Thursday, March 31, 2011

Author Interview with Todd Keisling

Todd Keisling is a writer, occasional blogger, and author of the novel A LIFE TRANSPARENT. Born in Kentucky, he now lives near Reading, Pennsylvania with his wife, Erica. He works a day job just like everyone else but indulges his super-secret writer superhero self every evening. And, contrary to popular opinion, he’s a cat person.

First of all, I want to thank Todd for taking the time to talk with us today. Also, I want to remind you to leave a comment for a chance to win a digital copy of Todd's book, A Life Transparent.

* How did you come up with such an unique idea and story?

The central concept—that of a man living such a boring existence that he begins to physically disappear—came about one day at work. I was unhappy with my job, unhappy with a lot of things in my life at that point in time (this was about five years ago), and on that particular day, no one spoke to me or acknowledged I was there, and I found myself wondering, “Is this it? Is this all there is left in life?”

I imagined myself ten years in future, at a ripe age of 33, still stuck in the same job, still trying to make it as a writer, still making promises to myself that I couldn’t keep. And from that, Donovan Candle was born. The theme of shedding one’s mediocrity in favor of pursuing their dreams crept up as I searched for a deeper reason behind Donovan’s affliction. That led to the creation of the book’s pseudo-antagonist, Aleister Dullington.

The rest of the book was made up of a number of smaller ideas meant for other stories that never seemed to gain any traction. The theory of the homeless and missing people, abduction of Donovan’s spouse, and the incident with the cat all seemed to find a home under that main concept’s umbrella.

* Which character in your story was the most fun to write?

I really enjoyed writing about Aleister Dullington. He surprised me as the book took shape and all through the revision process. I like that he walks that line between neutral-good and neutral-bad, and I’m hesitant to call him a total villain simply because his motivation is at odds with the main character. On one hand, he uses Donovan as a means to an end, but on the other, Dullington is doing his job, and he’s grown very bored with it—just like Donovan. It’s little things like this that made him a joy to write about, even if his presence is largely negative.

* Do your characters bear any resemblance to you?

I think there’s a little resemblance of myself in most of my characters, in some form or fashion. Those characters who don’t are based on others. Donovan is an imagination of myself as an older figure, exhibiting the same subconscious tendencies, hopes, fears, and doubts. Dullington is that nagging voice in the back of my head, telling me what I need to do (which is, in many ways, just like Donovan’s own creation, Joe Hopper). Dr. Albert Sparrow is the negative side, my inner cynic, taunting and goading me for falling short of my goals. There are all sorts of ways those characters could be picked apart and psychoanalyzed, but I’ll leave such conjecture for my editor, Amelia, who studied psychology and isn’t afraid to point out such things.

* The Yawning are sort of the minions of your story. How did you come up with them?

When I struck upon the notion of the Monochrome, I initially imagined it as being a large labyrinth-like area, rather than a reflection of our reality (the Spectrum). With that in mind, I wanted there to be some large creature that stalked the corridors, hunting the poor souls who had ended up in that gray prison. So, that’s how the Yawning came to be, though as the story developed and details changed, I realized there was more than just one creature at Dullington’s command.

* Who or what inspired you to become a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do?

Early on, it was the work of Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Chuck Palahniuk, and Albert Camus. Writing was not my first choice. Once upon a time, I wanted to go to college for an art degree. My focus on a visual medium turned to film, and from there, screenwriting. I wrote my first novel when I was 17, and it was adapted from a screenplay I wrote a year prior.

The process made me realize that I’d always been a writer in some way, even going back to when I was a little kid (I wrote my first story in Kindergarten, and it was published by the local newspaper). Even my drawings and paintings had stories to them, but I didn’t bother writing them down until I was older.

I think it worked out for the best. I can’t draw worth a shit.

* What is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?

Let’s see . . . My favorite part is when everything comes together. When I start out with a story, I have a general idea, but things are out of focus. It’s my job to bring it all into focus, and there’s a point at which everything—all the ideas, the characters, their motivations—come together seamlessly, as though I’d planned it that way all along (even though I really didn’t). It’s a bit of a Eureka! moment, and from there it’s just a matter of writing it all the down. The story’s already telling itself by that point.

