I often say ” When the student is ready the master appears “.
I found my Mentor , Sensei , Teacher in Kris. We met through Facebook and in less than a year he helped me evolve as a person and as a writer and still continues to do so. It is an honor to feature this exceptional human being and fabulous writer on my blog.
Kris Saknussemm is widely acclaimed cult novelist and multimedia artist. Born and educated in America, he has lived most of his life abroad, primarily in Australia and the Pacific Islands. He is also a painter, sculptor and musician.
The reason I wanted to do this interview with Kris is personal. There is something unique and rare in him, a flame that needs to be shared. Only once in lifetime one comes across someone like Kris who can lend you a hand and help you take those baby steps with so much encouragement and caring that you gain an inner strength to realize your dreams. I learned a great deal from his perceptions and impressions.
He is an amazing writer and one can draw life from his words. The richness of his work comes from his being fully awake to the life around him.
Hope you will learn something valuable from this interview. It has been a pleasure to know him and an honor to share his thoughts with all of you. Outrageously Brilliant , he will make you long for more. If you love bizarre , sci-fi, mysticism, tribalism, totemism, magic and humor, ancient rituals and cults , erotic and supernatural and are willing to be led where He wants to take you then you are truly alive and awake to life and beyond.
Do open the links to discover more.
How did your love affair with writing begin? Tell us about it from where it began.
KS – My family was very story oriented, both in the sense of reading literature, and anecdotes and tales told around the table or in the car on trips. The latter was an assumed family skill. To this was added a kind of private superstition of mine from early childhood that words were somehow alive. So, I arrived at writing from several angles. The decisive moment came when I realized very practically that I would soon exhaust one of my favorite series of books—so I appropriated the characters and began creating new stories of them for my own. I remain very sympathetic to fan fiction as a consequence, and to the incorporation of famous characters from literature in new contexts.
What ignites your inner fuel? Does being wakeful and sensitive to your surroundings help you to create more than any other thing?
KS – I think writing, in fact any artistic activity, is based on a fine balance of being hyper-alert to what’s going on around you—and then being able to switch off and to go inside, to process and imaginatively reconfigure those externally derived perceptions and observations. The mind is both inside and out, and is forever dynamically shifting those boundaries, defining them, revising them. So, you have to stay in rhythm with those oscillations. I’ve also found that the practice and pursuit of art makes one more attuned to the levels of things “going on around.” For instance, there’s an interesting conflict going on right now in my office between a spider and a moth. My dog is having a dream. My local council is about to decide an important town planning issue. I just Googled on the latest developments in the Middle East uprisings. Checking my e-mails, I see I’ve been offered the chance to be a book reviewer in the USA. And then I get a call from a Call Centre in India regarding my water bill, which is overdue. We live on so many levels today. Art should make us more sensitive to their complexity and interaction.
There is a mysterious world that emerges out of your writings. A world very few like to venture into. Tell us more about it. What gives birth to these characters in your works?
KS – I lived a pretty adventurous life at various points in the past, and I was fortunately exposed to lot of the things that I think promote creativity—even if they’re terrifying or sad in the moment. But my greatest inspiration is a very rich dream life, which has been the case since my first memories. I’m not always influenced by any one specific dream—more by this pervasive certainty that there’s a whole other multidimensional world that I’m part of, which I can only take fragments of back to so-called waking life.
What is your idea of a good work of fiction?
KS – One that works on both the micro level of detail, and as unified whole. Books with individual sentences I ponder over, particular scenes, as well as making me want to reread them completely. Ultimately, I believe good fiction is what makes you want to read it again. When you think about it, we apply that same criterion to music and visual art.
Do you feel that creativity becomes captive when it is up for sale? Is writing for pleasure, a free form of writing better than the formal one?
