Kage Alan is the author of the humorous novel, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Sexual Orientation, just released by Zumaya Publications. His other books include Honor Unbound and Lord of the Loins. In this interview, he talks about his work, the writing process, negative criticism, and his fears and passions as an author.
Thanks for this interview, Kage. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
Well, I was born in a tiny village named Gershtitzleblitzen, which can be found on the cusp of the Norwegian Alps. The nuns at the convent who raised me during my formative years were very sweet and insisted that I was a shining beacon of hope in the universe who would one day… No, wait… A shining beacon of evil. That was it. Evil. Words like that tend to blend together after you turn 30.
Actually, I was born in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, and am proud to be a well-adjusted only child. It was fairly evident early on that the only way I was going to make it through adolescence was for my inner child and I to become very well acquainted. Unfortunately, he tends to be a bit of a smart alec and I learned from his example. High school was a fairly horrific experience and it wasn’t until I attended Grand Valley State University that I learned to channel my energy and ideas into something more readable. That, combined with parents who have always supported my efforts, a partner who enjoys giving me funny looks while allowing me the use of his credit card while supporting my efforts, and friends who steadfast refuse to let anything ever go to my head while supporting my efforts, has settled into the epitome of dysfunctional perfection. Perplexing, isn’t it?
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
Believe it or not, I can pinpoint the exact moment… maybe the general timeframe or, you know, year… when the writer in me first got in my face and future-quoted Britney Spears by asking “You wanna piece of me?” Imagine, Sicily 1920… Sorry, wrong show. It was 1976 and a local theatre was showing a Shaw Brothers movie from the mysterious orient — that place where technology comes from generally a year or two before we see it here — called Infra-Man. He was a lot like Ultra-Man, only his first name was Infra, which is the only way to tell them apart on paper. My inner child took one look at Infra-Man and decided that the only way to ensure there was a sequel was if I wrote it. Yes, I get to do all the work.
I later started writing puppet plays in first grade and continued doing so until fourth grade. Short stories, most of them unfinished, started bubbling out in Jr. High and high school and it wasn’t until my senior year that I started working on something much longer. That, too, remains unfinished. I started writing a novel while in college. Unfinished. See a pattern here? I didn’t. All of this was apparently practice for after I graduated from college since that’s when I finished my first book, which took 3½ years for the first draft alone. The first draft of my second book took 3½ months to complete and I believe it was a bit longer for this latest one. I figure writing must be in my blood considering I’ve been doing it since I was eight, sometimes several times a day and I’m pleased to say I’ve never gone blind doing it that often.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
My first book, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Sexual Orientation, connected with readers in a way that I hadn’t anticipated or even considered. Gay or straight, they found something to relate to with the main character, Andy, and his coming to terms with his sexuality. It’s never an easy journey no matter what one’s orientation, ethnicity, culture or gender is, and there are universal experiences we share. All I did was take something that’s frequently dramatic, turn it on its head and make it funny. One thing people enjoy doing together is laughing and as I was laughing writing it, they were laughing reading it. Straight readers weren’t threatened by anything in the story and gay readers didn’t feel cheated or pandered to. It was a fine line to walk.
I wondered if there were any further adventures for the character once that story had been told. After all, what does someone do after they come to terms with their sexuality? As best as I remember, they date. Straight people date. Gay people date. Straight people have nightmare dates. Gay people have nightmare dates. Some people think they sing terrific karaoke and they really don’t. Hmm. Could there be more universal experiences we all share? We all want the same thing at the end of the day; someone to love, someone to love us, someone to grow old with and someone to say “yes, absolutely you can go get that second tattoo you’ve been wanting!” The search for a partner is this part of Andy’s story.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
Outlines for me are about as useful as an Indiana Jones sequel dealing with aliens. I go into writing a novel knowing where I want it to begin and where I want it to end. How I get there from Point A to Point B is where the magic happens. As scenes or ideas pop up, I’ll write down dialogue or whatever bits come to mind, then figure out if they’re going to work when I get to them. Some of it will be used, some of it won’t, but the ideas that don’t will often inspire others that do.
