RP: Did you intend to write one or more follow up novels to A Life Transparent from the start, or did you decide later on that you had unfinished business to take care of with The Liminal Man? Have your readers seen the last of Donovan Candle, is there more to come, or is his future literary life still undecided?
TK: I originally wrote A LIFE TRANSPARENT as a standalone novel, but a couple of years after the release of the first edition, I had a strange daydream about Donovan Candle tied to a chair and locked inside a room. I didn’t know how he got there, or who put him there. The image persisted, and in late January 2009, I decided to find out—and that’s how THE LIMINAL MAN came into being.
Although I’d planned for TLM to be the last story, my editor insisted I reconsider, as the original ending didn’t fit with the novel’s overall tone. She was right, of course, and earlier in 2012 I began jotting down notes for a third novel. So yes, readers can expect one more story about Donovan Candle, but not anytime soon. I’m going to spend 2013 promoting TLM and working on some shorter fiction for a collection. Once those stories are complete, I intend to begin work on the final book of the Monochrome trilogy.
RP: Some writers plot out each scene in advance while others prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. Which is your technique and is there anything that made its way into The Liminal Man that you did not plan or expect?
TK: I used to be a “pantser” when I was younger, but not so much anymore. My free time to write is limited, so I like to know what I need to accomplish when I sit down to work. This doesn’t mean I have a rigid plot outline—I find that if I know what’s going to happen before I start writing, that kills a lot of the magic and surprise. At the same time, I have to know where the story begins and how it ends before I can begin working on it.
There’s plenty that found its way into TLM that I didn’t intend or expect. The character of Kale, for example, wasn’t mean to be anyone important. In my original notes, he didn’t even have a name—and then he showed up again in chapters two and three, and before I knew it, he was integral to the plot as a secondary villain. I also didn’t expect a certain ambiguous character from ALT to show up in TLM’s pages, but he did so toward the end of the second part.
This is the beauty of connecting the dots in between the beginning and end. There’s still room for plenty of surprises even if you know where you’re going to end up.
RP: I'll give you a thirty minute head start in the race to trademark "pantser". To what degree if any did you borrow from your own life to create Donovan Candle's real world, and to create the Monochrome? If Donovan could bring you along to visit a world created by one of the sci-fi authors you most admire, which one would it be?
TK: I borrowed quite a bit from my own life. Donovan’s world is a bizarre mirror image of my own. When I originally wrote ALT, I commuted to and worked in the city of Reading, PA five days a week, and so a lot of that geography found its way into both novels. In the first book, Donovan spends a good deal of time commuting to work and listening to the radio. He works at a job he hates for terrible people who don’t care about him, and he’s deluded himself into believing that he’s doing well in life even though he’s slowly, silently stagnating. People always comment on how well the mundane grind of 9 to 5 is captured in that first book, and there’s a good reason for it: that was my life every day, circa 2006.
In response to the second part of your question, I think it would be cool to visit the world of Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. I wouldn’t mind living in Green Town for a while.
RP: Who do you envision portraying the main characters in The Liminal Man if it was to be made into a movie? Who would you pick to write a song for the soundtrack?
TK: That’s a good question. I once told my editor I could see John Hamm (Don Draper from Mad Men) playing the part of Donovan, but in retrospect, I think Hamm would be a little too old. Maybe Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Tom Hardy?
As for the soundtrack, that’s an easy one: Trent Reznor. His music inspired the general mood of the novels, so having him and his longtime collaborator Atticus Ross score a film adaptation would be perfect.
RP: And here I was thinking you'd be leaning towards Justin Bieber for both leading man and soundtrack. It has been said that being an indie author allows one to write outside the box that traditional publishers are looking to neatly place their next Best Seller into. This allows indie authors to uniquely tell the stories they are compelled to deliver. Do you feel there are elements to your writing undervalued by The Big 6 that readers have appreciated?
TK: Short answer: Yes, I do think so.
Long answer: The Big Six want fiction that sells. They’re businesses, after all, and that’s what businesses do: turn a profit. If you look at their publishing model from that angle, their search for derivative, “successful” fiction makes sense. Unfortunately, the art factor tends to get a little watered down in the process. I’m talking about the hundreds of Twilight and Fifty Shades copycats that hit the market once those novels became million-sellers.
Indie publishing—and really, indie authors—are at an advantage in the respect that they can stand out by offering something different. I chose the indie route because I knew that traditional publishers wouldn’t like my work for its unconventional merits. I write horror stories, but they’re also thrillers, mysteries, suspense, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, and philosophical stories as well. You can’t package that and put it on a bookshelf. There isn’t a category for it. If your book can’t fit into a single category, it’s harder to promote and sell. The Big Six would say “There’s no market for you,” and in some respects, they’re right. My sales echo that.
But they’re also wrong to an extent. Last year my first novel peaked at #2 in horror during a free promotion, and I’ve heard from a lot of people since then who enjoyed the hell out of it because it wasn’t a typical horror story. They appreciated that the book had an underlying message and were eager to read the next book in the series. This proves there is a market. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to get to those people.
