Stay Hungry: An Interview with Kevin Holton, Author of At the Hands of Madness

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

Well, I can count my friends on one hand, and the number of family members I’ve really spoken to recently on the other, but that might just be me. I’ve always been a loner.

Writing is definitely something you have to do alone, for the most part. Writing involves building a whole world in your head. Sharing that world with other people while you’re still creating it risks ruining the foundation–you might get lured away from what the writing should be in favor of what someone else suggested.

I do have a few characters I really love, though, so I guess I’m never that alone, am I?

Does a bad review affect your writing?

Absolutely–in a good way. Many writers feel like bad reviews are an attack, but aside from troll reviews, or outright legitimate attacks, a bad review is simply a way for the reader to say, “Hey, this didn’t work. Maybe try something else.”

Humankind didn’t get here by accident. We thrive off mistakes. Evolutionary accidents and genetic mutations created our early ancestors. Our best inventors first had to screw up a lot to find what didn’t work. Even Stephen King wrote a few ‘meh’ books before coming up with Carrie.

When I get a bad review, I step away from my ego and think, “Is this a way I can improve, or would ‘correcting’ this impair my writing style?” Then I proceed accordingly.

Are there any books that you are currently reading and why?

I do a lot of reading for reviews, and I support a few people on Patreon, so I get books coming in all the time. Right now, I’m reading The Detained by Kristopher Triana, and Breathe, Breathe by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi. The former’s extreme horror, the latter is a mix of short fiction and poetry. I like pushing my own boundaries and keeping myself confused. Read the same stuff too much and you get stuck.

How do you see writing? As a hobby or a passion?

Some write as a hobby. I don’t believe I was ever given a choice. Growing up, I was reading college-level books around 3rd grade. One of my grade school teachers told me off for reading Heinlein’s Puppet Masters.

Around 9-years-old, I was reading a Stephen King novel (can’t remember which) in the back of my dad’s car, and just sort of knew. I stopped, thought to myself, I’ll be like him someday. I’ll have my own books. And now I do. I’m no major name yet… but call me in a year and let’s see where I am.

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

Hahahahaha I didn’t even write a word-perfect first draft of this sentence. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but no, nobody writes a perfect first draft unless they plan the entire thing out ahead of time, right down to how many pages/words per chapter, or have some sort of savant-level way to memorize every word they plan to write before putting the words on the page.

I write freeflow though (I don’t plan, I just sit down and start typing), so a lot of the time, I’ll think of a twist halfway through, then edit to foreshadow or generally set it up. Might color my perception here a bit.

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

Pft, nah. People talk in all different ways, so unless you’re writing academic non-fiction, you oughta be a little loose from time to time. Everyone has different voices. A statement like “To whom are you speaking?” fits for a university professor, but wouldn’t make sense if you attributed that line to a five-year-old, or the acne-ridden teen serving soft-serve ice cream at some Mom-and-Pop in NYC. Being “perfect” all the time makes you seem pretentious anyway–like you care more about following the rules and being “proper” than the story.

Doesn’t it bother you that when books are turned into movies, they are often changed to suit the audience needs?

I’m probably one of six people on Earth to say this, but I actually prefer they change a bit. I don’t want a true-to-page adaptation. If I know every line and twist going in, where’s the fun?

If any of my stuff gets turned into a movie, I’ll be sure to say that to the director. Some elements are important, obviously, but writing happens by yourself, while a movie is a group project. It’s the creativity and reinterpretation of a team, and I want to see what that team can do.

How much of a say do you have when your books are being adapted into films?

That hasn’t happened to me yet, but I am writing a screenplay. If you do that part, you have a little more control. Otherwise, adaptations are usually brought to life by the writer meeting the studio heads, selling the rights, and walking away. In fact, saying you want control can kill the deal.

But! Important note to all you writers who haven’t done this yet: some studios like to buy the rights to things, then will just sit on the rights. It builds the company’s value since they own more things, but they may never actually produce a movie. Make sure there’s a clause like “All film rights revert to the author if no movie is produced within two years of signing this contract.”

An automatic reversion-of-rights clause is the surest way to protect yourself from getting ripped off.

Fiction of non-fiction? Which is easier?

Fiction. Good gravy, why would I want to talk about myself? What would I even say? I mean, sure, I’ve been Type 1 Diabetic since I was two, so I probably could have interesting things to say. I might explore that route one day, but not right now.

You don’t have to be a writer in order to be an author–how true is that?

It’s more the other way around. An author refers more or less to the entire group of people who create the book–the editors, the publishers, the cover designers, all them. Through self-publishing, you can be the writer and author, governing the entire process from start to finish. If you pursue regular publishing, you’ll be the writer, but not necessarily the entire author.

Though I suppose, “Yes, because if you’re an editor, you’re still part of the authoring body responsible for the final worth.”

How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”?

I’ll put on ambient soundscape artists like Solar Fields or H.U.V.A. Network when I’m editing or doing a screenplay, but with fiction, I only play music if I need to block out other sounds, like nearby construction. Nothing with words, though.

