When did you start writing, Ken, and why?
In 1994, I was working in the security department at Wesley Medical center in Wichita, a 600-bed facility with trauma center. Boss walked in one day and put me in charge of a brand new deal. He had purchased all the equipment to make photo ID badges for every employee, vendor, doctor, etc. and he wanted me to set this thing up and run it. It had (gasp) a computer! I had never touched a computer before and suddenly, I was the proud daddy of a brand new System-7 Macintosh with all kinds of peripherals and I had no clue. I needed to brush up my keyboarding skills, so just as practice, I started writing a story. Pretty soon, I had people reading this thing, (It was called The Progeny) and wanting to know what happens next? And by the second week, I would honestly have to say, “I don’t know. The characters will tell me when it’s time.” This turned into my first novel, which has been rejected by every Sci-Fi publisher in the U.S., I believe, but that’s what got me started.
Who were/are your influences?
Oh, wow…well, of course, Stephen King, right up front, because he has the ability to grab you right by the face and pry your eyes open and make you look at the “gooshy parts”…second would be Dean Koontz, because of the depth of his characters and the way he can set a scene with just a few words and lock you right into where he’s at. I have a lot of favorites, though. I have read the entire Jack Reacher series by Lee Child twice. I like Larry McMurtry, Elmore Leonard, Jonathan Kellerman. Back in the day, I was a super fan of John D. MacDonald. Read the Travis McGee series to tatters. I’ll try just about any author once. Some catch on with me and others don’t.
How did you balance your life, your career and your creative side?
Usually, I really don’t spend that much time at the keyboard. I tend to create the story, or most of it, in my head before I ever begin writing. Sometimes this is a quick process, or it may take weeks fermenting in my skull before I’m ready. I have written many short stories at one sitting with no corrections or editing when I’m done. It’s like a catharsis, getting it out on paper so I can stop thinking about it and move on. Being retired now and having more time to actually write helps a lot.
Was that hard? (I am asking because I appreciate what you've done in striking that balance - it's unusual)
You’re talking about publishing two magazines, along with everything else. There again, I have everything streamlined down to where I can do an issue of Yellow Mama or Black Petals in about one day, so it’s not much of a strain. I build everything ahead in templates, then it’s just drag and drop, copy and paste. As for the other things I do, I am a blood services driver for the Red Cross and I ride motorcycles a lot. I get a lot of my best ideas during driving time on the road.
How do you go about your writing from idea to final draft?
I don’t really do drafts and I’ve never written an outline. That’s too much like work. Sometimes, I’ll create a character or a couple of characters and set them up in a situation and let them tell me their story. Usually, when I finish what would be the first draft, I make very few changes. I tend to correct as I go, I can do that without losing my concentration. I’m a stickler for punctuation and I love writing dialogue. This drives my spell-checker nuts, because good dialogue is all about slang and dialect and accents . . .things that computers tend not to understand.
What advice would you have for young writers?
Pay attention to craft. Buy a good dictionary and a thesaurus and use them. Not to try and impress an editor with your word knowledge, but to impress with a nice, well-written, mistake-free manuscript. At the same time, most editors love a good story that pulls them in immediately and won’t let go. When you write, try to “set the hook” on the first page, or better yet, in the first paragraph. Craft is important, but most editors would take a story from a writer who can spellbind, rather than just spell “bind.”
What advice would you have full stop?
Don’t get upset about rejections. Just because Stephen King sold his first short story at 13 and made it big-time doesn’t mean we all will. I still have the first ten-dollar bill I ever made from selling a story, framed above my desk. The most I have ever made is a hundred bucks I won in a contest one time. If you’re writing for the money, I hope you don’t eat much. For me, it’s always been about my stories and my characters and knowing there are some folks out there that like my stuff. The point is, you will get rejections. Trash them and move on. Pay attention to the advice you get along with those rejections, though. You may be doing things wrong that you don’t even recognize. I once had an editor tell me I used the word “had” too much. He was right. “Had” appeared 34 times on the first page! Something to be learned there.
Don’t give up because of rejections. A lot of the time you have to know your audience and what they like. If you write for that audience, chances are the editor will like it, too.