Today I bring you my friend Kevin Cunningham, author of To Hell With Fate. I’ve known this guy for years, almost exactly five of them now. Wow, how time flies! He’s also been helping me with editing. I think he could aim pro! He’s multi-talented in writing and tech, and an all-around great guy and friend. Now if only he wasn’t a San Francisco Giants fan. 🙂
Read for a brutally honest and eye-opening interview with Kevin. Especially catching is how he met the editor-in-chief who approved To Hell With Fate for publication.
What inspired you to start writing?
The truth is, writing always found me rather than me finding it. In high school, I had to stop doing athletics my freshman year due to my grandmother getting sick, and my mother had to take care of her, thus I lost my ride to school. The only afterschool activity with someone from my particular suburb was journalism, and thus started a four-year journalistic career. When I was in college, the only elective that was available to me was screenwriting, which led me to a cinema degree. When my photography business was going under in Los Angeles, and I felt homesick, I was asked to write stories about my hometown San Francisco Giants. That started a decade as a sportswriter, and my current side gig of writing a webcomic about the Giants. About the only writing I ever was inspired to do on my own was poetry in high school, and I don’t remember why I got started. I just kept doing it because the girls liked it.
I hope none of it ever sees the light of day.
Who have been your biggest inspirations?
I wish I could say writers like Neil Gaiman, Aaron Sorkin and Mark Twain, filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and David Fincher, musicians like Aerosmith, and so forth. But usually not. Well, maybe musicians like Meat Loaf. The real inspirations in my life are the people in my life. More of the things I’ve written have been based on the friends I’ve had and the strangers I’ve run into. If I feel inspired by the masters who’ve I read and admire, I usually just end up feeling inadequate next to them.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I’m not sure I really want to be a writer. Being a writer is tough. It’s thankless. Everyone thinks they can do. Quite a few of them actually can. There’s a competition in this business that I’m sure Johannes Gutenberg never envisioned. And it’s an industry in such flux and weakness these days, both in terms of fiction and journalism. You’d be crazy to want to be a writer.
But I write. Some people think I’m good at it. And I can’t stop myself from doing it. So, I’m a writer.
Where do you do most of your creative imagining?
The shower. And driving. There aren’t many places in the world where it’s impossible (or damn dangerous) to pull out a pen and paper or an iPhone to jot down notes, but damn if God or The Universe (whichever you care to believe in) hasn’t found a way to find the few places where I can’t to try and strike me with inspiration.
Which of your character creations have been your favorite, and why?
Oof, that’s a tough question. I think my favorite character is one from a screenplay I wrote, and who is going to be in a future novel/short story series of mine, a guy named Albion. He’s a fairy, but the kind who looks human, is old, keeps a neatly trimmed grey beard, and likes to pontificate, especially when no one is interested. Yep, this will be my entry into the world of fantasy. But he lives in the human world, and has for a long time, and unlike every other character, human or non-human that lives in the human world in a fantasy story…he likes us humans. He views us with the wonder we view all these fantasy realms we have created. Even in his old man crankiness and one liner whips at his contemporaries, he still loves where he chose to go. It’ll be a unique character in the world of fantasy.
Um…I probably shouldn’t have told you that. Please wait until after I write it to shamelessly steal that character bio, okay?
Which of your character creations has been your least favorite, and why?
That’s a tough question…do you mean least favorite to write? Or my least favorite human being in terms of his (or her) world? There’s a character I’m writing right now for an adult-oriented comedy who’s just a douchebag. I mean, seriously. He’s one of those dudes you see at bars, who’s drinking himself into a good time, and he does it all the time, and he just doesn’t give a shit about if you are. And you can tell what part of his good time he’s in by how he’s treating you. I hate guys like that. Part of it’s my personal self-esteem issues. Girls always like those good-time guys, it seems. I really hold animosity for how those guys act to me, and how they act to the girls I often like (or even those I don’t care about). But they are people, too. And I have to write this guy sympathetically.
Someone’ll tell me it’s healthy and character building. But seriously, fuck those good-time guys.
Tell us about your first and most recent manuscripts. What have you
learned in the time between them?
That’s a tough question, since I’m only working on my second novel, so I’ll cheat. I wrote my first screenplay in my aforementioned college class. I was supposed to have 20 pages for my final. I had 140 pages complete draft.
It sucked. Oh my God, it was bad, right down to the title “Kids Got It Easy.” Keep in mind, I was a 19-year old punk writing this.
I kept trying to write a story that was different, something unique that no one had ever heard before. And in the end, I was writing the same ol’ teenage tripe that would go straight to VHS. (Yes, I’m old, deal with it. At least I didn’t say BetaMax.) It wasn’t because I was a dumb kid with no experience in life. It was in how I thought other people wanted to read a story. I was wrong.
The beauty in life are the things we see everyday. They’re the same things we all see, at different times, in different ways. And a lot of the time, people don’t want to see different, or unique. They want to see, and read, the things that we all have been through. It’s how we connect, and feel connected to others. It’s the same reason why we hear the same damn pop songs every five years. There’s nothing new there, it’s how each generation bookmarks our own lives. What’s Lady Gaga to our generation was Britney to another generation, and was Nirvana to my generation, and was the Beach Boys to another, and Elvis to another. But every generation deserves their own bookmarks.
