Welcome to the forty-ninth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I’m very excited to be chatting with BK Bass, my friend at Kyanite Publishing. I met Mr. Bass through Benjamin Hope, and they’ve published two of my short stories: THE SCHLIKT and HUMAN. Mr. Bass also shares more writing knowledge in an in-depth interview with our mutual creative friend and photographer, Andrew Hall.
Arthur: Tell me about how you came into writing. Are there any experiences you have which inspire your stories?
BK: I fell into it at a young age. In fifth grade I started reading Greek mythology, Edgar Allan Poe, Terry Brooks, Tolkien, and others. I fell in love with everything fantasy, mythological, and macabre. Soon, that branched out into science fiction. It wasn’t long before school writing assignments turned into a chance to explore my love of these stories from the other side of the pen, and before you know it, I was writing for fun. I kept practicing for about 25 years, and here I am today!
Arthur: Tell me about Kyanite Publishing. I love working with you and your team. How did the idea for the company come about? What were the challenges? What has been the most positive part of the experience for you?
BK: Thank you! My partner and I originally got together to do an indie book review site, and in the process of that discovered a lot of amazing authors that weren’t getting much recognition. We thought it would be great to put our own business, administration, marketing, editing, and writing skills to work for the community; and provide an avenue to help uplift other authors.
I’d say the biggest challenge is simply finding time to get everything done, since we’re just a small staff. The most positive thing has been that all of our authors and contributors have really come together and become a family of collaborators and friends, which was one of our original goals.
Arthur: How do you develop your book covers? Do you go through a testing period?
BK: A lot of them are designed by a freelance cover artist we’ve been consistently contracting, but a few are in-house designs. We go through a process of providing concepts, evaluating artwork, revising designs, revising again, etc. There’s a lot of communication back and forth to tweak designs until they’re just right. On the other hand, I’ve been doing the cover designs for our speculative fiction journal, the Kyanite Press, since the start. I’m starting to work on some book cover designs myself recently and should be able to point to a few that I did over the next year.
Arthur: Do you have any writing techniques or practices you employ to hone your craft? Do you mind sharing?
BK: I’d say my primary writing technique is emulation of classic styles, mostly from the pulp-era of the early 20th century and mid-to-late 20th century fiction. This leads into one of three pieces of advice I give any author looking to improve their writing: read. Read as much as you can in the style and genre you want to write and be sure to diversify into other genres and styles to pick up elements to incorporate. Just because you’re writing science fiction doesn’t mean reading a few mystery novels won’t help you to improve. Also, there’s a lot of great books out there on the craft of writing itself, and you definitely should pick up a few.
The second piece of advice is to practice. Like I mentioned, I wrote for 25 years before I published anything. Like any skill, it takes time and work to refine.
The last piece of advice is to learn from your editor. When you get an edited manuscript back, don’t just approve the edits and move on. Study them, see what you can improve on, and learn from it. Especially: look for trends. If your editor is correcting the same kind of issue over and over, it’s not a momentary lapse of judgement; that’s a bad habit that you can break and use as an opportunity to improve.
Arthur: In your book, PARTING THE VEIL, I read the first chapter and had brief premonitions about an old object from the H. P. Lovecraft universe. What inspired significant happenings in this story (without giving too much away)?
The works of H.P. Lovecraft were definitely a primary inspiration for Parting the Veil. I set out to write a cosmic horror tale, and you can’t do that without Lovecraft playing a hand in things. I didn’t want to use his mythos, but rather his style, tone, and some elements like the ominous relic you mentioned. I really wanted to focus in on that relic as well, and all that goes along with discovering something like that, which lead to a focus on archaeology in the book.
Going down that path and wanting to infuse some adventure into the cosmic horror, the Indiana Jones films became a huge influence on the book.
Finally, I wanted to turn that Indiana Jones archetype into a pair of protagonists that provided a foil for each other. A man of action, and a man of learning. The relationship between Richard and Wilkins therefore was inspired in part by Indiana Jones, and in part by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Arthur: What was your editing process for each of your books? How many drafts did you go through? What did you learn through the various revisions?
BK: Perhaps as a result of decades of practice combined with my current work as an editor, my rough drafts are very polished. I don’t write to fill the page intending to go back and fix it. I tend to carefully craft each sentence as I go. I write one draft, do a brief proofread where I make a few tweaks, then it’s off to the editor. She usually finds a few copy-editing issues to correct, and that’s where I learn the most. Like I mentioned above, when she corrects common problems, I use those as opportunities to improve.
Arthur: When it comes to creatures and monsters, it’s difficult to come up with something we haven’t seen before. I love the creatures in PARTING THE VEIL. How did you come up with their designs and concepts?
