Alex Kimmell is an author and a badass. A former rockstar turned to scary-times writer, he will amaze you with his prose and his jump out of your seat debut novel, The Key to Everything.
Now, prepareth! Badassary awaits…
1. The Key to Everything was your first official novel, but your writing seems to have shown up a lot of places in the ramp up to said novel (Black Lantern Press, Front Row Lit, TheWordcount Podcast). How important was it for you, or in your opinion any writer, to just start doing it and getting your work out there to the world before you tackled a full-blown bookstravaganza?
I was a songwriter long before I wrote prose. Lyrics and poems were all I ever made a serious attempt at with words before I wrote “the Key to everything”. Black Lantern Press, Front Row Lit and Wordcount were great opportunities for me. I’d already written the book and some other short pieces when I decided to approach them. They were very generous with their support and I’m honored to have been involved with their publications and associated with the other fantastic artists they support. Writing in short form for specified themes isstretching different muscles. I highly recommend reaching out to blogs and other avenues of publishing that are available to today’s writers.I don’t do it for the sole purpose of paddingmy resume though, but for the chanceto find new avenues ofexploring the art form.
2. You are from the San Fernando Valley, one of my old stomping grounds when I lived in LA. When did you first get pulled into music and start banging out soundscapes in the garage?
Yeah. I’m a Valley Boy for sure for sure. Gag me with a spoon and all that shit. Skateboards, parachute pants and shopping malls. We did all that crap before it was cool.
Both my parents encouraged me at a young age to play music. When I turned ten, they told me to pick an instrument and stick with it for one year. It was a great way to help me learn discipline andexpose me to my creative side.
Fortunately for me my Mom loved the drums, believe it or not. I fell in love with it during my first lesson and annoyed the neighbors five to eight hours a day for years of wall rattling noise. Most of them were pretty cool with it though. The one asshole on our block moved after a couple of years of it. Some of the kids on the street actually thanked me.
I was in that garage so much that my dad installed a portable air conditioning unit in the side door so I wouldn’t over heat during the hot Southern California summers. I played some sports too and was pretty good. But with red hair and freckles I got picked on and beat up a lot. This was back in the days before bullying was considered a bad thing. The one thing the bullies couldn’t give me shit about was playing drums. My life revolved around it. I got really lucky with my teachers too. I transferred to the Hamilton Academy of Music for my senior year of high school and that helped me get a scholarship at USC.
3. I would imagine having a career in music and performing all the time is very different than being a writer. I trashed a Marriot Suite one time and the security guys asked me if I was a rockstar and I told them no, I was a writer. So I had to pay for everything I broke. You’d be shocked to know just how expensive those awful paintings of sailboats and sunsets really cost (Lord knows my credit card was). So, what’s the reality vs the fiction of being in a rock’n’roll band? Did anyone offer you a cigar? Did they ask you which one was Pink?
Ha! I was pretty mellow compared to the rock star mystique. Most of my wildness came out on stage. I broke drumheads, cymbals and collapsed the arches in my feet from playing barefoot. I used to go on stage in nothing but my boxer shorts because I sweat so much that I ruined my clothes. The heyday was the early nineties’ Hollywood scene. Altrock-tastic!My band played everywhere. We played the Whiskey a go-go, the Roxy, the Troubador… we gigged all the time at every spot place on the Sunset Strip. A few bands that are pretty famous now used to open for us. Unfortunately my band imploded before we took off to any national success. Oh well. Typical rock and roll story I guess. Most of the juicy details must be kept under wraps to protect the guilty.
4. You transitioned from music to writing, partly due to wanting to find new expression and learning how to channel all that while working through the realization that you had Multiple Sclerosis. It must have taken a tremendous amount of strength and determination in going from one very challenging creative career and diving headfirst into an altogether new one? What was your major motivating factor and what kept you going as you figured the whole book writing experience out?
My wife made me do it. It’s as simple as that. Since I inhaled books like oxygen my entire life and wrote lyrics constantly, she suggested I try my hand at prose since my body refused to cooperate with the coordination I’d need to keep performing music to the level I needed and wanted. At first it was really fucking difficult. I thought everything I did was crap. I’d come up with some idea and write ten or fifteen pages. Then I’d delete it without showing anyone. Eventually she forced her way on to my computer and started reading. To my surprise, she liked some of it. So I kept going. To keep my creative expression juices flowing, I kept writing. Not for anyone to read, but for myself.
