My Interview with K.R. Schultz!
It is always a pleasure for me to get to know other writers and to learn about their journeys. I am fascinated by their tales, both on and off the paper. I am thrilled to introduce you to my readers today, Ken – thank you for joining us!
1. I always kick off my interviews with the same question. Therefore, please tell us how you’d describe yourself? I usually don’t give any indicators into this question, but I read that you consider yourself ‘a driven existentialist’, which made me curious. Can you explain what that mean to you in more detail, as well, please?
An exact definition of existentialism is difficult to pin down. Kierkegaard proposed that each individual is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely, or authentically. Sartre, on the other hand, suggested that life was absurd.
I tend to lean more toward Kierkegaard. For me, life is not absurd, so existentialism is the desire to find meaning and purpose in life through living and gaining as many diverse experiences as possible. This has led me through many career changes and hobbies. One of my friends, a fellow writer, has accused me of trying to gain every skill possible before I die. (Her accusation is not without merit.)
For hobbies, I would list photography, stained glass, tropical fish, beekeeping, and building chain mail, to name a few. The driven component is that I develop a mania about a topic, learn everything possible about it, master the skills required, then move on to the next thing that catches my interest.
Career-wise, I have been a woodworker, log builder, heavy equipment operator, welder, teacher, a car salesman (a tough gig for an introvert), and lately a funeral assistant.
2. You grew up on an isolated farm without a television. You were far from everything, including a library, yet you have said books ‘magically’ arrived by mail on a monthly basis, which connected you to the world at large and influenced you greatly. I’d like to focus the first set of questions towards that aspect of your life, if I may. 😊
· How did you receive the books – were they part of a literary club or an outreach program from your local library or school?
o My mother, who had been a schoolteacher at one point, enrolled our family in an extension program from the library in our provincial capital. They had an incredible selection of children’s titles as well as other printed materials
· Did your family read together or what drove your interest in these magical treasures? What brought you to discover their presence and the stories they held?
o Mother read to us until I was old enough to read for myself. I think I was about 4 years old by then. My father had no interest in reading, and my younger brother also didn’t read much if I recollect correctly.
Ø Did you discuss the material you read, or did you enjoy thinking or writing about the topics you encountered?
§ I cannot remember discussing what we read. I got Mom to order books from the library catalog that interested me or caught my imagination. I read the Tom Swift and Hardy Boys series, anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard, but not all of it was fantasy or mystery. Encyclopedias also figured large, as did books on nature in other countries and continents. I thought about what I had read and created worlds and cultures in my head, often based on “what if” scenarios.
v If no, do you feel this would have enriched the stories for you – why, and how? Would you have preferred to discuss them?
§ I do not think it would have made any difference. I was hooked on reading by then. I read through books as fast as they came. With all the farm work involved, Mom never had the time to discuss what I was reading because I burned through the books so fast.
Ø Was oral storytelling ever a part of your family’s traditions, and if so, did you retell existing stories or invent new ones?
§ On my mother’s side of the family, storytelling was more evident. My maternal grandfather loved to tell stories about his life in Poland and Siberia. I always told stories I made up (I didn’t have enough life experience to have anything worth telling.)
· What motivated you to go from reading an adventure to writing one?
o I have trouble reading social cues, which made relating to real people difficult, so books let me relate to the world in ways I was unable to do in real life. Since what I read had such a powerful influence on my life and imagination, I wanted to participate by writing my own.
Ø Did you share your tales with your family and friends?
§ My father and brother never really wanted to hear the stuff I wrote, but Mom was quite supportive.
Ø Had you aspired from an early age to have your work published?
§ This is odd because although I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives with what I wrote, I never seriously considered publishing my work. I thought more along the lines of something to entertain my children and grandchildren. Thinking about it now, the lack of desire to publish probably stemmed from my history of listening to my grandfather’s stories. I subconsciously assumed storytelling was a family thing.
3. I know the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien has been had a huge impact on you, as has poetry. Having recently watched the movie, Tolkien, and recalling my own school days with his books (particularly The Hobbit), I can relate. Therefore, the following questions will be influenced by these, as well.
· Am I right to assume that J.R.R. Tolkien is your favorite author?
Ø It’s tough for me to pick a favorite author. I love the broad sweeping tale and incredible world that Tolkien created, but there are many other authors who I love as much.
· Which authors have influenced you the most as both a reader and a writer? And, why do you feel so connected to them – is it their language, style, or material that speaks to you most?
Ø I love Neil Gaiman for his imagination and his incredible use of language to paint vivid and occasionally hilarious word pictures. I recently reread Foundation by Isaac Asimov. His writing is so elegant in its precision. Never a wasted word.
