Interviewed by Jennifer Rainey
Interviewed by Kipp Poe
Interviewed by Scott Nicholson
Below are Q&As from various interviews conducted with Keith.
What will readers like about your book?
It's funny and quirky, yet filled with adventure and drama. It's well written. The characters are drafted with rich characterization, and the novel is written as episodic fiction -- a series of self-contained stories that add up to a unified tale, as the reader sees the protagonist grow and evolve, and the plot expands in surprising directions.
Tell us about your latest book and what inspired you to write it.
Paved With Good Intentions is different from most books you may have read. It’s written in a style I call episodic fiction. Each chapter is a complete story but the chapters build upon one another, composing a larger story. There are also Interludes, brief stories that serve to flesh out minor characters, or fill in gaps or backstory as a prelude to an event about to occur. Some Interludes center around the interaction of two minor characters. The Interludes enhance the reading experience, but the overall story would be unaffected by their absence.
The book’s central theme is the nature of good and evil and whether one can overcome one’s nature. Lucifer, like all demons, is hedonistic. Coming from Hell, a harsh environment filled with squalor and suffering, he makes the most out of any chance he gets for pleasure, such as gambling (on soul futures) and drinking (Merlin Ale). Gabriel, like all angels, is naïve, coming from an environment of perfection, where there is no struggle or suffering, and looks down on Lucifer’s hedonism as vices. Lucifer is a semi-tragic figure, seeking happiness which is almost within reach before being snatched from his grasp. His quest is to become more human and to overcome his demonic nature. But as Lucifer is moving toward something, conversely Gabriel is moving away from something, encountering a crisis of faith. That’s the larger story.
In the tales, we meet an array of preternatural and supernatural creatures - Miss Twitch, a Salem witch; Emma, a British schoolgirl and witch in training, Morgan Summers, a Dreamwalker; sadistic witch-hunter Nathaniel Thornhill; a golem; a Paiute Shaman;, the corporate vampires of Nosferatu, Inc.; trampires (vampire tramps); gangsters; and demons. Some of the vampires include Sharon - she's Jewish, crosses don't bother her; Pandora - trouble follows her like a shadow; Claude - he's too claustrophobic to use a coffin; and Artemus - a 10-year-old boy who's been a vampire for 457 years.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
There is a scene in Paved With Good Intentions (and also in its sequel, And A Child Shall Lead Them), where I crafted a touching love story and then proceeded to kill off one of the lovers, brutally, in the following chapter. The deaths were magnified by my writing format, which involves episodic fiction and the use of interludes (brief stories that serve to flesh out minor characters, or fill in gaps or backstory as a prelude to an event about to occur). In both cases, a minor character whom the reader had no reason to care about is murdered, almost as a side note to the ongoing story. Yet, having just read the interlude giving deeper insight into the character, the reader is moved by the death in a way a reader simply reading the chapters and skipping the interludes would not be. Part of me regrets killing off these characters, but I know their deaths strengthen the novel as a whole. Of course, there are always ways to revisited departed characters, as through flashbacks and dreams, but I have no trouble creating new characters to be added to the cast. Each time I introduce a new character into my storyline, it’s like dropping a pebble into a stream and watching where the ripples take us.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
The creative process behind most of my writing, whether short stories or novels, consists of me sitting down and writing the story, almost always in one draft. This is probably due to my journalism background, which trained me to compose my thoughts before committing them to paper. However, now that I am writing a series, I expect I will find myself outlining more, since there are so many characters and plot threads throughout the books.
Do you set goals for yourself when you sit down to write such as word count?
Absolutely not. I believe a story is like Goldilock’s porridge: it must have just the right amount of words; not too many and not too few. Too many authors ruin good stories by padding them to fill up pages to reach some arbitrary length. It’s not the number of words but the impact of the tale on the reader that is the mark of a good story. A flash fiction piece may be so moving and thought provoking that the reader is still thinking about it weeks later, whereas he may not recall the last chapter of a novel he read a week earlier.