A friend of mine forced me to sign up on Facebook. I didn’t want to, but he not only twisted my arm, he created my account. The next morning I had close to one hundred friends saying hello that I hadn’t spoken too since we were kids. It was a great tool to catch up and stay current with everybody.
I started blogging. Mostly complaining about everything that drove me crazy, which is my real favorite hobby. I put up a couple of short ideas and started getting some nice feedback from people. Of course I thought they were just being nice.
Then a friend told me she liked the blog and wanted me to send her a few pieces to read. Apparently she liked them because she asked if she could show them to her boss. Why not right? Turns out it was Katherine and Ken from Booktrope. They both were interested in publishing something if I was willing to turn one of my ideas into a novel. I’d never given it much thought, but I figured I’d try. That turned into “the Key to everything”. Mostly luck, technology and some very amazing support from my wife and a few good friends made it happen.
5. The Key to Everything is a fantastic book, and it’s been likened more than once to classic Stephen King, which is never a bad thing? Why horror? How do you approach the horror genre to keep it fresh and interesting?
Thank you so much for the compliment. I’m honored that people even mention the book in the same conversation as Stephen King. When I first started reading the genre as a kid, his stories were the first I was exposed to. My dad gave me some Tolkein, Heinlein and Bradbury pretty early on. From Science Fiction and Fantasy the leap to horror was a fairly smooth transition. Monsters and mystery and nightmare fodder oh my! I remember buying Pet Sematary in the Crown Bookseller at the Northridge Mall with my allowance money. That was the first one for me. The image of the cat on the cover looked exactly like my cat Taffy at home. I read the description on the back and it sounded spooky cool. I liked it, so I continued reading his books whenever I could. I moved on to Christine, Night Shift, Cycle of the Werewolf, The Shining and Carrie. My favorite at the time was The Talismanthat King wrote with Peter Straub. It changed everything for me. The way it blended horror with fantasy was unlike anything else I knew existed before.
My approach to horror isn’t completely defined as of yet. I’ll have a bad dream or a flash of an idea that swells below my skin, dying to turn into a story. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy of “write what you know”. I don’t have any experience being hunted by demonic squirrels or transported physically inside the pages of a book. I don’t think Ian Flemming had many personal adventures as a super spy with a license to kill. Tolkein wasn’t a Hobbit. That had no bearing on whether the stories they wrote were believable or not. Harlan Ellison said, “Write what you want to read.” When I first heard that, the world opened up. I spent so much time as a songwriter attempting to compose sounds that I wanted to hear. It didn’t take Vulcan logic for me to transfer that same concept to the prose I write.
Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts can be extremely terrifying in the right story when written well. However, the majority of what frightens me, and what I tend to write, comes from a more skewed view of the world. Looking at objects and every day concepts we unconsciously rely on as they behave in ways far removed from how they are supposed to. Take squirrels for example. If having read my book you’ll never see them the same way again, then I’ll have been successful.
6. Was King an influence on your work? Who else within the horror genre do you respect and count as major influences and inspirations for your work?
I picked up a Stephen King novel for the first time in years only recently. When writing became something I focused on seriously, I hadn’t read one of his books in years. While I can’t say he was a conscious influence, his books affected me so much during my formative years that he is in there for sure. I learned a lot by reading his book with a writer’s eye, rather than as a passive audience. I can only hope that some of what entered into my mind will escape on to the pages of my future work. There’s definitely a reason he is such a huge success. What an amazing storyteller.
Some of my major influences haven’t been as publicly successful. John Ajvide Lindquist is one of the best authors out there these days. Every time I hear that a new work of his is being translated into English, I can hardly contain myself.
I’ve read every book by Michael Marshall Smith at least twice. The way his plotlines unfold continually surprises and inspires me. There is one particular scene in his book “The Straw Men” that I re-read over and over. It’s a gunfight in a fast food restaurant that turns my knuckles white even though I know exactly what’s coming next. He isn’t what I would describe as a “horror” author though. He is more thriller and science fiction. I can’t recommend him enough.
