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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Welcome Author KJ Steele

·         Where do you hail from and what do you love most about your hometown?

I grew up in a small, remote Canadian town. While it certainly did present me with some challenges in-so-far as it being isolated from what I called the real world, it also offered me a very liberated childhood in some regards. What I loved most about it, was the long, slow snake of a river that wound through it. In spring, I’d wait impatiently for the cocoon of winter-ice to release it. Summers were spent swimming our horses through its currents.

·         As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has that childhood dream affected your career?

When I was about 10 years old, I wrote myself a letter, and tucked it away in a messy drawer. In that letter, I promised myself two things. I would always have horses in my life, and I would never like boys! Well . . . I have succeeded at one! So, I would have to guess that what I wanted to be when I grew up was a spinster ranch-owner. Or perhaps a lesbian ranch-owner! Either way, I am not a ranch owner, but I have always had at least one horse in my life. I did err on not ever liking boys. And that has influenced my career by giving me a great deal to write about. Relationships are a menagerie of tangled tales!

·         Tell us about your latest book. Do you have anything new in the works and can you tell us a bit about it?

No Story to Tell is a story about Victoria Lackey, a once promising dancer who now finds herself trapped in a passionless marriage, and arid existence. Upon meeting Elliot, a sensual artist who has recently moved into the remote, gritty town of Hinckly, life begins to get a bit complicated for her. Elliot recognizes the dancer’s spirit in Victoria, and encourages her to open a dance studio. This has been a long-buried dream of Victoria’s, but she now realizes that although her dream may of been buried–she’d buried it alive. Renewed with a new set of resolve, and Elliot’s belief in her, she sets out to resurrect it. Which unleashes a great deal of conflict between her, and her boorish husband, Bobby. Anonymous telephone calls, dark secrets, and mysterious intrigues begin to fill Victoria’s days as she attempts to find her way forward to a freedom she desperately seeks, but seems to remain just as elusive as ever.
I’m also very excited about my next novel, which I’m in the process of writing now. It’s set in an insane asylum (as they were called) around the turn of the century. It’s a deeply textured, somewhat twisted love story, with dark mystery and abandoned tunnels. I’ve been doing a great deal of studying the history of psychiatry from the 1700’s forward.  Fascinating, but emotionally challenging work, at times.
·         Have you ever used contemporary events or stories “ripped from the headlines” in your work?

Not yet! The closest I have come to that, was when I heard someone talking about a person in a retirement home who had gotten into a closet, and drank some cleaning fluid. That sparked so many questions in my mind. And when I wrote No Story to Tell, that event found its way into the novel.

·         Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?

Writing presents me with a few different challenges. I think the most difficult one is the amount of aloneness it requires. Although, I do have a bit of hermit-blood in me, and I like to spend a lot of time by myself. Which I think is a bit of a prerequisite if one desires to make writing their career. But, still, it can get daunting. A writer can’t feed off of the energy of other people, like say, an actor can. You can’t sit and brainstorm ideas with a group. It’s just you alone with your characters. The energy has to be drawn from within.

·         What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

Puke on the page and clean it up later! It’s not pretty, but I try to live by that thought when I write. Just get the story out. Don’t try to make it perfect at that point. You get in your own way as a writer when you observe your writing as you write. My best writing comes to me when I am able to just mentally step-aside, and let the story travel unfettered onto the page. The clean-up comes later.

·         Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

Definitely. However, I’ve realized that writer's block, at least for me, is really just me-blocking-my-writer! I have learned that I need to get out of my own way, and let the words come to the page. My technique for this is to sit quiet, close my eyes, and listen. I don’t try to summon the words. I listen, or I watch for a scene to start unfolding in my mind. I actually saw a great deal of No Story to Tell before I committed it to the page.

·         Who is your favorite author and why? What books have most influenced your life?

I don’t know if I can honestly say there is one singular author who is my favorite. I have certainly found inspiration from many of them. Poe fascinates me, as does Kafka. DM Thomas was very instrumental to my own development as an author.
I know this is where I should come up with the ‘big-name’ literary tomes that enlightened me, but I have to say the first book that truly influenced my life was Fury and the Mustangs by Albert G. Miller. When I was young, I was an absolute horse fanatic. I was also lucky enough to actually have my own horse. I was like a wild-child all summer long. I would ride from morning until dark, barefoot and uncombed hair. It didn’t matter to me if my face was even clean, as long as I could be on my horse. So, it is very telling how strong of an influence the book Fury and the Mustangs had on me, in that it was able to divert me from climbing onto my actual horse, and choose to stay inside to read instead. I ended up reading the whole series, and a serious love affair with the written word blossomed.
The next book that had a huge influence on me was Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. I studied it in a university literature class, and it was the book that truly opened my eyes up to the layers of meaning, and symbolism beneath the storyline. I felt like my literary eyes had been miraculously opened. And, I’m sure I became a complete bore as I enthused about all this sub-layering of plot, and universal themes to people who really just wanted to read a good story!

·         How did you deal with rejection letters?

Great question! I used them for toilet-paper. Not really! For the first while, I would ceremoniously place them into a sacred envelope, taking them out on occasion to beat myself up with their easy dismissal of my laborious earthly endeavors. I relegated them to a status far more sanctimonious than they rightly deserved. Then one day I took them all out and went through them carefully. I made a list of all the positive comments they held, and all the negative ones. It was quite illuminating. They were predominately positive. The negatives were helpful guidance, not outright rejection. Several were very encouraging about the manuscript, but didn’t feel it was quite ready, yet. They were correct. I took their advice, and translated it into making my novel the very best it could be. So, I guess you could say that I’ve learned to accept that rejection letters are just part of the writer’s experience. And, viewed with a willingness to learn, they can actually be quite helpful.

·         What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

Paper, pencil, eraser, and an expansive, unfettered imagination. A computer for keeping in touch with readers. And wine. Red is best, but white will do. It’s a simple life when you get right down to it!

·         Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?

As an author, I don’t draw lines. If my writing takes me somewhere, I am compelled to follow. I don’t seek out graphic gore or erotica, but if it presents itself, I will put it on the page. This was something I had to learn to be comfortable with. When I first began to write, my work would pull me to depths I wasn’t particularly happy about descending to. I was most fortunate to be mentored by DM Thomas (The White Hotel). DM Thomas has mastered the ability to put down on the page things that most of us would be afraid to even admit we think. That takes great courage. I feel that for me to be honest and open as a writer, I have to forgo the luxury of also being my own censor.

·         What's the weirdest thing you've ever done in the name of research?

Definitely the weirdest thing I’ve done (so far) is to hire a psychic, and go through some (reportedly haunted) underground tunnels beneath an old insane asylum. My next novel is set there, around the turn of the century, and I wanted to get some feedback from whatever the psychic might pick up. I’d already experienced more than enough strange events there myself, so I thought is was time to call an expert in. And, I’m very glad that I did!

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