If you’re writing fiction, you are, by definition, a storyteller. A story is not judged by its length by how it affects the reader and how memorable it is.
Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
In the olden days, I would write in longhand or by typewriter, but these days I prefer my ubiquitous laptop. Judging from the chicken scrawls that pass for my handwriting, I was most likely destined to be a doctor, not a writer, so I run the risk of not being able to decipher my stories if I write them with pen and paper.
Did researching and writing this book teach you anything or influence your thinking in any way?
I’ve written both nonfiction and fiction, and I was surprised how much research is involved in writing fiction. I’ve had to research sword fights, weaponry, mythological creatures, the origin of words, autopsies, poisons, Japanese fighter planes… for one book, I found myself mired in Newgate Prison and 18th century molly houses. When I was a kid, I had a book entitled “A Book of Useless Information” or something like that, and had it not already been written, I could write it with what I’ve learned from my research. Often, researching one topic will lead to something fascinating but unrelated.
I don’t think researching for book material has ever influenced my thinking. My education and life experiences had already established my thinking and belief systems long before I started writing books. However, there have been times when my research has caused me to change what I was writing, In Paved With Good Intentions, I set the second story in Las Vegas and planned it to have a gangster theme. Midway into the story, my research into Las Vegas led to the discovery of a little-known Indian tribe and my story took at turn into Native American shamanism. I ended up writing my planned gangster story as the third chapter.
Who are your favorite authors in your genre?
My primary genre is speculative fiction, so Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman come to mind. But in my anthology "Randoms", I credited my muses: William Shakespeare, O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Dante Alighieri, e. e. cummings, Arthur Rimbaud, Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger, Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Douglas Adams, Carlos Castaneda, and the Marquis de Sade.
Can you sum up your book in two sentences or less?
If a book can be summed up in two sentences, what is the point of the other 349 pages? I’ve asked beta readers at writing groups to sum up Paved With Good Intentions and they couldn’t do it. It’s not a formulaic book that can be summed up with a logline. But the question has intrigued me. I’m hereby inviting any readers to take the two sentence challenge and sum up Paved With Good Intentions in just two sentences. I’ll post the entries on my blog.
What would you most like readers to tell others about this book?
To buy it. Seriously, I know authors who spend obscene amounts of time and money on publicists, advertising, book trailers, blogging, Twitter, and premiums (bookmarks, magnets, brochures). But the only true path to success for a book is word of mouth. There has to be a buzz about it, and that requires two things: First, the book has to be good; and second, people have to spread the word that it is. All the marketing in the world can’t compete with a friend telling you, “Hey, this book Paved With Good Intentions was really good; you have to read it!”
How can readers help you promote Paved With Good Intentions?
Buy it. Link to it on your blogs and websites. Talk it up on Facebook and Twitter. Become an Amazon Associate (it’s free) and place an associate ad on your blog or website for the book and Amazon will pay you a commission on each copy sold. Suggest it to your book club. Leave copies in waiting rooms. If you’re a blogger, hold a contest and give away your copy as a prize.
Do you have another novel in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I’m a cross-genre writer, which means I write Speculative Fiction, Flash Fiction, Fusion Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy, Urban Fiction, Sword & Sorcery, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, Apocalyptic Fiction, Horror, Slice of Life, Political & Sociological Fiction, Humor, Drama, Gothic Mystery, Children’s Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Chick Lit, and Nonfiction. I have a number of short stories that are slated to appear as e-books and are in my two short story collections. The latest one, Shards, is 542 pages and will be published in August.
My next fantasy novel is And A Child Shall Lead Them, the sequel to Paved With Good Intentions. It weaves a rich tapestry from mythologies of many cultures in an urban setting. The underlying plot concerns Heaven and Hell uniting to prevent the rise of the Dark Gods, but there are also subplots involving the return of Lilith, an ancient child-killing succubus, and of course, the resolution of the burning questions lingering after the first book. It will be released this summer.
Can you suggest one question readers might find interesting to discuss, concerning you, your writing in general, or this book?
