Monday, June 6, 2011
Calliope Nerve Interview Series: Kenneth Weene
Ken, tell us about your books Widow's Walk and Memoirs From The Asylum? Why are they important?
There are lots of books which are great to read but are not important. They hold our interest and keep us laughing or guessing. However, they do not get us to really think. To me books should be both good reads and important; they should get the little gray cells working.
I try to write books that are both good reads and important.
In “Widow’s Walk” I ask the reader to think about religion and spirituality, about the conflict between personal desire and responsibility, and even about what God wants from us. It is an important book. Is it also a good read? The folks who have reviewed it certainly seem to think so. It is a good story peopled with interesting and realistic characters with whom the reader can empathize.
The characters in “Memoirs From the Asylum” are even more compelling. They – staff and inmates alike – are caught in the world of the asylum. Yes, it is a psychiatric hospital, but it is also a metaphor for the ways in which people hide from reality. This is a novel that finds its roots in existentialism and in the terror we all feel as we consider real freedom.
“Memoirs From the Asylum” is written in a tragi-comedic voice. I believe that we cannot face such a momentous issue if we cannot recognize the inherent humor that is part of the human dilemma.
For those who look for unifying themes within a writer’s work, I should add that the tragi-comedic perspective continues a very important idea in “Widow’s Walk.” If we are to cope with the underlying angst that is being human, we must hold a notion of life’s purpose. If, as the characters in “Widow’s Walk do, we look to God for that notion, then we must ask ourselves about God’s sense of humor.
Of course, when people read both books, I hope they will share their thoughts that are elicited with me.
How do your create buzz for a book? (How do you promote your work?)
For one thing, I do interviews like this one. I also do any radio shows I can. I am very active on social media, and I offer to write guest blogs. One thing that is very important in my efforts is getting stories and poems published since such publication means people read my work and may want to find more.
One thing that sets me apart is that I don’t have a blog of my own. Why not? Because the people who read a writer’s blog already know that writer. The goal has to be to get new exposure.
My publisher, All Things That Matter Press, is very encouraging of a mutual effort among its writers. Although we are from all over the world, we are friends through an Internet group. We support one another in many ways. For example, I will mention many of the books whenever the opportunity comes up. Incidentally, I have met three of the other ATTMP authors in real life, and they have been every bit as delightful as I could have wished.
Why do you write?
You might ask why I breathe. It is just a part of who I am. I get up in the morning and spend some time at the computer. (My handwriting is so bad that using a pencil is generally counterproductive.) I don’t set a time limit or writing goal for the day; I just let myself go and try to enjoy the process. Some days I work at editing and correcting. Some days I can get huge chunks of writing done. Perhaps the best days are the ones on which I write just some small bit but a bit that really makes me happy.
How did you become an author?
As a kid I loved to read. By fourth or fifth grade I had ideas of becoming a writer. Being a “good” child, I didn’t grow up to be a writer. It wasn’t until the end of my professional career that I decided it was time to go do what I had always wanted.
I started writing some poetry and a few short stories. I even had some essays published in local papers, did readings, put together some chapbooks. However, I couldn’t get to the next level. I realized there was a problem in my psyche. My father had never been very supportive, and my internalized father-imago was standing in the way. I knew that I had to deal with that block before the old man died.
Having retired and moved from the East to Arizona, I decided I had to force the issue with myself. With my wife’s support, I put together an anthology of my stuff and published it with one of those pay-your-own-way houses. I called it “Songs For My Father.” When I gave him his copy, I felt a great sense of freedom. Once “Songs” was actually on Amazon and people were reading it, I knew that I had reached my goal. Since then not only “Widow’s Walk” and “Memoirs From the Asylum,” but also many short stories and poems have found their way into the literary world. Wow! I’m a writer.
What other careers have you had besides writing? How does your background affect your work?
I have to own up; I’m trained as a shrink. I practiced as a psychologist for years. I have also taught at the college level (and one year in middle school).
I should mention that I’m also an ordained minister in a small Protestant denomination, The Congregational Church of Practical Theology. Our denomination is primarily concerned with providing pastoral counselors.
What inspires you to write?
There are always two inspirations that come together when I actually produce something. The first is a story idea (or for poetry a metaphor idea). The second is the larger questions that I want to address. For example, the relationship between fear and freedom that I explore in “Memoirs From the Asylum.”
