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Guest Interview- Alex Kimmell

AlexAlexAlexAlexHey! Today, I get to interview the very creepy and delightful Alex Kimmell, horror writer extraordinaire. Welcome, Alex!
1.    The Key To Everything scared the pants off me and kept me going, “whoa, wait, what the–?” I still can’t look at squirrels without my eyes widening. What inspired you to write it?
The original idea for the story came from a dream. It started as a short story that I put on my blog at the time. Some people at Booktrope read it and told me that if I extended the story into novel form, they wanted to publish it. Before that I never really considered myself an “author”. I wrote songs and lyrics for longer than I can remember. Obviously it’s very different from writing prose. As a first experience, I was extremely lucky. Now that I am put in the position of finding new publishing outlets, the business side of writing is revealing itself to be very challenging. Though, it’s not very different from the music business at all. The stories I hear from other authors are nearly identical to the tales we used to swap with other bands backstage and on the bus.
 
I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that the book scared you of all people! Referring to the squirrel element, I wanted to find an animal that most people don’t usually find frightening and is seen by most people commonly. At the time, the room I was writing in had a window looking over a short brick wall. I leaned back in my chair, looked out the window at the very moment a squirrel jumped off the wall toward the house. My heart jumped to my throat and I knew I had to use it somehow.
 
2.    Tell me about your background in music. How much research did you need to do in order to write the Idea of North and the piano prodigy convincingly?
a.    I grew up playing drums from the age of 9 or 10. I went to the Hamilton Academy of Music for my senior year in high school. From there I went on to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Music from the University of Southern California. I worked quite a bit in the industry up until about eight or nine years ago. That was when I turned my focus to writing fiction. I read a few books about composing for piano when I was in college. Most of my research came from my memories of that. I listen to a lot of solo piano music while I’m writing. If the music is too big in my ears, it takes all of my attention away from the words I want to get down. I tried to steer clear of making the music sections in the story too technical and specific. I wanted to keep the story flowing and not make too many people turn to Google or Wikipedia for terminology and definitions.
 
3.    Tell us a bit about your publishing journey before, during, and after Booktrope. Would you have any advice for writers considering a hybrid publisher or self-publishing as opposed to a small press or traditional large press?
Booktrope was my first foray into publishing. I wrote primarily as an outlet to remain creative after I wasn’t able to make music anymore. It turned out they liked some of the short stories I was putting on my blog and asked me to turn one into a novel. That eventually became “the Key to everything”. From there, I released two more books with them before they closed shop. Currently, I have re-released “the Key to everything” and “the idea of North” with an indie press called Shadow Work Publishing that focuses primarily on the horror genre. My short story collection “A Chorus of Wolves” is forthcoming through Overlords Publishing hopefully later this year.
I am researching agents right now and considering transitioning to a large press. I haven’t gone in that direction yet because I didn’t feel the need to look elsewhere with Booktrope essentially falling in my lap when they did. While I am working on my next large project, I’ve been thinking more and more about attempting to release it with a company that can cast a wider net. Hopefully into bookstores and get my work in front of people who are in positions to option the stories for film or television. I see no reason not to try every venue that can help further my career. I’m going to write no matter what because I enjoy it, so why not get more people exposed to what I do? I’m not trying to be hip or the flavor of the day. I want to write my stories and make as close to a successful living financially doing it as I can.
 
 
4.    Can you give us a hint as to what project(s) you’re currently working on? 
a.    Right now I am writing a handful of short stories for anthologies with small presses and great company of fellow writers. I am nearing the midpoint of a new book (I hope anyway). It’s still in first draft form, so I keep plugging away at it. I have a lot of ideas for the world in which it’s set and it just might end up being the beginning of a series of sorts. I’ve been considering making all of my stories from this point on take place in this world. They won’t necessarily have to be read in any specific order, but they’ll all be in familiar places. We’ll have to see where it goes.
 
3CoversWebsite5.    Many artists need a very specific setting in which to create. When you work, do you have any quirks or use any aids to get you in the zone?
a.    It’s tough as a stay at home Dad. When the minions are at school is when I get the majority of my work done. When they’re on vacations and summer break, I get as much accomplished as I can in a busy house full of teenagers. With my physical issues, sitting all day is a challenge. Then again, so is standing. A good friend of mine is an engineer/carpenter. He took on a huge project and made me an amazing, adjustable desk so I can transition from sitting to standing when I work. It helps so much. I also enjoy switching things up on myself. I primarily work on my computer, but typewriters push me in different directions. Using the typed pages as a first draft is good for me. When I transcribe it into the computer, I make changes and see things in the stories a bit differently. I don’t always have the option, but when I do, I like it.

