Today I’m welcoming friend and fellow…well, insert your favorite word for “my kind of people” here. I’ve enjoyed reading his columns about gaming, speculative fiction, and movies for over a year now both at his blog and on Amazing Stories, and I have a feeling that this coming summer will prove to be quite the adventurous one for him! But more on that a little later. First:
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to where you are today.
I’ve been making up stories (and characters) and writing them down for as long as I can remember. This started with drawing, then progressed into roleplaying, building LEGOs, and action figures—all the stuff most every kid does at some point in their development—but at some point along the way, it grew into writing fiction and the fundamental notion that someday, I wanted to be a writer. For a while I flirted with other career possibilities, but then in high school I rediscovered my love of books and storytelling through writers like Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, in particular) and Stephen King (Different Seasons, The Stand, The Green Mile, etc.)
Later, in college, I dusted off a book that had been waiting idly on my shelf for much too long: King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Having just devoured his phenomenal collection Just After Sunset, I was feeling creatively jazzed like never before, and eager to get back on track with this whole fiction-writing obsession.
On Writing was the spark that ignited it all; three, four years later, I’ve written something like forty or fifty separate pieces of fiction, or would-be stories, and published over a dozen of them. I’ve made three “professional” fiction sales, at the SFWA/HWA-standard pay rate of five cents per word; my essay on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road appeared in the journal Foundation; and I was recently named a finalist in the international Writers of the Future contest. The developers of the MMO strategy game Dark Expanse will be using my piece “Loud, for All the Stars to Hear” as an unlockable in-game reward, and I’m contracted to write at least one more story for them. Hopefully they’re as happy with the second as they were with the first. I also write a weekly column on science fiction film for Amazing Stories, and have been invited to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop this summer in Seattle.
I haven’t managed to finish a novel in ten years, but overall I’ve been very lucky. Short fiction’s enormously satisfying to write, as well—I just hope to finish a novel soon. And I can’t help but look forward to the possibilities the future holds. I’ve met some incredible people, some of whom I’m grateful to call my peers, or my mentors.
The more I learn, the less I seem to actually know. It’s exciting, and terrifying, but always a blast.
If you could create your own ideal reader, what would he or she be like?
I suppose she’d be a lot like me: indecisive, a little anxious, curious about the universe and the human condition. I doubt any of us are really that different from one another—but that said, I think the ideal reader of my work would probably be someone who, like many of my influences, enjoys thrilling action as a vehicle for intellectual discourse and humor as a disguise for profundity. Someone who doesn’t mind a little violence thrown in to heighten the drama. Or romance.
Heck, I don’t think it’s that big a stretch to say that good storytelling is simply good storytelling, regardless of what the subject matter or tone is; good writing will sell itself, whatever the cover artwork or back cover copy says about it.
Hopefully someday I’ll get ahold of the recipe. Until then, I guess I’m content with simply knowing good writing when I see it.
You seem to enjoy many scopes of geekery: movies, games, comics, stories… If you were the sole survivor stranded on a ship in deep space and could only have ONE of these things, which would it be and why (assuming electricity and access to this thing)?
This is an interesting question, because given the scenario my answer might be different depending on whether I have access to my own personal library, the whole of entertainment history, or just a single, specific comic, movie, game, or story. Comics are more fun than should even be legal to have, but they’re sometimes kind of a one-shot thrill. I’ve reread Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, but that’s about the only graphic novel that’s had that effect on me so far; I tend to read a comic once and then move on to the next one. So if I could have available my entire library of fiction—novels, short stories, collections—then I’d go with that choice, no question. A great book is like an old friend. It’s good to get back together and catch up once in a while.
But if I’m only allowed a single comic, movie, game, whatever? Well, then I’d have to go with a video game like Skyrim or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, etc.—something that lets me tell my own story in a thousand different ways, experiencing the storytelling process over and over, with a myriad of possible outcomes.
I think that’s the reason the video game is becoming more and more of a valid, vital mode of storytelling: It’s not so much about following a single character through a maze of plot developments, but rather about building your own character, and then making choices that affect the story. It’s somehow very pure and playful, which I enjoy. Grew up playing with LEGOs and dreaming up my own worlds and characters, drawing, that kind of thing—so even though I don’t have time to delve deep into vast RPGs like Skyrim the way I might want to, I still have the utmost respect for video game writers.
And some of them, like Drew Karpyshyn, E. Lily Yu, or Ted Kosmatka, manage to break away from their game-writing day jobs and produce some worthwhile old-school fiction, as well, so that career path is pretty attractive.
How’s that for a tangent? [Laughs.]
A while back, author David Brin mentioned that he’d like to see more “hope” in modern science fiction. What is your take on this? Should we be hopeful in our fiction? Or should we face what could potentially be our reality if we don’t shape up (or perhaps what may just be the fate of humanity, whether we are hopeful or not)?