Mark Z. Danielewski is perhaps one of the writers changing the world of books and electronic publishing as we know it. His book “House of Leaves” changed my life. I currently have three copies of it in the house now, not including the ebook version I have on my son’s iPad. His work can be frustrating at times and even somewhat pretentious, but it’s always challenging and beautiful.
One of the greatest living wordsmiths in my opinion is Harlan Ellison. “Deathbird Stories” is a must read for any fan of horror and science fiction. Not only does he write incredible books, his episodes of Star Trek and the Twilight Zone are legendary.
The same can be said for Richard Matheson. “I Am Legend, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, “The Box”, “Duel”, “What Dreams May Come”…His bibliography of incredibleness goes on and on. Every time I open one of his stories I am instantly transported into other worlds that are sometimes terrifying, often beautiful beyond belief, but always wonderful.
Because they can’t go without some brief mention, I am humbled and driven by incredibleimaginationsof Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Neil Gaiman and of course Clive Barker. I could go on, but the list is way too long.
7. I write about vampires, and Time Zombies, and yetis. For you, your muse seems to be the squirrel. Where did the ‘squirrel-thulian mythos’ originate? Did you think you might be nuts when suddenly squirrels began haunting your dreams and your chapters?
The squirrelpocalypse is coming. Mark my words!
I find it so funny how many people ask me, “Why do you hate squirrels so much?” That entire part of tK2e came to me spur of the moment. I was searching for a small, somewhat harmless and commonplace animal that people typically take for granted. My goal was to create an underlying sense of discomfort with reality in the world of the story. Snakes, spiders, vampires and werewolves are scary in their own right. They provoke instant, primal images of fear and raise the hackles on the backs of our necks based on developed historical associations. While the common squirrel might be a nuisance, it’s not an animal that the majority of people are terrified of.
The moment I landed on using the squirrel for my “beast” turns out to be relatively prosaic. I was working on an early scene in the book and a squirrel stood on the wall outside my studio window. That was it. I thought to myself, “What would this animal have to do to make me ruin my pants right now?” The rest is history.
8. I had a buddy call me one night when I lived in LA, he ran a bar that was rented out for a private party and he related to me the following: Melissa Ethridge, Steven Spielberg, Mike Meyers, and Slash all have their chairs pulled into a circle and they’re just hanging out and talking at this birthday party.
It’s a conversation that I’ve imagined more than once in my head.
What’s the best famous people story that you can relate to us? (and not get either one of us sued, cause I don’t need another lawsuit like that time I bagged on the Sham-Wow guy)
During my time in L.A., I was fortunate enough to meet quite a few of my musical heroes. Some I played with, some I was introduced to backstage at shows and others I made a blubbering mess of myself in front of. In a few unfortunate situations, all three occurred at the same time.
When my boys were little they shared an indoor playground late one night with Don Cheadle’s kids. Calista Flockheart used to bring her son to the same park we went to and I struck up a few conversations with her. I went to high school with one guy who went on to become a relatively popular actor in a television show named after a famous L.A. neighborhood and its zip code. There’s a picture in my yearbook where I’m dropping him headfirst into a trashcan with help from another fellow classmate who now plays drums for a former Beatle.
I won’t go into any of the drug and alcohol fueled or “spicy” events. Like you say, I’d prefer not to run afoul of the law. Most of my stories are pretty tame. No trashing hotel rooms or shark related Zeppelin-esque tales of debauchery.
For any Elliott Smith fans, I spent a very nice coffee break with himthat I wrote about on my old blog. You can see the full story at: everythinghappenstomeshuh.blogspot.com/2010/04/one-of-my-favorite-hours.html
9. What’s the perfect balance of family life and retreating into your writing cave? Writers oftentimes (like, me) have issues balancing family, work, and writing – so how about you?
If there is such a thing as a perfect balance, I haven’t found it yet. I don’t have a writing cave anymore either. I put my laptop here on the dining room table and try to block out the world. It’s a double edged sword, but I don’t have a job. That’s good for my writing because it gives me time when the kids are at school and my wife’s at work. I have to do the majority of my typing left handed due to my receding coordination, so I struggle along at a snail’s pace. I’m taking some time attempting to learn how to use Dragon though. Hopefully that’ll help.
