Short Fiction – The El Pino Ruins


“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asked.

They were sitting on the steps of an old church overlooking the cemetery.

“No, I don’t.” He replied. “Why? Do you?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do, but not like those described in books. They don’t exist. It’s just fiction.”

“Are there any other kind of ghosts than those we read about in books, Pia?”

“Of course there are. Real ghosts, they’re everywhere. Just because you don’t see them it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Some people can’t see certain colours but that doesn’t mean those colours don’t exist.” She smiled. “Ghosts don’t haunt graveyards or deserted old buildings. They aren’t transparent and don’t evaporate into the mist. That’s all bullshit.”

Federico looked into her big, hazel eyes and forgot the conversation they were having. He wondered how anyone could be so beautiful that they were able to stop time at will. He remembered the day she’d breezed into his book café wearing a bright floral dress, her hair cascading in lazy spirals down her slim shoulders. She’d stopped near the vine of wild roses at the door and gazed at them for a moment before entering the shop and Federico was certain she carried the fragrance of the flowers with her. For twenty minutes she stayed in the shop, and Federico forgot what straight thinking was like. She seemed friendly and had bought a little basket of cookies and empanadas from the counter. He gave two complimentary slices of fruit cake, something he’d never done before. She thanked him for the gesture. The memory of her voice kept ringing in his ears for days afterwards. He knew she didn’t live there but he’d seen her around town sometimes, walking along the river bank where he went fishing. He’d even spotted her on Sundays among the church goers.

It was the last Sunday of the month in which she’d first visited his café and he was standing outside the church trying to spot her as the congregation emerged. He was watching the sea of people so intently that a tap on his shoulder made him jump.

“Dios mio! You scared the wits out of me.”

“Were you looking for someone?” Her gaze lingered on his face which had turned the colour of beetroot. She giggled like a little girl.

“Oh… no not really. I was just…”

“I’m Pia.” She extended her hand. For a moment Federico stood transfixed by her presence but then, somehow, he managed to speak.

“Federico, but friends call me Rico.” He shook her hand and wished he could hold it forever. Pia also seemed to enjoy the moment.

“Let’s go sit on those steps,” she said, pointing at the secluded stone steps at the side of the church.

Rico allowed himself to be led. He heard his heart beating loudly, and was sure Pia would hear it.

 

Captivated by the natural power of the sierras and the dark brooding woods they’d sat quietly on the stairs watching the sun melt on the hauntingly beautiful mountain peaks.

The loud ringing of the church bells and the musical sound of her voice then brought him out of his reverie. He realized that Pia was talking to him.

“Lo siento. I didn’t hear what you said?”

“I was saying we’re all haunted. Haunted by the things we see, feel and by those that we can’t. Do you know what ghosts are? They are our unmet desires, our fears and longings, unfinished businesses.”

“Unsaid words, deeds not done, our struggles in the intolerant world, they are the pangs of unrequited love, betrayals, unfulfilled dreams,” he added.

“Yes, and also the echoes of the ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’ among other things. We arrive too late everywhere and we live with heartache. Then we die,” she said.

Rico watched one side of her face glow in the sun’s rays. “You seem to know a lot about these things, and if you are right, then we are all living dead carrying our ghosts on our backs,” he laughed.

“Yes, I do. We all do but seldom find courage to speak about them. Fear and guilt, two things that keep us from doing so,” she smiled even though he could sense a tinge of sadness and annoyance.

“I saw you at the cemetery the other day,” she turned to face him.

“Yes, I go there sometimes to visit my grandfather’s grave.”

“I don’t like these goddamn cemeteries. Fake people laying fake flowers every Sunday on coffins placed in straight lines six feet under. People make sure the dead don’t escape by placing heavy stones on the graves as if they would stop anything from escaping if it wished to.”

He saw the corner of her mouth twitch into a little smile that faded at once.

“But the dead need to be buried somewhere, Pia.” Rico said amused by the girl’s statement. He wasn’t a religious person but the discussion was stimulating and also he didn’t want to let her go… not just yet.

“Yes, in the graveyards. Those open places among the ruins.” She stood up and looked beyond the building. Her gaze stretching on the weathered cliff faces rising dramatically, red poppies, yellow mimosa and wild orchids tempered by the soothing green of ancient olive groves, an occasional splash of pale pink almond blossoms and remnants of  some old buildings that lay scattered on a distant hill. Rico also got up and put his arm around her. She didn’t object.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? I become calm in roaming among those ruins. I didn’t know you loved them too. I often visit the stream that runs beyond it. What a spectacular vintage point,” he said.

