Today’s guest at The Novel Approach is Alex Kidwell, author of the utterly sublime After the End, which, if you haven’t read it yet, is a novel you ought to very much consider adding to your TBR and placing it right at the top. Just don’t forget the box of tissues you’ll need to get through it. :-P
So, go pour yourselves a cuppa, or whatever it is you like to drink, and help me welcome Alex to the show. :-D
Q.) How long have you been writing creatively, and is there one particular person you’d credit for fostering your love of storytelling?
A.) I’m actually a relative newcomer to creative writing. I’ve always made up stories, and my love of books means I’ve developed quite the daydreaming habit, but when I was younger I took most of my creativity out in theatre. I wrote plays and monologues through high school and college, but somewhere in the back of my mind I always wanted to write a book. About eight years ago, I tried my first short story. I still remember sitting there, tentatively poking out words, making my roommate read every sentence. It was nerve-wracking, it was terrifying, and I got hooked immediately.
I have somewhere in a hidden part of my hard drive my very first novel. It’s terrible and should never see the light of day, but it’s finished, and doing that proved to me that I could do it. It took me another six years before I tried again, but when Robin and I had the crazy idea to start Blood Howl, just knowing that I’d written something that long before and managed to complete it was huge.
There’s not one specific person, I think, who really pushed me into writing. More like a series of people – my dad, who gave me A Little Princess one Christmas, which is still my most cherished book, and who constantly was encouraging me to read new and different things; two friends that happened into my life and pushed me to try something terrifying and dare to be geeky and proud in my writing; Robin, who constantly makes me step up my game and who is a source of boundless inspiration – who have set up different stages of my road to becoming an author.
As for people I don’t know personally, much to my constant sorrow, I point to four writers as my biggest heroes – J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis who filled out my childhood with stories and places that formed my imagination, Madeline L’Engle who captured my adolescent angst for something more, and Rob Thurman, who was my inspiration to attempt to write professionally.
Q.) If I’m not mistaken, this is your first solo novel (without partner Robin Saxon). What made you decide to venture out on your own with Quinn and Brady’s story?
A.) The short answer is boredom.
Robin lives in Australia much of the time while I’m in the States. Visas are hard to come by for same-sex partners, so mostly we’re fourteen to sixteen hours separated. We write when we can together, but there would be large blocks of time when we’d be on our own, and we decided that we’d each try to write our own novels in our spare time. So Robin came up with The Royal Road, and I sat down to write After the End. It was honestly the scariest, hardest thing I’ve ever done, but what started out as a kind of experiment and a way to pass the time turned into characters I love and a story I am extremely proud of.
Q.) Speaking of After the End, tell us about the writing process for this book, because I don’t mind admitting I was sobbing before the end of Chapter One. How did the idea of writing a novel about death and grief and the whole process of recovery come to you? And please, be honest, how emotionally draining was it on you?
A.) The idea of After the End was to distill the emotion of grief and write a very simple, very pure story about the stages of it. It came from missing Robin one night and honestly feeling like I couldn’t move for how deeply I ached with that. We’re simply separated by distance; I started to wonder how someone could handle something more permanent, and the idea of writing through that developed from there.
When I write, I start always with the characters. Quinn came to me first, the idea of someone who’d had the love of his life, who had already had his happy ending, how do you go on from there? Actually, the original idea was to do a short story and Brady didn’t exist at all. It was just going to be Quinn dealing with his grief. But as I started to play around with Quinn’s character, I realized that I was writing a fairy tale; the flip side of one, where the happily ever after happened and then ended. Quinn was frozen, unable to force his way out of his own coffin. In order to really tell that story, I needed to find the person who would help him thaw. And so came the character of Brady. I always wanted to explore the idea of someone who had loved so completely figuring out how to live when that love was gone, and I felt, in the end, that having Brady there to support Quinn through his recovery – a recovery that happened not for Brady, or because of him, but that was helped by his presence – allowed for hope and for the promise that eventually you can live with your grief.
I’m an emotional writer. If I don’t feel the story or the characters, I can’t continue. Needless to say, writing After the End meant I was very involved in the emotions that were happening. It was draining, yes, for sure. I think that writing a good story always is, in some ways. But this book felt personal for me; I wanted the readers to walk side by side with Quinn through his grief, through the numbness and the haunting agony of loss, and then come out the other side with a sense of hope.
Q.) When writing the book, did you find it difficult to strike a balance with Quinn, to keep his dark from becoming too dark?
A.) I think the character himself is really what keeps it from veering into totally dark. I mean, here’s a guy who has lost the biggest thing in his life, and he’s still pushing forward. His coping methods aren’t that great, and he’s shut down a lot of himself, but he’s trying, and I think that’s huge. We open the book with hope and we follow Quinn as he learns to accept that. I don’t know, I just loved writing him because while he might not be emotionally healthy, he’s at least trying to figure out how to get there. He’s so sad and so lost, and I think his question is really a universal, poignant one – how do you say you loved someone when you’re trying to move on.
