Welcome to the five hundred and seventy-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with poet, short story author, scriptwriter and lyricist Ken Temple. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Ken. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Ken: Born behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ USSR and having lived in Africa, as well as Western Europe, I have observed and learned from a rich bouquet of unique cultures. I have worked as a business / travel wordsmith (writer and editor) for over a decade and written stories in this style, as a hobby for most of my life. I enjoy writing about heroic exploits of chivalrous personages, but also have many stories about comical, as well as melodramatic characters. Through my tales, I aim to nurture not just the moral fibre of the readers, but their grey matter as well.
Apart from stories, I have enjoyed writing a number of short, funny poems on everyday subjects such as school, parents, pets and other aspects of being a kid; I am also no stranger to writing lyrics for songs and scripts for short films. Presently, I have material ready for over five books / collections. My stories are suitable for children ranging from 9 to 99 years of age.
Morgen: Wow. What a life you’ve had already. Focusing on your poetry, do you write to form or as it comes? If to form, what are your favourites? Are some easier than others?
Ken: I go semi-freestyle, as I never bother with form or rules. In my opinion, that is not what being a writer, or indeed, a poet is truly about—people insecure enough to follow rigid formulas tend to churn out sterile, run-off-the-mill work. I subscribe to the view that a writer, as an artist of the highest order, must treat each creation as a unique adventure, stalking the emotions of the reader with naught but heart and intuition. In my work, even assonance takes a backseat to the story and the fluctuating tone transfers–subtle inflictions of the mood, with which the reader is imbued.
Morgen: I write very little poetry but I’m sure it’s like prose (more so, probably) where you just have to write how it feels natural. Do you generally write rhyming or free verse?
Ken: I believe that for a poem to be, there has got to be a rhyme and reason to it. Yes, most of my work rhymes, but I steer away from the addled simplicity of “twinkle-twinkle little star” forms and prefer stanzas charged with subtle spirit, which, though in plain sight set, not all do see it.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Ken: In late March 2012 there was a scandal with a prominent NYC agency which even made the press (read about the Noble 238 in the Hollywood & Vine magazine: www.hollywoodvinemag.com/issue6). My ‘rejection philosophy’ is simple and mutual! Frankly, I am glad when a body you are about to invest huge amounts of time and trust in, shows its true colours early on–a stitch in time… I take the view that agencies are entitled to cherry-pick whom to work with, provided they are ethical about it. After all, I certainly am not seeking half-hearted representation. Ergo:
Ave, Rejected 238!
As a wily, beamish pachyderm,
Rejections per se aren’t my concern.
For every artist–rich or poor,
Has suffered criticism galore!
Agents indeed are busy people,
I do not blame them for this fact.
But they make themselves seem low and simple,
When they scuff at talent without tact.
We sowed 238 finely-tuned queries,
As but a prelude to our true task.
We would not have considered this form-rejection silly,
If respect was mutual–or is that too much to ask?
We will keep on writing and we WILL grow,
But certain gauche ‘agents’ we are well pleased not to ever know!
Morgen: 🙂 Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Ken: I am in two minds on competitions (possibly three). As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, they seldom serve the writers who participate (barring those who win). They are usually carried by a public vote for the writer with the largest fan base / following or celebrity with little regard for the merits of the actual work. Furthermore, they frequently are just a front used by unscrupulous elements to separate aspiring writers from their marketing dollars. I have also encountered a few which are utterly self-serving, aimed at promoting the ‘judges’’ brand rather than helping the writers (most recently the writer’s voice ‘contest’). Many of these use the ruse of competition to create content for their sites, establish credibility as savants for themselves, etc. My advice is to scrutinize the background of the organizing body and establish the lack of ulterior/egoistic motives prior to stumbling in and sending out your work.
As a writer, I perceive my work as sacred and intimate. It is intended to bedazzle and intrigue the reader, kindling her imagination as—sweet nectar trickles from the page, drank by her thirsty eyes, then tickles coyly at her brain ‘till contentedly, she sighs. Every writer hopes his ideas will inspire avid readers, as they lovingly leaf the crisp pages (or tenderly poke them on an e-reader gizmo). Like many writers, I do not wish to see my brain-children first dragged through the mud of the internet, where they are tossed half-heartedly from ego-inflated windbag to self-proclaimed ‘pundit’. I fear no constructive criticism, but neither seek, nor condone it from people with no vested interest in my work or those lacking sufficient expertise in MY eyes. There are as many opinions out there as there are people, but some matter more than others—it’s just the way of the world.