Believe in writer's block?
In my experience there are two kinds of writer’s block in my mind. The first is the kind of neurotic issue that I had to confront by putting together “Songs For My Father.” Often I will run into moments of self-doubt; the psyche is not an easy opponent.
The second kind of writer’s block has to do with working oneself into a corner and not seeing a way to resolve something. I have a book started and on which I have been blocked. The title is “Remembrance of Things Present.” It involves a science fiction book within the larger novel. The principle character of the novel is a writer looking back on his life, and that science fiction book was his great success. The problem was that I needed to have a clearer idea of how that science fiction book mirrored the issues in the larger work. Recently, I had an epiphany; I see how the book will work.
Fortunately, I have a three-week stay at the Writers’ Colony in Arkansas coming up this fall. I plan to use that time to get a lot of “Remembrance” done.
What tips do you have for budding authors?
Write, write, and write.
Find a group of writers where you can share. Don’t be afraid of criticism, but rather relish it. The best of those groups are honest. It is also best if you read your work out loud in the meetings.
Be sure to have an editor, somebody to check your work once you think it’s finished and before you try to publish it. I have had occasion to judge books for prizes and to review them for various settings. It always amazes me that so many of them have not been edited. By the way a good editor goes beyond grammar and such; your editor should make sure that your voice is consistent, that your logic works, and that you don’t somehow lose the reader’s attention.
What's on your recommended reading list?
I can only suggest a few books that I have recently read that have kept me thinking about what I want to achieve as a writer and what I think good writing is about.
Tim O’Brien; The Things They Carried
Paul Harding; Tinkers
Jose Saramago; Blindness (even in translation a great work)
Of course I love many of the classics. Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Faulkner, Steinbeck. You get the idea. I also like to read and attend plays. I love good dialog and try to write it. Becket, Pirandello, Lorca, Miller, and Brecht are among my favorites. I also read poetry regularly. If I had to pick a few poets, I’d go with Thomas, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, and Milton.
In case your wondering I don’t recommend too much Shakespeare or the Victorian novelists because they tend to bring out the verbose in us. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they write beautifully.
Last, of course an aspiring writer should read Weene.
How do you feel about publishing/reading tech today? (i.e. Blogging, ebooks, LULU, on demand publishing, I-Pad... etc.) How do you feel technology affects readers and publishers? Will e-books replace the real thing?
Most of this is stuff I avoid thinking about. However, I do have an opinion about e-books. I prefer print. More importantly, I love bookstores. It is so terribly difficult to browse in a world without actual physical books. Also, I think from the selling point the quality of covers can help tremendously. All Things That Matter Press has done dynamite covers for me. When people see them, they pick the books up and look inside.
One nice thing from an author’s point of view about e-books is that they can’t be resold or gifted – at least it can be set up that way. This means that we are likely to get more royalties. Of course the actual size of royalties is usually minuscule.
Why is the small press important?
I don’t think too much of self-publishing. Why not? Because the products are often poor quality – especially poor editing. That is why many review sites and contests won’t accept self-published work. A good small press will make sure there is a decent product. The publisher should have skin in the game. For example by providing editing and cover design. If they expect you to pay for those services, you are simply self-publishing and doing it in a way that will even more severely limit your royalties.
One problem with small presses is that they seldom can place your books in stores and cannot offer marketing campaigns.
What's next for Ken Weene?
I’ve already mentioned “Remembrance of Things Present.” There are two other novels that are close to publication.
“Tales Form The Dew Drop Inne: Because there’s one in every town” is set in a bar in Albuquerque, I town in which I have spent three nights. It is about people at the bottom of the social ladder, not bums and homeless so much as those who are hanging on for dear life and trying to find social connectedness and a sense of family. This one is ready to go.
“Time To Try the Soul of Man” is a combined conspiracy and coming-of-age novel set in New York City during 2000 – 2001. Yes, it is in part about 9/11, but it about much more. It is In part my paean to newspapers, and it is also about lust, greed, and the seamy side of life. I am currently working on the rewrite; after that comes the editor. (I hire one before I send my work to the publisher; then they get to do their editing. Makes for a better product.)
Meanwhile, the short stories and poetry continue to flow. I just can’t resist the urge to keep writing and publishing.