Kris Herndon is a prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction. The real world isn’t good enough for me, either, Kris, and I look forward to seeing your creations of a better one.
Tamago: How did you decide you wanted to become a writer?
Kris: Writing is almost like an involuntary thing for me. I think about it constantly. I think I decided to try and turn it into a paying career mostly to justify my existence on the planet. Also I’m super shy and when speaking, I tend to express myself poorly — so maybe I’ve learned to compensate in writing, being that everyone needs to communicate. If I didn’t write articles, short stories and novels I would probably send many more long tiresome emails to my friends and family and post many more long-winded posts on online message boards. And no one wants to see that happen.
Tamago: Do you see yourself as a novelist, a short story writer, or both?
Kris: At this point I’ve published only one short story, but I write both and my goal is to publish both.
Tamago: Which writers influence your work?
Kris: This is a hard question because I don’t want to come across like I’m comparing my work to a bunch of unquestionably genius-level stuff! That said, I read in every genre. I admire Kazuo Ishiguro, J.M. Coetzee, P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Ira Levin, Neal Stephenson. Some books that I re-read a lot are Watership Down, Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy, and Brideshead Revisited. I’ll get laughed at for this one but I have a strange affection for Judith Krantz. I love Cindy Pon, Lisa Brackmann, and Gretchen McNeil, great writers and wonderful human beings — I met them through Absolute Write and they are all brilliant and super supportive of beginning writers. And quite honestly, some of my VP classmates, and other writers I’ve met through VP influence me tremendously every day — George Galuschak, Miranda Suri, Leonard Richardson, Ferrett Steinmetz, Christian Walter, EF Kelly, Sean Craven.
Tamago: How did you decide to write a story about wereflamingos?
Kris: There is a good story behind this one. During the VP trip to “The Bite” in Menemsha, I was sitting with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden, eating fried shrimp. Teresa said, “Patrick always eats the tails” and I said, “To keep his plumage pink?” We riffed about it a little bit, and it was really funny. Later that night when I was struggling with about a hundred and one lame, lifeless first sentences for the homework assignment — the prompt was something like “Flawed hero saves the day” — the idea of a man with pink plumage eating tons of shrimp to maintain the rosy shade of his magnificent tail feathers gave rise to that rather silly story. It was very hard reading it aloud on the last day because I was dying of laughter through parts of it. Now that I see it in print there are million things I would change about it! It’s like re-reading an email after you hit “send.”
Tamago: What projects are you working on now?
Kris: I’m revising a novel about a lady android that has been through many drafts — this may be the final draft — one can only hope. I’m close to finishing the first draft of a YA novel — this was the project that was critiqued at VP, and for some reason I got stalled out on it for a long time after that! Then I have several short stories that are kind of hovering near completion. Probably the nearest to being submit-worthy is this one about some aliens that invade a small town in Georgia. I wasted some time trying to turn it into a novel… Live and learn.
Tamago: Can you comment on your decision to go to Viable Paradise and your experience there?
Kris: Seriously, one big factor was that it was at the beach. I think better near water and I need to walk around a lot (my VP roomie Miranda will attest to this!) I also wanted a writing workshop where everyone would be working in the “what if” zone — I didn’t want to critique a bunch of stuff about the grittiness of daily life: “With a weary sigh, Olive looked through the box of photos she found in the basement after the flood…” and that sort of thing. I don’t say that to disparage literary fiction at all, because it’s a huge chunk of what I read and love. But when I want to feel inspired as a writer, I put those books aside. Besides, I get enough of the damned real world since, perforce, I mostly live there — I like to say that the real world just isn’t good enough for me. I’ve always wanted unicorns and winged lions, magical abilities, high-stakes battles — ones that don’t involve health insurance or depositions or filling out a bunch of paperwork. I possess a deep-seated impatience with reality.
VP was a good choice for me, because I was really inspired by some of the writers there, both teachers and students. I remember being in one of the exercise groups with Lisa Morton, where we had to write first sentences based on characters and situations we had pulled out of a hat, and she just tossed off about ten brilliant ones without breaking a sweat — I was like, “Shit, I can’t do that! I’m just gonna go now.” (And then I was probably like, “Um, can I steal some of these?”) And that’s just one example, and not even getting into the instructors, who were amazing.
Tamago: A quick search of the internet reveals many of the nonfiction articles you’ve written about a wide variety of subjects. What would you say are the main differences in writing non fiction as opposed to fiction? Are there similarities?
Kris: I would say the main difference is that when I’m writing fiction I don’t have to transcribe interviews. As soon as I get rich I’m going to hire a college student to transcribe all my interview tapes, because I hate hearing my own laugh on tape. Also, I usually pitch non-fiction before writing it, as opposed to fiction where you have to write and perfect the whole damn thing before you pitch or submit it, with no guarantee that anyone other than you has the slightest interest! Other than that it’s pretty similar — the research, the outlining, the writing, the eyestrain, the low pay… the not knowing whether to laugh or cry…
Tamago: Do you have a dream project? Can you describe it?
Kris: I constantly dream of a project that will allow me to do a lot of tax-deductible traveling to exotic locales with warm climates! Seriously, I read “Hawaii” and I’m like, “I see what you did here, Michener… Yes, tell my editor I need another full year of research at the public archive in Honolulu!” (Actually I think in Michener’s case he full-on moved to Hawaii, but that would work just as well for me.)
9. Where do you see your writing career in 10 years?
Ten years from now I hope to be a published novelist with a super aggressive agent! And maybe branching out into new avenues like screenwriting. I hope to be making a decent living at my craft. I would also like to teach writing. I’m easy to work with, I take deadlines seriously, and I work like a slave! Oops, I accidentally lifted that last sentence from my resume cover letter.