For the fifth interview our series with WordSpring 2015 presenters, The Haberdasher spotlights novelist and teacher Finn Kraemer. Before becoming an English instructor at Butte College, Kraemer lived in various locales — the African bush, an Irish coastal village, the Saudi desert, small town America, and Los Angeles — and tackled a range of jobs — land survey chainman, editor, ballroom dance teacher, and security guard. He has been a mainstay on the WordSpring menu, and this Saturday, April 25, Kraemer will lead “Awesomeness Through Simple Craft,” a workshop focused on keeping your reader “in the dream” of your writing. In this interview he redefines writer’s block, discusses writing across multiple fiction genres, and describes the overlap between writing and teaching.
Alexis Butcher (AB): What is your writing process?
Finn Kraemer (FK): My writing process is a discipline of engagement that creates inspiration rather than requires inspiration to progress. I take time to write most days, but my definition of writing doesn’t necessarily involve putting the actual words of a story on the page. On a given day, I may spend all of my time ‘writing’ doing research or making notes for a character biography, or plotting a storyline, or revising a scene, or outlining what I have (or haven’t) written, or drawing a mind map, asking questions of what I’ve written, or even discussing a story with someone. From my perspective, that all counts as ‘writing’ because it is progressive engagement with the ideas that will end produce a completed written work.
AB: You have described “writer’s block” as a “lack of process,” can you explain that?
FK: I never have ‘writer’s block’ because any time I begin to feel stuck with actually putting the words of a story on the page, I know I can come at the writing from another angle – by asking questions, by re-making plans, by revising other scenes, by doing exercises – all of which keep the content of what I am writing active in my mind. This either immediately or eventually leads me the ‘inspiration’ to again continue actually putting the words on the page. Yes, with this perspective, I see the supposedly unavoidable malady of writer’s block existing only as a refusal of the writer to make engaged choices, relying instead on some external, magical, inspiration to help them ‘write.’
AB: What are you working on currently?
FK: I currently have three novels in various stages of progress: a quasi-zombie/horror novel about an estranged couple which is out for critique with my readers, a science fiction novel about AI and time loops which is roughly a third of the way through its first drafting, and a revision of a completed fantasy novel for an agent – cutting it down from 140,000 words to somewhere in the neighborhood of 95,000.
AB: What keeps you sane or grounded?
FK: My faith, a life schedule that keeps stress low, and a community of close friends and family are what keeps me grounded and sane.
AB: Who are your influences?
FK: I tend to be rather selective in my likes and dislikes and can’t say, as many do, that I love everything a certain author writes. I have a number of books which I would call my favorites, but would have some trouble articulating exactly how they ‘influenced’ me. Two, however, that I am clear on are A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Le Guin writes beautiful, simple prose that is artful and attentive to rhythm and sound, and at the same time maintains a great philosophical depth. McCarthy’s writing is taut and spare and violates a lot of rules, but still evokes in my imagination tangible and mythic and implicative images, conveying so much more with less. I love both of these books and aspire to write as both these authors write.
AB: What is your favorite genre or project you’ve worked on?
FK: I’m very drawn to the genre of fantasy and I think that is because it is a manifestation of the deep desire for meaning that humans have – for the hope and knowledge that there is more to the world than what we see, that we are caught up in a larger epic battle between good and evil in which we are actually key players, that possibilities abound could we but see them, that more weight rides upon our decisions than we know. There are scads of badly written works of fantasy out there, but the genre also holds many gems that are very well done and that I find inspiring.
AB: Did any of your travels to different countries inspire or influence your writing?
FK: I haven’t used my travels much as source material for writing, the notable exception being my early story “Arrival” which was published in Watershed – an account of the culture shock experienced by a young boy arriving in a foreign country.
AB: After having a variety of jobs, why do you keep coming back to jobs dealing with writing or English?
FK: I teach and work with writing because I both find and create beauty through it. Writing engages me in a way other things don’t. I deeply appreciate the seemingly contradictory elements of static patterns and variability inherent in written language. Writing employs and requires specific structures to communicate, which can guide and aid a writer, but remains so densely complex that these structures can never be prescribed. Even with such structures in place writing remains so flexible and variable that the possibilities it allows are seemingly infinite. I love detail and description and I value how by themselves words can create rich and lovely and gritty and painful images and situations.
AB: What are three pieces of advice you tell young writers?
FK: My three tips for young writers: Get serious. Know your craft. Revise.
AB: Can you give me a sneak peek into your WordSpring workshop?
FK: My workshop at WordSpring 2015 is called “Awesomeness Through Simple Craft” and will be a series of practical examples and exercises in applying simple craft techniques to your writing at the sentence level to deepen and vary the texture of your writing, creating lyricism and flow to keep the reader engaged in the “dream” of your work. Topics will include: saying it slant, varied repetition, non-obvious sentences, and avoiding equative structures.
To find out more about WordSpring 2015, including the full list of presenters and workshops, please visit www.buttewordspring.org. We still have a few more presenter interviews to come this week, and we hope to see many of you at WordSpring on the Butte College campus this Saturday. Several of “Haberdashers” will be attending, so stop us and say hello — yes, we do look like line sketch portraits accompanying our bios!