Q.) Aaron Paterson is such a larger-than-life, tangible influence in the story, yet he never spends a single moment on the page. Did you purposely set out to make him such a forceful presence in the book, or did he simply turn out that way as the story evolved?
A.) The one thing I knew from the start was that I wanted people to fall in love with Aaron. For Quinn, Aaron was not the lesser choice. He wasn’t someone he settled with for ten years. He was the absolute, hands down love of Quinn’s life. They were happy, they were fulfilled, and losing him absolutely destroyed Quinn.
If Aaron hadn’t been that important, or if Quinn hadn’t really been that in love, then the moving on part wouldn’t have been as heartbreaking for Quinn. It was incredibly important to me that we could feel how much Aaron and Quinn had been in love, and that they be a couple you would root for in any other circumstance. Their love story is the central theme of the book, really.
Q.) Brady Banner is, hands down, one of the most romantic characters I’ve ever read. What’s the most romantic gesture you’ve ever made?
A.) I really would say I’m not that romantic of a person. The interesting thing to me about Brady is that I never intended him to be overly romantic, either. I do think he’s like Robin in the sense that both of their love languages are in actions. How people express love is often how they believe love should be shown, and so I think Brady’s actions, in this book, definitely speak for how he’s feeling, even when he doesn’t say the words.
Q.) Do you foresee there could be a sequel to After the End? Not that I’m pressuring you or anything. Unless begging would help, in which case, I am indeed begging and/or groveling. ;-)
A.) Actually, just the other day I sat down and mapped out the plot of the sequel! I wasn’t sure if I was going to. I felt like After the End was a fairly complete story and I didn’t want to tack something on that wouldn’t have the same emotional weight. But I can say now that I have found a plot I’m very excited about; we’re going to get the next part of their story from Brady’s perspective and I’m really looking forward to writing it.
Q.) Of all the characters you’ve created, do you have one who’s your absolute favorite? If so, whom and why?
A.) Oh, man, good question. While I love all my characters equally, I will admit to a special kind of pleasure that comes from writing Jed Walker from the Sanguis Noctis series. He’s this great mix of foul mouth badass and vulnerable good guy that I really enjoy. The things we have planned for him in the future are really going to stretch him way beyond his comfort zone, which is where I love him most.
Q.) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A.) Totally depends. With Robin, we are hard core plotters. We have plotting documents that would rival novellas in length. For After the End, I had nothing written down. My current projects vary – the one that was just submitted had a few paragraphs, the one I’m in the middle of has a few pages. I’m unfortunately not very consistent with my process, but once I find what each story needs I get into my groove for that book.
Q.) What makes you laugh?
A.) Robin. Honestly, no matter how bad of a mood I’m in, no matter how much I don’t want to laugh, Robin can always make me.
Q.) If you could sit down to dinner with one famous person, past or present, fictional or not, whom would that be, and why?
A.) I am actually terrible at questions like this, because in a real life situation with someone I like or admire, I wouldn’t be chatty or brilliant or witty. I’d more than likely sit there with a big dumb grin on my face or fall down or burn myself on the soup. But I’d love to sit there and listen to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis while they down pints and discuss theology and philosophy and the nature of fiction. I’d never be able to say a word, but I think that would be something magical.
(Lemme ‘splain, people, that the next three questions were submitted by Rhys Ford, and one of them made me blush so I wasn’t going to ask it, but then she told me to put on my big girl panties and ask anyway. Oh yes. The gauntlet was thrown and I accepted her challenge, and dear Alex had this to say: “I am an open book, my dear, and no question is too naughty.” :-P So, here with go…
Q.) If you were on death row and were down to your last meal, what would you order?
A.) Something that counteracts poison. (Hah.) Seriously, though, probably a turkey dinner. I’m a big fan of simple, homey meals, as my cooking skills are sadly lacking (I think the Food Network is a magic show). Turkey, my mom’s cranberry orange relish, which is my favorite food ever, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, and a peach pie for dessert. I’d just nap through my execution.
Q.) Where’s the most romantic place you can imagine having sex in public, without that pesky risk of worrying about being caught? ::blushes::
A.) I think half the point of having sex in public is that thrill of possible discovery. But if I got my choice, I am a huge fan of the idea of being under my partner’s desk, slowly teasing them with my tongue, completely undoing them while they’re having to pretend nothing at all is going on. ::Oh myyyyyy:: :-D
Q.) What’s your favorite swear word, and why?
A.) Fuck. God, I love the word fuck. I was never allowed to curse as a kid and I think I overcompensate now – I have a mouth like a salty sailor.
Q.) Do you have any Works-In-Progress you’d like to share a bit about?
A.) I have a few that I’m really excited about. The first one is Bloodlines, which is the third book in Robin’s and my Sanguis Noctis series. In it, we’re delving hardcore into the lore of that world. Jed and Redford are getting tangled up in a brewing war, we’re introducing new characters, and we’re really exploring this idea of wolves within the supernatural community. In it, Jed and Redford are having some growing pains, which is both fun and heartbreaking to write. The book is basically about family – what it means to be born into one and what it means to choose your own – and I have to admit, it’s my favorite one so far.
