown a bit. Now I do what I always dreamed and nobody tells me to not.
Morgen: I didn’t know I’d always dreamed of being a writer, I came to writing in my late 30s so I guess I’ve grown up too. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Ken: Mostly I write “literary fiction”, which means more attention to character and language than to plot. Having started with poetry, I am very much about how the writing sounds. I hope readers will read my work aloud. I never understood those teachers who wanted me to read silently; some of them were even upset if I moved my lips. Can you imagine reading Shakespeare silently? Milton? Dickens? Well, I feel the same way about Weene.
Currently I am working on a piece of historical fiction and I certainly have many short stories, some even flash fiction—under 1, 000 words. But the emphasis is still on language.
Morgen: I mentioned your short story ‘Curbside’ in the introduction. It’s a great story. What have you had published to-date?
Ken: I have four books published. The first, an anthology, was published through a vanity press simply to get my feet wet. Titled Songs For My Father, it has become strangely more in demand in recent months, perhaps because people have discovered me. When Amazon runs out, there are no more, and that’s okay. After Songs I was picked up by All Things That Matter Press, a small publisher. They have been great, and we have three novels out: Widow’s Walk, Memoirs From the Asylum, and Tales From the Dew Drop Inne.
Morgen: Maybe ‘Songs’ will become a collector’s piece that’ll fetch large sums on eBay. You mentioned Amazon, are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Ken: My books are available in eBook formats, which is one of the great services my publisher provides. I’m a print guy myself. My wife loves her electronic reader, but I like that feel and smell. Maybe as my eyes deteriorate, I will want to be able to enlarge the print; that is certainly one advantage for eBooks.
Morgen: Almost everyone I’ve spoken too still prefers paper books but it’s great that we have the choice. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Ken: My favourite book so far is one that my agent is currently shopping around. I do want a larger publisher, and the agent thinks she can make that happen. The book is titled The Stylite, and it is a magical melding of love, betrayal, chickens, extraterrestrials, and life in small town New England. My editor insists that future graduate students in literature will be studying The Stylite. Of the ones that are currently available, I can only say it depends on my mood and preoccupation of the day. Pensive and meditative? Read Widow’s Walk. Wondering about the meaning of life and perhaps your own sanity? Memoirs From the Asylum. Looking for a fun read that will give you a few chuckles and introduce some off-the-beaten-track characters? Drop by the Dew Drop and, as the owner says, “Enjoys yourself.”
My favourite character? I’m not answering that one; the rest would wait for me to fall asleep and cudgel me.
When it comes to actors, I have never given that much thought, mostly because I have too much respect for directors and producers to try and think for them. I have had readers tell me this actor or actress or that, but I don’t have a preference as long as they can hit their marks and remember their lines.
Morgen: Other authors have said it’s like choosing between their children so I don’t blame you. Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Ken: Vonnegut, definitely Vonnegut. A few people have compared Memoirs From the Asylum to Ken Kesey’s work in Cuckoo’s Nest, usually to say that Memoirs is better. Steinbeck comes to mind, especially in the characters I bring to life. And Conrad because of the simple directness I think he and I share.
Morgen: Definitely literary, then. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Ken: So far I have. My publisher has been very good about working with me. I should add they came up with the cover for Memoirs From the Asylum, and I immediately loved it. When it came time to do a cover for Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, we struggled on both sides until my wife suggested that I look for some drawings or paintings and see if we could use one. Both All Things That Matter Press and I were delighted when we found a great drawing by an artist who was kind enough to allow us to use it.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Ken: I mentioned earlier that I am working on an historical fiction. Red and White will be about the Native American experience in the late nineteenth century. I love the plot idea and my main character, but there is much research to do. Meanwhile, I have been doing some short fiction and of course the poems, always the poems.
Morgen: It’s great having a mixture of projects, stops one’s brain from getting bored. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Ken: I write almost every day, but many days I also hit the delete button at the end. At this point in my life, I want writing to be fun; I never allow it to make me miserable. If there is a run of empty days, I know something will come along to get me moving again.