 
6.    Do you find that your writing style changes at all with the conflicts or challenges that you’re juggling in your real life? That your day-to-day experiences colour your writing?
a.    Of course they do. Nobody lives or creates in a vacuum. On days when I’m experiencing physical pain, my writing is very different than on days when I feel “good”. If I’m sad or depressed, that’s reflected in the writing as well. It happens more than I realise too. I’ve had friends recognise things that I never intended to express outwardly. Of course, they were privy to what was going on in my real world at that time, so they could read between the lines more than someone who doesn’t know me might.
 
7.    What books, games, TV shows, or movies do you go nuts for? (Get it? Squirrels? Nuts? NEVERmind, sorry!) Does fandom sneak into your writing, and if so, how much?
a.    Hardy har har! I don’t think my geeky fandom comes through any deeper than the horror genre. Most of the books and movies I enjoy are scary. Though I love watching all the superhero/comic book stuff with my kids. Netflix binges are common in our house for sure. Whether that’s a good thing or not, who knows? All that being said, I love that I can wear my geek flags on my sleeves proudly now. When I was a kid, liking comics and reading horror meant I was a freak and left me prone to getting my ass kicked. Now that all my fellow beat down survivors have grown and taken over the entertainment industry. They’ve brought it to the mainstream and we don’t have to cower in the shadows anymore. Not that I ever did. I was raised by a creative family who taught me to be proud of my tastes and opinions and not follow the flock without question. Besides, I get to do nasty things in my books to all the kids who were mean to me. Revenge is indeed sweet!
 
8.    Do you shy away from writing open-door sex scenes if the plot calls for it? Is there subject matter that you will not write? If so, where is that line and how do you feel your way around it?
a.    I wouldn’t shy away from it. I just haven’t written a story that calls for a sweaty sex scene yet. Though, my books might sell more if they had some! It’s funny. There really aren’t many subjects I can think of that I won’t touch on. I don’t go for child abuse or violence solely for violence’s sake. Exploitation and gore as shock value tools aren’t things I’ve ever been interested in. There are entire book and film series’ that made a ton of money simply by grossing people out and making them jump in their seats. I prefer scares that last long after the last page is turned. I feel the best way to get around those tools by not using them in the first place. I don’t think that way, so I don’t write that way.
 
9.    Many of your reviews highlight the creepy, bizarre, “WTF horror” nature of your work. How do you aim to top that going forward? What plans do you have for your next book? No big spoilers, please! 
a.    I honestly hope that I can top it! I want to keep writing stories that interest me, that make me think “what if?” and “WTF?” I want to be as surprised as I hope the reader will be. I know many writers who outline their stories and know what’s coming long before they put pen to paper (or pixel to screen). I’ve been trying to do that and it doesn’t work for me right now. In many ways it might help prevent me from making mistakes with my stories and writing myself into corners I don’t know how to get out of. I’ve come to understand that I’m a “pantser”. As a musician I spent most of my life improvising, playing jazz, etc. I feel that the experience of doing that helps me quite a bit when I’m writing.
What frightens me personally is, not knowing the answers to all of the questions a given story might bring up. Sometimes the WTF is the most terrifying thing. Understanding everything is a comfort. Comfort is an opposite of fear. If everything is explained to you about why the antagonist does what he does or how it is all happening, you don’t have to be afraid of it anymore. Irrational fears run the deepest. As a species, we generally all have a fear of the dark. Not because something happened to us personally per se, but we instinctively know that not being able to see makes the environment around us more dangerous. Not knowing why the squirrels in “the Key to everything” are so demented or why the music and storms are connected in “the Idea of North” frightened me while I was writing. I left those concepts open ended intentionally so they would leave the hanging question of “Why?”
“The Key to everything” was released almost five years ago. I still get squirrel related things from people who’ve read the book all the time. I didn’t mean for the squirrels to be what people primarily took away from the book, but the idea seems to have resonated. Now if only someone would send me a Steinway Grand Piano…
 
10. How do you get inside your antagonist’s head without that taint rubbing off on you personally? Do you have any tricks when it comes to compartmentalising and keeping yourself separate from your baddies? 
a.    So far my antagonists have all been so “unhuman” that I haven’t had difficulty taking myself out of their headspace. Though I must say that creating the bad guys can be extremely fun. I might throw in some personality traits of people from the past that have “done me wrong”. Bullies from childhood, you know. What are they going to do to me now right? It might be childish, but it’s certainly enjoyable!

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