I just submitted a solo novel called Gumption & Gumshoes. It’s extremely lighthearted, which is a nice change, and I had a blast writing it. It’s the story of August, an overweight underachiever who gets to pursue his dream of being a detective like in the film noir movies he loves so much. Oh, and he’s also a chinchilla shifter.
Sam is a gruff, bitter divorcee who is also the landlord for August’s detective agency. Together, they fight crime! (**ETA: Gumption & Gumshoes is scheduled for publication with Dreamspinner Press in August/September 2013!**)
What I’m working on now alone is The Women in the Water. It’s a murder mystery that, I hope, will be an homage to the likes of Agathe Christie. It’s set around an isolated lake town with a serial killer on the loose, two characters who alternate between suspicion of each other and outright dislike, and a snowstorm that traps them all. It’s a very different type of thing than I normally write and I’m finding it to be a very thrilling challenge.
And then there’s Happily After, which is the sequel to After the End. I won’t give away too much, but as I said, it will be from Brady’s perspective as he and Quinn start to make a life together. There will be heartbreak for them, of course, but I really hope to be able to capture the hope and love they have together as well.
Q.) Will you share an excerpt from After the End with us?
A.) Here’s a snippet from Brady and Quinn’s first real date. They’ve gone to the movies and are now off to get a piece of the infamous peach pie:
“Pie?” Brady asked, tugging my hand lightly. “Come on, I know this great diner. The coffee is strong enough to hold up a spoon.”
“Sounds like my kind of place.” Our steps matched as we wound our way through the evening crowd. “So, this is kind of embarrassing, but other than the fact you’re a party planner who hates overly fussy cocktails and enjoys fried cheese—”
“Which, by the way, is what makes America great,” he interjected with an impish grin.
I huffed out a laugh and nudged his shoulder with my own. “Fine. Besides the fact you’re a good American cheese-loving man, I don’t know much about you.”
He opened the door for me, a bell chiming lightly to announce our entrance. There were tables scattered around a long counter, the clank of dishes and hum of quiet conversation, and the delicious aroma of coffee. We got seated, and I ordered the promised peach pie, Brady adding a scoop of ice cream to his order.
“Well,” Brady said, sprawled out on his side of the booth, looking good in his tight black sweater. Not that he wasn’t perfectly aware of how he looked. His deep brown eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at me, and he drummed his fingers on the back of his seat. “I’m a middle child. I went to school for biology for three semesters before I realized I couldn’t stand it, dropped out, and started working catering.”
“Wait.” A smile curled up my lips. “You were a science geek?”
“A very handsome science geek,” Brady shot back, poking a finger at me with a haughty look that only lasted through the beginnings of his laugh. Rubbing a hand through his hair, he shrugged. “I like knowing what makes people work. But now I use that knowledge for creating beautiful moments instead of cutting open frogs.”
Our coffee and pie came out and I dug into the sweet fruit. As promised, Brady reached over to steal my crust. I batted at his fork with mine, but he triumphed, grinning. I didn’t mind at all.
“How about you? Tracy mentioned something about a store?”
Shifting a bit, I fussed with my coffee, adding cream, keeping my eyes down. “Uh, yeah. I own a comic book store.”
People had different reactions to that. Mostly, I got laughed at. Yes, the grown man still spent his days talking about comic books. And Brady did laugh, yeah, but it wasn’t an unkind sound.
“Really? That’s kind of adorable.”
My eyes lifted to find him smiling at me. Something tight lifted in my stomach, a soaring kind of lurch, and I fiddled with my fork. “Adorable?” I murmured, quirking up an eyebrow.
“Yeah.” His hand stole across the table to find mine, that smile still doing weird flippy things in my chest. “Cool. Adorable. Kind of awesome. Take your pick of adjectives.”
“You really shouldn’t be this sweet,” I managed, kind of abruptly, though maybe it just felt that way because my cheeks were all red and I was barely able to keep from stuttering. “I just…. You’re the first person I’ve done this with in a really long time. And Aaron….”
And Aaron. Wasn’t that always the coda in everything? The start and the end and the fucking middle. And Aaron. Only there wasn’t any and anymore.
Q.) Thanks so much for that, Alex! Where can we find you on the internet?
A.) I am all things and everywhere. The internet is in my blood.
Robin and I have a website: www.saxonandkidwell.com
I’m on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/alexkidwellwrites
Occasionally I tweet @KiddingAlex
And Robin and I are on Tumblr, where we reblog incredibly geeky things and give anonymous love to strangers as saxonandkidwell
We are both really friendly and I hardly ever bite, so if you’d like to drop me a line about books or writing or how amazing Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Hannibal are (seriously, we are huge geeks), I am always up for a chat.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all these nosy questions, Alex! It’s been a pleasure having you here and getting to know you a bit better. :)
And thank you! I had a wonderful time answering these.