RP: The tiny six million self publishers each hope to put out fiction that sells as well. If only there was a magic formula that guaranteed success. But what fun would that be? Has a reviewer ever said anything about your writing that surprised you with an unexpected interpretation? Has a review ever gotten under your skin, and if so, were you able to refrain from responding? What are your thoughts on the online bickering between readers and writers that has drawn attention recently?
TK: I’ll answer these in order:
1) Yes. It’s funny you ask that, as I recently just had a review for TLM over at Horror Novel Reviews in which the writer touched upon a secondary character who, in the context of the story, isn’t even a real person. He’s a figment of Donovan’s imagination, speaking in place of Don’s conscience, and the writer went on to say that this character is one of the most important in the series. I really didn’t expect that. Another example is from several years ago, in which one reviewer suggested ALT is, on a deeper level, an indictment of corporate American society. Although that was never my intention, I can’t disagree with their opinions.
2) Oh yes. A couple of years ago I made the mistake of sending ALT in for review at a place that really had no business even reviewing a book such as mine. They ripped it to pieces, spewing venom in all directions. I’m convinced they impaled my book on a spike and planted it outside their office as a warning to others. I never responded publicly—you simply can’t, because everyone is entitled to their opinion—but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting. I retreated from promoting for several months because of that incident, and now I research extensively before sending out my books for review. A trendy “hipster lit” magazine has no business reviewing speculative fiction. Lesson learned.
3) Regarding the recent cases of online bickering: I think writers should know better. People have different opinions, and sometimes a book ends up in the wrong hands. ALT was once picked up by a book club whose favorite titles were all contemporary women’s literature. Big surprise: they all hated my book. Things like that happen all the time, and you just have to bite your tongue and move on—because people are allowed to not like what you do. Bickering with the readers is a bad move because, no matter what you say or how right you are, the act of public fighting is going to paint you in a bad light. In situations like this, I have to fall back on an age-old saying: be the bigger man and walk away.
RP: I couldn't agree more that writers need to do less bickering, more working on the next book to bicker about. It's been a pleasure chatting with you, Todd. Best of luck.
“Bad Omens” – Excerpt from The Liminal Man by Todd Keisling
He glimpsed movement from the corner of his eye, but when he turned, he saw only a scrap piece of paper caught in the wind. It scraped across the pavement, down the steps, and under his car.
The door to the building shot open, startling him. A woman in a thick winter coat emerged from the opening. She stepped out onto the top step, lifted a handkerchief, and hacked into it for a good minute. Her coat was tattered and dirty, covered in some sort of gray sludge. The woman surveyed the empty street, squinting against the early afternoon light, then turned and coughed again. She wiped her nose and spat.
Donovan watched, frozen in place and unsure of what to do or say. The transient slowly turned her head. The wild look in her eyes gave him a chill. “The fuck do you want?”
When he spoke, his throat felt stuffed full of cotton. He fought to keep his composure, and after a few agonizing seconds he said the first thing that came to mind: “Do you know what happened to the children?”
She curled back her lip into a toothless snarl. “S’pose I do,” hissed the crone. “Seen what he did, too, and good riddance to ‘em all. Spies ‘n traitors ‘n everyone who don’t serve the king burn in Hell. Did ya know that?”
“What king?” he asked. “Who is this ‘king’?”
“The Monochrome King,” she went on.
A pit opened in his stomach, threatening to swallow him from the inside. “You mean Mr. Dullington? He’s here?”
The woman waved her hand to the sky. “Somewhere.” She grinned that horrid, empty grin like a rotting jack-o-lantern. “Somewhere over the rainbow.”
Donovan’s frown prompted her to let loose a wild cackle. He realized he wasn’t going to get any answers, and was about to walk back to his car when her laughter ceased.
She took two long strides toward him, and stopped so close he could smell the stench rising from her body. “I know you,” she said. “He knows you.”
Donovan paused. “Who?”
“The king. He knows you. Knows us all. Over the rainbow, under it, other side of the darn thing where the colors don’t show. He knows, and he knows you, and we’ll all be seein’ you soon.”
Donovan stepped away from her. He suddenly felt very vulnerable, remembering he had nothing but his hands with which to defend himself. A scenario flashed before him: this filthy hag leading him into the depths of Winthorpe Station, where he would be cornered, robbed, and brutalized at the hands of an army of homeless people.
But they’re more than just homeless, whispered Joe Hopper. They’re lifeless and empty, hoss. They’re the Missing.
The hag cackled once more, and he recoiled from her acrid breath. He watched as she did an odd dance back across the pavement toward the open door. She sang, “He sees you sees me sees you sees us all!” as she went, and stopped in the opening. Beyond it he saw what appeared to be stacks of televisions, what might have been an entire wall of them, all blank and gray and busy with static.
“The king sees us all,” she finished, “and we’ll all be seein’ you soon.”
She closed the door. Its hinges groaned. Then she was gone, and he was alone on the steps of the station once again. The exchange left him reeling, drained of his last ounce of determination.
He retreated to his car, realizing that he was not ready to make that descent after all.
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