BK: One of the key concepts of Parting the Veil is the question of what if all the myths, legends, and nightmares from human history are actually real, and exist in another reality thinly separated from our own. With that in mind, most of the creatures in the book are drawn from various world mythologies. The design of them is very close to the source material, with just a few tweaks where needed to make them just a little scarier. Although, when you look at a lot of these legends, they don’t need much help in that department! There are a few creatures in the book that are original, and they’re born simply from taking the normal and twisting it as much as possible.
Arthur: There’s a book called DEEP WORK written by Cal Newport, which discusses how we learn to focus for a task which requires “deep work,” such as writing a novel. Tell me about your writing space. Are there specific attributes to your work space which help you focus on your writing? How do you free yourself from distraction when you’re in the middle of a writing session?
BK: That’s the real challenge! I don’t have a secret laboratory where I craft my tales, although I think that would help. One big thing is keeping my desk clean. If there’s clutter, it’s a distraction. Another thing is being alone. Like you mentioned, you have to be deep into writing to make it work, and it takes some time to get into that zone. Every time somebody distracts you, you must start that process all over. Finally, music is a key factor for me. I always have some sort of mood music playing, and it usually relates to the project. I have a lot of 1930s jazz musicians to thank for Parting the Veil.
Arthur: What is your typical writing schedule?
BK: Being a writer and a publisher, it’s hard to have a set writing schedule. I do have a set work schedule, though. I’m mostly a morning person, so I’m typically at the desk somewhere between 4am and 6am. I do most of my best work then, but sometimes the muse will strike late at night and I’ll write well into the evening. What days are spent writing and which are spent publishing depends on the workload. Kyanite is my primary responsibility, so I have to work in time around that. I guess you could say my typical writing schedule is atypical, because it simply depends on when I can find the time!
Arthur: In my interview with Hugh Howey, he discusses the experience he wants to create for his readers. He hopes to make them miss their subway stop because they are so immersed in a vivid and impactful world. What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers?
BK: I’m going to have to say I’m on the same page with Hugh. World Building is a key element to all my books, and I want the reader to feel like they’re exploring a real, lived in, breathing world. Everything from the carvings on a wall to the smell of food roasting over a fire are little ways to draw the reader into the experience. I’m a fan of pure escapism. While most of my books have some sort of underlying message—and I want people to think in new ways about the world around them after they’re done reading—during the process I want them to feel like they can leave the real world behind and explore a time or place they’ve never been to.
Arthur: What project are you most proud of and why?
BK: I’d say I’m most proud of What Once Was Home, my post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that was released in October. I poured my heart and soul into that book, much more than any of my others. The themes and issues tackled in there are very deep and personal ones, from the loss of my father to my own views on morality. The reader response has been great, too. All of my books have had positive reactions, with terms like “immersive”, “fast-paced”, and “exciting” being used to describe them; but words like “heartfelt” are being used to describe this one, which sets it apart from the rest of my work.
Arthur: How do you engage your readers in a story? What strategies do you use to keep them turning the pages?
BK: That immersion I mentioned before is a big part of it. Sprinkling little seeds of world building to make it feel like they’re actually there. Small details like smells, architecture, garbage in the streets, people going about their day, etc, all help to draw the reader into the world of the book.
The next thing is to make them care about the world, and you must do that with the characters. We all are people and relate to people. Creating robust, realistic characters with hopes, desires, fears, and flaws are how you make the reader care about what’s happening in the book. Also, giving them relationships is key to making them feel real. John Donne said “no man is an island,” and this is true with our characters. They need to have relationships to be relatable. They need people to love, hate, care for, and be annoyed by.
Now, keeping the reader turning the page is built off these two foundations, but the tricky part is building tension. Hinting at future dangers, leaving some questions unanswered, and promising that something exciting is about to happen by laying out clues. I could explain that in more detail, but I’d probably have to write a whole book on the subject to do it justice!
Arthur: What is a future project you hope to finish one day, but perhaps you’re not ready or prepared to do it yet? What do you need to learn or develop before you can start?
BK: I going to have to sound pretentious and say that I don’t think there’s a project I want to work on that I’m not ready for. However, on the other side of that coin is a project that I’ve been preparing to write for over two years now. I have an epic fantasy series planned called The Eternity War Saga, the first book of which is called Heir to Eternity. I’m not sure how long it’ll be yet, but there will be at least three main books. I’ve been working on the world building for it for over a year, and the outline has been written, rewritten, tweaked, and reorganized more times than I can remember.
Also, I’ve been practicing writing for 25 years now; so if I’m not ready yet, I doubt I have enough time left in this mortal coil to get to that point!