Indie Author Interview (and Rafflecopter Giveaway Contest) with Todd Keisling

Todd Keisling, author of “A Life Transparent” has now released a second book in the series, called “The Liminal Man”.

I was able to snag him for an interview as part of his current blog tour. Todd intends to do daily giveaways for people who comment on these posts, along with an ongoing contest via Rafflecopter -> (here’s the Rafflecopter giveaway link) -> for a single grand prize package. Readers will be able to enter by following him on Twitter, liking his Facebook page, and so on. Each action will earn them an additional entry.

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TL: Did you plan for a sequel or series from the beginning of A Life Transparent? If not, when did that idea first occur to you?

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TK: Oh, no way. I wrote ALT expecting it to be a single novel (in fact, I expected it would be just a 2k word short story when I started), and there for a while, that’s all it was. I took a hiatus from writing in 2008, and during that period of time I had a daydream about Donovan Candle tied to a chair. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how he’d ended up in that room. The thought persisted over the months, and by the end of that year, I’d decided I should probably find out—and that’s how TLM came to be.

As for the story becoming a trilogy, I have my editor to thank for that. I sent her draft #2 in early 2011, and she took issue with the original ending. “It doesn’t fit with the tone of the novel,” she said. In hindsight, she was right, but at the time I fought her on it simply because I was ready to work on something different. I sent the manuscript out to several beta readers and solicited their feedback. The responses were varied, but most agreed the ending was missing something. I had the option of either adding another 100+ pages to smooth out the ending as it was, or split the book into a third novel (which would allow for more development). I chose the latter option, Amelia (my editor) smugly said “I told you so,” and the Monochrome trilogy was born.

TL: In the case of both books, did the story change from the time you started writing it until completion? If so, how?

TK: It did. There’s a big difference between the first and second editions of ALT. I initially set out to just clean up the original ALT manuscript, but after taking a closer look at it, I realized there was a lot that needed to change in order to maintain consistency with the second novel. The overall story and message remained the same, but I removed some scenes, added others, and ended up cutting about 7k words out of the final book. The second edition was actually more of a revision, but it was necessary.

TLM’s story changed as well, which was the cause of the delays in the editing process. I removed a character from the story in order to slim down the manuscript and improve the story’s pace. Whole scenes were cut, requiring a full rewrite of about half the chapters in the book. As a result, there’s a 16k word difference between drafts #2 and #3. That old quote, “Murder your darlings,” comes to mind. Amelia and I did so with a pair of hatchets and smiles on our faces.

TL: What is the easiest part of writing for you? What is the hardest?

TK: I think the easiest part for me is the . . . well, the “thinking” aspect of it. The plotting part. Figuring out what the story is before I begin. A lot of that happens during the writing process, but the initial realization that there’s a story to be told (e.g. Donovan tied to a chair) is the easiest, as it usually occurs naturally.

The hardest part is everything else. Having the discipline to sit down every day and actually write this story that I’ve been thinking and talking about for months, knowing that what I write is probably going to be shit and that I’ll have to rewrite it or edit the hell out of it to make it presentable to the general public. It’s long and grueling and very time consuming. Case in point, TLM took almost four years of my life. I worked on it for so long that when the book was finally finished, I didn’t quite know what to do with my time. I felt like a hermit emerging from his cave for the first time in years.

TL: Did you find ‘The Liminal Man’ easier to write than ‘A Life Transparent’, given that the fictional world it takes place in had already been invented, or did you find that to be a constraint or limitation, or did it free you to concentrate on other aspects of the story? 

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TK: I did find it considerably more difficult. ALT is rather straightforward, while TLM is multi-faceted, with a bigger theme in place. TLM is the “world-building” novel in the respect that it expands the Monochrome “mythos,” and I realized early on that I had to answer a lot of the questions left at the end of ALT. Namely, how does the Monochrome work? What is it? Who is Dullington? Where do those Cretins come from?

Those questions were easy to leave open when ALT was a standalone novel. Now that the story has grown into multiple novels, I can’t leave things open so easily. I answered what I could in TLM, and saved some of the more interesting details (Dullington’s origins) for the final book in the series. Another difficult aspect of TLM’s process was making sure the story wasn’t bogged down by its own mechanics. I couldn’t sacrifice the pacing for the sake of the theme and overall plot arc—which is why a lot of the scenes I mentioned before had to be cut. I didn’t have to do that very much with ALT.

Oh, and it also didn’t help that a lot of people were anticipating the follow-up to the first book. That book peaked at #2 in Amazon’s Top 100 horror last year while I was in the midst of finishing TLM’s 4th draft. No pressure or anything!

TL: Is there a third book in the series in the works?

TK: Book #3 is in the planning stages right now, although I don’t expect to begin the actual writing until next year. I’m taking some time away from Donovan’s story in 2013 to work on some shorter fiction for a collection which I hope to have published at the end of the year.

That being said, I am thinking about book #3 constantly, figuring out the details of the plot. I have a broad outline; I know how it starts and how it ends. All that’s left to do is connect the dots in between. Oh, and write the book. That’s an important step, I suppose.

TL: Finally, it seems to me that “horror”, or fear in general, is a constant, if not growing, attraction in our culture, like a shiny ball we can’t take our eyes off. It is reflected everywhere, from news headlines to the most popular books and movies, and draws us all in, whether we live in actual scary conditions in the real world or not. I’d like to know your thoughts on this, both in general terms and from your perspective as a writer who deals directly with these matters. 

TK:I think we’re drawn to the things that scare us, almost like a subconscious drive to best what we perceive to be threatening—even if we can only overcome these things vicariously. Scary movies and horror novels are great for this because people can walk away from the experience unharmed. They “survived” the threat, even if it was a fictional one.

With that in mind, I think the rise of fear as an attraction in our culture can be linked to a string of wars, atrocities, and catastrophes in recent decades (Chernobyl, Iraq 1.0 & 2.0, Columbine, 9/11, the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Sandy Hook, et al). Our culture is suffering from shock, and I think the desire to drown ourselves in fear as entertainment stems from an inherent need to overcome these tragedies by facing them head on in other forms. That’s just my opinion, of course. I have no background in psychology or sociology, so I’m probably way off base.

Speaking personally, I write horror as a means of facing what I’m afraid of. I wrote ALT for a number of reasons, but the two big ones were out of fear of losing my wife and fear of losing myself. TLM was written out of fear of losing my way. In some ways, I suppose that’s one of the reasons I write: to face my demons. Maybe society is doing the same thing in its own way?

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