KJ Kabza has sold over 50 stories to venues such as F&SF, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Buzzy Mag, Flash Fiction Online, and many more. He’s been anthologized in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2014 (Prime Books), The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 6 (Night Shade Books), The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008, and The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies Online Magazine, Year 2. His senior project for his B.A. in Creative Writing was a werewolf novel, and his life and career have unfolded predictably ever since.
Iulian: You were writing since early childhood—describe how you started and what was the moment when you realized that other people might enjoy your work, that it wasn’t just a personal hobby?
KJ: I started at age 5 or 6 by drawing pictures and stapling them together to “make books”. (None of which, alas, have survived into the present day.) I was good at many things as a child, so it never occurred to me that people WOULDN’T enjoy my work. Adulthood and experience have steadily disabused me of this notion, but by the time I realized I might not be very good at this, I’d made several professional sales. So I guess I’ll just keep going.
How was your writing influenced by your environment, family and upbringing? When you turned to writing, did you find support in those around you, or did you hear a lot of: “you could be an accountant, or a lawyer?”
My mom: YOU KNOW WHAT I COULD SEE YOU DOING?
Me: What, Mom. What could you see me doing?
Mom: I COULD SEE YOU BEING A COUNTRY DOCTOR. TREATING DIRT-POOR PEOPLE IN APPALACHIA AND ACCEPTING APPLE PIES AS PAYMENT. WOULDN’T THAT BE NEAT?
Mom: OR A JUDGE. YOU WOULD BE SUCH A BRILLIANT JUDGE. I CAN JUST SEE YOU SITTING ON THE BENCH UP THERE, BEING SO SMART.
Mom: YOU KNOW WHAT I BET YOU WOULD LIKE. LIBRARY SCHOOL. YOU SHOULD GET A MASTERS IN LIBRARY SCIENCE.
Me: Yeah. Sounds great. <<goes upstairs to room, opens Word document, works on novel>>
What is the defining moment in your writing career, the moment when you knew you turned pro? What was the story or market that pushed you there?
Defining moments, if you even have them, come when you never expect them too. When I opened a piece of mail from F&SF one day and my first contract from them (and a very large check) fell out, my hands shook with shock, but even then, I wouldn’t call that THE defining moment—more like a major milestone. The defining moment is when, as you’re putting together a polite cover letter for a story submission, you scroll through your giant bibliography to pick out the most impressive credits to include and realize, “Holy shit. I’ve sold a lot of stories.”
What is your experience working with editors? Without naming names, unless you want to, do you find it difficult, helpful, annoying, etc.?
My experience has always been fine, because I bear in mind one simple rule: THE EDITOR IS GOD. Sure, there are a few key bits about your story that are worth standing your ground for, but for the most part, it behooves you to remember that (1) your work is never as great as you think it is, and editors provide a valuable reality check; and (2) even if your work IS that great, the editor is the one with the power to buy your story, so you better do everything you can to make them like it.
You write speculative fiction and your stories, I believe, are difficult to label because they are so varied and unique. What drives you to this genre? Have you tried writing anything else?
The answer is contained within your question, actually. It’s possible to do so much in speculative fiction–the canvas is enormous–and that’s room enough for me to try many, many new things, and if there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s going someplace new. I wrote literary fiction too when I first started out, but you can explore a lot of the real world by simply living it, so what’s the point of that?
You call yourself a temporary nomad, traveling across the U.S. and the world—is that an integral part of your writing? Are you incorporating what you see and what you find into your writing? Is that what keeps you going?
At the time of this interview, my nomadic phase has come to an end. But my work has always, I think, contained a certain restlessness, and the settings are often divorced from a concrete sense of place (e.g., I won’t name the city or country, even when the city and country are obviously fictitious, or I won’t specify the time of year or historical period). My first appearance in your magazine is a notable exception to this—almost never do I consciously think, “I want to write a story about this exact area.” Cf. previous remark about exploring the real world.
In our first issue, we included your story “In the Shadow of Dyrhólaey.” Tells us a bit about this story; how did it come to be, what does it mean to you?
In 2010 I vacationed in Iceland, stood on the black sand beaches of the coastal town of Vík, saw the rock formation that this story’s protagonist (who is a very real historical figure) falls in love with, and seriously couldn’t believe that nobody had written this story yet. In the Shadow of Dyrhólaey is my love letter to Iceland. That is a gorgeous, magical country, and I would like to go back someday.
Who is the best writer in the world? Kidding… What I meant was: who do you enjoy reading lately? What was the last book that made a big impression?
Can I type “China Mieville” ten times in a row? From the work of his that I’ve read so far (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Railsea, and The City & The City), it’s obvious that the man has a far-reaching, profound, perceptive genius that most mere mortals will never attain. China Mieville is all like, “I’m going to use interstitial fiction to explore the nuances of essential urban and social semiotics” whereas I’m all like “I WRITE TEH STOREES HERP DERP DERP”.
You write a lot of short fiction and haven’t focused a lot on longer pieces, with some exceptions. Why is that? Are you planning any novels?
Actually, I’ve written 8 novels. But they’re all terrible and I can’t sell them. Fortunately, I wrote eight short stories that were all terrible before I sold my first one, so we’re scheduled to make it big with novel #9. Hahaha. Um… maybe you shouldn’t quote me on that.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Next (soon?) up is a second self-published e-book of my short fiction, collecting all work published between my first F&SF sale (“The Ramshead Algorithm”) and my last one (“The Soul in the Bell Jar”), plus the infamous 69 dirty science-fiction-and-fantasy-themed limericks I passed out on my business cards at an “interstitial arts party” at Readercon in 2011. I’ve also fallen in love with the 100-word story, courtesy of SpeckLit.com, and plan to write a whole load of those, some of which I’ll sell and some of which I’ll use for a Project Still In The Works. And then there’s novel #9. While China Meiville is probably drafting some ground-breaking text that’s like Nabokov’s “Lolita” meets Larry Niven’s “The Integral Trees”, I’m writing a book that has a talking beaver in it. Fingers crossed.
Thank you for the interview, KJ, and good luck with everything!
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