Whenever I picture a horror novelist, I imagine Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining, getting freaky with an ax after writing a thousand pages of pretty much nothing all winter long. That makes no sense, I know; I don’t even think that character was a horror novelist. But he was a writer, and that story was written by Stephen King, and it was a horror story…
Looking at it now, I’ve probably been connecting the wrong dots this whole time, huh?
Happens to me a lot.
Fellow Booktroper Alex Kimmell is the author of THE KEY TO EVERYTHING, one of the most creatively creepy horror stories I’ve read in a long time, and his life sounds nothing like that of Jack Nicholson, or Jack Torrance. But is he en route to a life of Stephen King-ish-ness?
If his book is any indication, he certainly is.
The cover of KEY popped up in my Facebook feed shortly after it was released, and I knew I had to own it as soon as I saw it. Take a look…is this an awesome cover, or what?
Books, keys, tattoos and squirrels (yeah…squirrels) feature heavily in his wordcraft, which is by turns poetic and philosophical before it shifts into a straight-up tale of terror. Dude’s done a great job with it! I threw a bunch of questions his way in hopes of learning more about what makes him tick. Turns out Alex is one interesting guy, even beyond the squirrel-as-horror-story-fodder thing. Seriously, folks: I read this book in a house in a small town in northern Arizona, where squirrels run rampant…they practically deliver the mail and trim your hedges. Okay…they could be chipmunks. I’m not going near enough one to figure out which it is. If you read Alex’s book, maybe you’ll be able to understand why I tried not to look out the window until I was finished. And even after that, I kept the shades drawn.
On to Alex.
THE KEY TO EVERYTHING is supremely spooky and a wildly original concept. What was the initial inspiration for the story line? In its genesis, the story was going to be completely different. There was this very bare bones idea about finding an old diary filled with childish scribbles that exuded an eerie aura. Anyone who read it died in mysterious ways, blah blah blah horror ensued. As I was writing, my thoughts drifted into new directions and thankfully I ended up in a much darker place.
For a long time I played around with the concepts of being “lost in a good book” and “I got sucked into this story”. They’ve always been such wonderful experiences for me. Reading a book so good that the entire outside world disappears and all you become are the words on the page. I started to think what if that really happened? What if it wasn’t such a good thing after all?
And also: why squirrels? What did those sweet little animals ever do to you?
Ha! Squirrels are animals that most people typically don’t pay much attention to. They live in the background of suburbia feeding off of trees and trashcans running along telephone wires and backyard fences. Dogs bark at them and cats may even perk up their ears and hiss, but nobody really looks at them. I wanted to find an animal that represented a certain normality of the world that we don’t really notice, the world we take for granted and flip it on its head. Turn it into something terrifying. Maybe those sweet little animals aren’t so sweet after all.
Have you always been drawn to horror as your chosen writing meme? (avoiding the word genre here…) Most of the books that I enjoy reading are in the horror or suspense arenas. (I too will continue avoiding the word genre) I don’t even know if I consider myself a “Horror” writer. Though “The Key to Everything” certainly fits in that particular lock. (See? See what I did there?) I do have some other stories floating around unfinished that aren’t scary, but the majority of my work does seem to lean in that direction.
I try to tell stories that hide something bubbling beneath the surface and reveal an unexpected hiding behind the curtain. Whether they are romantic or suspenseful or frightening, I want them to be memorable and leave the reader viewing the world from a slightly different perspective than before they opened the cover.
Do you visualize your characters as known actors when you write, or do you see them as just people yet-to-be-identified? Most of the time, I don’t really see their faces. I only see a blur at the top of a body. None of their features stay solid during the inception of the story. I purposefully try not to picture actors as my characters because that might make me subconsciously fall into one of their movie rolls and it would influence things in the wrong direction.
I might have a general concept of what they look like and their mannerisms and such, but nothing specific at first. I may base a character on someone I see walking through the supermarket that catches my eye or a man standing on the corner as we drive past them on the street. Some have grown out of the memories of people I knew in high school or in college. Their physical appearance might not solidify in my head until late in the writing process, if at all.
I’m of the opinion that not all characters have to be completely described in detail. Some do in fact need that while others do not. It really depends on what the story needs and what it’s trying to tell.
What was the “aha!” moment for you that clued you in to the notion that you should pursue writing as a career? Most of us have an inkling early on but some only catch the spark a bit later in life…how was it for you? Mine came later. I still don’t think I’ve had the “aha!” moment yet, though I have been a songwriter for close to twenty years. In high school I attempted poetry, like most teenagers who feel lost and unwanted by the opposite sex. You know, the typical broken-hearted school crushes with heavy-handed metaphors and symbols of unrequited love. Crap like that. When I started writing songs the poetry evolved into my lyrics. I like to think that I got better at it over time. (Crosses fingers)
A few years back I became pretty ill and due to that, making music professionally was just not something I could do anymore. My wife noticed how frustrated I became without that daily creative outlet. Fortunately she picked me up, dusted me off and said, “Hey. You’re a writer. Your stories have just always been really short and set to music. Why don’t you try writing a book?”