Ø Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” is hilarious and beautifully crafted with poignant and brilliant images, as well as a high level of irony.
Ø I also read quite a few Indie authors to see what other people are doing. I can learn from anyone. I read, alert to what works as well as what does not, and try not to commit the same mistakes.
Ø Sometimes I read because the topic interests me, but I cannot finish books where the characters do not engage me, or the language and grammar keep ejecting me from the storyline. Well-crafted relatable characters draw me in more than anything else, then when the language sings, it is a bonus. To loosely quote Mark Twain, “The difference between the right word and the perfect word is like the difference between the lightning bug and lightning.”
· J.R.R. Tolkien was not considered fanciful, yet he was poetic. As it is for me, literature was art to him. You were quoted as saying, ‘I love the sound of words strung together.’ So, what do you see – or hear – in the artistry of literature?
o I also have spent a significant amount of time involved singing both as an amateur and a professional (professional means I got paid not famous) so the cadence and rhythm of words are important to me.
Ø How do you define art, and how can words fit into that category, in your opinion?
§ Can anybody truly define art? Words can convey images, and emotions, and transform people’s hearts and minds, or at least entertain them. Perhaps that is what art is for, but a definition of it escapes me.
v Why is writing your choice medium? Why not paint or play an instrument?
§ I smirked as I read the question.
§ I sing, or hum, constantly. (Drives my wife crazy.) There is a soundtrack of my own musical inventions running through my head on most days, but I have never been taught to read music or play an instrument (A source of great sorrow for me). I have jammed vocally with some incredibly talented musicians and sang, as the frontman, in a touring rock band, until I had children.
§ I have taken up painting landscapes in oil, and people tell me they are quite good (perhaps they don’t want to hurt my feelings).
§ I never had the opportunity to bond with other art forms early in my life because of finances and isolation. So writing is my first love. All you need to write is a pencil and some paper. (So accessible.) It is the logical progression from nomadic hunters sitting around the campfire swapping yarns.
v What makes words sound beautiful to you?
§ Alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhythm, and cadence. There is music in a well-crafted sentence or paragraph. I always read what I’ve written aloud to eliminate awkward phrases or tongue-twisters. I speak bits and pieces of other languages, but English is so broad and expressive with all the words borrowed from different cultures that I feel is perfect for poetry. Many people from other language groups try to write in English, either because of its broad adoption internationally or because of its expressive capability (I’m not sure which figures more prominently.) and often fail in the execution. It is not easy to write in English, even for native speakers.
Ø As a fellow author, I love how one word can express the same as many. For example: sultry… depleted… torn. These are simple words, yet sexy and powerful. Do you feel there is a place in modern literature for more descriptive vocabulary or should writers go with the ‘keep it simple’ ideology? Why, or why not?
§ I think we need to strike a balance between simplicity and artistry. Readers should not need to keep a dictionary beside them while reading, but we can, and should, elevate people’s vocabulary if the “perfect” word makes the story sing. In eBooks, highlighting the word gives you an instant definition with minimal effort. The only caveat is that it disrupts the flow of the story. I like using descriptive beats to eliminate dialogue tags wherever possible to add emotional depth. (It’s a learning process.)
· Do you think there’s a place in today’s world for poetry or is that a dying art?
o There is always a place for poetry, that said, I cannot relate to much of the “poetry” I have encountered lately, and some I find hard to even call poetic. There is a sort of snobbery attached to poetry that I find offensive, and I think in some cases, the emperor walks naked while everyone fawns over the beauty of his garments. Poetry should be both beautiful and accessible.
· J.R.R. Tolkien and his fellowship of friends believed that, with God’s help, they could change the world for the better through the beauty of art. What do you think of this concept?
o As Psalm 19 says: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Having spent the better part of my life searching for meaning and purpose, I would agree. There is something in beauty, whether it is natural or manmade, that draws us upward toward the divine.
4. Your book series sounds fascinating and has J.R.R. Tolkien’s spirit to it from what I can tell. Let’s discuss your stories and characters in this section!
· Where does your story begin and, briefly, what adventure will the book series take us on?
o The story is a voyage of discovery for the main characters who are all from the three competing sentient species which populate Aarda. Various personal calamities set them on a path to self-discovery. Along the way, they meet and form a family of sorts. On the journey, they discover they have a part to play in a larger cosmic conflict of good versus evil.