“It is surreal to be surrounded by death. I love the footpaths crisscrossing the mountains,” Pia said. Her eyes glinted with joy.

Rico lived for these moments.

“Have you been to the ruins and the old graveyard?” He asked.

“Yes, I have. It’s closer to my pueblo than yours.”

“Yes, I hear your pueblo is very picturesque. I haven’t been there.”

“No? You must come visit us sometime.” She said gathering her packages. “I live with my little brother.”

“And your parents?” Federico asked.

“Let’s not talk about them please.” She shifted uncomfortably and almost stumbled as she climbed down the old broken steps. Rico caught hold of her arm.

“I’m fine.” She said, her voice almost a whisper.

Federico walked her up to the town square from where she boarded the bus to her pueblo. It wasn’t far and usually people walked through the fields during the day. She too did but the darkness had wrapped the mountainside in her shroud early today. He insisted that she take the bus.

The streets were nearly empty. Federico went to the cafe which still had a few customers. He decided to stay there for a while. There wasn’t anyone waiting for him at home and he loved the warm cheerfulness of the place. He made himself a strong brew of coffee and relaxed on his usual chair behind the counter.

Later at home, Rico’s thoughts wandered to Pia. Why hadn’t she wished to talk about her parents? There was a certain sadness, Rico had always felt, behind her gleeful self. He hardly knew anything about her. The few hours he got with her were usually spent talking about books, travels and other things. She was a well informed, intelligent and beautiful woman, someone Rico would have thought of marrying. He wondered how it would be to live with her under the same roof every day, make love to her, do things together. The thought excited him. He decided to go visit her the next day and meet the brother too.

Early in the morning, he left his apprentice in charge of the cafe, packed a basket of cookies, cakes and rolls and set off. It was a bright day so he decided to walk. On the way he plucked some wild flowers knowing how much Pia loved them.

 

It took him more than an hour to reach Pueblo Blanco which appeared to tumble haphazardly from the hillside. Swathes of orange and lemon trees, bougainvillea and jasmine spread cheer all around the farmsteads dotted over the hillsides. The pueblo consisted of a mosaic of old houses, a square, a market with a bar named Alfredo’s, numerous fuentes and a school building which stood out like an eyesore amidst a cubist’s dream. Rico walked down the mossy trail waving at children who waved back at him. Any outsider to them was a tourist visiting the ruins. They smiled and posed for photographs but Rico had no camera so he did not get much attention.

 

After a little search in the pueblo with its whitewashed flat roofed houses, characteristic chimney pots and narrow cobbled streets he spotted the stone cottage with slanted red roof and a cobbled path leading to the front door.  It was at the end of the street and stood out among the terraced clusters of other houses.

 

The tinao was strewn with colourful potted plants overflowing from the edges making a stark contrast. He scanned the place for some activity but the house was quiet. He knocked at the door then knocked again. This time he heard heavy footsteps inside and the door swung open. The young man who stood there could have been written off as Pia’s twin. Slightly confused Rico fumbled for the right words while he peered into the dimly lit interior of house.

 

“What do you want? I don’t have the time to stand here.”

 

“I am looking for Pia. I am a friend from El Pino.”

 

The man had the similar hazel eyes to Pia and they were fixed on him. Rico saw the man’s pupils dilate.

 

Suddenly he pushed Rico back and shouted angrily, “Pia is dead, you hear me?” He was about to shut the door when a female voice interrupted him.

 

“Don’t be rude, Eduardo. He is a friend. Let him in.” Rico heaved a sigh of relief on seeing Pia pull the man aside to make way for him to enter.

 

“What a pleasant surprise, Rico. Welcome to Casa Luna. I am sorry about Eduardo. He is always upset with the world.” Her eyes sparkled as she laughed. Federico felt relieved on seeing her and entered the house.

 

“I have brought this cookie basket and flowers for you.”

 

“They’re lovely. Thank you. Please make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right back.”

 

Rico nodded and settled on a sofa feeling slightly uncomfortable at the fixed gaze of Eduardo who was leaning against the fireplace and staring at him. He looked around the room; it was sparsely furnished and unkempt but certainly looked well lived in. There was a book case along one wall and a side table with a chair near the big window. The heavy curtains blocked the view and he could smell a musty smell coming from them, like wet leaves. A large portrait of two children in their pre-teens hung on one of the walls. He recognised Pia immediately and guessed that the boy must be the brother. “Yeah, that’s us,” Eduardo said in a bored voice. Rico looked at him. He certainly did not look like Pia’s “little brother”. She looked much younger than him.

