Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre novelist Kenneth S Murray. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Ken. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Ken: I grew up in Villanova, west of Philadelphia, but went south; graduated from the University of Virginia, served in the U S Army, and went further south to live in Winter Park, Florida. I retired early, was totally bored and decided to write – took a course at Rollins College on writing and now its like breathing – I’ve got to do it.
Morgen: That’s exactly how I feel. I left school not knowing what I wanted to do then had the definitive light-bulb moment at creative evening class eight years ago. What genre do you generally write?
Ken: Always fiction, but different sub-genres within that broad heading.
Morgen: Me too. What have you had published to-date?
Ken: Three novels: “The Final Plan”, a post WWII Nazi scheme; then I wanted to write the mother of all robberies, and what could be bigger than robbing the gold depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky? So I wrote “The Coal Mine Caper”, and then “The Jeweler”, about an assassin.
Morgen: You’ve self-published – what lead to you going your own way?
Ken: All of the books I’ve described were self-published. I had to go my own way after many years of trying to get a good New York based literary agent to represent me to a publisher.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Ken: All three novels are now available as eBooks. I changed the name of the book about robbing the gold depository. A writer only has a few seconds to grab an eReader’s attention and “Fort Knox Heist” tells the story, and so does the new book cover. I had a computer guru help create websites and book sites on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. I must admit, I like holding a paper book, but on occasion I’ll read an ebook.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Ken: No. I enjoyed the creation of each and every character. Through a friend of mine (a few years ago) the president of Universal Studios in Los Angeles had his staff review “The Final Plan”. He said, “Tell Ken that it’s a great story, but involves so many events in different countries it would cost way too much to make into a movie.” Perhaps if this was a Tom Clancy book, we might reconsider. And if I got lucky with a film, give me any leading actor as long as he likes the book.
Morgen: That’s really interesting, that the author should like the book. It had never occurred to me that an actor would be I guess it’s like an author writing – if they’re bored with writing it then the reader is bound to feel the same. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Ken: James Michener, Herman Wouk, Wilbur Smith, Robert Ludlum are a few, and yes, they influenced me toward writing fiction and historical fiction.
Morgen: Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Ken: Yes. I chose the titles and the covers, except the cover for my new book. That is a beautiful piece of work done by Rick Morgan at Coastline Studios in Orlando, Fl. It will be available as an eBook soon.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Ken: Strangely enough, my newest novel, “The Second Creation”, is science fiction, and it was the first book I ever thought about writing when I saw the Hubble Space craft capture the plunge of the Shoemaker-Levy comet, broken by gravity into 21 pieces, slam into Jupiter.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Ken: When working on a new novel, I write five to six days a week for 4 to 6 hours a day. I’ve been fortunate that I never experienced writer’s block. I just sit down and it flows onto my monitor.
Morgen: Me too. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Ken: I run with a new idea. I don’t outline – its too confining for me.
Morgen: I never used to but I’ve started a crime series, just started the second one, and think an outline would have helped so I’m planning on writing synopses (at the very least) for the series. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Ken: No method. The characters just develop along with the plot. If part of the story is in England, then I give them English names, faces, clothes and speech. If it’s Argentina, the same path is chosen to develop their identities, and they become believable.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Ken: I’ve always had to edit a lot. I didn’t major in English or writing, so I’m at a disadvantage there. But my imagination is vivid and as my favorite cynic, Oscar Levant once said, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I erased the line.”
Morgen: <laughs> Do you have to do much research?
Ken: Yes. A whole lot of it. Good fiction is based on lots of facts. Research is what makes my books plausible, credible, interesting and compelling. In “The Jeweler”, most of the incidents depicted are historical fact. I simply placed Cole Hanson, the main character, in the event and fictionalized his participation. The murders in Vatican City are a prime example of my approach.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Ken: I have always used third person. Second person – well – I’d say that F. Scott Fitzgerald did that so well with Nick in “The Great Gatsby,” that no one else has the guts to try it.
Morgen: Some of us do 🙂 although even I don’t write it much longer than short stories or chapters. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Ken: Yes. I stopped writing prose and got into poetry four years ago. I studied it, went to Rollins College and took a critique course for two years. I must tell you that it is magical to touch it. I write romantic poetry. John Updike was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art and literary critic. Before he died in 2009, he was asked in an interview, “When you look back at all of your work, what is foremost in your mind?” He said, “I look at my poetry. It is the most intense and the most satisfying to write.” I know exactly what he meant.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Ken: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘light of day’. If that’s being print published, then maybe none of my work will see it. The ebook route opens up new opportunities, but it’s still a crapshoot.