Morgen: Oh no! Not the delete button. Sends shivers through me; the cut-and-paste-into-another-document button at the very least. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Ken: Half-way between. I usually have a pretty good sense of the overall plot, but the characters have to be comfortable with the story. I have had characters throw some curves. For example, Mary, the protagonist of Widow’s Walk fell in love way before I expected; and her daughter, Kathleen, ended up with a horrible guy, and I thought he was going to be really great. Goes to show what I know. Maybe the wildest thing was when I was writing The Stylite. I was in residence at a writers’ colony when one of the main characters woke me up asking, “What makes you think it was his baby?” Suddenly a story that had bee stuck took wings.
Morgen: I love it when the characters take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Ken: I’m not sure if I create them or if they create me. I just know that they are very present in my head and soul; that has to make them real for the reader. Of course real doesn’t mean typical, normal, average, or any such thing. Most of my characters are unique and maybe a bit odd, but then so am I.
Morgen: That makes two of us. Normal is dull and no reader likes a dull character. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Ken: Edit, edit, edit. Then you are ready to share your work with an editor. I can actually work on a page for three of four days before I think it is even close to ready for my wife, my writers’ group, or my editor to see it. Anybody who things they can do it more fluently are is probably fooling himself.
Morgen: Everyone needs a second opinion; family, writing group at the very least. I know of at least two people who said on LinkedIn that they were going to self-edit. Needless to say they had plenty of people disagreeing. Do you have to do much research?
Ken: That depends on the book or story. For this historical fiction piece, there is so much to learn. For The Stylite I had to learn a bit about chickens. Memoirs From the Asylum and Tales From the Dew Drop Inne required very little research. For Dew Drop, which I set in Albuquerque, I had to do a little research just to make sure I hadn’t made any egregious geographic errors, and there were a few other details, like Yak farming. For Memoirs, I guess you could say my professional life was all research so I didn’t need to do much looking for information.
Morgen: It’s worth doing, however much you do, because there’ll always be someone who points out an error. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Ken: I am comfortable in both first and third. In Memoirs From the Asylum I actually use both. I have never tried second except in poetry. Quite the challenge to write a book that way. Of course an epistolary novel is doable, but hard work.
Morgen: It is, which is why few people have written novels in second. It’s my favourite pov but even I stick at a few hundred words. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Ken: Depends on how famous I become. Perhaps after my death somebody will dig them out. Barring some grad student devoting his schizoid life to studying me, I would guess that there are a number of old floppy discs that will never be more than landfill.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Ken: You mean besides the first girl I asked to marry? Of course I have, especially for short stories. I just look the story over for another edit and send it out again. One must never take rejection too seriously. On the other hand, if you want to write you do have a responsibility to find people in your own life that will give you honest feedback. Not everyone has the talent; sorry, but that’s the cold truth.
Morgen: It is. I agree. It’s like anything; if you want to play the piano well you have to practice but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be any good at it. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Ken: Not really. Most are great ways for the organizers to make money. I would rather put my energy into reaching ordinary readers, people who will enjoy spending time in my head and world.
Morgen: It does depend on the competition. I’ve been involved in the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition for the past three years and because of the prize money and cost of judges we only tend to break even. A poetry competition run by another group I’m in has made a loss the past couple of years because they’ve switched to two judges instead of one but they’re determined to build it up into a profit. You mentioned that you have an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Ken: Yes, I do have one. Can she help? That remains to be seen. If, as I do, you want to find a big publisher, the agent is pretty essential.
Morgen: I think you’re right. I’d never say never. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Ken: I try very hard to get friends to work as cooperative teams, and they help me; but of course I’m also helping them. My publisher being quite small can only do so much, but they try, too. Bottom line, the goal must be to get my name out there enough times that people will remember me when they want to get a new book. That’s a lot of work.
