Today, I am happy to have Ken Kiser on Feed the Monkey!
Ken is a successful indie-author of the epic fantasy novel Fifthwind. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he is the Director of Surveillance Operations for a Luxury resort and casino. Check out the questions and his answers below:
What got you into writing?
The easy answer — the one almost any writer would give — is also the boring answer: As a reader, I was inspired by the great dreamers, those writers who stirred something within me. That is undeniably true. But, to give an answer that is perhaps more interesting, let me answer specifically what drove me to write “Fifthwind”.
What motivated me most was not inspiration, but rather frustration. Let me explain. I am a fan of classic fantasy. In particular, stories that draw from the Arthurian tales. Stories that embraced the tradition of a sacred brotherhood of noble knights! I absolutely love those kinds of stories, the ones that showcased a group of heroes rather than a lone savior. In classic fantasy, they are plentiful. Or, I should say, were plentiful.
You see, in 1977 someone took those beloved knights of fantasy, gave them laser-swords and put them on spaceships. I think everyone would agree that the Jedi are very cool indeed! Alas, I always felt a little saddened that they were gone from the classic fantasy that I loved so much, and in their absence the genre felt empty.
So, instead of complaining and waiting for someone to make things right, “Fifthwind” is my attempt to put them back where they belong… in epic fantasy. Are the fates of those noble knights safe in my hands? Well, I’d like to think so, but I guess I’ll have to let the readers decide. “Fifthwind” serves as an origins story with much more to come!
You are sitting down to write a page or two; what do you need to access your creative well?
Ahh… the battle between inspiration, motivation, and that age-old invisible nemesis, writers-block! Bah! Poppycock, I say! Seriously though, when I sit down to write, I need nothing more than time. The creative process has already happened at an earlier stage. Prior to writing any scene, I’ve already explored it to the fullest with a creative partner. We work out every possible plot variation, attempt to plug every hole, and talk out every bit of dialogue (complete with flamboyant gestures). It’s a lot of fun and arguably where the writing really happens.
When I sit down to write, there is no guesswork. Though, I might slow down a bit to get the flow just right. I think too many writers over-focus on the words themselves, thinking that “the right word” will somehow make everything happy in novel-land. But, just as notes alone don’t make a song, words alone won’t make a story. They are merely the ingredients in a recipe. The true the magic happens when they are combined in a masterful way.
The reviews of your book Fifthwind all give praise to the magic system in it. Can you describe it a bit for us?
That’s a tough one. You see, in my world, magic had been absent for almost 900 years leaving most to believe it was myth and nothing more. When an energy known as the Fifthwind returned to the world and brought with it the possibility of magic, it understandably caught most completely unprepared. I say ‘most’ because there were those who had been patiently waiting all along and knew exactly how to use it. These were the benevolent brotherhood of “The Fahd” and their ancient enemies “The Magus Core”. Their use of, and relationship with, magic is completely different and I think that is what intrigues my readers the most.
I’ve always felt that contrast is important. Readers will appreciate a thing more if it is shown from different perspectives and regarded in a different light. There could be nothing more dramatic than the differences between these two eternal enemies and how they relate to magic. I’d explain more… but spoilers!
Is there a real-life place you actually based a scene in your writing?
Physically, no. But culturally, yes. I have traveled extensively and have always loved what history and culture can bring to a region. It is often the smallest of things that can create a richness that will breathe life into a world and make it feel real. I’ve tried my best to bring these things into my writing to give a sense of depth to the places I describe.
Unlike a lot of writers, I don’t “world-build” as that would feel too mechanical to me. Instead, I travel there in my mind, and in my writing, and let the world reveal itself to me in all its wondrous ways as my journey continues. That’s the way I like to take my vacations and that is how a reader is going to escape into my pages… one wonder at a time. That said, the Kingdom of Kreggoria and surrounding world is really not all that fantastical. I like to keep things simple and familiar.
What are your top five novels?
Boy, Stephen, you really like to ask the tough ones don’t you? Only five? Well then… in no particular order:
“Dune” (series) by Frank Hebert
“Incarnations of Immortality” (series) by Piers Anthony
“Shibumi” by Trevanian (this is actually, probably, mostly my number one)
“Elric” by Michael Moorcock
“Odd Thomas” (first book only) by Dean Koontz.*
*That last one might surprise many, since it is not usually highly regarded. However, I find it to have the best first person narrative voice of any modern novel I have read. Odd Thomas himself is anything but a cardboard cutout. He is alive on every page.
Any taboos you believe should not be put into novels?
Yes, I know that it’s virtually impossible to not have some level of message or meaning in your stories, since they are drawn from your own experiences and life views. Heck, even my novel “Fifthwind” carries with it my distaste for judging people at face value, be it religion, racism, or perceived social standing.
However, if your message ever takes the spotlight away from your story, you have failed. We read to be entertained, not to be preached to. Simple as that. As a writer, please leave your baggage at the door or your readers will never forgive you. If, on the other hand, they praise you, then they were never really looking for “fiction” to begin with.
Finally, what advice would you give to new writers?
I think I’ve already injected some of my views and advice here and there in the above responses, but if I had to pick just a few:
1) Avoid writers groups. Sure, they can be wonderful for making friends and for lively discussions… but they can also be an absolute poison that feeds that inner self-affirmation demon. Trust yourself. Write the story that only you can write and don’t waste a moment worrying about what the writer in the next room thinks.
2) Don’t Market to other writers. This is the darkest of all voids in the known universe. In today’s age of social media, too many writers have surrounded themselves with hundreds of other writers and spend the majority of their marketing efforts hoping that they will help “spread the word”. Unfortunately, they too have only surrounded themselves with other writers and “the word” goes nowhere. Instead, make every effort to connect to readers. READERS.
3) Don’t get caught up in story-telling rules. Just look deep inside and tell your story the way it needs to be told. If someone tells you that something seems Cliché, then hold your head high and answer, “there’s a reason some things are cliché and it’s because they are proven, time-honored techniques of story-telling!” Follow your heart and trust yourself . You are a master of your craft. You know what you are doing.
4) Finally, I guess I’ll close with the only quote that is attributed to me:
“Editors are for correcting things you’ve missed…
Not for correcting things you didn’t care enough to learn about.”
Thanks for having me, Stephen. It was a lot of fun. Here’s to wishing everyone a happy reading and writing adventure! And remember, leaving a good review is like giving your favorite writer a big hug! We can never get enough of them!
Thanks for reading!