Len Kuntz interview with Karen Stefano
I am a huge fan of Len Kuntz. His prose makes me gasp out loud. His characters are so beautifully, beautifully flawed. Here are just a few lines from his piece, “Tight Rope”:
“My fiancé had just called off our engagement. She claimed I had no pluck. I had to look up the word, but after I had, I realized she was likely correct.”
“She licks the rim of the gun barrel, her tongue a slithering white worm.”
“The girl is in a trance. Drool spills down the gun metal, glistening on the trigger, pooling in the crux of her palm, sliding down her wrist like a foamy slug.”
Len, you recently published a collection with Unknown Press, entitled I’m Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You. What should readers expect to encounter in the stories in this collection?
Hopefully readers will feel an emotional connection, not so much because they can relate to the pieces, but because the words combine to make up a bit of electricity, something that zaps the reader’s heart and head, even if just for an instant. What they shouldn’t expect are happy endings or situations where you can easily figure out what’s going to happen next.
The collection contains stories about people wrestling with their mistakes, flawed people struggling for a way to redemption. About half of the pieces are taken from real life experiences, or slivers of things that happened when I was younger.
Why do you write?
Mostly it’s cathartic. I love the feeling of creating something, whether it’s a tiny scrap like flash fiction, or something longer such as a novel. It’s wonderful to look at it when it’s finished and think, Yeah, that rings true. The sensation, for me anyway, is akin to getting that first kiss from a girl you’ve been crushing on for some time.
Tell me about your writing process.
I’m extremely fortunate to be able to write full-time, something I’ve dreamed about since I was nine years old. But I treat it like a job, so I’m at my desk no later than 9am and usually I write until 5pm, sometimes later.
I have two stacks that make up 30 books sitting on my desk, so if I’m blocked creatively, I just pluck one from the stack, read for a bit, and before I know it I’m ready to write. These are all my go-to authors, my favorites.
How do you keep yourself inspired to write?
I read a lot and shoot for 100 books a year. Reading great writing always makes me want to write. Also I’m in a writer’s group where we meet twice monthly. The other guys are incredibly encouraging, though far from Pollyanna. They keep you accountable because you have to turn in pages or look like a slacker. And then there’s just so much support that comes from other writers online. Facebook has its critics, to be sure, but the feedback I get from friends, even virtual friends, is validating. Writing can be a very lonely endeavor and for someone who’s insecure, as I am, it’s comforting on occasion to know people are reading my work and that they seem to enjoy it.
What do you look for in a narrator?
I think honesty. I tend to write dark stuff and I try not to pull punches or skirt difficult subject matter, which is sometimes tricky when friends or relatives assume I’m writing about them. Regardless, even in fiction, the writing has to seep into the reader’s psyche in such a way that the piece comes across as completely believable.
And what do you look for in a friend?
Good question. I’ve never been asked that, and I’ve never thought about it until now.
I think the most important thing is someone who’s a good listener. I try very hard to be that. Also someone who’s more selfless than selfish. Someone who’s not too judgmental, because I have plenty of flaws. It also helps if you share a sensibility, because that tends to be the gateway for ease of interaction, for wanting to share and discuss.
What’s next for you in your writing career?
I would really like to find an agent. I have a finished novel and one that’s about halfway there. I’ve written ten novels, the bulk of them crap, but these last two are my best and pretty saleable, for me anyway. Other than that, I just keep writing. I love producing new work. I don’t much enjoy the editing process (which I know is vital) or the promotional part of our craft. And looking for an agent is like trying to find the fountain of youth.
Why do you think fiction matters in this world?
In a way, I think fiction is like animated film. Animation allows you to do things you couldn’t do if you were using human beings, and fiction allows you to create worlds that might not otherwise exist, characters and conflicts that are distinctly unique, like a fingerprint or snowflake.
I also think stories shine a light on subjects that could be left locked in a closet. I might be speaking about my own stuff here, though in general, great fiction at once transports and immerses the reader.
What advice would you give to writers of flash fiction?
Be a student. Read a ton. Find out who the best writers are and make yourself a mentor of theirs by following what they do. Maybe even reach out to them. I love it when new writers do that to me.
And, of course, write as much as possible, and if possible, find an honest critic, but don’t be discouraged by negative feedback. It’s how you get better and grow.
I also like this advice from Zoe Zolbrod: “Write where the heat is. Write into the darkness.”
I’m going to steal a question from the New York Times Sunday Book Review and ask you: if you could require our next President of the United States (whomever that may be) to read one work of fiction –what would you choose?
Boy, that’s really difficult. I guess for the President I would say “No Greater Love,” which is about Mother Theresa. But as for just recommending a book with stellar writing I would say, “Where I’m Calling From” by Raymond Carver. It has all of his stories in one collection, plus several that aren’t anywhere else. Carver broke so many writing rules and he’s truly a unique voice. The writing is very spare, yet potent. His stories do so much without working hard or showing you that they’re working hard. I also love how almost all of his pieces are about blue collar life, though every situation and conflict could easily extend to any manner of lifestyle.