Alan Kessler Interview

Hello folks, today we have an interview with Alan S. Kessler, who’s début novel A Satan Carol has just been published by Wild Child Publishing.

Hi Alan, how are things with you?

Just fine, Jim.
Can you please give the readers a little bit of background information on your goodself?
I live in New England with my wife and four children. I also have a dog–Buckeye.
Why horror, what is it about the genre that holds your appeal?

Horror, in writing, can serve a purpose. In a fictional world, it can be used to convey a story, reinforce themes that are life affirming  by showing the contrast between light and dark. Horror, for me, is never an end in itself used simply to shock. I want my readers to think about my book when they finish it and emerge from its shadows and dark places with–new insights? No, that  would be arrogant of me to expect. I would like readers of A Satan Carol to feel they haven’t wasted their time.  Fictional horror allows me to explore the less than appetizing corners of human nature and have my characters experience salvation,  retribution or a bloody mixture of both. Unlike the horrors in real life, in a novel’s world of ghosts and demons, there can be fairness And a purpose for suffering.

And what is it about the genre that you dislike?

Senseless slash and burn.

Who would you say has been the biggest influence on you and your writing?

When I was friendless in high school and a miserable student, I had a teacher who liked what I wrote.

If you could give any book to someone who doesn’t read horror, in an attempt to change their mind, what book would you choose, and why?

That is a tough question. And my answer might be controversial. But I think of the Old Testament. It is filled with stories of death and destruction but we don’t view them as horror because the obliteration of cities or indigenous peoples is presented in a spiritual context. That is what good horror should do—propel the reader, if only for a moment, into a different and transcendent world.

Can you remember what first motivated you to start writing, and has your motivation changed over the years?

I wrote poems as a kid, then short stories. I grew up in a house full of nonsensical talk and writing was a way for me to escape. Writing became a passion that has never left me.
And how would you describe your writing style?

It’s layered and descriptive, invokes atmosphere and involves various themes. In the end I hope I’ve created a good story.

Let’s talk a bit about the mechanics of your writing. How do you go about the writing process? Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow?

I write slowly. While writing, I edit each sentence, making sure it says what I’m trying to convey. And beyond that, the words must sound “right” and have a certain cadence. Because writing for me is difficult, my manuscripts require constant polishing. I rewrote A Satan Carol ten times before I submitted it to the publisher.
How much research do you do? And have you ever had any nasty letters saying your research is flawed?

In A Satan Carol I researched the Irish potato famine. I haven’t gotten any criticism about my facts—yet.
Pen and paper, or computer for the first draft?

Computer for all drafts and revisions.

Do you have any rituals that you go through when you write?

No. I just sit down and write. When I’m done with the first draft I begin a second. I’m amazed by the talent of writers who can produce multiple books.
How do you edit, do you edit as you write, or do you edit after each draft is finished?

Guess I should have read this question before answering above. I’m very critical at all stages and even when I know I’ve done my “best” I also know I could go back to my manuscript and make it better. But I’m not a perfectionist, just someone with a vision that always seems beyond my grasp.
What is the most rewarding thing about writing for you?

To have people read my stories and like them.
And what do you hate the most about writing?

My dream—to be a good writer—is left for others to decide if I’m delusional in this regard or on a fool’s errand. So what I like most about writing is also the scariest part of it.
Prior to A Satan Carol being published had you had much success in the writing world?

Can you tell us about the lead up to writing A Satan Carol? Was there a single occurrence that prompted you to start writing this novel?

I wanted to write about a child physically and mentally cut off from human contact. That idea turned into Pal, son of Mr. Green, the devil. The story developed from there.
Can you explain the basic plot of the novel?

The devil wants to create a world where people will love him. For that, his son must become a prophet, one who will announce the coming of a new savior. But Pal, child of Satan, doesn’t have a soul. He can’t speak or walk. Only a soul—a certain golden one—will give him the powers Satan needs for his plan. But that soul is destined for the unborn child of a young girl. Without violating
 the cosmic directive giving humans free will, the devil schemes to make sure this unborn child dies.

When writing the book, were you ever concerned that the themes of the novel would be taken the wrong way, by some of the more fanatical religious folks out there?

No, and it’s interesting. Some reviewers have thought the novel Christian literature. I believe in the importance of myth. Logic by itself is nihilistic. Science can’t explain the reason we exist. There are myths in the modern world—a free market benefits all; having 1500 nuclear bombs keeps a country safe. These myths don’t offer comfort or insight into the human condition. Modernity has taken away our spirituality. The devil is a myth but an important one. He was a repository for our fears. I wanted to resurrect him, give him needs and emotions, make him more than a caricature. I hope I have treated the religious elements of my story with respect without compromising what I wanted to say.
What is the significance of calling Mr Green, Mr Green?

He owns EnViro, a company that recycles toxins by transporting them into another world. I thought Green an appropriate name.
You describe A Satan Carol, as being a full of religious themes for a secular reader. What do you mean by this?

I believe a religious person and an atheist can read the story and get something out of it. There are elements in A Satan Carol that favour pro choice arguments and other parts that are pro life. I didn’t intend to write a novel where there were no clear cut positions on social issues but that’s what happened.
How much of the thoughts and feelings of the book reflect your own opinions?

The characters speak for themselves but I do like the idea of justice. Forgiveness is important but that’s not the same as absolution. If you hurt someone there are consequences. I don’t believe in good karma but I do believe we can create karma that is bad.
The book, also has elements of parody and satire, how difficult was it to keep these elements of the narrative from overtaking themain themes of the book?

The most difficult thing for me to write is description. When the characters speak they have their own personalities and I feel I am just channelling their words. Plus, I have a sense of humor, dark and perhaps twisted at times, so that helps.
Is there one main message that you would like the reader to get when they read the book?

What we do, the choices we make, ripple through time.
There have been many depictions of Auld Nick in the media, what are some of your favourite depictions and why?

I like any that gives him human qualities. He was once portrayed as a bumbler, stumbling around, lost, with no father.  That idea appeals to me. It’s sad thinking about an impotent angel. 

The book is published by Wildchild Publishing, how did you end up publishing the book through these guys?

I went to Editors and Predators, started at the back and at W found that Wild Child Publishing was recommended. So I sent them a query and they asked for a sample chapter, then fifty more pages. After that they sent me a contract.
What does a publisher bring to the table in this day and age of self publishing?

Credibility with reviewers who trust that the manuscript has been professionally edited. Personally, I think self publishing is great but I would always try and find a publisher before incurring the cost of printing a book myself. However published, unless an author is a brand name, marketing is the writer’s responsibility.

Do you have any advice for any readers who are considering taking up writing?

Writing isn’t a hobby, a craft to pick up and put down. It is an obsession born of passion that becomes the writer’s mistress making other relationships–if he’s not careful–secondary. It is the pursuit of an ideal–to craft a story that is beautifully written, meaningful, and engages both the reader’s emotions and mind. And to do this, the writer must be willing to sacrifice herself. Write in obscurity. Write when sick. Write when the dog is barking and needs to pee. Write through arguments and when the words sound like crap. Do all this because the passion refuses to let her put the pen down.  Those who want to write have already heard, in their hearts, the call. Now they need only place the fear of failure aside and each day answer the summons.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you have in the pipeline?

I have a novel length manuscript about a boy raised in a house of demons.

And do you have any final words for the readers?

Thank you for taking the time to read a debut novel by an unknown writer and thank you, Jim, for making me feel important by asking me these questions.

You can pick up a copy of A Satan Carol, by clicking on the links below


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