Morgen: Exactly. Readers invariably remember the author more than the book. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Ken: Sitting at the computer doing endless posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc. is a pain. The upside is I do get to interact with some nice people. The biggest surprise has been that people seem to really enjoy my odd sense of the world, both in my writing and on the social media.
Morgen: Yay that there are lots of us ‘odd’ people out there. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Ken: Get into a writers’ group, find real people who will give you honest feedback. Don’t try to cajole them into being your friends. Writers don’t need friends, we need serious readers and good editors.
Morgen: We do, although friends are great too but only if they tell us why they like something (or don’t like it). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Ken: I wouldn’t cook, not with my wife around. She’s a great chef. I would suggest a nice tajine. Not only does she do a great one, but it has the advantage of being simple to ear (not to make) and a bit exotic. As to the people: Vonnegut, Steinbeck, and Twain (Clements). I’d have a glass of wine, sit back and laugh through the meal.
Morgen: Even better then. You get to chat to your guests. If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Ken: That would depend, do I get to change the day or not. If not, then certainly our first full day in Venice. God, I love that city. My second pick, any day in Paris.
Morgen: I’ve never been to Venice but my trips to Paris have been good ones (the last time was not long after Diana died – that was surreal). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Ken: You mean like a personal aphorism? Yes, my wife and I say one thing rather regularly in unison, usually just after watching the news on TV. “Homo sapiens suck. Hetero sapiens suck, too.” Sorry, you asked.
Morgen: That’s OK. Some do, I agree, although there are lots who don’t, especially those who buy our books and leave us reviews. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Ken: I try to help other writers in a variety of ways, for example helping them to market. I do a lot of BlogTalkRadio as a co-host. And I am an active member of two writing groups.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Ken: I love theatre, classical music, and good restaurants. My wife and I watch a lot of movies. I read. No, I don’t take quiet walks on the beach; we live in Arizona.
Morgen: I have a season ticket to one of the cinemas here, it’s great. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Ken: Looking for homes for your stories and poems? Try Duotrope https://duotrope.com/search.aspx. I must admit that’s the only one I regularly use.
Morgen: It’s a great site, I’m a subscriber too. Unfortunately it’s not going to be free from January (c.£/$5pm) but still worth it, I think. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Ken: I’m on the social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I have made some real allies, especially through LinkedIn and Facebook. I do suggest that people find some forums where they can post some of their work. Authors’ Info and Cowbird are two I use: http://authorsinfo.com and http://cowbird.com.
Morgen: New to me, thank you, Ken. I’ve added them to my http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/feedback page. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Ken: Frustration, fantasies of fame and fortune, and then more frustration. To quote Vonnegut, “So it goes.”
Morgen: A wise man, and great alliteration. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Ken: I thought you’d never ask.
Morgen: I do try and get my money’s worth first.
Ken: I have this great website: http://www.kennethweene.com. You can also look for me on the social media. As far as I know I’m the only Kenneth Weene.
Morgen: According to LinkedIn there are three Kenneth Weene’s registered with them but unless you’re one of triplets, I think you’re right. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Ken: I hope everybody who reads this interview will check out my books. And, please, if the opportunity presents tell others about my writing. Just think if the whole world would say, “Read Ken Weene’s books,” how great would that make me feel.
Morgen: And me because they found you through my blog. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Ken: I’m curious if you enjoy doing these interviews. You ask some great questions.
Morgen: Thank you, Ken. Although they’re a LOT of work to put together, I do enjoy them. I was worried to start with that by asking repetitive questions I’d get repetitive answers but that’s not been the case at all. Every writer has their own way of working and (I hope) are equally interesting for the readers. Thank you, Ken.
I then invited Ken to include an extract of his writing…
Salvatore had never eaten breakfast. “A cup of black joe and off I go,” he had said more than once to his beloved Kathleen. And Sal was true to his word; he’d slurp down the hottest, muddiest cup of coffee he could make and charge out into the world where dealing and wheedling awaited. Sal was a salesman, and he loved his trade. It had never mattered what he was selling. It had never mattered where. He loved the sale.
