AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jake Kerr

Tell us about your latest story.

My story “The Adventure of the Further Adventures of the Star Wanderer” is a humor piece that io9.com published in September. It’s a satire of the movie industry’s addiction to rebooting franchises. You can check it out here: http://jakekerr.kinja.com/the-adventure-of-the-further-adventures-of-the-star-wan-1265525480/1266157583. Some of the comments on the story are hilarious, so don’t forget to read those.

You haven’t done a Kickstarter before, but at least two of your stories are very much “format stories” like the stories in this anthology will be; that is, the format of the story will, at least in part, shape the story. What is the appeal to writing stories like that, and how do you approach writing such stories?

There are two ways to approach stories like that: The first is that the story itself is best told in an atypical format. It almost demands to be written that way. “Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince” is like that. My intent was to tell an epic story about a man and an event but do it without the reader directly seeing either one. I felt that the story would feel bigger if I told it in relief, rather than directly. I also felt that with so much white space that the reader would be able to be more collaborative and immersed in the story—using his or her imagination to fill in those spaces.

The second is creating a story around a structure. This anthology is a good example of that, as is my story “Requiem in the Key of Prose.” I started “Requiem” with the structural idea after a rather petty bit of inspiration: I had seen too many writers have their stories put down by beta readers for using tools like passive voice or second person. So I wanted to create a piece that would showcase effectively using prose techniques. This modest spark led me to think of music and the magic of Penn & Teller. One of the things that Penn & Teller often do is show you how a trick is done, but then they do the same trick using a different method that surprises the audience and leaves them with a feeling of “How did they do that?” So with “Requiem” I purposefully picked an overt structure and a very simple plot, with my goal being to surprise the reader by somehow still making them care about these characters and their story.

So that is the challenge of this anthology: We as readers know what to expect. We know the structure. We know what the writers are going to throw at us. Despite that, can the writers still make us laugh, cry, or get lost in the world of the story? It’s not a simple challenge.

Your first published story was nominated for the Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. What’s your secret?

Well, before I published my first short story I had written nearly 2 million words over 20 years. Not to mention I had an exceptional education in literature and writing. Also—and this is very important—I had incredible help honing my fiction at the Writer’s Garret Stone Soup critique group in Dallas. Nothing can help you improve more than writing a lot, doing fiction exercises, and having excellent readers let you know what you’re doing wrong. So the secret is basically hard work, dedication, and constantly learning from others. Which isn’t really a secret at all.

How do you think Kickstarter and self-publishing platforms (like Amazon’s KDP, etc.) are changing publishing?

Those are two questions. Epublishing has changed the game for authors in that there is now limitless shelf space and even the smallest authors have access to that shelf space. That’s huge. Big publishing houses have spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars getting their books in bookstores. And those were just table stakes! After that you could begin the marketing.

Today, there are no table stakes. You go right to marketing, and while that important first step is now open to independent authors, the best marketing exposure is still in the hands of a few publishers. So epublishing is one way that the world has changed: Independent authors are now in the book selling game, and publishers are now, more than ever, moving into the marketing game. They are chasing the next big blockbuster. But, make no mistake, just being in the game for an indie author is huge. You never know when a book will take off like Wool. It could be you, young writer out there.

Kickstarter and its variants are basically the venture capital of the book publishing world. It’s start-up capital to fund a business that would otherwise not exist. That kind of thing allows for a wondrous explosion of opportunity. Of course most of them will never achieve a sustainable long-term success, but that’s true of everything. What we have now is the ability for a magazine or an anthology or a book to get that initial funding, that initial push. The big mistake you see is when a magazine or anthology sees Kickstarter as its business model. It’s not. Use Kickstarter to build the time you need to create that business model, what they call in the venture capital world a “runway.”

What’s coming up next for you?

Next for me are final revisions on my novel. It’s a young adult Urban Fantasy set in 1938. I’m also going to write a few stories during that time, but my focus at the moment is longer works.

BONUS: You apparently were important in Nickleback’s rise to superstardom—so much so that they gave you one of their platinum records or something. What do you have to say for yourself?

When I was a writer at Radio & Records, I was a strong supporter of the Nickelback single “Leader of Men.” It was a modest success but was liked by enough people that it gave them a head start when “How You Remind Me” came out. I remember the GM of the label playing “How You Remind Me” before the album came out and asking me if it should be the first single. I said no. I picked “Never Again,” which I thought would get them bigger traction at Rock radio. Shows you how much I know. Despite that gaffe, the label sent me a platinum record for my support of the band. I’ve also had lunch with them at Houston’s in Los Angeles. Great guys, but it still didn’t stop me from making fun of them in my humor story published in Unidentified Funny Objects. I hope they didn’t mind.