KS – No, I see great value in the disciplines of professionalism. Working with deadlines, respect for audience, diligence in fact checking where necessary, the self-control of editing and revising. I don’t begrudge people the satisfaction of creativity in any form. I encourage it absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that someone has real talent and is an artist because they express themselves. I also think that working within a professional framework humanizes the end creative achievement. Art becomes meaningful when it’s shared and there needs to be some shared risk in that. Audiences in any form enter into the work more fully when they pay for it. It’s just human nature. I think all the discussion of “commercialism” in the arts overlooks the simple spectrum principle. You can go to a gourmet restaurant for fine dining and a real experience—or you can go to McDonald’s for a quick cheap feed. In both cases however, you pay. Both are commercial.
When the musician, painter, sculpture, poet, writer Kris is resting what does the other Kris do? What are your other passions?
KS – A good portion of the rest of my time now is spent corresponding with associates, fans, agents, etc in relation to those activities—in other words the promotional, business side. Some of it is honestly hustling for attention, some of it is supporting friends and colleagues as best I can. The musical collaboration takes a lot of organizing. The intensity of the time demands had a lot to do with my divorce and the recent end of a five-year relationship. I do a lot of walking with my dog. I used to be heavily into adventure sports like whitewater kayaking. I have binges of intense new reading. But I’ve been pretty hard focused on work of late.
Share some experiences from your journey to publishing your first novel.
KS – Well, my first published novel was really about my fifteenth. I’d written a lot of highly experimental stuff that I thought was terribly interesting, but no commercial publisher agreed. They in fact seriously doubted my sanity. Some of those manuscripts survive in bits and pieces and keep insinuating themselves in new work. Others I destroyed in a fit of depression and during a period of younger drug use. My road to book publication is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
KS – I draw on skills I’ve made my living with promoting other people and organizations. So, I wanted to apply them to work of mine. There’s unquestionably a pure promotional aspect to them. But there’s also a larger and I think much more interesting desire to make the works live on more levels—to potentially reach people who may not be readers. Sharing in as many ways as the works allow.
Tell us about Clamon ? I loved the tracks based on PRIVATE MIDNIGHT and would like you to share something about them.
KS – Clamon is an informal and highly flexible arts collective of people I admire and enjoy working with. In many cases we work remotely from 12,000 miles apart. Steve Joseph in Houston is a key collaborator. Lyric Powers has done much of the main graphic design. There’s the enjoyment of a sense of tribe—and the ability to extend a concept into other media. I think extensions are something all writers have to think about today. The music reflects these other strong individual’s response to the work.
You once said “writers need to be dreamers”. For dreamers like me who are at the threshold of a door that leads to the unknown yet adventurous world of writing, what advice would you give ?
What happens when a dream is crushed or left suspended? When words shrug their shoulders and walk away and you stare into a biblioblackhole ? Did you ever face such a situation?
KS – Rejection, disappointment…the struggle to be paid—any kind of “career” in the arts is fraught with so much uncertainty and heartache this way, you have to wonder why anyone would choose such a path. So, it has to choose you. Only very hardy people can survive the hard knocks on the business front. As to the artistic challenges and crises…the times when the creative solutions aren’t coming, fatigue and depression set in, inspiration just isn’t there…I perversely believe you have to be the kind of person who enjoys those moments. Listen to what your doubt or anxiety is telling you. Listen to your anger as much as to your joy. The more you can embrace the whole of your own psychic being (with all its failings), the more you will connect with people. The crucial dividing line between the amateur and the true artist (however successful finally) is that the amateur seeks primarily approval. The artist is seeking connection and self-awareness.
Tell us about your co authors, your animal companions, and how their presence in your life made it richer.
KS – Almost too much to tell there. My dingo Gyp and my mastiff Luciano (and Tom the cat) have been extremely close spiritual companions…and also very close down-to-earth/on the bed friends. If I had to encapsulate what they’ve taught me, it’s that the spiritual and down-to-earth aren’t opposites at all. They’re the same meditation, as the Buddhists would say. They’ve also made me more aware of means, performance, and demonstration in the world. The mastiff head butts me for a pat. Well, what other means does he have? I think in human relations, especially in romantic ones, we forget there are only so many means at hand to communicate, to express. I’ve grown more appreciative of seemingly simple gestures…the apparently off-hand remark.
