Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Thomas Kohnstamm talks about LAKE CITY, 3 x5 cards on corkboard, personal ethics, writing, and so much more.

The socko cover

Portrait of the artist

Just some of the rave blurbs

Thomas Kohnstamm is the author of DO TRAVEL WRITERS GO TO HELL? (great title, right?) and he lives and writes in Seattle. I loved Lake City, and I'm thrilled to host him here. Thank you, Thomas!

 I always want to know what the why now moment is for writers—how and why you felt haunted/pressed to write this particular book?

 Lake City took me almost 7 years to write. My first book, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, came out in 2008. I liked the book but it exited the commercial process as a pretty different product than that which I had set out to write. Lake City is, in many ways, the result of me re-starting from scratch, re-learning fiction and writing my purest comedic translation of my take on life and the world around me. It wasn’t something I did as a hobby or for fun: it was a compulsion. Counterpoint was really supportive of me and my creative vision for this book.

 Lake City is a fabulous mix of class and cultures, which I think is particularly appropriate given what’s going on now in politics. Do you think that most people can—like your hero—figure out what the truly right thing to do is? And if not, what the hell do WE do?

Lane, the protagonist, makes a lot of mistakes before kind of, sort of starting to get a few things right. In our dog-eat-dog, hyper-capitalist environment we are asked to make daily decisions where we balance our personal good against the wider good. Everyone likes to say that they are always thinking of others but also nobody wants to be the sucker. We place a ton of cultural value on the trappings of success and not on “he led a nice quiet life, didn’t rock the boat and was really dependable for those close to him.” We are all a combination of successes and failures. It sucks that current leadership models that one should always consider their personal needs before anyone or anything else.

Lake City is also really funny, particularly about Seattle, but I have to say this could take place in Brooklyn, too.  Why do you think our world has gone so haywire

Well, my grandfather was an orphan from Brooklyn and I’m not sure that the world is more haywire now than when he was a kid during WWI. That said (and this is not funny), we do have a fragmentation of society, family and a globalized market which is working out well for those with the right skillsets and gumption and many more are being rendered redundant. I have been thinking a lot lately about how the entire concept of the nation state is likely moribund. As humans, we have some big, fundamental issues to wrestle with in the coming generations.

So this is your debut novel (though you’ve written a memoir and animation series)—did it change your writing or you? And how?

I think that screenwriting really helped me with pace, plotting and dialogue. It is terribly hard to write a novel, but you are also allowed the luxury of a bit of digression in a book. Screenwriting is shorter but you must be ruthless with your words.

They’re all narrative cousins and working on one definitely helps the other.

What kind of writer are you? Do you outline or do you hang out for that notoriously pesky mu

Lake City was very tightly planned: like 3X5 cards on a cork board for most of the scenes. I spend a lot of time (years?) thinking about stuff (searching for the muse?) before really launching into something. I’m not the kind of writer to get off and running on something and then figure out what it is and end up cutting a bunch of pages. That’s not to say that I don’t keep room for flexibility, but my years in the trenches have taught me some pretty painful lessons about undertaking projects without a decent sense of where I’m heading.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Everything: politics, my family, my dogs, beer, weed, skiing, new books I want to read, new shows I want to see, old books I still intend to read, shows and movies I want to catch up on, mountain biking, trying to sleep, travel, languages. And, of course, my next book… already have the 3X5s on the cork board and the first part done.

When do you write?

I’m a bit of an insomniac. I write for a few hours in the afternoon when life and other work allows but, usually, I wait until after my wife and kids are asleep. I try to harness the insomnia as I catch a second wind around ten or eleven pm and can get a lot done between then and one or two in the morning. And no one emails or calls at that time – I love it.

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