If you were to change your genre, which one would you choose?

I write in a lot of genres–would I have to give them all up? I usually blend sci-fi and horror, so if I have to give up horror but can keep sci-fi, or the other way around, I’d do that. Otherwise, erotica, because it’s fun, and I’d hopefully make enough money to forget that I can’t write horror anymore.

Do you have a specific culture you like to write about?

Disability culture. My writing is full of the limbless, autoimmune diseases, the mentally ill, cyborgs, and all sorts of spoonies. As a diabetic Celiac with hypothyroidism, an insulin pump, and a continuous glucose monitor, my inspirations here should seem pretty obvious.

I don’t identify in pretty much any other demographic (as in, I reject sex/gender norms–they’re boring and outdated anyway), but biologically speaking, I’m a white male, so it’s not like I have a lot of background to write other cultures anyway.

Is there a particular kind of attire you like to write in?

I generally write just after waking up, but have to be wearing real pants. It might shock and appall people to think that I put on jeans as soon as I get out of bed, but I need pants. Weirdly, I do not need a shirt, and have frequently written without one.

If you were given a teaching opportunity, would you accept it?

Not at a university, because I’m sick of the way those institutions exploit their adjuncts. I wouldn’t be able to stomach showing up and teaching a guest lecture, probably for exorbitant pay, when I know there are people teaching 2-3 courses, usually at 2-3 universities, to make ends meet, because they’re getting roughly ten grand a year. Can you tell I used to be an adjunct, too? Emphasis on “used.”

Were you a troublemaker as a child?

No, but I’ve always been a rebel. A sneaky rebel, mind you. I was never one to stay out late or yell to get my way. I like to keep quiet and worm my way through the system, twisting things to suit my end so I wind up where I want to go pretty damn easily.

How long do you take to write a book?

I write 2k a day, like the aforementioned Mr. King, and a novel is ~50,000 words, so about a month, if I have a good idea for one. Sometimes I get distracted and do short stories for a while, but this particular book, At the Hands of Madness, took about 22 days to write (exceeded my goals some days), a week to edit, then I sent it off to Severed Press, so around a month from conception to submission. Obviously, it got accepted, so that was pretty fun.

Do you prefer being intoxicated to write? Or would you rather write sober?

I don’t drink or do drugs, which makes me feel like a traitor to my craft. There’s such a long, colorful history of society’s greatest writers getting blasted out of their minds on (name it) that for me to basically be straight edge seems to be a form of heresy.

But, I abstain because I’ve been diabetic for nearly my entire life. I already have enough risk factors for my health–don’t need to push that.

It’s also weird because I tend to write about drinking, drugs, etc. quite a bit. Granted, I used to drink, so I get that, and addiction falls under my interest in the disabled, differently-abled, generally altered, or whatever term you’d like to use. From that angle, it realls isn’t so strange.

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

Funnily enough, I had a different novel, The Nightmare King, picked up by Siren’s Call Publications about a month prior to getting this one picked up. Their editing process is different and involves more in-house marketing though, so we’re going a little slower.

Point is, I didn’t think this would be the first one out, but I certainly don’t regret it. This one is hella fun.

How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?

I have one book out and two books coming out, and they’re pretty much all different styles. At the Hands of Madness is pulp action fun mixed with H. P. Lovecraft, The Nightmare King draws inspiration from King and Dean Koontz, while the one I’m writing a screenplay for, These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream is thoroughly my own style.

I’ve settled nicely into the New Weird, and my work tends to feature a dash of metaphysical chaos with cutting cynicism. Also, I don’t do good and evil. Life is more complicated than that.

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

These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream. Of the books out/coming out, that’d be the one. It’s creepy, tense, and, best of all, could be produced on a low budget, so bigger studios would be more willing to pick it up.

The Nightmare King would be better as a TV show, or Netflix original. I don’t want to give much away yet, since it’s not out, but it could definitely drag things out.

What is that dream goal you want to achieve before you die?

Literary goals? A lifetime achievement award would be pretty cool, especially from the Horror Writer’s Association. If we really push things, I’d like to publish in all ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System.

Fun goals? Cameo in a movie I’m not otherwise involved with (like Elon Musk showing up in Why Him?), and to show up to a red carpet event and have someone look at me the way Mark Ruffalo looks at every other celebrity.

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

Stay hungry–literally. If you want to write for a career, or even if you’re just writing to see if people like what you’re putting out there, you need drive. You need a hunger to go, go, go, go, go–get the words down, get the word out about your book, get on social media and sign up for promotion services and use every tool you have, because if you want this to be a career, you have to treat it like one.

For a day job, if you don’t work, you don’t eat. If you don’t work, you can’t pay the bills. So, make writing your day’s first priority. Wake up, get your drink of choice, start writing, and don’t eat until you hit your goal. If you have trouble motivating yourself, a growling stomach will do it for you.

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