It often takes a good amount of courage and belief to go against the tide. What would you suggest to writers who like me who want to move away from the normal and take the dangerous road?
KS – The responsible answer is “don’t do it.” A more considered answer is to be very articulate about what you mean by the “normal.” The clearer you are about what you feel you’re breaking away from, or wanting to break away from, the more successful you will be. But I think this larger principle holds—it’s much more important what you value and are in favor of, than what you dislike or resist. Rebelling against something doesn’t necessarily give you a new direction, and we end up admiring advocates much more than critics. As my gangster stepbrother would’ve said, “Have enemies because of who’s on your side and what side you’re on.”
How important it is to stay rooted to the culture and society we live in? What if one wants to venture beyond? How do we know of our calling as a writer? Thoughts, ideas come as a deluge sometimes but how does the inner editor work? It is always turmoil for a learner like me.
KS – Can we ever escape our culture? Many have tried. They’ve moved far away physically (as I have)…they’ve adopted new ways, sometimes another language. They often seem to become more a part of their origin culture as a result! It’s always ourselves we’re in search of, and we are all examples of our cultural backgrounds, as much as we are arguments against narrowly defining them. I’m no more a representative American than you are of India. And yet…
As to managing the flood of ideas, give up. You’re a parent. I’m sure you started off with some ideal notions about raising children. Things don’t work out that way. Love doesn’t work out that way. You have to enjoy the mess of process. Be glad you have some chaos in your head and in your heart. That’s what art is all about. The only remedy is constant work and training. Like a dancer. Like a martial artist or tradesman. Like a musician. Practice the scales. Throw stuff out. Making love is like that too. We’re all pretty clumsy and foolish at the start. And there has never been in any endeavor, even among the most beautifully talented by nature, ANYONE, who couldn’t get better through work. Many people expect things to come too easily. Good things come to those who work and failure is a very fine teacher.
We have read some memorable write ups about your family. How did your growing up years influence you? Share one incident that changed the course of your life for good?
KS – My father was a complicated man-child. Frustrating, failed, impossible not to like, yet always sneaky and not entirely to be trusted. A cowardly war hero, a nervous but brilliant preacher, an alcoholic-innocent teacher, leader and lost soul boy. But once (and scenes like this repeat a lot in my growing up) we were driving through the California foothills to go fishing in the mountains. A mix of old volcanic land and terrain that had been raped by the Gold Rush and its aftermath. A blank field of jagged shale, like a dead planet, shining under hot high summer sun. The car broke down, no one around. I was about eight. Sweaty, thirsty, irritable. From his adult perspective, it could’ve been a painful moment. Then we looked out through the sun glare over these shards of thin granite and saw—literally thousands of Monarch butterflies—it happened to be that moment in the year when they appear in mass numbers. It looked like some strange imaginary storm over the stones. “Isn’t it lucky,” he said. I think about that still, whether in moments of annoying inconvenience—or real tragedy. We so want things to go smoothly…and yet we long for the wonderful to happen. Then we wonder why it doesn’t seem to enough.
Share the art of pulling together a good story especially if it’s going to be slightly away from the set “norms” of writing.
KS – I’d happily do this, if I had the answer. I remain a student. What I’m certain of is that any good story demonstrates what works in all art—some distinctive balance between intentional structure and organic, quixotic flow. I think that comes out of losing yourself in your characters. Plot really is secondary. In a great story, action and character seem to meld together. I never set out to write something odd for the sake of it—but I never dismiss any possible line of drama or scene that crosses my path, whether from walking around life, dreams, something heard from others’ experience or stray imaginings. I’m a scavenger and relentless what-iffer. As the poet Ann Sexton observed about a humble paperclip on her desk…if it were larger it would look something like a snowshoe.
