Wordslingers: An Interview With K.M. Alexander

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I’m starting a new feature on this blog—a series of interviews with other indie authors like myself. I’m calling it Wordslingers, and for the first installment, I’m featuring fellow horror/urban fantasy/lovecraftian fiction author, K.M. Alexander, author of The Stars Were Right and its sequel, Old Broken Road.

Until recently, I never read a lot of indie fiction, even though I’d been preparing to become an indie author/publisher for a couple of years before I finally released The Heart Thief. But when K.M. Alexander’s debut novel, The Stars Were Right, was being featured on the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, I got the impression it might be right in my wheelhouse. I bought it, devoured it, and was immediately amazed by how great it was.

From the product description of The Stars Were Right:

thestarswereright_coverCaravan Master Waldo Bell didn’t expect to return home a criminal. He just wanted a relaxing month off between jobs so he could explore the city of Lovat, enjoy a soft bed and a few decent meals. Instead, he’s arrested—accused of killing old friends and hacking off body parts.

Escaping custody and on the run, Wal becomes a citywide fugitive fighting to clear his name. As the body count rises, a shadowy assassin emerges as the true killer, and the trail begins to grow more and more bizarre.

The Stars Were Right combines mystery and monsters, chases and cults, and an ancient evil in a world that is similar but not quite like our own.

I have to say the interview questions I presented to K.M. were a bit in-depth, and I was worried about it becoming a bit of a chore for the up-and-coming author. But I was ultimately impressed with the thoughtfulness he gave to each question and also with how he ended up providing a wealth of great advice for fledgling writers, such as myself.

Check out the interview below:

One of the things that struck me most about both The Stars Were Right and Old Broken Road was the vibrant world you created, first in the multi-leveled city of Lovat and then beyond. Do you have a particular philosophy regarding world-building?

I like to say “world building is made in the details.” I think focusing on the small moments can help cement the believability of a place. Look at the way cultures interact with one another. Look at how people dress. How they eat. The slang and gestures they use. Develop popular turns of phrase. It’s those small moments that add a vibrancy to a world. I tend to break it down into five key elements: people, place, infrastructure, history, and conflict. Each of those influence one another and are required to play off of one another. I think having a working knowledge of those systems within your world will help as you write.

I’m very interested in how much effort writers put into planning their novels. As someone with a film/video background, I can’t help but think of this as Pre-production. Did you spend a lot of time planning TSWR before you started writing or did you dive right in? What does the planning stage generally look like for you?

I’m what George R.R. Martin calls an Architect. I spend weeks and weeks working on outlines, writing notes, and researching. In the case of The Stars Were Right, I went through a lot of iterations of the Territories’ people and places. A massive chunk of that is never used, but it’s good to have that base. Doing all that research for the series allowed the writing process of Old Broken Road to go much smoother. I knew what lay beyond Lovat, and I understood what the rest of the world looked like and how it interacted. That said, all my notes are ever-evolving. As much as I plan and plan, I also remain as flexible as I can when great ideas come to me. My next book, Red Litten World, had a much looser outline than the first two, but the outline was still there.

Marketing is one of the hardest things for an indie writer to get a handle on. What are some specific strategies you’ve employed to get the word out there about your work?

Honestly, I’m still figuring this out, but I think for indie authors especially you have to be willing to spend a little money. You’re essentially a small business, and thinking like a small business is important to success.

A good strategy is to find enclaves of people who read the books you like. So for example I found a few forums and podcasts that had Lovecraft fans and spent a little money sponsoring episodes or ads. It helps support communities that love the stuff I love and helps spread the word about my books.

H.P. Lovecraft is obviously one of your influences. I discovered Lovecraft when I was in junior high (many, many years ago). I was browsing through gaming manuals at a local game shop when I came across something for a game called The Call of Cthulhu. The shop also had some of those pewter miniatures for the game, and I became enthralled by the bizarre monsters as well as the icons for potential player characters who all had a kind of Indiana Jones feel to them. When did you first discover Lovecraft and what appealed to you about his mythos? Also, what are your thoughts about Cthulhu as a current pop-culture phenomenon?

That is so awesome about the miniatures. I had a similar experience with Battletech when I was a kid. Once I saw those robots, I couldn’t get enough. I read novels, collected books, and painted scores of miniatures.

Unlike Battletech, I didn’t discover Lovecraft until college. I had always heard he was an influence for guys like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, but I hadn’t ever sought him out until then. I’m with you.The big appeal was the Indiana Jones-like aspect. These intelligent educated adventurers exploring the world and discovering unknowable horrors. Who isn’t intrigued by stories like that? I love a good conspiracy theory, and the mythos is basically one giant conspiracy theory. I didn’t really start exploring until after college, and I didn’t truly dive in until I was hashing some ideas out with a friend (ideas that eventually became The Stars Were Right). Once I started down the rabbit hole, I got immersed.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not a common story. It’s why I am supportive of Cthulhu as a pop culture icon. It helps introduce people to the mythos which ends up being great for writers who write new mythos, horror, or dark fantasy. It’s a good starting point.