That stupid “Kids Got It Easy” script was the heart of my first novel, “To Hell With Fate.” You couldn’t recognize it if you just read the two of them. It evolved a few times inbetween, and I wrote other things; screenplays, short stories…all sorts of stuff. But I guess I really wanted to tell that story.
What have you learned that would have been helpful to know when you
write your first manuscript?
Frankly, it’s the technical stuff. Writing in this day and age, it’s changed from pen and paper. We all use the computer, and it’s made things a hell of a lot easier…and a hell of a lot tougher. In the process of writing my first manuscript, I learned a lot about the things that writers need to know about things technically: How to use styles, how Headers and Footers work, the difference between a Page Break and a Section Break. (Keep in mind, I use Apple’s Pages software rather than Word, and it’s a hell of a lot easier than Word’s mishmash of commands.) Too often, the technical stuff would get in the way of my writing, and that’s a bad thing.
Every writer I have met struggles with stuff like that. Even those that think they know have a lot to learn. And when it comes down to it, knowing your technical side will make any writer look better to whomever they’re sending to, whether it be a peer, a mentor, an editor or a publisher. If you know what’s what about how to format, it’ll make others think of you as a better writer. It’s like saying that a painter who puts a better frame on his work will be regarded as a better artist, but it’s the way of the world.
What piece of writing advice has bent the most useful?
Fuck people. Because, well, fuck ‘em. They suck. They’ll tear you down. They’ll hate your work. Or worse, they’ll not care about it. They won’t read it. They sure as hell aren’t going to buy it. And you want them to like it?
Figure out who you’re writing for. Tell your story to one solitary person. Or for one solitary person, even if they won’t get to hear it. Maybe it’s your father or mother. Maybe your kid. Or your niece. Or that neighbor kid. Or your best friend. Or that cute girl that you just can’t find a way to talk to. Or somebody you saw on the news. Or maybe it’s even yourself, you greedy bastard. But whomever it is, figure that out. That person is all that matters. Make them happy. Screw everyone else, because it ain’t for them. You make that one person happy, and you’ve done your job.
And, ironically, that’s what’ll make other people like what you’ve done.
I can’t remember who gave me that advice. But it’s the best damn advice I’ve ever heard.
What was the query process like for you?
Oh, don’t make me answer this. I kind of cheated. At my real job, the one that pays, I was talking about that first manuscript to a coworker about how excited I was to be getting it down, and how good it was coming out. And another coworker was sitting right next to me. When I’m done, I see that other guy sitting there looking at me slack-jawed. I’m like, “What?”
He says, “You know what I do when I’m not here, right?”
I shake my head.
“I’m editor-in-chief of an ebook publishing company,” he said.
That didn’t get my book published. He doesn’t indiscriminately publish co-workers, and has even turned down his boss, the lady who is in control of whether or not he can get a promotion at the paying job. My book had to be good. But, he was willing to read it, no query letter needed. I lucked out.
Also, it taught me that editors-in-chief of publishing companies outside of the big few also have to have ‘real’ jobs. Remember that. We all do it because we love writing and stories, not because of the awesome salaries. So don’t sell them a story. They might have to work sales in their ‘real’ jobs. They’ll know a sell-job. Make them want to love your story, instead.
And any other questions you’d want to ask yourself. :)
Q: Seriously, what the hell was I think when I did that thing with that girl?
A: Damned if I know. And this very non-specific, generic question applies to a lot of things I’ve done with a lot of girls. From high school to college to last New Year’s Eve. Sometimes it’s been great at the time. Sometimes it wasn’t. But I keep feeling the need to apologize for all that stupid crap of done, because usually I’m not thinking, I’m just doing.
When I write, it’s usually because I get to think about it, think about what the right thing to do was, and pretend like that’s what I did.
Yeah, I admit it, the girls are my favorite inspiration. Still are, for all the good it’s done me.
Q: Vampires or Werewolves?
A: You’re doing it wrong.
Q: 50 Shade of Grey?
A: ..Is what you get in a low-quality gif of a black and white film. Also, it’s giving disgusting, perverted and quite possibly twisted people a bad name. Seriously, that’s not cool.
Q: If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
A: Living the things in life that would make me want to write about them.
Q: Are you single?
A: I hope that if you’re asking this, you’re beautiful, creative, just the right amount of crazy, think that 50 Shades of Grey is a farce rather than a bucket list, believe that there are happy mediums in a world of polarizations, can find a way to admire Hilary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice and Sasha Grey, and think that I’m more funny than lame, but are okay with the fact that I’m lame, too. (Note from Alys: Ladies, I can honestly tell you Kevin is a sweetheart. He’s the kind of guy who is open, honest, respectful gentleman. Any lady who ends up with him is going to be a lucky one.)
Q: Are you serious?
A: Am I supposed to be?
To Hell With Fate is currently available through the publisher’s website for 30% off! To Hell With Fate at Untreed Reads (I, Alys, have one of the few, if not only, print version, which makes me quite thrilled and honored.)