Monday, February 17, 2014

NaNoWriMo Spotlight 2014: Jaap Kemp

Today's interviewee is Jaap Kemp who goes by the name hereslookinatukd on the site. He doesn't have a title for his novel this year, but he won! He and his wife teach at a school near my own and it was a pleasure meeting them at a write-in halfway through NaNoWriMo in Seoul.

Who are you?

I'm originally from Wisconsin, USA, then received my formal education in Minnesota and Maine. I pursued many areas of vocation for many years (librarian, hotelier, internet cartoonist, preacher, mortician, etc.) but was poorly suited for all of them. During my years in Maine I fell in with a thoroughly disreputable cadre of fiction writers, and together we founded the literary movement FICTIONSHARK. I write fiction mainly, but to date I've received my widest audience as a playwright. In my younger and more vulnerable years I fancied myself a poet, but various circumstances and experiences have since convinced me that there is no higher art (written, visual, or auditory) than a well-crafted lie, and fiction, when employed properly, has the greatest potentiality for deception. A fiction is most always preferable to a perceived truth: most people know of the apple that fell on Newton's head, but very few know, or care to know, what gravity is, what causes it, and why. I realize now this is a very roundabout way of explaining myself and who I am.

Why did you pick NaNoWriMo to consume your November?

I'd attempted NaNoWriMo unsuccessfully for a number of years. Last year I was successful in achieving 50,000 words, but failed to achieve what I intended for the work when I first set out to write it, and ultimately I was deeply disappointed in what I produced. This year, having more free time available to me than I'd anticipated, I wanted to write 50,000 words, not merely type 50,000 words (the difference between 'write' and 'type' is as crucial as the difference between 'writer' and 'typist'). My sentiments towards NaNoWriMo are extraordinarily mixed. I deeply appreciate the improvement of literacy and the fostering of artistic endeavors, especially amongst people who do not consider themselves writers or artists. Yet when I see entire message boards dedicated to puffing out word counts by using as many descriptive adjectives as possible as often as possible, or by giving one's characters exceedingly long names, or by inserting a sudden and indefensible dream or drug sequence, this is an insult to all I have fostered within myself and all I hold dear regarding the purpose of writing. The goal should be the work itself, not the word count; the work itself should be encouraged. Word count is a byproduct of the process. And yet encouraging people who would not otherwise do so to write, and to write every day, is a very good thing, I think.

What was your novel about? Also, why did you pick that?

The entirety of my novel evolved from its first sentence, which was a sort of Frankenstein monster of mixed parts from the first sentences of three novels I esteem greatly and hold in high regard: 'Correction' by Thomas Bernhard, 'The Conversions' by Harry Mathews, and 'Grendel' by John Gardner. I took elements from each of these first sentences and then drafted my own. It was a sort of challenge, to see how far I could take a work just from its initial sentence. The narrator is hosting an evening of diversions at his manor house, and the novel covers the events of that afternoon and evening, a sort of highly irreverent 'Mrs. Dalloway.' Along the way to his diversions, the narrator meets with a number of other characters, both human and animal, both living and dead, and receives from each of them a story or sequence of stories, all of which seem to interrelate, and all of which center around the basic idea that the entire text of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem 'Beowulf', and, thus, much of Western culture in the 20th and 21st centuries, has been fundamentally misinterpreted. And yet none of this information truly fits together, or actually means anything. Which, I think, is how we take in most of our information anyway: Wikipedia, Google, and the media. So instead of sitting around glowing fires chanting poems, we now sit around glowing screens and search for information. At any rate, the entire thing is highly absurd and not to be taken seriously in the slightest.

What is your typical writing process like?

Most of my writing process consists of not writing at all. For me it's highly introspective, mulling through ideas and concepts, and yet also acutely observational, taking note of all words or concepts that come my way, because one never knows what thought, however insipid or useless one thinks it is at the time, might be the very thought that saves you or the work. Gene Fowler said that writing is easy, all you have to do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. Most of my writing consists of staring, and appearing to the outside observer to be either very useless or very stupid. But then when the actual writing comes, every word means something. I hand write everything. This, above all, slows me down. The computer is a very efficient machine for typists but a very dangerous one for writers. It allows one the convenience of not having to think out every single word. Writing long hand forces me to think. Then, when the work is finished, I type it into my computer and make certain or uncertain edits along the way.

How did your month go?

I survived. The book stayed with me after November and I finally finished it on New Year's Eve. A good way to end the year.

What was the hardest part? What was the easiest part?

The hardest part was finishing. I knew the ending very early on, so the process of finishing the work wasn't difficult. But it was immensely difficult to end the book, to complete my creation of and interaction with this world and its inhabitants. It was an enjoyable place for me to exist, thoroughly absurd, highly existential. Some might say it was difficult for me to 'come back to reality.' But that depends on how one defines reality. For me, reality is anything that, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. The characters and world will not go away. I abhor the thoughtless assumption that there's 'fiction' on one hand and 'reality' on the other, as if they are opposites and in contention with one another, and as if this so-called 'real world' is a more valid experience than a so-called 'artificial world'. Why does this assumption exist, that the two are mutually exclusive? What we read and how we read (and also the movies and TV shows we watch and how we watch them) inform our daily lives and experiences just as much as our life and experience inform our appreciation of books, films, and TV shows.

The easiest part was the moment just after finishing: setting down the pen, having completed the work, and saying simply, 'Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.' That moment when the completed work is yours and yours alone, before you share it and it becomes something else to someone else.

What did you learn from NaNoWriMo this year?

I learned above all else that there is no such thing as success. There are only varying degrees of failure. Samuel Beckett: 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.' It's that idea of always failing better, that is the highest aim. How to fail better was and is a good lesson to learn.

Where else can we find you online?

I can be found on the website Leanpub, where my eBook 'Gyrovagues: An Anthology of Interest' is freshly published and available for purchase. It's a collection of miscellaneous writings from the past few years that haven't found a home and I don't know what else to do with--a sort of literary orphanage. There's no fixed price for the book, so you can pay what you want, and 10% of every single purchase will go directly to Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a non-profit that 'provides protection and aid to North Korean refugees hiding in China and, utilizing a modern-day underground railroad through Southeast Asia, rescues refugees and helps them to reach freedom.' That eBook can be found here: https://leanpub.com/u/jaapkemp

My full length play 'The Accusing Parlor' (published under the name Jacob Kempfert) is also available for purchase or performance through Breaking Fourth Plays & Press, and can be found here: http://www.breakingfourth.com/2011/12/02/the-accusing-parlor/

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