Today I have the pleasure of hosting fiction author Kenneth Radu. I met Mr Radu at the first reading I event went to. His stories were amazing. After the reading, he was kind enough to answer my question but also to ask me a few questions about my own writing. I feel honored that he accepted to be featured on ATUA.
Would you say you’ve always been a writer or that it’s something that came later in life? Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Before learning how to write connected prose, I do remember imagining stories or vivid scenarios as a young child walking to and from school and during periods of play. A pretty consistent phenomenon, but not one peculiar to nascent writers as most children live as much in their imagination as they do in actuality. Why some continue beyond that age to immerse themselves in extended fabrications, or jot down notes for narratives, or create fictional people, thereby acquiring or claiming some sort of distinction by virtue of being a writer, is anybody’s guess. Once I entered secondary school writing became an integral part of my day. My first stories were written at that time, including two bloated and derivative novels before I was eighteen, plays, poems and short stories, all more or less copying the writers I was reading as an adolescent. I read omnivorously in all genres. I can’t remember the name of my first story, although one play was called The Locked Gate, a heavy-handed and implausible mix of Eugene O’Neill and Chekhovian drama. There was a coffin on stage for the duration of the performance, and the characters lamented existentially and tragically about its occupant and their own unsatisfactory lives. The play was performed on stage and entered in a local drama festival where it won a prize. I have never stopped writing since then.
At what point did you decide to make a living from your writing?
Well, like many writers I have never made a living from writing. It is something I do, but not something that has paid for my keep. There are writers who made a conscious decision to live by the pen, and have done and do so successfully. I think of Mavis Gallant or Mordecai Richler, or Charles Dickens, and various contemporary novelists and freelance journalists here and elsewhere who earn their living as writers, but their numbers are not legion. It wasn’t something I really thought about. In my last year of high school, I did make a conscious decision, however, to live a life of literature; that is to say allowing literature to help me decide what was important to me and how I would make money, if not directly through my own writing, then in a related field like teaching.
Throughout your career, you’ve written novels, short stories and poetry. Is there a genre that comes more naturally to you?
Poetry has this mysterious allure for the young who almost universally write poems, usually lyrics, as if the genre itself is closer to how they feel and think. I wrote poems then and throughout most of my writing career until I stopped several years ago. I’m not sure what it means to say “a genre that comes more naturally to you,” as I believe that poetry is arguably the most “natural” of all genres, but it is not something I write anymore, finding more satisfaction in the artifice of fiction and sometimes non-fiction, including essays about art that appeals to me. As for novels and short stories, subject matter, character, situation and sense of completion determine my answer to what comes more naturally. The idea or story also determines the genre. A short story is a magnificent challenge: to achieve much in little space or run the risk of saying less than meets the eye, but the novel allows for development, expansiveness, and is more forgiving.
And is that the genre you also prefer reading?
If I had to make a choice with a gun pointed at my head, I’d choose the short story, although I read novels and non-fiction regularly and with pleasure. By non-fiction I mean histories, biographies, essays, or creative journalism, some literary criticism, and now and then philosophy. Non-fiction is such an odd term really. Sometimes I think we should take a lesson from the French and refer to non-fiction collectively as Essais et documents, but it sounds rather too archival and technical in English. Of course, I read poetry also even though I stopped writing it.
Are you working on a new project at the moment? Can you give us the scoop as to what it is?
I am always working on something because writing is what I do on a daily basis. I have recently completed and revised a novel. As I write the answer this question, it is being copy-edited and prepared for forthcoming publication in 2014.
Painter Chuck Close Once said, "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just shows up and gets to work." How do you "get to work?" Do you have any ritual or specific requirements to get the juices flowing?
I have tried to avoid writing rituals as I find them somewhat restrictive. For a while, I wrote in the morning but have broken that time pattern and now write during various periods of the day and evening. Inspiration comes and goes, if by that one means a sudden revelation or uncontrollable urge to write a poem or story. Like Chuck Close, I don’t require inspiration. I sit down and write. The act of writing inspires itself, and indeed “inspire” may be too inflated a concept, too romantic for my taste. The work is always present, always in my mind, and the passion for writing is endless. The creative process can be deeply complicated and subtle. Oh yes, often I write to music of a certain kind, and enjoy a tea break during an afternoon of writing. I don’t know if that can be considered ritualistic.
What is the one advice you would like to share with aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Read widely, read much.
Our previous guest, architectural photographer Parham Yazdi, would like to ask you the following question: What are the steps of writing a fiction book? Do you just imagine the events as you go or do you plan first and write next?
If there are steps they don’t follow any logical sequence. I begin the day with breakfast and then write. Or, depending upon season and weather, go outside to putter about the gardens and write later. Other matters claim one’s attention as well. I don’t live in a vacuum or cork lined room. The ending of novel may occur to me before the middle. An idea might have been lying dormant for months, longer even, before I write it down into something resembling coherence. I don’t map out stories or novels until after the first draft which allows me to see what I’ve been doing more clearly. With essays I prefer to get a draft down quickly in one sitting, writing as many as 2000 words or more before I stop, and then let it gestate for a time. Events and characters in my fiction emerge from what I’ve already written, and not from what I have predetermined. There is no preliminary chart. A book is a major endeavour, and one always carries it in one’s head, so ideas connected with what the book or story is about arise in the course of washing dishes or baking bread or driving to an appointment. If suitable, I pursue them by writing and out of that writing session more events develop which leads to more writing, until I’ve produced a presentable draft in a week, a month, a year: however long it takes. And so it goes.
Our next guest will be Tania Mignaca, a graphic designer who is fast becoming popular with her unofficial Montreal mascot, Ponto. What would you like to ask her?
Looking through your online portfolio, I would ask what elements or aspects of Japanese art, traditional or modern, most influence your own work.
See a review of Kenneth Radu's lastest short story collection, Earthbound.
Are you an author? Would you like me to interview you? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be my pleasure to showcase your work!