Interview with S.T. Gulik , Author of “Birth: The Exquisite Sound of One Hand Falling Off a Turnip Truck (Chakra Kong Book 1)”

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

I can only speak for myself. I’m fine one-on-one with anybody. I can talk about anything all night long. But I’m not outgoing. The more people are around the more awkward and antisocial I become. Maybe it’s because people tend to bring the worst out in each other. People find common ground in their flaws more easily than in virtue.

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

No, that’s what editors are for. Editors are as vital to literature as the words themselves.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

I don’t work in a specific genre. Labels make it easier to market a product, but they limit the potential of art. The Chakra Kong Trilogy is a dystopian comedy that follows a misanthrope through a series of adventures that develop his personality and spirit to the point he becomes a god. It takes place in the future and across multiple planes, has elements of suspense, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and bizarro. There are quite a few complex romantic interests. It could be described as an apocalyptic spy novel, or philosophical slapstick. My books are for people with ADHD who need something extraordinary to keep their attention.

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

I can’t read my own handwriting most of the time. I’m also not a great typist, so I’m completely dependent on my computer. I’ve played with dictation a little, but the sound of my own voice distracts me. I used to romanticize the idea of typewriters. I even bought a neat old-timey one. Then I realized I can’t spell, I’d have to learn how to use it, and that the finished product would have to be put into a computer eventually if I ever wanted anyone to see it.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

Lol, I’m still waiting. Writing is a compulsion, for me. Not a desire. I don’t feel a connection to my gender, race, etc. I could have been born in any body and feel just as alien, but I would always be a writer.

Do you think writers have a normal life like others?

There is no such thing as a “normal life”.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you? – I start out with a few ideas I want to explore and base characters on interesting case studies. I’ll start writing with only a basic idea of the story arc. As the story progresses, I become more aware of what it’s really about and continuously refine the arc to accentuate the meaning.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

That look of disappointment and revulsion in the eyes of strangers between when they ask me what I do and when they make an excuse to walk away. Or, if you mean of actually writing, avoiding clichés in a time when everything has been beaten to death.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last?

I have two blocks, but they are very persistent. They mostly try to sit on my keyboard or nudge the mouse off the table with their tail. Grease can be stuffed in the space between me and the arm of the chair (I write in a La-Z-Boy recliner). He seems pretty happy there. Romana tries to claim the right arm of the chair, but that’s where the mouse goes, so I make her go to the left arm. They’re a little distracting, but I work around it.

Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

Adderal and smaller pets.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

I read as much as I can. Favorites are Tom Robbins, Robert Anton Wilson, Jonathan Safran Foer, Thomas Disch, Phillip K Dick, Allen Moore. For new talent CV Hunt, MP Johnston, and Jeremy Shipp.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

A big part of writing well is trimming fat. Every edit, I try to reduce the word count by about twenty percent. I may be a little obsessive, but the end result is a smooth, quick flow that gets better all the time.

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I use Carol Scarr at Pharosediting.com. She is amazing.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

That it conveys its meaning. I hate when I finish a book and don’t take anything away from it.

If you had the choice to rewrite any of your books, which one would it be and why?

I might rewrite “Muffy” someday. It needs an overhaul. I had no idea what I was doing when I put it out. It would also be fun to develop those characters more.

What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

I like books that stand out. – If the cover isn’t interesting, why would I think anything inside would be.

Have you ever designed your own book cover?

Yes. I designed the art for “Birth”, Justin Talarski painted it, the I added the title and did the book design. I made Pussy from scratch using public domain images and gimp software. It’s pretty fun once you get the hang of it.

Does a bad review affect your writing?

Yes. I love bad reviews because they point out what I’ve done wrong. They help me avoid making the same mistakes again. Good reviews are also good. I’ll take what I can get.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Buy stock in Google and Tesla.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Critique groups are a great way to get free editing and learn how to polish your style. There are groups in every city. If you have trouble fitting meetings into your schedule there are plenty of online groups such as critique.org. This is also a great way to make contacts that can help you at every stage of the process. When you think the manuscript is finished, it’s not. Get a professional editor to tear it apart. It’s expensive, but totally worth it.       

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

Porn star. I knew older people spent a lot of their time trying to get laid, and some people even paid for it. When I heard there were people getting paid to do this really fun mysterious thing I was more than intrigued. This was before I knew people got paid to play video games. I also considered being a rock star, an actor, and Ginger from Gilligan’s Island.

Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?

I think it was Bunnicula by James Howe. It was about a cat and a dog who think the new bunny is a vampire, so they try to protect their people from it. I loved the whole series. It’s probably why I have a weakness for puns.

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

Imagine literary fiction got drunk and passed out at a frat party then woke up naked and pregnant. My style is the ugly baby she never could bring herself to love. It grew up hating its mother and everyone who might have been its father. Eventually it went to clown school, but its humor was too dark. It got expelled and ended up doing freaky private shows for rich weirdos. It’s theme song might be Nina Hagan’s cover of My Way.

Do your novels carry a message?

Yes, lots of them. Often, they conflict. Sometimes I agree with them. My goal is not to impart knowledge, but to inspire thought through contradiction.

How realistic are your books?

Lol. In my latest book, Sex: Busier Than a Three-Legged Cat Trying to Squeeze Blood From the Tip of an Iceberg”, an army of colorful extraplanar bears do battle with a Lovecraftian blob monster, and that’s pretty tame for me.

What books have influenced your life the most?