Also, I have absolutely no expectation that the first draft will be anywhere near perfect. That’s not going to happen. I love having way too much in it because it’s easier to go through during editing and see what works best versus what doesn’t work at all. Any and every idea will usually make it in.
And this may sound a little odd, but for me, writing a book is a lot like listening to a Jim Steinman song. While there’s still structure, it’s just a little bit different than the norm and there’s a huge emphasis on melody intertwined with lyrics and music that sets him apart from other songwriters. That’s what I strive for.
Describe your working environment.
When at home, I tend to write surrounded by a number of film posters (Big Trouble in Little China, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, The Ice Pirates, Battle Beyond the Stars, Streets of Fire, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Nightflyers and Megaforce to name a few) hung on the walls, my CD collection at my fingertips, a DVD collection (if I’m taking a quick break) and constant access to the Internet. Oh, and an answering machine. I will also frequently make a CD consisting of music I feel best represents parts of the book so that as I continue to listen to it while I’m writing, I can always put myself back into that same frame of mind whenever I sit down to work.
My partner once thought a few years back that it would be “fun” to move his main computer into the same room as myself… for the company. He was mistaken. “Fun” lasted only a few minutes as he started listening to his MP3s, tapping his finger on the desk, his foot on the floor and playfully interrupting me. It was no longer “fun”. And I don’t feel that my needs are particularly complex. I’m not Tom Cruise. I’m not waiting for the Mother Ship. Aside from the posters, music and DVDs, I apparently require a little solitude. See? Simple.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos. How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I’m very fortunate to have a partner who is a computer genius of sorts. When somebody is negative about one of my stories, their credit score mysteriously takes a southern dive, their phone number disappears from the Do Not Call list and they’re signed up for Publisher’s Clearing House junk mail… along with their relatives, too. It’s not about ego. It’s about good old-fashioned red-blooded revenge.
There are people who are not going to like my books. I recognize that. There are books I’ve read that I didn’t particularly care for. A reviewer who says “This just wasn’t for me” is hardly going to be seen as a reason for me to quit. However, someone who says something along the lines of “This is the biggest piece of stinking crap that doesn’t deserve the paper it’s printed on” is bound to elicit a sarcastic response… then I’ll go order a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Sunday and make it all better.
Do we have fragile egos? Maybe. Everybody has an ego, though. It’s healthy. Putting a book out there for people to read is to put a part of ourselves out there and we hope for the best. It’s one of our children and we’re going to have a reaction when there’s disapproval. Look at George Bush Sr. His son has the lowest approval rating of any U.S. President, yet he still defends him.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
Paris Hilton’s acting.
I am the first to admit that I am my own worst critic and I’m okay with that. It works for me. If a book I’m writing has some areas that are crap, I’m not afraid to call them crap and fix them. Editing is one of my best friends and once I can read a draft of the book and be happy with it, that’s when I’ll start looking for a publisher. I’ve had very good luck with them not changing my work — not that I’m afraid of constructive criticism or further editing for the right reasons — but what scares me is that as I continue on with each book, someone may eventually want to make changes for the wrong reasons.
By that, I mean as an author who happens to be gay writing stories with central characters who are also gay, there may be a publisher who one day decides that they can sell some larger number of books to a wider audience if they just change a few things, mainly the characters. I do want success, but I don’t want the kind that means trivializing a part of my life that I choose to write about or the style in which I write it.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
Family and friends have politely asked why I can’t write something a bit more mainstream. If you look at the stories, though, they are mainstream. A college student takes a vacation and comes to terms with his sexuality. Hmm. Never heard that one before. Now we have the sequel. A college student has a heck of a time finding love. Does it get more mainstream than that? The difference is that instead of your teen sex comedy where the main characters happen to be straight, we now have a teen sex comedy where the main character happens to be gay.
It’s important to me to keep writing stories dealing with characters who are gay because I’m also demonstrating that there are similarities between them and their straight counterparts. We may very well be more alike than not, yet that belief is a difficult one for some people to realize. Another theme that emerges in the sequel and is carried over into the book I’m currently writing is a relationship between two people of different cultures, American and Chinese, which mirrors the relationship I’ve been in for the past 13 years.
Both of these themes are a bit of a rarity in literature and as long as I feel I have something to say about them, I’ll continue to write with them in mind.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!