I see both sides of that argument, actually. Individuals like Brin, who are intelligent, endlessly imaginative, and serve as a tremendous credit to our field, are really the lifeblood of science fiction and fantasy. That said, I think guys like Paolo Bacigalupi, Ken MacLeod, Cory Doctorow (occasionally)—some of those authors who see a grimmer future over the horizon probably aren’t far off the mark.
But you take a book like Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising, or James S. A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes, and it’s easy for me to imagine that the future will be equal parts breathtaking possibility and, well, the Caveman Principle in action. Great technology is pretty cool, but in the wrong hands it’s going to spell bad news.
Not to mention the inevitability of global climate change—but that’s a huge topic, and I’m not as knowledgeable about it yet as I’d like to be. I’ve been told by a UN advisor that by 2017, if we don’t get our damned acts together, globally, the Earth’s biosphere is gonna be in serious trouble. I trust her.
What is your favorite of all the things you have written so far, whether it be published or not? Or, what has made you most proud? Why?
Hmm. Tough one. I’ve got this short story, “Blotches,” that I wrote for Jack Ketchum’s Talking Scars class, over at LitReactor. Ketchum thought it was pretty good, and I’m not inclined to argue with him. I imagine it’ll get published at some point—it’s short, personal, original, and as well written as anything else I’ve done. I like it because it’s completely naturalistic; there’s no fantasy element behind it. And yet it’s pretty terrifying, because I based it in part on a firsthand experience from my childhood.
I’ve also got this story called “Nootropic Software Blues,” which is this postcyberpunk thing that nabbed me a finalist status in the international Writers of the Future contest back in December. It’s probably my most emotionally affecting piece to date. Hopefully somebody’ll publish it in the near future, because I just love it.
There’s also this novel I’m trying to write, Doomster. But that’s proving to be a bit of a challenge, because of the length. Probably gonna start over from scratch this summer, or at least in the fall, after I get back from . . .
You were accepted into the Clarion West Writers Workshop this year. Tell us a little about Clarion West, and what it was like to hear you that you got in. Was this the first time you applied?
I applied three times, if I recall correctly, before getting accepted. I applied to both Clarion and Clarion West the past couple years, and didn’t get in to either; this year, they both invited me to join in on the fun. Joe Hill’s been the single biggest influence on my creative mind over the past couple years, so I chose Clarion West without a second’s hesitation. And Neil Gaiman didn’t make the decision any harder, either.
Clarion West is not…how shall we say…cheap? Most people need some sort of help, and it’s not uncommon to see attendees asking for that help. Tell readers how they might help you on your journey to Seattle this year.
I’m not terribly fond of having to ask for help in this economic climate, but the opportunity of a lifetime is something I can’t just pass up without giving it my all. To get to Clarion West, and not starve to death in the process, I’ve set up a PayPal donation button on my website (alexkanefiction.com), in case anyone’s interested in helping a poor college graduate see his artistic dreams come true. You’d be investing in my future, my fiction writing career . . . and I’d be forever grateful for your help. So far I’ve raised enough to buy a plane ticket and bank a couple hundred bucks for living expenses this summer. I have also been running the occasional eBay fundraising auction, and giving away my e-book collection In the Arms of Lachiga: Stories through Kindle promotions here and there. I still need to raise about $1,900.00 in order to cover tuition costs, etc., so I may set up an IndieGoGo campaign in the next week or two if donations seem to have dried up. (As of right now, it’s looking like I have no choice but to double my fundraising efforts.)
Finally, where can readers find you?
Check in over at alexkanefiction.com, where I blog about this whole writing adventure, or follow me on Twitter as @alexjkane. I’m not hard to find—always around, always causing trouble. Luckily I’m a pretty nice guy, so people seem to put up with me more often than not.
Thanks for chatting today, Alex, and best of luck with all of your endeavors!
Always a pleasure, Melanie! Same to you.
Well, Alex may not like asking people for help, but as I have no shame, I’ll do it for him.
GO HERE TO HELP THIS GUY GET TO CLARION WEST THIS SUMMER (at the end of the article is a PayPal with YOUR name on it)! What’s in it for you? I’ve read some of Alex’s fiction and have enjoyed it immensely. The further his career goes, the more he can produce for me to read! It’s win-win! THANK YOU 🙂
Alex Kane is an author, blogger, and critic whose work has appeared in Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, Digital Science Fiction, and Foundation, among other places. He lives in Galesburg, Illinois, where he works in the retail banking industry, and was recently named a finalist in the international Writers of the Future contest.
He also writes a weekly column on film for Amazing Stories, and will be attending the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop this summer in Seattle.
Visit him online at alexkanefiction.com, or follow him on Twitter (@alexjkane).