10. Is Lovecraft too much a part of pop-culture nowadays and is he getting played out? We do live in a world where Cthulhu-plushies exist, after all.
I could ask the same question about vampires, werewolves and zombies. We live in a culture of numbness. We’ve been exposed to it all. Vampires aren’t the stuff of nightmares anymore. They sparkle and have dreamy eyes. Werewolves are buffed out surf wear models. We even find ways to cute-up a reanimated corpse to tantalize the tween audiences.
An enormous portion of the genre is fighting really hard to capture the attention spans of young girls. And why not? After all, they spend the lion share of dollars on entertainment. Face it, full bore heavy metal has never sold as many records as pop music. It never will. When it becomes watered down and made “safe”, then it can explode into pop culture.
Humans aren’t as afraid of the dark as we used to be. Electricity and three hundred channels broadcasting twenty-four-seven. The interwebbuilds walls between us and the realities of horror occurring on the other side of the real world, or as close to home as next door. We’re numb. That’s why Cthulhu-plushies and sparkly boyfriend/bloodsuckers are so mainstream. If we embrace the nightmares tightly enough, they might just hug us back.
The argument can be made that most Twihards haven’t read “Dracula” or “I Am Legend”, let alone “The Necronimicon”. While I prefer the horror stories I read or see at the movies to be frightening, there is a large audience that prefers a more soap operatic approach to their monsters. And that’s okay.
Can’t say it doesn’t get under my skin though. ;?)
11. What’s next for:
Alex Kimmell, Author?
Breathing. I expect quite a bit more creation of CO2. That’s the hope anyway. Oh, and writing stories that will hopefully creep people out as much about other things as tK2e apparently has for the squirrel population.
The Key to Everything? Sequels?Prequels? Movie deals?
I haven’t thought much about expanding on the tK2e storyline. Although a movie deal would be exciting of course. If anyone is interested in the rights, send me an email and we can tell our people to get their people to have brunch and discuss sending their people out for drinks to make plans for their interns to actually read the book, write an op ed in their college paper where it won’t be published so it gets posted on their blog that their Junior JuniorUnder Producer supervisor is unknowingly subscribed to themailing list for. The supervisor will recognize the title line “the Key to everything or Nuts and Vowels. Don’t Read That Yarned Book Dumbass ‘Cuz the Squirrels Be Crazy!”, have his assistant read the blog and will then schedule a round of brunches for the peons to start the whole thing over again. Eventually some bigshot might bring the book up in conversation at Spagos with an executive at a rival motion picture house who will say, “I think we’re talking to the author about the rights for that.” “Oh, really? We were thinking it might be the next Twilight franchise.” They’ll politely excuse themselves from the party, frantically hit the speed dial on their cell phones and I’ll be the next bidding war fodder for the Hollywood Reporter. Next stop…the Oscars!
I’m currently working on a collection of short stories that will hopefully be out this year and novel No.2 is slowly gestating in the womb. I’ve been in discussions with a friend of mine to start work a multimedia piece as well. I really look forward to see what we come up with for that. Stay tuned kiddies!
alexkimmell (the squirrel whisperer/twodoggarage/daddy not-so-much-bucks) is an accidental novelist, anti-rhyme-ologist, oxygen inhaler, carbon dioxide exhaler and the funniest man in his pants who often generates harmonious sounds with various instruments of different historical importance. his work has appeared on cool places around the www like Black Lantern Press, Front Row Lit, The Wordcount Podcast, and his debut novel “the Key to everything” was released by Booktrope Publishing in 2012. come and join the neurosis at alexkimmell.weebly.com
Billy Purgatory and the Curse of the Satanic Five is the second book in Jesse James Freeman’s Billy Purgatory series. He has been at war with dark forces (stuff like: cobras, lasers, yetis) his entire life. He enjoys Tweeting, scented candles, and waffles. He is hard at work on Billy Purgatory 3 and an epic poem entitled Witches vs Robots.