This is an interview I did with my new publisher Zimbell House. My co-author J.K. Ishaya also has one on their site you can read here. Enjoy!
Kenneth Mader, co-author of Afterlife, Book One of The Arcadia Chronicles
ZHP: Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
KM: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, primarily the relatively small town of Arlington Heights, Illinois. Suburban life certainly influenced me. It was a safe, supportive community, which allowed me the freedom to explore that creativity and develop skills I use to this day. Within that suburban environment, my parents were also very supportive and encouraged me into the creative arts, which was a blessing I remain grateful for. Whether writing, music (I’m a musician as well – a drummer), or filmmaking, they never wavered and were always there for me.
ZHP: Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
KM: I don’t recall if it was the first, but Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain was an early and profound novel for me, opening my eyes and soul to science fiction.
ZHP: What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
KM: Coffee. Then, the opportunity to create something meaningful, that someone else might find meaningful in their lives. I remember a woman coming up to me after experiencing the short film that inspired Afterlife, saying how emotionally powerful it was for her having just lost her sister, and that she wept at the end. That was it for me, and I knew I had achieved something by having reached her on that level. There’s also a kind of wish fulfillment scene in my feature film Displacement, which is very personal to me that tends to tug at the heartstrings of fans. That type of resonance with an audience, even if it is just one person, is why I do what I do.
ZHP: When did you first start writing?
KM: I was young, eight or nine maybe? I remember reading a lot and jotting down stories and ideas. I had a notebook in which I would doodle ideas at school. Pretty sure that still exists in a box somewhere. Need to find that.
ZHP: What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
KM: I love creating. Dreaming up new worlds and characters and also infusing them with a purpose and themes that speak to my own beliefs and aspirations. Entertaining stories with compelling characters that also “have something to say” about the human condition. That’s what really gets me out of bed each day.
ZHP: Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
KM: In terms of long-form, I wrote a story about an earthquake that strikes Chicago after learning of a little-known fault line that runs through the Midwest. I actually sent that story to Steven Spielberg’s office (I was a young budding filmmaker and he was my hero), and received the kindest, encouraging, and most gracious rejection letter from his then-assistant. I think I was 13-years-old at the time. She became my first mentor of sorts, offering advice and assistance. I have that letter framed on my office wall to this day.
ZHP: What advice would you give a new writer?
KM: Read. A lot. Learn the craft from other writers you enjoy. Live life. Have some experiences. Observe people. Interact with them (in person not just on social media). Then write. A lot. Get those ideas down. Even if you think your writing sucks, just push through to the end and “puke it onto the page”. You can always “mop up” later. Finishing a thing is an enormous accomplishment many new writers don’t achieve. So never give up, especially now, with so many new opportunities to get your work out there.
ZHP: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
KM: I’m also a filmmaker, so when I’m not writing I’m usually filming what I wrote, or working in post-production on those projects. On the rare occasion that I can break away, I love the beach and getting out in nature.
ZHP: What do you read for pleasure?
KM: Mostly genre fiction and non-fiction.
ZHP: Who are your favorite authors?
KM: Michael Crichton, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Alistair MacLean, and Dean Koontz to name a few.
ZHP: What are your five favorite books, and why?
KM: Oh boy, that’s a tough one. There are so many. Let’s see …
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. One of the first cautionary tales I read when I was young that introduced me to the science fiction, doomsday, and medical thriller genres. Crichton was masterful in my opinion at grounding his fiction in plausible science. I’ve been hooked ever since, and try to do the same with my writing.
Ghost Story by Peter Straub. As an October baby I’ve always loved Halloween and all things ghostly and supernatural. This book brought me into that world like no other and launched my fascination with horror and supernatural fiction writing.
Needful Things by Stephen King. It’s difficult to pick a favorite King book as there are so many and they are all such unique and fun reads, but for some reason this one stands out for me. Perhaps because I read it at a significant moment in my life when I was making my first feature film, and connected with the story and characters.
Communion by Whitley Strieber. My fascination with the paranormal and all things UFO-related since childhood came to a head with this book, which frankly scared the bejesus out of me. Books don’t normally keep me up at night. This one did. And that image on the cover. The creepiest thing I’ve ever seen. To this day I have a hard time looking at it.
Deadly Feasts by Richard Rhodes. It’s a non-fiction narrative that reads like a medical thriller. A fascinating account of emerging diseases, which was an enormous influence on a fictional story and screenplay I wrote now being developed into a feature film and novel.
ZHP: What is your e-reading device of choice?
KM: I have an iPad, so on the rare occasion that I read an e-book it is on there, but I’m old school and prefer reading paper books, hardcover if available. I find it to be a much more organic and tactile experience that allows more immersion into the story. Plus for me it’s easier on the eyes than a backlit screen, which I look at all day long in my filmmaking work.
Excerpt of Interview with Kenneth Mader about his process:
ZHP: Describe your desk or writing space.
KM: My desk is currently a black modular wooden affair with leather executive chair. A large decorative hourglass that a colleague gifted me sits on one side to remind me that “time is relative”; movie related knick-knacks on the other including Blade Runner collectibles, a wax Bad Robot from a meeting I had there, a little Buddha card holder displaying a friend’s charity slogan “Kindness (Show It)”… On a shelf in my office is my Humble Beginnings Museum – a collection of the first Super-8 cameras I used when I was a kid, old film editing blocks and the like. Another wall of shelves are full of books, hardcover and paperbacks, fiction and non, that I reference often while writing.