Mind game and fairy tale, PRIVATE MIDNIGHT is a novel to treasure. I am half way through it and it is a complete turn on for people who love to play with primal emotions. Aren’t we all haunted by time?
KS – I think we all are haunted by time, but some are more haunted by themselves too. Often the causal factor is the denial of primal emotions—the inability to channel them—so that they can take on monstrous proportions. The main character in PM suffers this problem acutely. His past becomes a monster. El Miedo, which means The Fear.
Does your being a multimedia artist make you break through categories and bend and experiment with various subjects?
KS – It may be the other way around. Some internal drive has necessitated a multimedia response.
The Bizarro Starter Kit is next on my reading list. Why is this genre not really recognized in the fiction world when we are deep inside so much bizarreness?
KS – Oh, I think this genre is gaining great traction around the world, in underground circles at least. You can’t be alternative, avant-garde, edgy (however you want to put that) and be openly accepted by the mainstream. Bizarro is an affront to much “serious” writing and the publishing mechanisms behind that. They also value having fun with what they do. The bigger question is how they will respond when a serious major publisher offers to buy them out, which will happen one day.
In all my discussions and interactions with you as a friend, student and admirer I discovered a rich life and a beautiful heart that needs to be shared with everyone. Have you ever thought of writing a biography or a collection of memoirs?
KS – My most recently completed work is called SEA MONKEYS, and is with my agent now. It explores the childhood / coming of age part of my life.
This year has been exceptionally good for you. SINISTER MINIATURES and ENIGMATIC PILOT are already making waves and EAT JELLIED EELS AND THINK DISTANT THOUGHTS has been accepted for publication. After SEA MONKEYS, what’s next?
KS – A continued period of intensive writing, and sadly not much painting. Three other novels are in the works right now, and I’m working with Clamon on music and video for REVEREND AMERICA, which is scheduled to be released in February 2012.
Any plans to raid the sub continent?
KS – I’d love to. Probably not realistically until 2013. When there’s some more time.
What kind of readership do you have in this part of the world? Do you think people appreciate your style of writing here?
KS – Tabish Khair, a Man Booker Prize nominee did a feature on ZANESVILLE for the Indian version of the Wall Street Journal. I think I have a potentially fairly large audience. It’s arguably become or fast becoming, the world’s most sophisticated audience for literature.
You love jazz and have such a fantastic taste in music. You introduced me to a whole new world of great artists. Does music inspire you while writing like it does me?
KS – Constantly, although very often indirectly. Music is deeply mysterious, because it can be examined objectively as a system—more so than any other human creation except mathematics. Yet, if it’s just system, it’s not felt as music. I try to hear what that implies for writing as well.
Let’s talk about COLORS OF COMPULSION , your portfolio book of paintings. I have seen your graphic work and it is as mind-boggling as your prose, absolutely delicious to say the least.
KS – Thank you very much. It’s very meaningful for me, and I’ve been naturally pleased that it’s been taken up others. I’m proud to have had sales and to be officially represented, but it’s honestly my very personal amateur side. Professional validation is just a wonderful bonus in this form.
Would you like to share something I have missed and your heart desires?
KS – The only thing I can think to say here is that like every artist, I seek a certain level of success. I just would like personally to avoid the level of pretension and self-satisfaction that seems to come with it. It’s unfortunate to say the least that some of our most lauded artists become so taken with themselves they lose sight of anything else. I always think back to working in a hospital. Cleaning a bedpan brings you right down to the truth of it all. Same with burying a dog.
Any parting thoughts you would like to share with us?
KS – Stay true to your heroes. Take issue with them, try to transcend them if you can. Revise them. Discard and exchange them. But never outgrow the need for heroes.
Some more learning with Kris