 

He was about to ask Eduardo about this when Pia entered with a trolley of tea and cookies from the basket he had brought.

 

“We just had almuerzo, Rico. Wish we’d known you were coming. It gets a little boring to eat alone every day. No, Eduardo? “She smiled at him as she made the tea and handed him the cup.

 

“I don’t like strangers especially those who come unannounced.” He said in an angry voice as he walked towards the staircase. For a brief moment he stopped, turned and stared at them then began to climb the stairs which creaked from his weight.

 

“Please don’t mind him. He is unwell, I’m sorry about his behaviour.” Her face seemed to have suddenly aged, Rico thought as he looked into her vacant eyes. He hated to see her sad.

“No problema Pia. I understand. Is he your brother? I thought you said you had a little brother?” Rico asked as he sipped his tea. He noticed that Pia’s cup lay untouched.

“Yes, he’s my brother. He’s a grown up child. His mind is still that of a little boy. That’s the reason he is so flustered and unfriendly most of the time.” Her voice was a whisper as if she was afraid someone would hear. She seemed totally opposite to her useful cheerful self. He felt sorry for her. He shouldn’t have come unannounced and put her in a fix. He took Pia’s hand, pressed it in his. It was cold as ice.

 

“I understand.” He said in a reassuring tone. “Don’t feel bad. I will catch up with you some other time. Need to get back to the cafe. I just visited on a whim.”

 

She lowered her head and nodded.

 

Federico got up and they walked out to the street where they stood facing each other for what seemed like ages. There was a moment of stillness between them. He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her but the thought of her brother watching from somewhere in the house kept him away. He gave her a quick kiss and left.  When he looked back she was still standing under the cool shadowed Tinao. Rico blew her a kiss, waved and walked out. The door slowly closed behind him as if gently nudged by the wind. He stood looking at the old stone house. The tiles above the windows were chipped and the iron grills looked rusted. The mid day sun threw strange shadows on the walls. Rico stared at them wondering if he saw them move with the passing wind. It all seemed so out of place.

 

He hadn’t gone far on the narrow unpaved path surrounded by hundreds of flowering pots and pillars when a man lazily drinking the local Costa wine with a vendor selling hand woven baskets and Jarapas stopped him.

 

“Hola Señor! Interested in buying the casa. I can get you a good price.” He said chewing on a blade of grass that fluttered at the side of his mouth. The basket-seller didn’t seem to be interested and busied himself rummaging inside his shop.

 

“I am not here to buy the house. The lady who stays there is a friend. She never mentioned that they are selling the place.” Rico was surprised that Pia never told her they were looking for a buyer for the house.

 

The man looked at him for a moment and laughed, “Are you coming straight from Alfredo’s? You don’t look drunk.” He said scanning Rico from head to toe.

 

“The lady of the house is your friend? Hahaha…you got to be kidding. No one lives in that house. It has been vacant for many years maybe from even before we were born. People say the owner, a doctor, was a brute. His wife ran away and left their retarded son and his elder sister in his care. He took to drinking and constantly beat the children. The girl took most of the beating in order to protect the brother and one day the idiota smashed her head on the wall and killed her. The cops took him away and he never returned. The son, a loco, was left to his own devices and some years later they found him dead in the garden…You seem unwell… Are you alright, Señor? You don’t look good. Can I get you something?”

Rico could hear the man’s voice but was struggling to understand. It was a hot day and the sun was bright. A day when tourists and those from nearby cities came to picnic in those parts. The weekly market was abuzz with activity on the other side of pueblo. Without replying Rico rushed back towards the house. He knocked. Once. Twice. And then he started banging the door. And finally his eyes fell on the lock hanging on the door. Rico almost fell back but soon recovered. He got down with a sense of disbelief not really knowing where he was headed, resisting the urge to look back. Lost in the surreal world he dragged his way to the scattered fort ruins and stood there staring at the graves, stone columns and large piles of stones. The remains of a paved floor of a circular hut seemed like a site for prayer rituals for the dead. He felt an unmistakable and unbearable presence of Pia. He sank to the wet mossy ground that smelled of spring flowers and death.

 

*

I ordered another cup of coffee as I listened to Dr. Alejandro. We were sitting inside a small cafe across the city square where the old doctor had asked me to meet him. He’d seen my advertisement in the newspaper for renting a traditional home.

