MA: I’d like to welcome today’s guest blogger, K. Sawyer Paul. Mr. Paul is the author of the novel, No Chinook. Please tell us about you and your writing.
KSP: I think my first few stories were all plagiarisms and remixes. When I was in junior high and high school, I’m not sure I had a single original thought. I’d take characters, stories, and plots from various books and movies and video games that I’d enjoyed and play with them in different environments. It was basically the equivalent to playing with action figures from different cartoons. I didn’t know why I wrote, but I always had it in my head that I could write well if I just stuck at it for long enough. You know, the idea that perspiration would eventually lead to inspiration. So I wrote a lot. I wrote a short novella in high school, printed it out, and sold it for a couple of bucks. I sold it for a dollar if the person wanted it on a CD. I basically had my first ebook in 2000, in the form of a Word 98 file. I went to the University of Toronto and decided to take professional writing as a minor. It was a great experience, and it taught me many things about what not to do. I felt I was a little allergic to preconceived ideas of success in writing, especially Canadian writing, where the expectation is that you’ll never really make any money and you sort of make people suffer through your work. I’m very against that. If my story isn’t gripping, put it down, you know? There’s more books being published every year than anyone could ever read. Why waste time if you’re not enjoying it?
MA: Well, amen to that! Why did you choose to write short novels?
KSP: I write short novels, because I don’t like to waste people’s time, but I like novels because even if they’re short, they feel like an accomplishment to read and write. I generally hit the 50 or 60 thousand word mark in the first draft, then cut it down to 45 or so. That makes for a 200-220 page book, which I think is enough. I’m a big fan of not wasting time, wasting words. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy’s style in that respect, where he purposefully leaves out areas of his stories that really could use a sweeping emotional explanation. Hemmingway, too. I like that I can go back and read A Farewell to Arms or Francis Macomber and I’m done in a weekend and better for it. There’s something really crisp and biting about a terse novel.
MA: How did you approach your two novels?
KSP: I made a really set decision when I started writing Everything We Haven’t Lost and then No Chinook to never get unbelievable, so I write about relationships because I think I know my way around them pretty well. So you can say I do romance, but if you read my books you know they’re not typical romances. The fight scenes are uglier. The sex scenes are rougher. The dialogue that connects the exposition seems pulled from real people. At least, I’d like to think so. That’s what people tell me. I want it to feel like you’re actually peering in on a real conversation between real people in a contemporary setting, and while these people are adults they still have emotional hiccups and can really hurt one another.
MA: Tell us about your hero in No Chinook.
KSP: With No Chinook, I developed Scott out of how I saw myself out of the kind of guy I saw a lot of at college: someone who’s grown in every way, but still has a few hang-ups regarding his scars. He’s not a finished adult yet, and No Chinook is in many ways him working his way out of that. So Scott is still hung up over a girl from high school, and he thinks he’s over it until she comes back into his life and they sleep together. What’s interesting about Scott is he sees how immature this girl is, and still can’t eject himself from the drama, because he’s fighting the urges of his younger self.
MA: What should we know about Scott? What makes him strong, and what makes him weak, if at all?
KSP: Scott’s big strength is that he’s a truly nice guy, who’s capable of going a long way for a friend, a lover, and even an ex-lover. His weakness is pretty well as I said above, his inability to really break free of a toxic situation. The relationship he has with Shawn is pretty toxic, and the only way he’s really capable of breaking free is by removing the love he has for this man and just using him. Basically, by figuring out how to cure himself of his biggest weakness, he has to rid himself of his greatest strength. That might seem like a convenient plot progression, but I don’t know that I’ve ever even thought of it that way until recently, now that the book has been out for two years.
MA: Interesting. And what about an antagonist?
KSP: Kate, Scott’s girl from the past, is definitely the antagonist. She’s in many ways Scott’s Tyler Durden or Ferris Bueller, a free character that helps him out of his shell. But she also crushes him over and over. Also, she never reveals where she works. Would you date someone who kept their job from you?
MA: Uh, oh…do I detect an old flame influencing the “bad girl” in No Chinook?
KSP: Yeah, there was definitely a girl I was into who didn’t like me back. But who doesn’t have that? I tapped into other people’s stories more than my own, and built conversation after conversation on the pain of my friends and colleagues. It’s a writer’s job, I think, to plaster those sorts of things together, to make sense of it.
MA: Since No Chinook has been out for two years now, what’s next on your plate?
KSP: I sent my next novel off to my editor just recently. The editorial process always takes longer than you want it to, but it’s in the pipeline. It’s called A Record Year For Rainfall. It’s about a paparazzi and a celebrity blogger who live in Las Vegas. I’m a big fan of Las Vegas, but I’m young so I’ve only ever seen the modernized Disney-like Vegas, so my characters exist in it, in 2006. It’s still sleazy, but there’s all these ironic angles where it’s family friendly now. But there’s still girls in sexy outfits everywhere, and celebrities still go there to go crazy. It’s a fun book that’s about trying to escape yourself and the things you love but not really being able to. There’s a lot of comedic violence and sex and there’s a gay governor and I think people will think the book is a lot of fun.
MA: Are your novels all standalone types, or will you write using some of the same characters in the future?
KSP: There aren’t any continuations of character, but A Record Year For Rainfall and No Chinook definitely exist in the same “universe.” You can think of it like the Kevin Smith movies or Final Fantasy video games, where there’s a new cast, but there’s a lot of familiar aspects. In Rainfall, you’ll find that Bret, the main character, used to work at a job that he’s not allowed to talk about. It’s the same place Kate from No Chinook works, but that’s not obvious from reading either book necessarily. To sum up, I guess: I don’t do sequels, but I do enjoy planting Easter eggs.
MA: I happen to love Easter eggs J. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KSP: I think I want to talk about publishing here. There isn’t any stigma in being an independent graphic artist, an indie band, an independent charity, an independent chef, or almost any other art form or business. Lawyers go into business for themselves all the time. Doctors open up their own private practices. Soon, in less than ten years, people will absolutely not care who published your book. I don’t think readers care who published your book now. If you design a book properly, if you edit it professionally, if the package looks and smells and registers like a real book, then I don’t see the difference between an indie book and something by Harper. There’s a big difference between vanity publishing and independently publishing. Gredunza Press is a business. We publish books. I publish my books through it. Does Dave Eggers get slack for publishing his books through McSweeney’s, a press he built? The only people who care these days are authors who are more swept up in the “industry” than in writing their own books, publishers who want to stay on top, and pundits looking for a juicy story. Readers and writers don’t care, and soon enough nobody else will either. You can buy my book on your Kindle or Nook or whatever, and you can order the physical copy from me and soon from Amazon. You read it, and you’d never know I didn’t get published by one of the big guys. Not every author is capable of completely going into business for themselves. They need help editing, designing, and promoting their novels. That’s where publishers like ours come in. We offer services to authors trying to make it. We’re the future.