About Paved With Good Intentions, readers have been discussing the episodic fiction format, which at first they find somewhat disjointed and nonlinear but then express amazement when everything that at first appeared disjointed is pulled together as the novel draws to a close. One reader wrote: "At first I didn't get where he was going... then, when he tied it all in, well, like, I was all OMG! WTF this is impressive!"
About my writing in general? As a cross-genre writer, the reaction I received from one overseas reader about my first short story collection was typical: “This last story is just amazing, because you are able to jump from one genre to another in a very easy way. And from the Middle Ages the reader find himself in science fiction. What can I say?” Readers aren't used to authors changing genres with the same ease with which they change their outfits.
What do you draw inspiration from?
Stories are based on a coalescence of theme, plot, and characterization. I may see a social issue I feel more people need to become aware of, or view from a different perspective, so I might craft a story based on that theme. Other times, I may have an epiphany for a great plot and write around that. But I think the best tales come from creating well-crafted characters, placing them in a situation, and letting them act out the story. If your characters are truly well defined, the scenes almost write themselves, and the author reverts to taking dictation from his characters.
Is there any new or established author whom you feel deserves more attention, and what is it that strikes you about his or her work?
This is a great question and one that deserves a better answer than I can offer right now. Most established authors receive plenty of attention, and a lot of newer authors are disappointingly derivative of better authors or pandering to the flavor of the month. I recently read Jane Yolan’s “The Maiden of Fire” and was blown away. (That’s how far behind I am on my reading; it was in the July 1977 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction sitting in my To Be Read pile). I’ve read some reviews of Mike A. Lancaster’s new book Human.4 and it will definitely be on my reading list. And, I’m adding a feature to my blog called “Good Books” that will spotlight older books that readers should include in their libraries.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
No, usually the opposite – I have too many ideas and stories and not enough time to write them.
What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
I think quiet and solitude are essential; distractions detract from the creative process.
What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
I find I’m most creative at night. I think the fact it tends to be quieter at night, with fewer distractions, makes it more conducive to writing. When the phone has rung for the final time that evening, the neighbors have gone to sleep, the street noises have faded, and the Witching Hour has passed, then the gremlins of my imagination can be unleashed.
Someone once tried to explain to me that nocturnal creativity was tied to theta waves, but my money is on the gremlins.
Do you think a critique group is essential for a writer?
I think it can be helpful for a writer to gain vindication for his or her work by exposing it to others. Writing groups (not necessarily critique-focused ones) can provide encouragement and support. Many writers fail to become published authors because they are afraid to share their work with others. However, any critique is only as valid as the individual making it. The writer must determine if the critic is qualified to pass judgments: what background or experience does the critic have that qualifies him or her to evaluate another’s writing?
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read. Absorb style, diction, and grammar by osmosis. Then study grammar. Learn the rules before breaking them, and only break them when you have a reason. Understand punctuation, prepositional phrases, dangling modifiers, subject-verb agreement, subjunctive mood, the past perfect tense. Increase your vocabulary. As you read, write down words you either have never seen or know but do not use in your own writing. Make a list of these words, with their definitions, and integrate them into your vocabulary and your writing.
Also make a list of words to avoid in most uses (e.g., just, pretty, really, that, still). Limit your adjectives, adverbs, and exclamation points! Get a dictionary, a thesaurus, a style book, and a grammar guide and always keep them within reach. Use short, declarative sentences. Write concisely. Balance exposition with dialogue. Write what you know; research what you don’t. Be your own harshest critic. Consider constructive criticism but ignore rejection letters or negative reviews; they are merely opinions, and opinions are like assholes: everyone has one and some people are one. If you walk into a room of 100 people, statistically there will be a certain number who will not like you. Do not take it personally. If your writing has merit, it will find a venue and readers who appreciate it.
When you have done all of the above, experiment. Don’t be derivative of other writers; don’t become a clone. Don’t copy the same formulaic drivel that is churned out by the big publishing houses and Hollywood. Experiment and be prepared to fail, as most experiments do. But remember, the experiments that succeeded have changed the world.