There were, however, two special times each year, two days when he would eat breakfast. One was Fathers’ Day. “You have to,” Kathleen had explained to him that first time. “Lucy wants to make it for you. You just have to.”
Nothing was dearer to Sal Cachioli than his daughter. The mention of Lucille’s name brought a smile. Photographs of her filled his wallet and covered his desk. There were even two taped to the dashboard of his Buick Skylark, the turquoise two-door that served as his second home and movable office.
“Sunday? For Lucy? Okay. I guess it’ll…”
The child had been five. Fathers’ Day. Making Daddy breakfast. A school discussion. Moronic teacher. “Did I ever tell you I hated school?”
“Only a thousand times,” Kathleen had laughed and kissed him on the ear, the way she did when she was pleased, the way she did when she was inviting his advances. He wrapped his heavy arms around his wife and rolled her onto her back.
“So strong,” she murmured. He knew it wasn’t true, but she loved to say it, and Sal loved to hear the words.
It had become tradition: Fathers’ Day breakfast made by Lucy and served in bed. Sal forcing himself to eat. At first dry cereal slopped with milk. Later toast. Then eggs. Finally pancakes – pancakes with bacon. He wanted none of it, but he cleaned each plate, choking the food down with the black coffee that his wife insisted she make as her contribution.
The other breakfast: once a year, right after his physical. At Boomer’s Grille, down the street from Doc Goldberg. “It’s about the blood draw,” he’d explain to Viola, the nurse as if a few vials and the prick of a needle would send him hurtling into the slough of famine. Sal would never admit, not even to himself, that it was about something else, about being told no.
“No eat after ten tonight,” Viola would phone to remind him the day before each appointment.
“Yeah, I know.”
“He’s like a two year old,” Kathleen had often said about her husband. “You want him to do something, just tell him he can’t.”
Viola would answer, “Sure, Mr. Cachioli, I understand. What you going order?”
“Think I’ll have ham and eggs.”
“Ham and eggs good.” She would busy herself labeling the vials of blood to be put in the specimen box.
At Boomer’s he’d order a piece of apple pie with chocolate ice cream and smile to himself that he’d put something over on the nurse in her starched white uniform.
Sal opened his eyes. Slowly they focused on the young woman in her soft-green uniform. Lucy!? It wasn’t. He didn’t recognize her.
“We have to get you ready for breakfast.”
“I ‘evr eat refist.” His words slurred, almost unrecognizable.
“We had this argument yesterday,” the aide responded. Her supervisor put a cautioning hand on the young woman’s arm, shook her head, then nodded towards the door. They stepped out of the room.
The supervisor looked long and hard at her underling. “You’re a hard worker and well enough intentioned; but, Lucy, you don’t seem to understand. How many times do I have to remind you? The poor man doesn’t have yesterdays. That’s the thing, you see; they lose the memories.”
“Oh.” Lucy’s voice was sad and bewildered. “What do we do?”
“Just get the man to eat his breakfast. Every morning it’s another sale.”
“Kathleen?” There was a long silence.
And a synopsis…
‘Tales From the Dew Drop Inne’ is a series of interconnected stories about the denizens of this local bar. Sure most of these folks are drunks, but they are struggling to hold on to the social ladder and find someplace where they belong. This is a book that might have you smiling through your tears.
A New Englander by upbringing and inclination, Kenneth Weene is a teacher, psychologist and pastoral counselor by education. He is a writer by passion.
Ken’s short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including Sol, Spirits, Palo Verde Pages, Vox Poetica, Clutching at Straws, The Word Place, Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Daily Flashes of Erotica Quarterly, Bewildering Stories, A Word With You Press, Mirror Dance, The Aurorean, Stymie, Empirical, ConNotations and here on Flash Fiction Friday.
Ken’s novels, Widow’s Walk Memoirs From the Asylum, and Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, are published by All Things That Matter Press.
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