As for the least favorite part, it would have to be the time leading up to that pinnacle moment when it all comes together. That period early on when you feel like you’re fumbling around in the dark without a light, and all you have to keep you company (other than an intimidating, blank page) is that nagging voice of Doubt in your head, telling you it’s a stupid idea and that you should quit while you’re ahead. It makes getting to the good part all the more satisfying.

* Going indie is such a big step w/ a lot of responsibility and hard work. Why did you choose that route and are you happy with your choice?

ALT flirts with a number of genres, and it’s can’t strictly classify it as a thriller or horror novel. That said, I knew the odds were against me when it came to getting an agent. Even if I did happen to succeed in obtaining representation, the odds of the book surviving the next step into Traditional land without being stripped of certain elements were not good. I believed in the story, and I believed it would connect with readers. I didn’t need an agent telling me they wouldn’t, so I decided not to play the submit-and-wait game.

Aside from that, I wanted full control of my destiny. If it’s my name going on a book, I want it to live up to my standards. It’s because of this freedom that I was able to choose the cover designer and an editor who believe in my work and share my vision. The process was stressful, difficult, and it certainly isn’t for everyone, but at the end of the day, no one can say the book was half-assed. The end result is something I’m very proud of, and I’m happy with the choices I made.

* How do you see traditional vs indie playing out in the near and distant future?

I think we’ll see the traditional industry significantly shrink. I think we’ll see a lot more small, independent houses popping up in the next ten or fifteen years, mostly due to more established names striking out on their own. It’s the same sort of thing musicians have done (and continue to do) in the wake of the music industry crumbling around itself. Technology will play a huge part in it (as evidenced in the rise of ebook readers in the last four years), and while I’d like to say there will be a universal ebook format, I’m not going to hold my breath. If anything, there will probably be a dozen different proprietary formats, and while this may be a shot in the dark, I could also see the bigger publishers partnering and/or developing their own proprietary devices (but I really hope that doesn’t happen). This is all speculation, of course, and I could go on for pages. Regardless of how things pan out, I think it’s certainly an exciting time to be involved with publishing.

* What advice would you give to aspiring authors, especially those who plan to go indie as well?

Don’t give up. Armor yourself with the fact that some people will not like what you do, and that some will even try to discourage you from doing it. Don’t listen to these people. Write from your heart and be honest with your words.

If you’re going indie, do your homework, get to know your fellow indies (we tend to stick together), and do not cut corners. Remember, it’s your name going on that cover. Make sure the pages that follow that cover are the best damn pages you can make. Be prepared to spend money. Consider it an investment in your career.

Finally, have fun. If you can’t enjoy what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t do it. So, in the words of Chuck Palahniuk, “love it—or find a way to love it.”

* Can you tell us a little bit about the sequel to A Life Transparent?

I can tell you a teeny-tiny bit without giving away any spoilers. The next book is called THE LIMINAL MAN. It takes place a little over a year after the events of ALT. It involves the disappearance of Donovan’s nephew, an outbreak of missing persons cases, and the inherent evil of reality television. If ALT is about the dangers of mediocrity, TLM is about the dangers of one’s own doubt and fear. It’s currently in the editing stages, and we hope to go to print with it sometime early next year, so stay tuned.

Again, a huge thanks to wonderfully talented Todd Keisling. A Life Transparent is available in both e-book format and paperback. Please be sure to visit Todd's website, for updates on his future projects. You can also follow him on Twitter, @todd_keisling, and on his Facebook author page.


  1. Nice review! I too am a cat person, but it's not contrary to popular opinion. ;) Very interesting how this book got started from that day at work. I think a lot people experience that feeling of, "Is this is?" at some point in life.

  2. I think the screenwriting chops come through in this book; first thought I had after I read it was that it moved smoothly and without effort, like watching a film.

  3. Great Review! Now I've got to read his book! :-D

  4. Awesome interview! I love it when everything comes together, too =) Book sounds wonderful!

  5. Loved the interview. It's helps us a little in the mental department when things go well.

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  6. Also forgot to mention, today is Mr Imaginative's birthday! Happy Birthday to you, Todd!

  7. Awesome interview...I'm LOLing at the "ripe age of 33..." Book sounds really interesting!

  8. Love the interview, Trisha! And Todd, your book sounds amazing. You definitely found a new reader.