The Mythology of Transgression by Jamake Highwater. The Collected works of Franz Kafka. Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson. The Businessman by Thomas M Disch.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

I’m working on the third book of the Chakra Kong Trilogy, Death: Journey to the Peak at the Center of the Horizon of the Final Frontier. Also, Sausage Press is about to open submissions for a collection of allegories tentatively titled, “Flight of the One Winged Flopsy”.

Who are your books mostly dedicated to?

The prettiest one.

Writers are often believed to have a Muse, your thoughts on that?

Chakra Kong is a true story that hasn’t happened yet. Eris showed me visions of the end of humanity and wouldn’t stop bugging me until I wrote them down. I’m not sure if she’s trying to make it happen or prevent it. Maybe she was just bored. In my case, my muse is a chaos goddess brandishing a shotgun. I keep telling her I don’t believe in her, but she won’t go away. She says she doesn’t believe in herself, either and that the fact she’s still brandishing a shotgun means she’s real.

Poets and writers in general, have a reputation of committing suicide; in your opinion, why is that the case?

I would say it has something to do with formatting e-books, but this has always been a problem. My guess is that you can spend your whole life pouring your soul into a project, then thousands of dollars polishing it up and getting it to market only to find you are a single drop of water in the literary ocean and in direct competition with every other person who has ever told a story (Shakespeare, Kafka, Madonna, etc.). Add in the fact that most people these days don’t read much and it’s amazing any of us are still alive.

Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy, how true is that?

ROTFL! Thanks for that. I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. Most of the writers I know can’t afford name brand ramen.

Is it true that authors write word-perfect first drafts?

Somebody probably does. I do about three drafts, then run it through a critique group, then pay a professional to hate on every sentence. I didn’t do that with my first book. It did surprisingly well because many readers are willing to overlook flaws so they can enjoy things. It still drives me crazy that I didn’t polish it up more. I think that’s common, though. Most writers hate their first book for some reason or other.

They say books die every time they are turned into a movie; what do you think?

Movies are a different form of storytelling. Literature is more immersive, so it’s more intense. Plus, you don’t have to worry about fitting it into 90 minutes. I usually read the book or watch the movie, not both. Seems like a waste of time. One is going to make you hate the other. That’s why I haven’t read Everything Is Illuminated yet. I loved the movie. Jonathan Safran Foer is one of my favorite writers. I know the book is way better, but I don’t want to ruin the movie for myself. I also have hundreds of books I haven’t read yet. I have a serious collecting addiction.

Whose work do you enjoy reading the most?

Robert Anton Wilson and Tom Robbins are tied. Robbins is definitely the better writer, but Bob is Bob.

Do you believe it is more challenging to write about beliefs that conflict with the ones you hold yourself?

Not for me. I enjoy arguing with myself. My characters have argued all kinds of crazy points. One of my characters was a prostitute who got herself hooked on heroin in order to simplify her life.

What do you do in your free time?

I play and design board games. I’m working on one where you’re trying to escape a haunted forest and another heavy farming/area control/resource management game.

Given the chance to live your life again, what would you change about yourself?

I’d have been born independently wealthy and huffed less paint.

Have you ever considered writing an autobiography?

I definitely will. I’m a shapeshifting cockroach cursed by a god. That’s good reading.

Huh? – I was born a cockroach and became human later. A few hundred years ago this alchemist screwed up an experiment and made me immortal. I traveled the world. Sometime last century I met Eris and worked with her for a while. One day she turned me human and disappeared. A few years ago, she turned up again demanding I be her doomsday prophet. We sort of glossed over that, previously.

Do writers become narcissists once their book starts to sell?

Many authors are narcissists before they’ve written anything. Success doesn’t do us anyone any favors where personality is concerned.

How critical are you in your evaluation when you are reviewing someone’s work?

I’m brutally honest, but it comes from a place of love. I want brutal honesty. It helps me improve. Buy there is a big difference between being honest and being mean.

Which book would you want adapted for the silver screen? – Crossed would make a great HBO show. I’d rather see books done as TV. It’s easier to fit the whole arc in without gutting it.

Although all books say that all the characters in the book aren’t real or related, but are they really all fictional and made up?

People who know you are always going to see something in there that makes them think this character is that guy, or whatever. If I put a real person in there I tell them.

Which of your novels best describes you as a person?

“Sex” particularly the character Puff. She’s a flying kitten with a unicorn horn and a dark agenda.

Did you always know that you were destined for literary greatness, or you, as they say, “stumbled” upon it?

I stumbled, stubbed my toe, lost a couple of teeth, and cracked my head on it.

How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”? – Music helps first drafts. The rest of the time it’s a distraction.

In case one or any of your books honor the big screen, which book would you like it to be?

Most of my work would require a massive budget. I use lots of weird creatures. There’s a lot of violence and stuff blowing up. “For Fear of Poking One’s Own Eyes” could translate well, and it could be done on a reasonable budget. That’s my second novel, currently unreleased. It needs more polishing. I wrote a bunch of screenplays, too. If there are any filmmakers reading this, hit me up.

What advice would you like to pass on to young writers of today that is unconventional but true?

Kill some unlikable person before you can be tried as an adult, then make a reality TV show about your hobby of hunting down other serial killers who got away with it. When the show ends you can write about the experience.

Do you wish your first novel hadn’t been the first to introduce you to the world?

Yes. That was a mistake. It doesn’t matter how much subtext is in there, people always get hung up on the extreme sex and violence and think that’s all I’m about.

Do you blog?

Yes. You can find it at http://sausage-press.com/#blog.