Wednesday Wordsmith Author Interview – K. W. Jeter, American Science Fiction Writer

What can be said about K. W. Jeter.  He blew me away in the 80’s and through the 90’s with some of the best science fiction/cyperpunk/steampuck that I have read.  I waited for each new Jeter book, and was rewarded with a book I knew I would enjoy.  He wrote sequels to Blade Runner, which were brilliant.  Then a little Star Trek and Star Wars.  But then he stopped writing – just literally disappeared.

There was a gap of some ten years before we saw a new release with ‘The Kingdom of Shadows’.  There is even a sequel of Infernal Devices coming up, but I’ll let K. W. mention that.

K. W. blew me away by agreeing do to an interview.  It did not take me long to shoot some questions through.  I think it took him shorter to return them to me.

What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?

Probably a straight mystery novel, something in the classic form. When I was a kid, I was a huge Ellery Queen fan and greatly admired that sort of locked room, apparently insoluble crime puzzler. However, I was never able to figure out any of those mysteries before the big revelation in the final chapter as to who did it. So I somewhat despair of coming up with one on my own, though I’ll probably give it a try at some point. The closest I’ve come so far is my latest project, the new series I’m calling the Kim Oh Thrillers. They’re quite a bit more action oriented — I think of them as “absurdist comedies of violence” — but my young female protagonist does have figure out what’s going on around her in order to survive, so in that sense there is something of a mystery element. There’s four books in the series up on for the Kindle so far, and I’m working on the fifth. I’ve got some readers who tell me they’re the best things I’ve done.

Where do your ideas come from?  Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?

That’s a tough question. In some sense, the Kim Oh books came from watching a lot of Asian crime movies, and admiring them for some aspects but being dissatisfied with them in others. There are a lot of great Hong Kong movies that set up interesting premises but then fail to come up with a really good, tight ending — a lot of them just sort of dissolve into cliche gun fights and the same old male bonding workouts for a conclusion. The good ideas those films start out with just get thrown away. So naturally enough, I wind up thinking I could do better, and to a certain degree I think I have.  Stories in general come to me in fragments — I’ll have a vision of a beginning scene, or something important along the way, and then I have to piece in around that and figure out what it means. Kim Oh, however, came into my head as a completely formed character, speaking in a distinctive voice, and I found that there wasn’t anything I could change about her. She talks and I listen.

When you start a new story, do you have a title for it?  Does that trigger the story?

Sometimes. Also sometimes, the title or other starting points gets the story development going, but the story goes in a different direction than I  had originally anticipated, and the first title gets thrown away in favor of something else that suits what the story has become.

Do you see the future of fantasy and science fiction as bright?  If so, which authors are driving it?

It’s probably as bright as it’s ever been — I’d be the last one to say for certain, however, as I’ve been keeping my head down in my own writing lately, so I haven’t really been following what other writers haven’t been doing. I’ve always been a little solipsistic that way, and I’ve only gotten more so  as the years have gone by.

What themes are being overused?

The vampire and zombie stuff seems to be a territory that’s been walked on quite a bit.

Are movies of books ruining the book?

There are so few movies being made from books, at least in the fantastic genres, that I can’t see that much ruination going on. Mostly we’re seeing movies made from comic books, or comic  book franchises, and I don’t bother to go see those, so I can’t really say whether they’re any good or not. The Peter Jackson LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy started out strong, but in my opinion fizzled out badly by the end, so I’m truthfully not looking forward to his HOBBIT adaptation. Every time Jackson and his screenwriters decided they knew better than Tolkien did about how the story should go, they were wrong.

Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?

Not at all. Traditional print publishing is threatened by the grinding economic inefficiences of its business model, and its ineffective response to the circumstances in which the industry finds itself. The trad publishing industry would be in just as much trouble, or worse, even if ebooks didn’t exist at all. Saying that ebooks are the cause of the publishing industry’s woes is like saying that the Titanic was sunk by all the lifeboats that managed to escape from it.

Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?

I’ve been reading a lot of dead authors lately, to be honest. I got back into the Victorian pastiche thing with the sequel to my long-ago steampunk novel INFERNAL DEVICES — the sequel is called FIENDISH SCHEMES and should be out from Tor next year — so I had to get my period dialogue and prose chops back up to speed. So I’ve been reading a lot of Victorian and Edwardian novels lately. A long-time favorite of mine is George Gissing, one of the most literary of that crowd, greatly admired by H. G. Wells and other luminaries. Harrison Ainsworth is probably the original pulp bestseller, somewhat forgotten now but still loads of cheap, action-y fun.

What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?

I’m not sure there is anything in particular. I don’t make that much of a distinction between fantasy books and anything else that I read. The things that make a great fantasy book — mainly character and an interesting plot — are the same things that make a great book of any kind.

Can I get an autographed book? (lol)

Little bit hard for me to send you one at the moment as I’m living in Ecuador at the moment and I don’t have any spare copies of my books with me. More likely to happen if you catch me at a convention — I’m going to be at World Fantasy Con in Brighton  UK in October 2013.

Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?

Only my wife. She’s my alpha reader, and also my in-house copyeditor, especially for the new ebooks. I value her opinion highly. She told me that the fourth Kim Oh book needed to be funnier, there was enough action in it already, and she was right about that. So I pumped up the macabre humor a bit and it wound up actually developing an important element about the relationship between a couple of characters. So a good alpha reader can often tell you what’s wrong, but the writer is the one who has to come up with the solution to the problem.

Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?

Fifty thousand to sixty thousand words is my notion of the Platonic ideal for a novel; that’s the kind of book I grew up reading in cheap paperbacks, and I still think that’s the ideal length. One of the problems with the trad publishing industry is that it’s hard to get a book of that length  published; a lot of books now are padded to fit what the industry believes would be most profitable. With indie  epublishing a writer has more ability to hit the appropriate length for the story he or she is tellling.

Do you have a target each day?

Sometimes but not always. The first three Kim Oh books were written in two weeks each, so I was cranking at about 5 thousand words a day. I wanted them to have kind of a furious, rushed quality to them.

Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?

In terms of actual production, I have breaks but I’m still thinking about the books while I’m noodling around with a pad and pen, and staring out the window.  In some ways, that’s when the real  work gets done; the writing is just filling in the blanks.

After so many books, how do you keep them unique?

Outlining, working the story out beforehand, knowing where you’re going before you start out. It’s like driving from Los Angeles to New York; if you just jump in the car and start driving, you’re very likely going to go by the same route you went before. If you look at a map and figure out a different route before you begin, then you have a shot at coming up with something different. Writers who don’t outline tend to repeat themselves.

What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?

The internet — but I think that’s true for everybody now. We all need to unplug a lot more.

Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?

Sure. A cheap-looking paperback tucked in with a lot of others. I was thrillled.

Do you read other people’s writing?

When I’m not head down in one of my own projects, sure.

Would you read mine?

Send it and I’ll take a look at it. But it might be a little while before I get back to you.

K. W. hides out at where you can get info about all his books and writing projects.

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