So I sat at the computer, wrote some pages and then deleted them. I wrote some more pages and deleted them too. This went on for a while. Eventually I wrote a few pages I didn’t think completely sucked so I saved them. Then I wrote some more. Then it became a habit I couldn’t seem to break. I enjoyed it and a similar feeling to the joy that making music gave me came back around. Writing longer form prose was just as challenging, yet there were all of these new muscles I needed to stretch and build up. It was pretty intimidating.
Honestly, I never considered myself to be a “professional” writer until Booktrope said they wanted to release my book when I finished it. It’s still new to me. I’m definitely enjoying the ride and hope that enough people read the book and like it so that I’ll get the chance to keep on doing this. I’m very, very lucky.
Cake or pie, and why? Can I say both? I’m a big guy so deal with it!
I love cake. My wedding cake was the best. Marble cake surrounded by vanilla frosting with a chocolate chip cream in the center. Holy crap was that good!
Homemade pies? Definitely a yes. My wife makes a kick ass apple pie with a cinnamon crust…mmm. Think I need to step away for a moment and see if she’ll make one tonight. Hang on a sec.
I’m back. No pie tonight. Bummer!
You’re a professional dad, a full-time parent on deck in your family unit. How do you balance that immense responsibility with your writing? Big ups on tackling both, by the way…thoroughly impressive! Thanks. I appreciate that. Wait…if I’m a professional, where’s my uniform? Do I get to choose my number and stuff? And I don’t like horizontal stripes. They make me look fat.
Most of the time I only get to write after everyone in the house is in bed. When my wife get’s home, she’s worn out from her day so I don’t like to just say, “Hi! Here’s the kids. Bye!” That’s not really cool in my book. Plus I don’t enjoy the prospect of sleeping on the front porch. It can get pretty cold in Rhode Island sometimes. She’s great about it though. When I really need to get something done, she’ll help me make time so I can work.
When the kids go back to school it’s a lot easier. I get a few hours every day when I’m alone and can focus on the blank page in front of me with no distractions. It all has to be a give and take. I think it does with any family really. You have to compromise and make sure everyone is getting what he or she needs from each other. That includes the kids as well.
First and foremost I’m Dad. That’s the most important, greatest part of my life. My wife is a great partner. She’s my best friend and my biggest cheerleader. I got really, really lucky. Twelve years of marriage and she hasn’t killed me yet! (Crosses fingers again) Without the three of them rooting for me, there would be nothing for you and I to be talking about. I would never have written a word.
Aside from writing, clue us all into some of the other Alex Kimmell interests. I know music is a huge thing for you… Yeah. Spending time with my wife, my kids, our dog Sadie and making or listening to music. That’s pretty much it. Between those things and writing I don’t know how I could make time for anything else!
What are you working on as a follow up to KEY? I’m working on a couple of ideas right now. Waiting to see which one bubbles up to the surface first. I don’t want to get into specifics because they’ll most likely change tremendously between now and when I’m done. We’ll have to wait and see.
A friend of mine and I talked a while back about working on a project together that would incorporate mixing different media. I’d like to spend some time on that with him. But since we’re both pretty busy and live in different states, it’s tough to nail down any time when we’re both available.
Any social causes you support and want to give a shout-out to, parents who need a "happy birthday!" or general announcements you'd like to make? The blog is yours…take it away. Raising awareness for Autism is very close to home for me. We go to a lot of events to raise money for research, funding for education and caring for the coming influx of people with autism that are about to age out of school programs. Finding ways to help them live fulfilling and productive lives is an issue that needs to be thought about. There are so many families out there who don’t have the resources to do it on their own. It can be intensely expensive and in many cases, there are no programs available once they reach the age of eighteen. If you ever have a free minute, go to Autism Speaks and see if there is any way you can help out.
Oh yeah, and read JOE VAMPIRE. It kicks ass!
Interesting guy, right? I wasn’t exaggerating. And I was thoroughly relieved to find out Alex is completely non-deranged, and nothing like the regular authors I’ve been mistaking for horror authors for the past thirty-two years.
I feel so much better now.
If you know what’s creepy for you, you’ll head over to Amazon, Barnes and Noble or iTunes and get yourself a copy of THE KEY TO EVERYTHING so you, too, can finally recognize squirrels for the sadistic, demonic little vermin they really are.
Someone should probably warn Bullwinkle.
Check out Alex in the Twittersphere at @twodoggarage, and follow Abram from KEY, @abramtk2e. In a cool twist, Alex also interviewed me, and now has a similar conversation to this one posted over at his blog. Click here to be zoomed through internet time-space to learn more about the inner workings of the dork who created Joe Vampire.