Special Feature: Author Interview
with j.a. kazimer
j.a. kazimer has won a number of fiction awards including the 2008 Paul Gillette Memorial Award, the 2008 Speculative Fiction Colorado Gold Award, and the 2010 SF/F/H Pikes Peak Award. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, j.a. escaped at a young age, and now lives and writes in Denver, Colorado. Books include, The Junkie Tales (Obscure Publishing, 2010), & The Body Dwellers (Solstice Publishing, 2011). Forthcoming books include, CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairytale (Kensington, March 2012) & Holy Socks and Dirtier Demons (Champagne Books, April 2012). j.a. kazimer holds a master's degree in forensic psychology, and has worked as a PI, bartender, and most recently at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.
Fairy tales were really the first stories, what's so enduring about them?
Fairy tales have all the elements of a great story, a protagonist with a clear motivation, conflict and goal, a bunch of wicked witches, a tread of morality, and pinch of sex, lust, and greed. The reasons that they endure is because the tales can be retooled and retold to fit every society and circumstance. They often serve as warnings to the young, for example, don't talk to hairy strangers while you're on your way to your grandmother's house or morality lessons for those who are a bit older, like waiting for your princess to come rather than sleeping with a bunch of frogs.
Do you think the persecuted heroine (the heroine, with the help of a magical helper, attends an event in which she wins the love of a prince) with its emphasis on marriage and the female heroine being saved by the male hero still apply in today's society?
In some ways the belief in 'someday my prince will come' is out dated, but at the core of our society, the tradition of waiting for the right person, your soul mate, to whisk you away from the drudgery of everyday life is a fundamental desire. The difference today is, the heroine can now save the hero. Just look at the romance novel industry, it's based on the idea of finding the ONE, the man or woman who completes you.
The premise of CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale, namely, a villain cursed to behave like a hero is brilliant. Similarly, killer blue-birds are an amazing idea. How did you come up with these?
Thank you. The idea for RJ, the cursed villain, came from the questions: What is a villain like after work? Does he go shopping at Costco for toilet paper? Does he lay out his work clothes for the next day as he dreams about stealing candy from babies? RJ is a villain through and through. He likes behaving badly, so I made him be 'nice' and watched what happened. As for the bluebird, well, picture the Disney version of Cinderella as the woodland creatures are dressing her... Was anyone else creeped out by the bluebirds strangling her with the pink sash? Come on, people, wake up, bluebirds have an agenda...and it won't end well for humanity, that I promise.
The characterization of the protagonist is excellent. How did you get into the male head? Do you think men and women essentially think alike?
I hate to say it, because it sounds sexiest (and probably is), but writing from a first-person, male POV is so much easier for me than writing as a first-person female character. The reason is, my male characters and I truly think, men in general, aren't as emotional complex (no hate mail, please). The internal dialogue for a male character is much more straightforward than a female lead. RJ acts first and thinks about his actions later, if at all. Whereas if I told the story from Asia, the main female character's POV, her thought process, goals and motivations are much murkier. Plus, I just love stepping into such a foreign headspace.
You also do an admirable job writing humor in CURSES! What are the most important elements of literary humor?
Good old fashion jokes don't go over so well in written form, something to do with timing I think. So writers must employ other elements. Surprise tops the list. Exaggeration works well too. The way to use humor best is to do the unexpected with readers expectations. Use a bluebird to kill Cinderella. Force a villain to be nice. Sprinkle in a bunch of curses and twisted characters that only a fairy godmother could love.
You've really nailed the whole "voice" thing in CURSES! How did you do this?
Again, thank you. That means a lot. As to how I accomplished it, I really don't have an answer. Voice is something you develop with your craft. Everyone has a different one and you just have to trust in yours.
CURSES! deals with several hot-button issues including homosexuality, and obesity/body-image. As a writer, how do you avoid being constrained by societal expectations?
I refuse to fall to the pressure. If a character is gay, then they are gay. If a character is a transgendered witch, more power to her. As an author, just like in life, it's not my place to judge. Characters are who they are, social conventions and expectations be damned.
CURSES! has aspects of several genres including romance and mystery as well as fantasy. Are such cross-genre novels the wave of the future?
