We continue our interview with kkellie, author of CHERRY who is, right now, weeping.
Q: Are you okay?
kk: The great Elmore Leonard died.
Q: So sad. He was a master–
kk: He was amazing. He was an inspiration to me.
Q: He played an important role in CHERRY, didn’t he?
kk: (dabbing eyes) Absolutely. My main character David Brandt loves Elmore Leonard, loves his writing. . .
Q: We know Elmore Leonard is considered a master of written dialogue. Doesn’t Brandt allude to that in his journal?
kk: Yes. He wanted to become a writer after reading GET SHORTY. He writes,
I’m stopping for a minute to mark this down for posterity: I love Elmore Leonard’s writing. Seriously, you don’t want to get me started. I love his sense of ‘story.’ I love his dedication to the craft. His body of work has a depth and breadth that sometimes, literally, takes my breath away. And the way he writes dialogue—Jesus, if I could write dialogue half as well—a tenth as well. . .
Q: But you do.
kk: Thank you for saying that. I try.
Q: Dialogue is a really important part of your novels and CHERRY is no exception. Why is that?
kk: I find dialogue to be the quickest, surest way to show who my characters are. What they say, how they speak, is reflective of their mindset, their beliefs, their level of education, their thought-processes, their motives, goals and aspirations, how they feel. I use a lot of inner-dialogue to show my characters’ true selves–at least, as much as they are willing to admit to themselves. . .
Q: Can you give us an example?
kk: There is one scene in CHERRY where Brandt is drunk and questioning why he’s attracted to the kid. The thought that he might be gay is abhorrent to him and yet, thinking back on his life. . .
I’m starting to wonder if there were signs, you know, like all right, what about D.B.? I’m talking Darryl Baker now, blond, muscular fuck, captain of the football team blah blah, girlfriend named . . . Pam something. Collins or Collings or some such shit. Cheerleader. Her locker was near mine and D.B. would push her back against it, lean in and feel her up. I’d be right there and he’d be feeling her up, snaking his hands up under her sweater, cupping and squeezing her tits. Yeah, and I’d be watching him do it, watching him do it. You know what? Sometimes he’d watch me right back, swear to Christ, look right at me and toss me a little smile like, Hey, Dave, what do you think, huh? You liking it, buddy? He was in some of my classes and I’d watch him sometimes, glance over sometimes. Once in a while he’d catch me looking and smile at me and I’d fucking blush, for Christ sake. What the hell was that all about?
Q: What was it all about?
kk: You’ll have to read the book.
(laughter and applause)
Q: Touché. Speaking of which, your novel has been number one on the New York Times Best Seller list for a number of weeks now–
Q: Indeed. To what do you owe its amazing success?
kk: That’s a good question and I’ve thought about it many times because I know it’s not what I would describe as standard reading fare, if there is such a thing. CHERRY is gritty and uncomfortable sometimes, the main characters are men who have sex with each other, Brandt’s a shit, Cherry’s a prostitute and there are times I take liberties with prose and format, times I push the envelope–
Q: Perhaps it is because of those risks that CHERRY comes across as unique and provocative. . .
kk: Maybe. Or maybe my readers are responding to the love story.
kk: I’ve always considered CHERRY to be a love story. Not just between Steve McGuire and David Brandt but between writers and mentors, mothers and sons. . .
Q: And yet, one of the most revealing parts of the novel is Brandt quoting his own grandmother, what did she say?
kk: Love will go anywhere, Davie, even in a pig’s butt.
Q: Truer words. kk, we really appreciate your time and your candor and we wish you continued success with CHERRY and your almost completed WIP, EFFIN’ ALBERT–
Q: One final question if we may: What advice, if any, would you give to aspiring writers?
kk: Two things come to mind. The first is not to isolate yourself. I did that. I wrote in a vacuum, never had the opportunity to bounce ideas off other writers, to commiserate with other writers, share my experiences with other writers, avail myself of their experiences, their expertise. I wrote alone and suffered for it. The feelings I had while writing: the uncertainty, fear, angst . . . I felt so alone sometimes. For anyone just starting out on this crazy road, this amazing journey, I’d say, find somebody. I can’t say enough about Absolute Write, an amazing website dedicated to writing, for writers, by writers, agents, publishers . . . I highly, highly recommend AW for writers of all genres, all skill levels. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is, how much it helped me, changed me. . .
Second is from the incomparable Elmore Leonard himself: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” It’s a reminder to us writers not to get in the way of our stories, not to intrude. Our job as writers is to convey our stories, not to become part of them.
Story is everything.