But most often I write on the couch at night. I’m more of a nightowl and find I’m most creative after sundown. Laptop or iPad or legal pad/notebook are the tools of choice, as I still do some writing longhand depending on the mood that strikes me. When I do write at the desk it’s usually on my laptop or iPad, with feet propped up, and a cup of coffee.
ZHP: What is your writing process?
KM: I tend to start with nailing down the beginning and the ending. For me, I need to know how the story starts and where it is headed in order to write it. I know some writers like Stephen King and certain writer friends of mine prefer to just let it reveal itself as they go. I have yet to be able to write that way. I typically work out a “beat sheet” to nail down the broad strokes of the story, then begin fleshing out from there. It probably derives from my training and experience as a screenwriter, which is a bit more of a structured process.
ZHP: How do you connect with your muse?
KM: My muse tends to find me. Most often in the bathroom. Inspiration usually hits while in there for some reason. Perhaps it’s the solitude where one can quiet one’s mind to allow the muse in. Nature is another place. A trip to the woods or the beach helps. I also find it helpful to look back on what I’ve done the past year or update my bio, which reminds me of things I’ve accomplished and serves as inspiration to push forward with new ideas.
ZHP: Is procrastination an issue for you?
KM: Absolutely. In fact, answering these questions could be considered a form of avoiding writing at the moment … albeit a constructive one.
ZHP: What motivated you to become an indie author?
KM: I’ve been dabbling with the idea for years. I’ve started many novels. Having become a successful filmmaker and screenwriter, indie author felt like the next step in my creative evolution. It is also a far less costly undertaking than filmmaking, and with the changing publishing landscape, allows one the opportunity to get one’s stories out into the world and retain a degree of creative integrity, rights retention, and control over the work not always available in the film world or traditional publishing.
ZHP: What advice would you give about writer’s block?
KM: Don’t beat yourself up about it. We all experience it. Embrace it as a part of the process, and just try to push through and get something on the page. Allow it to be bad if need be and don’t be too precious about your work. You can always go back later and rewrite. In fact you most certainly will. The best advice I ever got from an author friend was the phrase “puke, then mop.” Just get something on the page. Alternatively you can attack a different scene or chapter. That is another advantage I’ve found to beating out my stories in advance. It helps overcome blocks. Finally, if none of that works, step away and clear your head. Treat yourself to a nice dinner or mini-vacation. De-stress as best you can. That’s what works for me.
ZHP: What’s the story behind your latest book?
KM: The Arcadia Chronicles: Afterlife -co-written with J.K. Ishaya- follows the story of Elaine Ways, a young mother and competitive martial artist, as she seeks to protect her child and discovers a bizarre conspiracy tied to her husband’s murder and her sister’s involvement with a government funded experiment that takes Elaine on a quest through the afterlife and self discovery.
About four years ago, in the midst of finishing production on my latest feature film Displacement, I had this nutty idea to develop a book series based on my short story and film Passing Darkness. My partners on that project and I had actually been developing longer-form ideas inspired by that story for nearly ten years; I had written a feature-length screenplay based on them, then developed a TV series and wrote a pilot script, after which we started developing a web series … all the while the world we were creating continued to grow.
I had actually begun adapting a couple of my other scripts into novels at that point, and writing in the narrative fiction form had been an enjoyable and rather freeing process from writing in the somewhat rigid screenplay format. So for about five minutes I thought I could tackle that task of writing the first book myself. Then I looked at everything on my plate, with finishing and releasing Displacement filling most of it, and realized that if I didn’t want this to take another ten years, I needed help.
That’s when I reached out to my friend and colleague J. K. Ishaya. We had collaborated in the past on a screenplay together, and the process went quite well. Plus, she had already published novels in a similar genre and was familiar with the project, the two of us having met through the sound designer on Passing Darkness. So I called her up and proposed a collaboration.
But not just for one novel. In looking at all the material we had developed over the past many years, and the world we created, I believed there was enough material for an entire series of perhaps 3-4 books, maybe more. It was a vast universe we could play in that was ripe for novelization across multiple volumes. Thankfully J. K. agreed, and in March of 2015, we hatched a plan to create The Arcadia Chronicles.
It took over two years to complete the first book, Afterlife, writing when time allowed between survival jobs and life interruptions. Once finished, we began submitting the manuscript to publishers last year, and after many months of waiting (and not less than a couple rejections), on January 9th we received the offer from Zimbell House, and here we are.
ZHP: What are you working on next?
KM: We have begun work on the next book in the series, Archangel. It will continue to follow Elaine on her journey after the evolution that took place in book one as she is forced to fight a new looming darkness.
Given how well this process has gone thus far, I am also planning to finish adapting other screenplays I’ve written, beginning with a supernatural thriller entitled Deep Focus. It is a passion project of mine that has spent years in development and is ripe for novelization.
ZHP: Do your fans impact your process?
KM: Yes, their reaction can certainly influence things going forward. At the same time, as an artist I need to write what I feel and go where the story and characters lead, then hopefully that will connect with the fans on an emotional level.
ZHP: Do you use Social Media?
ZHP: How can your fans connect with you?
Website and or Blog site: http://www.kennethmader.com