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May 17

An Interview with Robert P. Kaye

 

RobertPKayeinthewild

Chatting with Robert P. Kaye  for the first time is like meeting up with a friend of twenty years. Welcoming and generous, he is the very definition of community. And on top of that, he is a terrific writer (check out Blot’s review of Typewriter for a Superior Alphabet). Below you will find out more about Robert’s work and interests–and those in the Seattle area take note of the wonderful reading series he is running.

Blotterature has a strong connection to our place – industrialized Northwest Indiana – and it is reflective in our writing. Tell us where you are and how your place fits into your art.

I live in the Northwest, which used to be a culture of loggers, fishermen and artisanal airplane makers. Ray Carver lived in Port Townsend, where Jack London spent a night in jail. The area is now home to Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, but we retain the trippy heritage of Ken Kesey and Thomas Pynchon (who worked as a tech writer at Boeing). The subtitle for Typewriter for a Superior Alphabet is Stories from the Archive of Lost Possibilities. The Editor’s Note advises that the documents have been extracted from the Archive, a place rotated 17.5 degrees from normal, real as any other Twilight Zone-adjacent place, northwest of Kafkaville. It’s a story rich environment.

Who/What has impacted your work the most and how does that come through?

My parents were born in the closing year of WWI, saw the Depression and WWII. They lived long enough to surf web pages. The cumulative culture shift experienced in our lifetimes has become ridiculous, but we still have to cook dinner and get through the day. We adjust to revolutions inconceivable to any prior generation, changes driven by technology and science. This nexus of absurd transformation and everyday life is endlessly fascinating.

How do you generate new ideas for your work?

The universe is as a giant linear accelerator built for generating stories, isn’t it? Any cosmic particle that lights up the brain is fair game. The title story in Typewriter for a Superior Alphabet was written in reaction to a friend’s story (he’s the Dr. McKay the piece is addressed to). It features the invention of a new alphabet. I wondered who might build a typewriter for that alphabet, so I stole that idea—after asking permission. “The Wisdom of Clouds” reacts to a news story about brain enhancing drugs for office workers, something which will naturally have unanticipated consequences. I have a list of ideas for about a hundred stories, which I seldom work from because new ideas always get in the way. Ideas are easy. Writing well is harder.

When have you been most satisfied with your work?

I’m satisfied when a story I’ve worked on for years is nailed into its coffin, ready or not, and published. A story called The Last Time We Saw Charlie appeared in the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review in February. It originated from dark experience from many years ago. Drafts took various forms, from microfiction to flash to several versions of short story. The finished product is unrecognizable from initial attempts. It took about 20 years of writing and rewrites. I’m hoping that particular ghost doesn’t rise up again, but there are many specters in my attic and all satisfaction is temporary.

Calvin

Calvin Kaye

 

 How do you know when a piece is finished?

I don’t. Sometimes a story comes together in the rewriting with a satisfying snap like the lid on a fine piece of Tupperware. It more often involves a struggle that lasts for months or years. Ideas pop up in the shower or in a dream or in the midst of a meeting and the saws and chisels come out. A great writing group is indispensible. The really generous editors give hints with rejections. Publishing helps, but I’ve re-written published pieces. Everything can always be better. In the future, writing will be a mental illness described in the DSM-6 on the same axis as OCD.

What has been your biggest failure and what − if any − lessons were learned?

I write fiction to make my life failures more interesting, so I’ll assume you mean greatest writing failure, which is my first novel, titled Taking Candy for the Devil, about technology, coffee and fake Bigfoot. A few agents asked for a full read, but nobody took the bait. It’s still on Smashwords (for free) and Amazon (for money). There is one and only one review, from someone I do not know. They gave it 5 stars and said it was hard to put down. Is the book a big fat failure? You bet. But I’m still kind of proud of it and it is 5 star rated. I learned a ton about structure, character and pace and developed a pattern for how to complete a novel. I also learned that nothing is ever a pure failure. The second novel is much more ambitious and has the potential to fail even bigger. It is in work.

Tell us about your commitment to the writing community. Outside of your work, what else do you have going on? Or what do you see starting up in your future?

For the past couple years I’ve volunteered to run the Works In Progress open mic reading twice a month at Hugo House in Seattle. We pack the room and average about 26 readers an event. Some readers kill it every time, others come for years and struggle and there’s always a new crop. Some have breakthrough moments where they find their voice. This makes me happy.

Since fiction writers don’t get out to read enough, I also started a quarterly reading series called Seattle Fiction Federation. We have 4 featured writers and pick 8 open mic readers at random to mix in with the stars. We vote at the end for the best open mic performance and the winner becomes a featured reader at the next event.

I cannot say how fantastic the sense of community is at both these events. I expect to be organizing and running and reading live until restrained from doing so.

What is your biggest pet peeve with the writing community, trends, etc. today?

Peeves don’t make good pets in Writing World. I love writing and (most) writers. Unlovable books or stories or writers are easily replaced by a zillion excellent options. AWP is Nirvana. My best friends are writers and books and I think we’re in a golden age, like the Renaissance or the Irish Revival. Writing World is a great luxury, the good stuff, a privilege. In Working World, I complain incessantly about everything and the place crawls with peeves.

What are you working on right now?

My main focus is a novel about the first failed attempt to put part of a person’s brain in the cloud. The main character is the owner of that brain. It takes place in what would have been the first decade of the 21st century, except the clocks have been turned back rather than face the anticipated apocalypse at the end of the millennium. It is an alternative present do-over. The structure borrows from Alice in Wonderland.

I’m rewriting a well-rejected story with high hopes for failing better. More than a dozen other stories wait in the wings for rewrites. I usually write at least one piece of flash a month. I started a non-fiction compendium of answers to one of my favorite questions, “tell me about your best near-death experience.” It’s a hell of a conversation starter and the answers are too good to leave undocumented.

What are you reading right now?

I don’t read more than 1 or 2 books at a time:
The Secret Games of Words by Karen Stefano. A dynamite collection of short stories.
The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner. For research purposes

 

 

 

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