In what may be his first interview, I ask my questions to Lou Wellman, host of the wonderful KUForum on the (almost) eve of the new kuforum anthology of summer shorts.
How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?
As someone who is not what you would call an established author with an identifiable fan-base, I tend to write what fits best with my ideas and mood at that particular time. As I have only written short stories to date, the style tends to vary. I don’t know whether this is because I haven’t quite found my niche or if it’s just a by-product of being indecisive. Usually I will start with a notion of the way I want the story to ‘feel’ – whether it’s going to be more down to earth with modern takes on language, or more traditional with the slightly more archaic language you would find with Poe or Lovecraft. I don’t know if I would want to compromise too much to make something appeal to the mainstream, but it’s difficult – some of my ideas are fairly left-field and perhaps go further than I would want to push readers this early on.
What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.
My writing so far has been focused mainly on horror, because as a genre it’s something I understand. I’ve always had a passion for written horror and one of the reasons I love it is because it doesn’t have to be confined to what you would normally class as a mainstream horror novel – the best aspects of horror can surface in fantasy, thrillers and contemporary fiction quite easily. People tend to perceive horror as being about monsters or ‘slashers’ and I think this can be credited in part to the filmmakers who seem so intent on sticking to the same old formulaic plots. This and the currently burgeoning market for Vampire romance.
Personally the authors who appeal are Poe, Lovecraft, Sheridan Le Fanu and the many others who have tempered their horror with beautiful prose. I’m not completely stuck in the past however – there are plenty of modern writers who have successfully integrated aspects of horror into contemporary fiction like Iain Banks and Joe Abercrombie. Stories like The Wasp Factory and Best Served Cold, which really do have a dark undercurrent running through them.
Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?
I do keep some notes around on the iPad, but most of the stories unfold in my head. I will try to work through a scene when I am out walking or in that stage where you’ve closed your eyes but not gone off to sleep. I’ve often found myself re-running the same short segment over and over as I try out different ways for the plot to react with itself.
How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed like...er...bunnies)?
If it’s a really good and it can fit with the story then I may try to work it in, but otherwise I’ll stash it away for a rainy day. Being a novice, I’m finding that I have tons and tons of ideas and this is really useful. I’m sure they aren’t all good, but it’s worth keeping them for times when ideas may be thin on the ground.
How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with ?
There is definitely a bit of me in there somewhere and I guess this would be the same for many authors. I suppose it’s what makes your writing your own and not just a facsimile of authors who have influenced you. Oddly enough, someone asked me whether the story Love Transcending which I wrote for Hearts and Arrows was autobiographical, which it definitely wasn’t although I did draw extensively on the feelings I had at that age rather than actual events. Whilst I’m talking about that story, it was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever written and in retrospect probably difficult for the reader as well. I don’t think my writing skills were quite to the level where I could adequately communicate the emotions the story was supposed to unleash and in the end I think a lot of people just weren’t able to ‘get it’.
The story I am writing at the moment that will (providing I can ever finish) be published in the forthcoming ‘summer’ anthology is led by a very disturbing character and written in a very experimental style. I think (god forbid) there is a part of me in there somewhere but certainly not to the same degree. I can’t really say much more without spoiling the surprise, but I think it’s going to be one of those stories you either love or hate.
Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?
As I’m always short of time what with juggling my day job, forum business and personal life, I probably don’t become as engrossed as I should and my writing is sporadic and done in little fits and bursts. My wife is very supportive and helps me greatly by reading and proofing for me and also providing a fair critique.
What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?
I’ve mentioned some of my favourite authors above, but in general terms, what I really like from a book is a story which can make you forget the world around you while you are reading it. I tend to prefer fast moving storylines as a rule, but I also have a love of epic fantasy when it’s well written, for example Gormenghast, A Song of Ice and Fire and The Malazan series by Steven Erikson.
I’ve also had a lot of pleasure reading books written by indies and in particular those who I have grown to know from KUF – I think the Kindle has really opened this up for me as I was never much of a risk-taker with expensive printed books.
How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?
I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that I feel gutted. I do try to proof read my work as much as possible and also recruit others to do the same, but it’s inevitable that some slip through. I have found that most of the errors occur when I make last minute revisions and this is something I need to be careful of. A lot of it comes down to timing as each time I re-read I tend to want to refine things and then the deadline starts to creep up. This probably isn’t the best way to do things, but I am still learning.
The worst thing for me though is that I have a fear of plot holes, which borders on obsession. I seem to be coping better now, but I still spend an unhealthy amount of time stressing about events and situations and how plausible they might be. This is really daft for someone who has grown up on fantasy and horror.
What do you like most about KUF ?
I love seeing readers and authors interact. This is one of the most important aspects of the forum and something that you yourself play an enormous role in. It was always my goal with KUF to bring harmony between the two parties because this is something so lacking in other similar communities.
What is on your near horizon?
I have started writing my first full novel, although I’m taking a break at the moment to write a couple of things for the forthcoming KUF anthologies. Whether it sees the light of day any time soon really depends on how hectic my life is and if the story is good enough to outlast my occasional bouts of self-doubt. I do love writing short stories though as they suit my sometimes short attention span. The story I’m working on at the moment is the longest I have written so it could be a good grounding for actually knuckling down and finishing the novel.
Where can we find you for more information?
You can always find me hanging around on http://www.kuforum.co.uk