Morgen: I think you’re right about some online ones certainly, although that depends on whether judged by readers or the judge. I’m involved in the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition which is firstly judged by the writing group (I’m current Chair so read all the entries) then our Secretary (who also reads them all) tots up the scores and sends the top 10 (11 actually this year) to the Head Judge, crime writer Stephen Booth this year. I think it’s a very fair system. Do you deal with publishers directly or do you have an editor / agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Ken: Truth be told, I initially thought that agents were a vital catalyst to getting one’s work successfully published. I have come to realize that, just like bankers, they are only willing to work with you when you no longer need them—“learn the business, do your marketing, get published, sell a ton of copies and then come talk to me. Then, I will then be happy to relieve you of a percentage of what’s already yours.” is the general attitude starting writers encounter. They have allowed their most valuable premise for existence, as middle-men, to become corrupted by business stigmas. There is a maxim that ‘money should always flow towards the writer’. In as much as we (authors) would all like this to be the case, this utopian view has crippled the industry. Agents can no longer charge reading fees. Just like writers, time is the agents’ most prized asset and we ask them to review our work free of charge and bind them to a measly 15-20% commission. Hence, they skip over titles, just read the ‘hook’ of the query letter and only pick up projects that are sure-fire sales (e.g. a current war novel written by a combat-decorated—and preferably, scarred— veteran).
I would much rather (than spend good money on ‘book shepherds’, inept editors and hack designers) have paid a proper reading fee and bumped my agent’s commission to 80% on my first book, provided my project received due attention and was brokered / negotiated diligently with a marketing budget from the publisher. Alas! We live in an upside-down world where the writer is free to flounder about in ignorance, gloriously, at no charge, until he comes to his senses and self-publishes or, alternatively, catches up with and chokes on his own tail.
Morgen: Things have certainly swung round (more) in our favour. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process?
Ken: Yes, I am shooting for the eBook industry first. POD will come later, but Kindle & Co are the future, as people travel more and the world spins faster. I am very involved in every step of the process, working closely with the illustrator, promoting the work, corresponding with editors and carefully-selected reviewers, etc.
Morgen: I have a reviewers page (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/reviews) so I’ll gladly add yours to it. Do you think eBooks will change poetry? If so, how?
Ken: Perhaps if eBooks incorporate an audio option, so that the writer could have the piece read with the appropriate tone infliction, it might help people appreciate the craft better.
Morgen: That’s a very good idea for poetry. I’ve been podcasting (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast) since August 2010 and have just started recording as a service (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writer-for-hire/audio). 🙂 What / who do you read? And is it via eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Ken: Being firmly settled, I love to read real, paper books in the soothing comfort of my bed or bath. I uphold Rudyard Kipling amidst the top five of the greatest true poets to have ever lived. I also adore the works of Russian leviathans Alexander Pushkin, Vladimir Visotsky and Sergei Esenin. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels have long-since been my favourites in regard to clever comedy. I also have a penchant for the vampire-themed Necroscope series by Brian Lumley.
Morgen: A wide selection. Do you have a favourite of your poems or topic to write about?
Ken: Although I write numerous articles, blog posts, song lyrics and animation scripts, my ‘happy place’ lies in the magical realm of Animus. This is a world I’ve created, where animals live as humans do—in organized societies with hierarchies and well-fledged cultures. Most of the stories resonate poignant parallels to our world. My work has been described by a reviewer as: “Dr. Seuss visits Animal Farm”, as although often narrated in a light-hearted voice, delving deeper, the astute reader will discover allegoric undercurrents beneath the surface veil of blithe humour.
Morgen: Fun. 🙂 Do you show / read your poems to anyone before you submit?
Ken: Most definitely. My wife and I discuss every aspect of each piece before it is revealed to others.