I often have an argument with other writers (mostly male writers) about how all novels, whether they are terrorist thrillers or man versus nature tales, are romances at heart (again, no hate mail please). I don't mean to say that every novel is a bodice-ripper, because they're not. What I do mean is that at the heart of every story, some form of love propels the tale, whether that love is between a serial killer and his love of murder, or a woman and her love of self-discovery.
As for cross-genre novels as a wave of the future, I do think that the lines of straight genre are blurring. The emergence of urban fantasy is a great example. Urban fantasy mixes elements of mystery, romance, and fantasy more often than not. Romance seems to be the other genre more accepting of including other elements.
Speaking of the future, you seem to be ahead of the curve regarding profanity in book titles and updates of fairy tales. Both of these are very popular now. How did you become such a bellwether?
I can't think of a better title for what CURSES! is, It is, truly, a fucked up fairy tale. That's how and why it came to me. As for retelling a fairytale, I'm a sucker for myths. I use them in everything I write. My next book, HOLY SOCKS & DIRTIER DEMONS releasing on April 2, uses religious mythology. The Body Dwellers (released last April) features a character named Nobody from the tale of Odysseys.
As to why they are suddenly popular... That's all me. I am such a trendsetter! A bookonista if you will. Why one of these days' leg warmers will come back in style and people will see how ahead of the game I am.
Regarding profanity in book titles, some people might say the proliferation of profanity in our culture signals the beginning of the end, the decline of our society. What do you think it means?
I've had a few people, especially in the more conservative local media, react poorly to the implied f-word in the title, going as far as to call me inappropriate. However, I do think the use of the fuck has its place in literature as well as in our culture. If using the word fuck is what ends society as we know it, we're in a lot worse shape than I first suspected.
Do you have much short story experience? How do writing short stories and novels differ? Does writing short fiction help novelists? How so?
I love short stories. I find that when writing a novel, if I write shorts associated with the novel content, things go much easier. For example, when I was writing my 2nd manuscript, Dope. Sick. Love. (still out on submission), I wrote thirty or so short tales about living as a junkie, which later became a short story collection titled, The Junkie Tales. The tales fed my excitement and helped me map out the novel, even though I wasn't writing about the same characters.
What I love most about short stories is the level of difficulty. When you can tell a full story in 500 (hell, even in 10,000 words or less), that's when you feel like you're a 'real' writer.
Are you active in writers groups? What do you think writers get from interacting with their peers? What's your opinion of critique groups?
I'm a member of the writer groups Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Pikes Peak Writers and Mystery Writers of America. I find the networking invaluable. I need my fellow writers as much as I need a pen and paper to write.
On the other hand, I do not belong to a critique group. They work for some writers, but for me, the effort is not worth the final reward. I use beta readers instead of a formal critique group. Most of my beta readers are NOT writers. Too often, we as writers, get bogged down in the 'rules' of writing whereas readers see flaws in the work itself.
Do authors need to market themselves on the web these days? Do you have any marketing tips?
If you write and want to make a living doing so, you MUST market yourself, and most of that marketing is done online. Traditional publishers limit marketing and PR of debut authors to, at best, sending out review copies, social media and website placement. The rest is up to you. Some tips are, have a website, join and use whatever social media you are comfortable with, and promote yourself by putting yourself out there. No one will hand you an interview, you must go after promotional opportunities.
Where you fall on the whole electronic versus paper spectrum?
I LOVE my nook. LOVE LOVE LOVE my nook. But I love paper books too. I don't see this as a must have one or another. More kindles/nooks mean more readers. A win, win for all.
Do you have any further advice for aspiring writers?
This is NOT a career for the faint of heart. It takes YEARS (it took me 10 of them) and many manuscripts (CURSES! was my 7th) to get that first book deal. Don't plan on selling your first manuscript. It does happen, but rarely. Learn your craft by writing novel after novel, go to workshops and conferences, and talk to other writers.
Also, yes, indie publishing is an option, but don't use it as an option because no traditional publisher wants your manuscript. The worst mistake a new writer can make is to put out a bad, poorly edited first book. That is the kind of thing that can follow you throughout your career. Think of it this way, doctors don't go straight from med school to doing brain surgery. You need to perfect your craft first and foremost.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
I love to hear from other writers and readers. Let's talk books, writing, or the state of f-words in literature. Friend me on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jakazimer>, follow me on twitter at @jakazimer, or visit my website at