· What made you want to write this story, and why is it important to you?
o These days our society is divided, liberal vs. conservative, environmentalists vs. industrialists, and on it goes. There’s so much animosity. The gaps continue widening with no common ground in sight.
o I thought it would be interesting to put the struggles into a fantasy novel with three sentient species sharing a common world but having opposing goals, philosophies, and religions.
o The main characters of the series are from the different species but are outcasts from their respective peoples. They must fight their way through their prejudices and find common ground to save their world from destruction, instead of either fighting each other or hiding from the conflict.
o Having worked cross-culturally for three years, I know that I only recognized my cultural prejudices once I became isolated from my culture. I gained a perspective impossible while immersed in my own society.
Ø J.R.R. Tolkien said, ‘Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory.’ Is this escapist fantasy, or what genre are your books under?
§ I think it is escapist but also allegorical. I do not believe we can isolate what we write, from who we are, and our cultural setting. Tolkien’s life from childhood to his war service figures in his writing. He pits the quasi-industrial world of Mordor and its orc’s and goblins with the Shire’s hobbits, the ents, the elves, etc. all intricately linked and in harmony with the natural world.
Ø Is there a moral to the story?
§ Absolutely. Heroism comes in many forms, often from unexpected individuals. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things, primarily when they work together. Each of the books has an overarching theme. The theme of Prelude is the innate desire to form personal relationships. Overture, the second book (almost ready for release), is the search for a place to belong. The theme of Nocturne, the third in the series, is about the importance of choices. And the fourth book’s theme is the nature of courage.
v Is there something specific you want readers to know about one or all of the novels?
§ There is at least one character that every age group from a teen to a senior citizen should be able to identify with. Each of the dozen or so main characters has a unique history and character arc, with some becoming heroes and others becoming villains (or perhaps villains becoming heroes, but no spoilers as to which is which). I wanted to make their lives as real as possible. We are all faced with daily choices which lead us either to heroic deeds or villainy.
v Can the books be read as standalones or are they meant to be read sequentially?
§ The books are meant to be read sequentially. Prelude and Overture started out as a single volume. Some of the characters needed a fuller treatment of their lives and histories, so I split book one into two separate volumes. I fell in love with my characters, so the story arc/s with them working their way through the issues wasn’t going to fit in one, two, or even three books.
5. Each of us has such a unique way of approaching our craft. So, I’d like to discuss your writing style. In addition, I’d like to address your journey to becoming published. We have so many options available to us nowadays!
· Do you use an outline and note cards when you write, or do you prefer to ‘wing it’? Do you write in chronological order, or do you skip around the story as you’re inspired?
o I have been a pantser but am transitioning to plotting because pantsing involves too much work in the second and third drafts. The first book just happened out of a series of descriptive writing exercises. Suddenly characters and a plot emerged out of the chaos. Then it was a huge challenge to piece all the bits together into a coherent narrative. I am finding it easier going now that I have a vague outline put together.
Ø Are you traditionally published, with a small press, self-published, or a hybrid?
§ I never intended to publish at all. I did not think what I wrote was good enough (a common thread, or is it dread, of writers I’ve met), but when people outside my immediate circle of friends and family suggested I should, I took the plunge and went self-published.
v What made you decide to go this route for publishing your books?
§ I tried querying agents, to universal disinterest. (They were right to reject what I had written up to that point.) I discovered Amazon/KDP and launched a single volume into what must have been a black hole. (Zero sales)
§ After that metaphoric slap in the face, I hired someone to do a proper cover, an editor to polish my writing, and I worked on my craft. I consulted a successful author about marketing, split the book in two, and rewrote the whole thing (again). In short, I grew up and got realistic.
v What do you think is the hardest thing about being a published author?
§ Without a doubt, marketing. I have no experience in marketing, and I am not social, so marketing is the worst.
v What’s the coolest thing?
§ So many things. I love when the words and ideas just flow, the eureka moment of discovering a cool plot twist.
§ I may be a little weird, but editing is fantastic, especially since working with Christie Stratos, who does my developmental edits for me. I have learned a lot about the craft of writing from her and I see a definite progression in quality from book to book. (I hope she can say the same.) Polishing each sentence and paragraph to get just the right flow and feel is hard work, but when you succeed, the joy and pride are profound.
6. What can we expect to see from you over the coming year?
Book two, Overture, is almost ready for launch, and book three, Nocturne, is nearly ready to edit.
· Are you working on any WIPs?
o Yes. Book four of the Aarda series is about 60% complete, and book Five is being outlined. I also have an outline for another story called “The Holiday” outside the ‘Aardaverse’. (Thailand)
· Will you be attending any conferences or doing any appearances?
o No. not in the foreseeable future. I am not good with crowds. I find the noise and chaos overwhelming (sensory overload). I cannot think with noise around me. (I never listen to music if I need to concentrate.)
o Thanks again for sharing your time and talents. I wish you great success, my friend!