Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Interview with Kergan Edwards-Stout

What inspired you to write your first book?
Over 12 years ago, out of the blue, a line popped into my head:  “James Baldwin once wrote that Americans lack a sense of doom, yet here I stand.”  At the time, I didn’t know where that line came from, who was speaking it, or what it would become, but that line stuck with me, eventually becoming the first line of the novel. I’d read Giovanni’s Room many years ago, and that concept, that Americans lack a sense of doom, really resonated.  Except, for me, having lost a partner and many others to AIDS, I feel as if I’ve known doom all too well.

Is there any special method to your writing?
I try to serve the story, in whatever way I think fits best.  I’ve written light, funny things, as well as darker, moodier work.  Songs for the New Depression walks a balance between comedy and tragedy, which is very challenging.  

How many hours a day do you spend reading/writing?
Wow—Great question!  It took me over 12 years to write this first book, which happened in fits and starts.  I have two kids, as well as a full-time job, and it is really hard—at the end of a long day—to fit everything in.  But I finally decided that if I was to finish the book, I’d have to sacrifice in order to do it.  So I started getting up each morning at 5AM to go to the gym, which then gave me more time later in the morning for writing, and I also started saying “no” to my kids—which is very hard to do—but I made it clear to them that when Daddy is working, he needs to focus. 
A typical day is 1-2 hours, but if I have extra time, I put it towards writing.

What inspires you to continue being a writer?
I was reminded again, when Steve Jobs died, of how fragile life is.  He had a great quote about how our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  And that is just it:  find your passion and do it.  Otherwise, you’re just wasting hours, instead of finding life invigorating.

If you could have been the author of any novel, which title would it be and why?
I am a huge fan of Armistead Maupin, who wrote the Tales of the City series, all of which are just brilliant.  I love his ability to quickly draw you in, sketch out the characters, and involve you emotionally.  With each of the books in that series, despite the lapse of time from first book to the last, he was able to really capture each of those specific eras, and bring them and the people who lived then fully to life on the page.  I try to do the same with my writing.  His series remains instrumental in my life, and every few years, I pick them all up and read them again.

Do you think you will ever change audiences?
So much of what I see and write is framed by my life experiences, and as I’m a gay man, that is a key element of most of what I write.  However, after my next book, a memoir, I’m looking at writing a novel based on a screenplay I penned, which is very much for children.  It mixes elements of Harry Potter and the movie A Christmas Story, and takes its readers on a fantastical journey.  Definitely a different audience!

What advice would you give anyone who wants to become a published author?
Do your homework and learn everything you can.  While I first tried going the traditional route, sending the manuscript to agents and publishers, I finally decided to do it myself.  My book is literary fiction, and as there is a glut on the market, publishers aren’t interested.  Not knowing any better, I almost went the Lulu route, as many of my friends had done, which—for me and my ultimate goals—would have been a mistake.  Instead, I formed my own micro-publishing company and am releasing the book through that.  Having it come through a company gives it more cache than the other route, and by cutting out the middleman, the royalties are much better.  For anyone considering this option, check out Aaron Shepard’s book “POD for Profit.”

And do you have a list of favorite books/authors?
I have very eclectic tastes.  I love Michael Cunningham’s work, particularly The Hours.  Robin Lippincott’s Our Arcadia I found really wonderful.  Writer Louis Bayard has moved into genre stuff, which doesn’t always appeal to me, but his first novel is a really fun romp called Fool’s Errand.  And I love nothing better than curling up next to the fire with a Maeve Binchy novel.  In fact, much of today’s literary fiction I find over-written and hard to connect with.  Sometimes, when it comes to a good read, storytelling and simplicity beats technique, hands-down.