Interview: Kieran Shea

kokotakesaholiday-kieransheaFrom the first story I read on Plot with Guns to the many that Kieran has graced Shotgun Honey with since its inception, Kieran Shea has been, and continues to be, a diverse writer with a sense of drama and action, and a knack for dialogue that many envy. A veteran short story writer, we are happy to celebrate Kieran’s debut novel KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY from Titan Books. I encourage you to read his collection here, and devour every bit of information you can from his choice answers.

After you read the interview, we know that you will want to read KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY, right? We want to help you out with a copy of the novel from Kieran Shea. And the guy is a man after my own heart, because he wants you to work for it. Here’s the carrot: In roughly 140 characters (just like Twitter) describe your most brutal ‘holiday’ experience in the comments below. And on Friday we’ll announce the winner via Twitter and Facebook.

A very big thanks to Kieran for his support and stories, now read the Q&A.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

I forget who but someone wiser than me once said all stories are crime stories. Betrayal, transgressions, the folly of the best laid plans going cockeyed. Sometimes there’s a gun involved, sometimes not. Ever since I can remember my reading has veered all over the place., If I were to lay the blame at the feet of anyone for being drawn to the genre let’s just go with Willeford, Crumley, and maybe early Tom McGuane.

We’ve been lucky to publish several of your short stories here on Shotgun Honey since our beginning. The most notable aspect of your stories is the way you use form to add a layer to the storytelling. How did that come about?

The form you’re referring to is the all dialogue format. Yeah, it’s taxing because you really can’t run far with it, but it works for short-short fiction. I get a huge kick out of shifting expectations. No great shock here, but I’ve embarrassingly useless background in dramatic theater, so rather than muck about with stage directions like pause or beat I use the ellipses to heighten and frame the natural tensions in the dialogue. Everybody knows good dialogue has rhythms and, like in theater, you need to trust your audience to ride the rhythms you’ve laid out as a writer. This style prompts a sense of immediate intimacy and urgency and (I think) takes the story from zero to sixty in the first few seconds.

You do excel when it comes to dialogue, managing to convey context normally fed outside the dialogue. Is this dialogue format something you developed over the course of writing or where you inspired by other writers?

Well, people talk about guys like Huston, but I really–I ain’t no freakin’ Charlie Huston. Truthfully, I think this jagged stuff all goes back to some my formative interests in dramatic form. Unfortunately in this country (outside of major cities) people have a dwindling exposure to bare bones, work-without-a-net drama. I’ve read a lot of plays (have one on my nightstand right now) and lots of the material is mind-blowingly hardcore and important vis a vis crime fiction. Think early Bogosian. Think Shepard. Guare’s Landscape of the Body or Pinter’s “theater of menace”—God–Shakespeare for crying out loud. Screenplays? That’s a totally different visual mindset. Theater is raw and in your face. I can spend the afternoon talking about plays with violence and betrayal.

When you started putting your work out there, tell us about those first stories. What, where and when?

Well, the stuff with you guys is different from the rest of my stories, at least in form. Thuglit and the now shuttered Plots with Guns and Thrilling Detective were some early successes. Getting past those gates I think gave me the confidence (because I saw some great writers in their ranks) to try other venues like Ellery Queen and Word Riot. You learn along the way and take a lot of kicks to the face. Rejections…everybody has their own story, but you learn from the good rejections if an editor is kind enough to tell you why your story sucked.

In your opinion, and as a writer I know they are all your darlings, what is your favorite short story and why?

Mine? Or short stories in general? In general, my vote is for Jorge Luis Borges‘ “The Secret Miracle.” As for my own, I don’t like going backward because every time I re-read something I’ve written I want to tweak it some more. I guess I like “Indirection, In Wait” which was in Thuglit because I finally figured out how to write non-linearly. I was nominated for the StorySouth’s Million Writers Award for that piece.

I was talking about your work, but any opportunity to recommend writers to readers is a good one. On reading Indirection, In Wait, which is still available in the Thuglit archives, I’d say you pulled off non-linear story telling very well, along with the dialogue I love. What’s your process in writing a story? Does it vary depending on length or theme?

It’s all the same. If I’m entertaining or scaring myself I know I’m on the right track. I just bear down, find the rhythms, get through the bulk of it until I think I’ve reached the end and then I revise, revise, revise until I feel sick.

I’ve read a lot of your stories, either by virtue of managing Shotgun Honey and the anthology or the other venues that were mentioned previously. What I’m most looking forward to is your next story, your debut novel, KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY which if all goes well releases today. Give our readers the pitch.

500 years from now, retired-corporate mercenary Koko Penelope Martstellar runs a brothel on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Her old comrade and executive benefactor on resort, Portia Delacompte, dispatches a squad of security personnel to kill our girl one morning out of the blue, and it’s pretty much run and gun for Koko from there. Kind of looney, very violent, satirical (at least I hope so), and definitely not for the squeamish. Not even close to your Daddy’s sci-fi–rated a heavy-heavy, “redband” R. Huge, city-sized airships, environmental chaos, psychedelic drugs, pulse guns, romance, betrayal, hijacked airborne septic tankers, paraplegic gun runners and blah, blah, blah…how’s that for starters?

Would you consider this a departure from your previous work, or just something longer with a sci-fi twist?

Technically it’s science fiction. But there’s crime and western elements too. I think it’s a departure only because it’s the longest thing I’ve written.

Tell us about your book journey.

Long, confusing, plenty of missteps and luck.

So pretty standard for any emerging writer? Your work is diverse, so I imagine your influences are many. What influences you now as a writer?

I guess work that transcends the expectations of the genre and cuts deeper. I was taught that good fiction (short or long) should be an examination of societal dilemmas and say something bigger than the story itself. Fiction written solely for the sake of entrainment (and there’s plenty out there) seems like such a tragic waste of effort. Don’t get me wrong, fun is fun…you want to turn your brain off and escape? That’s cool, but when I read writers who go that extra mile and get me charged up about an issue…that’s inspiring.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’m finally getting around to DBC Pierre’s VERNON GOD LITTLE.

With KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY now available from Titan, what is your next project and what can you tell your future readers about it?

Just handed in the draft of Koko Takes a Holiday‘s sequel Koko the Mighty, so edits on that.

We wish you much luck on this and future KOKO novels, I know I’ll have a copy in my hand within the day. Before you go, do you have any advice or parting words for our readers and writers?

In writing (like everything else) do your best to speak as your true self…censoring yourself to conform is always a bad bet.

  • Patti Nase Abbott

    Always modest, always smart. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks!

  • Olligator

    I broke my second toe running into my cousin’s crosstrainer, then went on to the rest of my holiday. consisting of daytrips walking through Wales.

  • Hexican

    Catching a horrible fever on the way to NYC to visit my fiancee- Who I hadn’t seen in about six months.

  • They told me not to wander off the main street. “It’s too dangerous for tourists like you.” So is looking up the alley and seeing them waiting.