Today we're talking with Michael Kasenow, author of A Wicked Thing
FQ: Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your work. Were the reader takeaways you envisioned (and intended) to be as much about 'good vs. evil' as they were about encouraging the reader to consider what it would be like to have the opportunity to crossover (and return) before death actually happens?
'Good vs evil' was certainly one of the conflicts I tried to develop, and in a philosophical manner—for Tara is very dangerous, but also very smart. Many crazy people are intelligent, and often justify their sadism using a narcissistic viewpoint, and in Tara’s case, considering the people she kills, she enjoys the challenge, thinking she can out-think her opponents. But yes, the prospect of crossing over to the side of death (or life) and then returning was another aspect that grew from the story. Death is a mystery to all of us. To contemplate what it would be like to be dead or to be in a place where the dead reside allows the imagination to go into many directions. I didn’t want the dead place to be like a zombie haven, but something worth striving for, that is, to live a good life to get there, and then enjoying that type of eternity. And to ponder, like we all do, what happens to the soul once the life we live is over.
FQ: There is such sincerity in the way you depict the environment in the 'afterlife.' There is a strong element of serenity in your writing toward this point because it provides the reader with a strong sense that all sorrows, woes, and complexities of life are swept away. Yet, there are still 'rules' to be followed. I’m not sure I ever thoroughly understood the ‘rules’ your character Mary McLaughlin alluded to. Would it be too much of a spoiler for you to further elaborate on this particular theme?
The "rules" are really simple, and they do make sense in a God-like-heaven, the dead cannot help the living make decisions because, as Mary says, “The dead know too much.” The living must find their own path; the dead cannot interfere or help. As much as the dead may want to help the living, especially those they love, they can’t, because they could suffer banishment from heaven if they do so. As Mary points out the rules in heaven must be followed, just like the living must follow the “rule or law of gravity” and other such physical rules. The dead are tempted to help, but as the living must deal with mortal temptations, the dead, in order to remain in heaven cannot interfere with the path of the living, the dead must allow the living to stumble into their own afterlife, just as the dead had to. The dead cannot interfere with life; the living must make their own choices. That is the basic rule.
FQ: In our last interview, I acknowledged and asked about your philosophical style and thoroughly enjoyed your response: “…The story should always come first in any novel. Few like to be preached to. So I write in regard to the story. I don't want to be cast into any genre…” To have characters as rich and full-bodied, I’d be curious to know which of your past and wonderfully colorful jobs was the stock most drawn from to develop this lot?
Most likely from my bartending days. I served drinks for about 3-4 years in a neighborhood bar, and met a whole bunch of personalities in doing so. I draw from that stock a lot, and have in most of my stories. I’ve generally been a listener, and not too much of a talker. I’ve kept those stories and personalities in my personal reserve. By listening you can gain perspectives about anger, love, prejudice, guilt, shame, pride, loneliness and so on. I still listen a great deal; I enjoy laughing at the fun stories that people share. But in my bartending days I also met and avoided some dangerous people—you can hear the danger in their voice and see it in their eyes. Some eyes I will never forget. I did a lot of drugs in my wasted youth, and bumped into some dangerous people on that road too.
FQ: Do you ever write the ending first when you are developing a new book project?
I never write the ending first, although I sometimes think I know how the story will end. But honestly, I’m as surprised as any reader on how my characters develop. I don’t know where the story will take them or how they will get there. For me that is the joy of writing, creating characters, but letting them take me into a story and into their lives. I don’t really know how a book will end until about 1/2-to-2/3rds of the way through. And when bad things happen to good characters I cry, for they have lived inside my head for a year or so, and I want good things to happen for them, but as in real life, sometimes bad things happen to good people.
I did throw away the first chapter once the book was completed, and created a new beginning to match the integrity and ambiance of the story.
FQ: When you are full throttle in the depths of creating the story, do you dream about your characters?
Yes I do. I often times drift or daydream about my story and the characters that are in it. Fortunately I live with someone understands and gives me space to create like that. She’ll see me staring off into space and say something like, “You’re writing, right?” and I’ll smile and laugh with a happy nod. But it works.
FQ: I liken "writer’s block" to writing with a forced pen and trust me, when I read back a scene I have 'forced,' the outcome is definitely a product of something that was forced. When you experience a block with your writing, what do you do to get your train moving again?
For me, "writer’s block" is more like "writer's redundancy." I can always put something down on paper, but I'm wise enough to realize that I have repeated a philosophy, metaphors, a type of character, which for me is a lazy way to write. Not only do I not want to be classified in any genre, I don’t want to be labeled as a formula writer. When you duplicate something that you have written before, in a different way, then the writer is using an assembly line approach. That makes writing less fun to do and more like a job. To get out of that rut I read more, sometimes a lot more, until I feel comfortable with my daydreams and where they will be taking the story. I don’t worry about it all that much, it's more like an annoyance. If it’s a good story, it will eventually find itself.
FQ: When did you realize no matter what else you did in life, writing would be your constant for the rest of your life and how would you overcome the obstacles ahead of you once the decision was made?
I used to write poetry before I went into the university as a geologist. I still do. But when I went into science, for about 10 years I wrote science books through Water Resources Publications. So I always wrote, just not fiction. Sometime about 10-12 years ago I began thinking about fiction and began to dabble in it. I have a good job, so that allows me to avoid the obstacles, which can be income for most writers. The public reads headlines about writers getting 6-7 figure contracts, which is not the standard. Most writers, many of them very good, cannot support themselves. By making a plan and supporting that plan with my university work, I have been able to overcome the hardships that many writers confront—mainly, eating and paying the bills. Making a plan and following it, in any aspect in life, is very, very important. You cannot control the plan, but you can control the choices you make about the plan.
FQ: What one person has left the most indelible mark in your life in support of your writing?
Her name is Elsie. We've known each other for about 10 years. She simply has a good ear in regard to what I write and read to her. If too much is too much she tells me why. Sometimes I write into the very early morning (I am a night bird) and she’s just fine with it. She thinks I’m good at doing this and inspires me to continue. I take constructive criticism very well, in fact; I am my worst critic.
FQ: Thank you for your time Mr. Kasenow. It was an honor to have the opportunity to interview you once again. I must tell you when Feathered Quill asked if I was interested in reading (and reviewing) A Wicked Thing, I was elated. I knew before I read the first line that it would not only be another page-turner, but an overall fantastic read as well...and it was! You are a storyteller and a very gifted one at that. There must be a "next." Would you care to share?
You are very kind and your comments make me want to write more. Thank-you. There is a next story, right now I am processing it, and I have about 10,000 words down, but it's moving slow and will take sometime. I rarely, if ever talk about my new project, because it may very well become an old and discarded one. However, I am also putting together a new collection of poems, which will take some time, and I hope it will be completed by early next year. Again, thank-you so much for your kind words and your thoughtful questions.