Morgen: It’s great to have a supportive back-up. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Ken: Currently, I am scrambling to get the first eBook out before the end of summer 2012. I have material enough for 5 books and would like (frankly, would absolutely *hate*, but this is the business…) to switch from creating new material to distribution and marketing for a while. In the future, I plan to continue recounting the adventures of my various heroes and villains strewn across the history of Animus such as: brave King Tigerius, benign King Qibi and the nefarious Prince Ghan. Down the road, I may also branch out, creating a few fairy tales in prose about the realm of Animus, which will also be available in eBook format and later on POD.
Morgen: Marketing is usually the answer to ‘least favourite aspect of writing life’. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Ken: Though not yet afflicted, I certainly do believe in the Great Wall looming somewhere ahead. My way of avoiding it is a) NOT writing every day, I believe in conserving one’s energy, recharging and allowing inspiration to take its true course and b) NOT working on a piece that does not wish to be written (i.e. keeping several parallel projects going and working on the least resistant one). I think that writing is a question of finesse, rather than brute force and prize quality far beyond quantity. I consider a day not lived in vain, having written just four beautiful lines and rejoice over a smidgen of brilliance far more than if I had hammered out ten pages of inane mediocrity.
Morgen: It’s a good idea to be working on several projects, that way your brain doesn’t get bored. Why do you think poetry is such a difficult market to break into?
Ken: Here I believe are several factors at work, the most prominent of these are: 1) Reader resistance: at the mention of the word “poem”, most readers conjure soppy soliloquies by jilted lovers or odes to various inanimate objects of desire such as sunsets. Though incredibly personal and relevant to the writer, these subjects are frequently tiresome for others to read about. Poetry often strives to impose/project the writer’s emotions / view onto the reader. When subtlety falters, the reader sees through the ruse and fiercely resists it. 2) Quality, but who can really judge art? Rothko’s “White Centre (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)” sold for US$73m in 2007. Somebody actually liked it THAT much. Frank O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with you” is a modern poetry classic. Though tastes widely vary, I sincerely doubt that there is an upright pundit worth his salt, who would argue that either of these works would stand the chance of a snowflake dancing on a 4th of July’s barbecue, in today’s market. Right place, right time. In the post-blog digital era, everyone with a keyboard and a few hours to murder thinks of themselves as a writer, touting their ego, yawping about their expertise. There is such a plethora of self-proclaimed talent out there, that no one is sure anymore how to recognize the real thing. People generally let the media decide—“oooh, that guy’s on a talk show / the news / published / quoted on the talking box, he must be good if he is THAT important”. This fickle premise, of course, precipitates the unfortunate fallout of writers focussing more on showboating and becoming nimble promoters rather than on honing the art of word-smithy.
Morgen: I thought the same about Van Gogh’s Sunflowers which, when it sold, was the most expensive painting ever. Are there any tips you could give to someone wishing to write poetry?
Ken: Listen to your heart. Sounds cliché, but it is the only true path to enlightened work. Do not restrict your skill with pretentious, vapid rules. There is no “wrong” way to create. Let the words engulf you and flow, carrying your talent, then step back and have the courage to critically assess your work. Only you can decide if what you have created is worthy of sharing with others (and, incidentally— if the others are worthy of basking in your creation’s glory).
Morgen: You mentioned earlier that you write non-fiction and short stories…
Ken: I do dabble in short stories, as well as non-fiction articles. I also plan to amplify my engagement in relation to short stories in the coming years.
Morgen: It’s my favourite format. Do you do a lot of editing of your poems or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Ken: Naturally, practice polishes my ‘kung-fu’. Illusive ideas become easier to trap and transcribe, stories take shape into coherent structure quicker, but my fastidious, critical side has likewise evolved—I spend as much time polishing my work as I did in the beginning. Though complacency is always stalking accomplished writers, I do not believe that an echelon of the craft exists where every word that drops turns to gold. Certainly, as one refines and develops one’s talent, it becomes easier to winnow the chaff from the wheat, but a writer’s work is never done.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Ken: I love the creativity and passion. I love the excitement which flares up when an idea has been polished just-right. I abhor the business part of the industry. In my day-job I’ve had to deal with pitching investors, writing copies for ads and promotions in general. I relished the opportunity to focus on a pure, creative goal, thinking that marketing would be carried out by the publisher and that agents were people interested in helping talented writers succeed (as opposed to hangers-on, eager to partake of an already successful writer’s take). Boy, was I sadly mistaken!