Besides HPL, what other kinds of things inform your work (whether they be writers or anything else)?

Oh there are a lot of writers: China Miéville and Neil Gaiman have both been big influences on my work. I’m also a fan of Cormac Mccarthy and Mark Twain. There’s the comics aspect, and I used to play a lot of adventure games. Many of my ideas come from a mishmash of a lot of different things. The Stars Were Right is a bit dystopian, a little urban fantasy, a drop of Lovecraftian horror, a smidge of thriller, and some science fiction throw in for good measure. Each of those ideas are my own take on a concept.

Cities and the way people live within cities are also really inspiring for me. I really love researching city planning and seeing how intense density affects the way people live. There’s something fascinating to me about how cultures evolve and how our lives evolve with that.

I’m also really into esoteric symbolism, and I try to work that into all of my projects. If you’re a mythos fan you’ll notice tons of hints and references scattered through both The Stars Were Right and Old Broken Road but there’s a lot more there. I do it mainly for myself, and I always try to include references like that, even if it’s something no one will notice.

You live in the greater Seattle area, which is one place I always thought I might like to end up. How has living in the land that gave us Starbucks, Microsoft, and grunge rock influenced you as a writer?

Write what you know, and I know Seattle. I love it here. There’s so much to do and see. There is the islands in the Puget Sound, mountains all around us, volcanos to the north and south, rainforests to the west, the Columbia River Gorge, and the high deserts of Eastern Washington. I’ve lived in this area my whole life and I am stunned at how much there is to see and do and explore. The richness of this place is astounding, and it has an influence on its people. As a result you get a wonderful mix of people. Seattle as a whole is a very open and accepting area, it’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me to explore other cultures. I think all of that plays into my writing.

Your wife, Kari-Lise, is a very talented artist (like super-freakishly talented—love her work). I imagine the writer/artist combo must be a very interesting coupling. Do you find this is true? Also, what kind of collaborations have the two of you considered or already been involved in?

She’s great isn’t she? I am immensely proud of the work she does. Every day she gets better and better and better.

It’s pretty incredible having a partner who is as creative as I am. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you’re a creative you go through swings of self-doubt and discouragement. Having someone else who has dealt with those things is immensely helpful. Likewise we are each other’s biggest fans. It’s pretty awesome to be married to your biggest fan.

We’ve never collaborated on anything yet. Our themes and styles are so divergent. That said, we’re both sounding boards for each other. I see and comment on sketches as she draws and she’s reading chapters as I write. It’s awesome to get that honest critical feedback so early in a process. We make each other better.

I am a devourer of all kinds of media, from films to games to music, theater, art, and obviously books. What kind of other media do you enjoy interacting with? Would you consider yourself a “fanboy” of anything in particular?

Books, obviously. Miéville’s Bas-Lag series in particular. No one builds a world like he does. Neil Gaiman. Mark Twain. Ursula K. Le Guin. I love comics as well. I’m a huge fan of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, and I have long been a fan of the DC Hellblazer series, though it has gone through its share of ups and downs. I’ve been really enjoying Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga recently. I don’t get much time to watch television, but I really enjoyed Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective last year, and I’m looking forward to the next season. It is one of those things I felt was made just for me. It’s a weird mash up of genres: police procedural, psychological horror, and lovecraftian mythos. Not the sort of thing you see on television very much.

It seems like you’re barreling full-steam ahead as you are starting to produce more and more work. Is self-doubt ever a problem? How do you deal with it?

Self-doubt is always a problem. For everyone. However, it should never be an excuse. Fight though the lows and keep working. Honestly assess your skills and push yourself in areas where you need to grow. If you have to be willing to hire folks that can help you improve in the places you know you need to improve. Make the best damn thing you can make, and then make another one, and another one, and another one.

What are your thoughts on the current state of indie publishing? Would you recommend it for aspiring writers?

It’s not for everyone and it requires a certain amount of tenacity. You have to be willing to run a small business. That isn’t easy, but I think it’s critical for success. You’re going to be dealing with hiring editors, designing covers, and working on promotional plans, all while you write your next piece and probably work a day-job. All of that is hard work. If you’re willing to put in the effort, it can be really rewarding.

What does the future look like for K.M. Alexander, both in the short and long-term?

Short answer: I’m going to keep telling stories.

Long answer: I’m coming out with Red Litten World this year, that’s book three in The Bell Forging Cycle. Wal’s back in Lovat and things have changed yet again. Really excited about that one, my best book yet. We’ll see what happens after Red Litten World. I might wait a bit before I start book four. I have a fresh, non-traditional fantasy novel I am working on, and I have another series starting to chug to life. One thing is certain—I don’t plan on stopping.

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My thanks to K.M. Alexander for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for me. I highly recommend checking out his work. Both books are available on the major online retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.) and at the time of posting, The Stars Were Right, is on sale for an amazing price. So, there’s not much to lose in giving K.M.’s books a shot.

Thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this interview, I hope to have another up sometime in March. So, keep checking back.

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