Morgen: It certainly does but people still have to buy it (or at least download) it to read it… if they do. I have tons of unread eBooks on my iPad and I do think I may not get to them all, which will be a shame because most writers write to be read (rather than just make money, although both would be good). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Ken: I’ve got drawers full of rejection letters, postcards, notes and whatever over the past fifteen plus years, but writers are like moths seeking the flame, the light. As John Gardner once said, “writing is not so much a profession as a ‘yoga’ or ‘way’. Its benefits are quasi-religious – a changed quality of heart and mind, satisfactions no non-novelist can understand – and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough.”
Morgen: Do you enter competitions?
Ken: I’ve entered a number of them in the past, but I’m not impressed with that approach.
Morgen: I used to but it’s luck in many cases. I’m on the other side now, judging, and that’s great fun. You mentioned trying to get an agent – do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Ken: I wish I did have a good agent. But with the advent of electronic books, a writer can hit success without either an agent or a publisher. Hugh Howey said – you’ve still got to be lucky.
Morgen: Luck does have a part to play. Life is often about being in the right place at the right time, but with writing you have to have written it and put it out there to be in that place. Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Ken: No. Marketing has never been my strong suit.
Morgen: It’s usually the answer to the ‘least’ part of my next question. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Ken: Starting a new book and ending a new book / the constant problem of the edit. I’m surprised at my continuing interest. The ‘spiritual profits’ I guess.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Ken: Don’t stop. I was turned off for a while about writing and the muse fell off my shoulder. She’s back on now when I turned to poetry – I made some poetry / art presentations at our museum of art with the curator and it was a lot of fun and work too.
Morgen: Writing should be fun. I write dark stories, some really dark, and even that’s fun. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Ken: Mark Twain, Sara Teasdale (romantic poet) both born in the 1800’s; lived into the early 1900’s, and Salvador Dali, the painter with the curly-cue moustache and the bug eyes. I came to appreciate his genius last year when a Frenchman gave us a tour of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. I learned how to interpret some of his work. I sensed a wild and crazy guy. He walked on the edge of the envelope.
Dinner – Veuve Clicquot champagne served in very narrow flutes (enhances the bubbles) appetizer – vichyssoise, entrée – roasted duck with a raspberry glaze, roasted vegetables, desert – flourless chocolate cake, melted chocolate center. Wifely suggestions.
Morgen: She’s a very wise lady (I love duck). Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Ken: Books – On Writing and Publishing, Mark Twain (a limited edition); On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner; Elements of Style, Strunk & White; Goof-Proofer, Stephen Manhard; On Writing, A memoir of the Craft, Stephen King. Websites – I never kept a list of them, but there are lots on the net, and wattpad and scribd – both huge writer & reader sites of interest.
Morgen: Stephen King’s On Writing is the most recommended book in these interviews. It’s listed, amongst others, on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-other-peoples/writing-related. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Ken: With the advent of the internet and ebooks, perhaps a better future than the past. Although I worry that kids today just go to junk-sites on the web, play games, and don’t expand the mind.
Morgen: I’m sure they do, although I have heard that eBooks are getting people to read more (as are blogs etc I think). Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Ken: I think you’ve wrung me out.
Morgen: Oh dear. Sorry about that. I do hope you’ve enjoyed the experience though. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Ken: From your questionnaire, what tells you the person either has, or does not have, the ability to write?
Morgen: Ability is a very hard question to answer but I can usually tell whether they have enough passion to stay the distance. Some have often said that they ‘need’ to be a writer or they can’t imagine being anything else and that’s exactly how I feel. Thank you for joining me today, Ken.
I then invited Ken to provide a synopsis…
Cole Hanson learned the jewelry trade early in life. Dealing in emeralds in Columbia, Hanson is kidnapped and taken to the mountain jungle lair of the Black Jaguar, a cocaine drug lord. He witnesses a horrible triple murder, executes the killer, and escapes. Hanson is overwhelmed by a euphoric rush and struggles with this discovered Jekyll and Hyde personality. Hanson is recruited to become an assassin for the CIA who learns of his strange predilection for death and uses this alter ego to press The Jeweler ever deeper into espionage and assassinations around the world. Murder occurs in England. Diskettes with top-secret information about the Soul Catcher are stolen. Incensed, Hanson seeks the killers, but is on his own without CIA approval as clues take him across Europe and to the Vatican for revenge. After twenty years of service The Jeweler attempts his toughest sanction. Hussein is well guarded moving between palaces and seems an impossible target until fate deals a hand. Hussein flees on his mega-yacht. Hanson battles his way on board for the final action and twists in the Persian Gulf.
Ken Murray lives with his wife Beth in Winter Park and has sons and daughters and three grandchildren. A graduate of the University of Virginia, he served in a top-secret cryptographic unit of the U. S. Army in the Pentagon during the Korean war organizing intelligence from codes deciphered by the National Intelligence Agency. He moved to Florida in 1958, retired early and for the past fifteen years has been writing novels and poetry.
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