Morgen: It is a shame that writers can’t just write. I’ve just finished my sixth NaNoWriMo and I found the time that month to write so I should be able to write 50K every month (or 5K would be nice), but you know… 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: Shintaro Katsu, Masutatsu Oyama and my Grandfather, who was a superlative human being. For some reason, I think it would be fun to watch them all make sense of my wife’s scrumptious lasagne… I dare say that chopsticks would not cut it!
Morgen: Not with lasagne, no. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Ken: And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart, ‘till the Devil whispered behind the leaves “It’s pretty, but IS it Art?”—Rudyard Kipling
Morgen: Ah, that’s where that comes from. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Ken: Yes, I have written a few magazines and articles for business, fitness and tourism. I spend a significant portion of my day on design and research for my writing career with the remainder sacrificed upon the altar of fitness and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Though the conjunction between fitness and writing may seem remote, I believe that for the mind to function at its peak capacity, the body must be well-tuned—discipline and correct priorities are priceless, whereas, riches are a poor substitute for health.
Morgen: They are indeed. (Note to self: go to bed earlier) What do you do when you’re not writing?
Ken: I am a keen martial artist, pupil of the old-Japanese culture, avid chess / shogi player, video game and movie junkie and a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth zealot of German-made cars. I also love comics and good music, but then, who doesn’t?
Morgen: 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Ken: Most of the sites I used were geared toward finding / screening agents such as Preditors & Editors (http://pred-ed.com). In truth, I think that all aspiring writers will have their hearts gladdened if they visit the groups on LinkedIn and ask the objective, well-meaning folks there for advice on anything and everything pertaining to getting their work out.
Morgen: Preditors & Editors is great. I’m not surprised they get into trouble but it’s such a great resource. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Ken: I value my blogs above the networks, but yes, I endeavour to be a social animal as well. I am most pleased with the LinkedIn network as I find tons of truly relevant and professional advice there. I am also most inclined to join discussions and my bit to assist fellow writers whenever possible. I partook in a few discussions on Facebook, but without a definite structure to it, the boards there tend to be riddled with shamelessly-spamming individuals hawking their books rather than engaging in constructive debates that benefit everyone.
Morgen: It can be. I’m fortunate with my Facebook friends that they (99%) don’t do that (very often :)). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Ken: That depends upon the “who”, the “what” and the “where” questions. For instance, a celebrity living in the US will encounter very little resistance. Same goes for a popular sports coach of a high-flying team writing about his game, etc. However, for the average Joe… In a word: frustration. Talent alone is not nearly enough. A keen acumen and a thick skin are essential to surviving in the caustic, treacherous world of publishing.
Morgen: We’ve had too many celebrities in the UK writing books just because they’re celebrities. The public have got bored with that as there was a substantial drop in their sales last Christmas. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Ken: Please visit my blogs and other social media outlets:
Morgen: Thank you, Ken.
I then invited Ken to provide a poem…
Sweet Child Of Mine
Can you be all of 5 years old already?
It seems but yesterday, you were a baby!
Now all grown up and independent,
Not the helpless babe that I remember…
Ever since you came into my world,
You gave me purpose, made me whole
And every day is the best day ever,
As I watch you grow and become more clever!
I set out to teach you all I know,
But then I changed my mind.
I kept my peace and let you show,
Me, what it’s like to be a child.
You fill my life with endless magic,
To shatter which I find too tragic.
Perhaps in later years you’ll make me sad,
But for now, your innocence I fiercely guard.
and a synopsis of one his books…
An Epic Epiphany: One can be born into fame and wealth, but happiness is not a birthright. Qibi (Chibi), a rich, but lonely cat prince, lives in a setting contemporary with ours, but in a world unlike our own. Having attained every success and comfort, Qibi wonders why he is famous, yet unpopular; rich, yet unhappy. His soul-searching tale pits greed against compassion and wisdom, showing that the way to true happiness cannot be forged through selfishness.
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