 

“Federico came to me a week after the incident. He was disturbed and needed help. After a few sessions of treatment and a visit to the Casa Luna he slowly began to recover and even started going to the cafe which was run by his apprentice at that time. We met a few times but then both of us became busy with life. A few days ago Rico called me to inform that he was moving to the city and needed my help to find a tenant for the old casa where he had lived after selling off the cafe to his apprentice. Memories of Pia had drawn him to Pueblo Blanco but he’d become very ill soon after moving in and needed to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. He wants someone trustworthy to look after the house in his absence. His house would be ideal for you.”

 

He handed me a slip of paper with a name and address and a frayed business card with his phone number. He added that I could call him at anytime.

 

“Thank you Doctor. I’ll talk to you soon.”

 

“Go safe.”

 

“I will.” With that I picked up my things and left him with his thoughts.

 

It was late in the noon when I reached El Pino. I parked the car near the church and went looking for Rico’s book cafe. No one could give me directions so I decided to walk to Pueblo Blanco to meet him.

 

It was an early winter day but the sun was still warm. There weren’t many people around, just the locals going about their daily business. The mountains, the air, and the wilderness filled me with such contentment I could live here, surely for the rest of my life.

I was in no hurry and reached the pueblo as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen with the onset of evening.

 

Pueblo Blanco was a tapestry of traditional houses and a dilapidated building which looked more modern than the rest of them. A white village as the doctor had said. I looked around for Eduardo’s house but couldn’t spot it. None of the buildings had a red roof. I checked the slip to see if I had lost my way but the dusty signboard near the solitary shop confirmed that I was in the right place.

 

I walked to the shop and looked around. An old man sat slumped on a chair smoking a cigarillo.

 

“We are out of stock.” He said before I could speak.

 

“I don’t need to buy anything. I am looking for Mr. Federico who stays at Casa Luna. It is an old stone building which was owned previously by Señor Eduardo if I am right.”

 

“You are wrong. There isn’t any house by that name nor do I know of any Federico or Eduardo living in this pueblo. You have got the wrong address. The only stone buildings the pueblo has are the ruins over there.” He said, pointing towards the distant hilltop.

 

“That’s strange. My doctor friend gave me this address. He is a friend of the owner and spoke to him a few days back about renting the property.” I handed the slip of paper to the man.

 

“You’ve come to the right place, Señor but I’ve never heard of anyone called Federico or Eduardo and I’ve lived here all my life. Did you say he moved here from El Pino? Maybe you should check with the priest there. He would certainly know. That’s the last bus over there. Don’t miss it.” With that he touched his cap, nodded and went behind the colourful curtain that separated the house from the shop, but he emerged again before I could turn and leave.

 

“I remember my abuelo telling me about an old decaying cottage at the other end of the pueblo. Children called it casa embrujada but that was years ago when I was a child. It is just a pile of stones now.”

 

I muttered a few words of thanks and ran towards the bus. Maybe the man was right about asking the priest. He would certainly know. When I reached the bus I stopped and glanced around the lazy streets of the pueblo. There was no one in sight.

 

When I reached El Pino, the church bore a deserted look and the door to the priest’s home was locked. I decided not to wait and to drive back home. It was getting late and I had to return to the city that very night. While I drove down the winding road my thoughts kept going back to the old doctor, the picture perfect pueblo, the house that did not exist and Federico whom no one seemed to know even in his own town. I hadn’t even able to find the cafe.

It was late when I reached home, but I decided to call Dr. Alejandro- all I got was a busy tone.

 

I was tired so went straight to bed. The strange events of the day were spinning in my head and I wanted it to stop.

 

Next morning I got dressed and decided to call Alejandro again before leaving for work. The phone finally rang after a few tries.

 

“Hola! Alejandro Hospital, how can I help?”

 

“Hello! I am Jim Adams and I need to speak with Doctor Alejandro urgently. I got this number from him.”

 

“You need to speak to whom?”

 

“Doctor Alejandro. I met him yesterday and he told me to contact on this number.”

 

“Estás loco o qué? Doctor Alejandro died years and years ago.”

 

The line went dead.

-*-

Note – The El Pino Ruins first got published in the final edition of Le Zaporogue XVIII by various authors. The short fiction was well received by the readers so I thought of sharing it here too. Thank you for reading. Please leave your views in the comments.

 

                                                                                  ________________

Interview With Author Kris Saknussemm


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.

The Interview


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.

I love the websites for your books ZANESVILLE and PRIVATE MIDNIGHT and the music for PM.  Tell us about the inception of these unique, captivating ways to promote your work.

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.

MP3 for Private midnight

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.

Links

Some more learning with Kris

KS on Facebook

Author’s Page on FB

Kris’s Blog 

The Nervous Breakdown Articles

Complete book list of Kris

 

 

Update 

Reverend America is available on Amazon . Do pick it up .