Interview: Ken Goldman

The Bookie Monster Interviews author Ken Goldman, former Philadelphia teacher of English and Film Studies, is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association. He has homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore. 

His stories have appeared in over 700 independent press publications in the U.S., Canada,  the UK,  and Australia with over thirty due for publication in 2013-14. Since 1993 Ken’s tales have received seven honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. 

He has written five books : three anthologies of short stories, YOU HAD ME AT ARRGH!! (Sam's Dot Publishers), DONNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (A/A Productions) and STAR-CROSSED (Vampires 2); and a novella, DESIREE, (Damnation Books). His first novel OF A FEATHER (Horrific Tales Publishing) was released in January 2014.
Tell us a little about yourself, your work and how you got into writing.
I was a shy kid, so writing gave me a way to say on paper what I couldn’t say verbally. I had this cartoon strip, SHARKY THE BLIMP, that I used to sell to gullible classmates. I gave that up in college when I discovered my art work sucked and that SHARKY, according to a friend, resembled a flying penis. Later on, being an English and Film Studies teacher sharpened my own writing skills. (To me, the art of storytelling is just telling a lie, but telling it really well.) In the ’90’s I took a course on short story writing, and I submitted one of my homework assignments to the Rod Serling Memorial Writing Contest. I came in second, won some money. I thought, Damn! I can do this! Turned out, I could. Thank you, Rod.
What five words best describe you?
Stubborn, Clever, Shy, Introspective, and at the moment, Hungry.
Do you have a most embarrassing moment? Do tell!
I can remember a day teaching when I was telling jokes. All the kids were really laughing, and I was thinking “I’m a hit!” This went on all period, and the laughs kept coming. Turned out my fly was open the whole time. (I have a much more embarrassing moment, but I’m too embarrassed to tell it.)
Are there any critiques in particular that you just can’t seem to shake?
Some reviewer wrote how the end of one of my horror stories didn’t scare him. I was pretty upset because I thought the ending was pretty good. I’m sorry to say I had to kill him.
If you were to create a writing soundtrack, what artists would be on it?
This is wishful thinking, but I would like something acoustic for my work by some folksy/pop artist like Springsteen or Judy Collins. Raw, gutsy stuff, with incredibly profound lyrics. “Louie Louie” comes to mind.
How do you come up with the character names in your books?
Two methods. 1.) I try to relate the name somehow to the story line, if I can keep it subtle. (In OF A FEATHER, about birds gone bad, the main character’s last name is Singer; a female character’s last name is Robinson. Another’s is Breedlove. Get it? Get it? And there is subtle symbolism in the birds’ names, but you would have to read the story to see it. 2.) I use the names of people in my life. Some go years back. Keep your eyes open -- I may be putting you in my story.
How many people have you killed off over your career as a writer? Ever offed someone off then kicked yourself for it?
I should be considered a mass murderer, considering the body count in my stories. But I never kill off a main character without a good reason, so I can’t say I’ve kicked myself. I sometimes feel bad that certain characters have to go, but then again, I’m the author, and that’s like being God.
Have you ever written yourself or people you know as a character in one of your books?
All the time. Does this mean I have to consult a lawyer?
Do you laugh at your own jokes as you write them?
Oh yes! I’m sometimes amazed (or embarrassed) at what I come up with.
Do you write full time or do you keep a day job?
I took an early retirement from teaching. (Being single has its advantages.) I write when I feel like writing. For me, writing was never about the money. If that were true, I’d be out somewhere with a tin cup.
What’s the weirdest question you’ve ever been asked in an interview?
This one.
When did you decide to make a career of writing?
At about the age of five. You think I’m kidding, don’t you? Nope!
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I have no idea who my readers are. Particularly ironic is the fact that most of my friends and family hate horror, and many don’t even read my work unless I shove it into their faces. Former students occasionally write and ask if I’m the same guy who taught English at Washington High. I'm not the same guy. I'm much happier!
What was your favorite moment when writing your book?
There’s one scene in OF A FEATHER involving a cuckoo clock that I remember thinking after I'd written it, damn, that's good!
How long does it take you to write a book?
OF A FEATHER took about one year beginning to end, but it wasn’t an every day thing. I write very leisurely and I don’t put any pressure on myself. In the case of FEATHER, the plot just opened up for me and at times the novel seemed to write itself. I just punched the keys.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Mostly think about what I’m going to write next. But to relax, I hit the beach when the weather permits, and I like to bike just to people watch. I’m a film buff, love a good restaurant, enjoy a small group of long-time friends, and when my stomach can take it, I date.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I have this thing for birds, much like Socrates Singer in my book. I’ve always had some kind of tropical bird as a pet since I was a kid, and my current parrot is a Yellow-Nape like Jasmine and KiKi in OF A FEATHER. The ‘Baby’ turns 30 in February and looks pretty good for his age. And there’s a bullying character in the book too. As a kid I managed to escape major fights because I learned to talk fast and I had an older brother who watched out for me. But there were one or two episodes when I almost had some run-ins with bullying types because I was a skinny kid and not anyone’s definition of tough. Where are you now, Hector Specter?
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Don’t expect to get rich by writing. Also, that every story idea you may have has already been covered by another author somewhere. You just have to find a new slant.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Writing is mostly re-writing. You have to be your own worst critic. And along those lines, your mother, your wife, or your friends are NOT going to be honest if your work stinks.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do?
We're a big publishing company, and we originally planned to offer this eight million dollar writing contract to Stephen King, but would you like to have it?
Who are you reading right now?
I'm between books, but Stephen King's DR. SLEEP is waiting in my Kindle.
OK, so, what’s next, do you already have a new project in the works?
I’ve written six short stories since OF A FEATHER, and I have a few other short tales I want to get to before I tackle another novel. I think by next summer I should be ready. I have a few ideas. No zombies, werewolves, or vampires, though. Not my style.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
It happens. When it does, I find something else to do. Like have a life.
What tools have you found most successful in advertising/marketing yourself and your books?
These days it seems to begin and end with the internet. Whether it’s Facebook pages (or actual PR sites like this one!) I’ll throw as much against the wall as I can, hoping something sticks. I’ve paid for advertising on for a previous short story anthology, DONNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, I've purchased giveaway copies for reviewers or anyone who will spread the word, and I’ll search freebie sites too. It’s basically a hit-or-miss game from what I can tell, but if I’m lucky enough to have a tireless publisher like Horrific Tales’ Graeme Reynolds, I’ll step out of the way so he can try anything he thinks will work.
Did any specific author(s) motivate you to begin writing?
I read Stephen King’s CARRIE and SALEM’S LOT when they first came out and Peter Straub's GHOST STORY. I was inspired immediately, especially when I discovered King had been an English teacher himself and had been living in a trailer. The old Twilight Zone used to amaze me with the way Rod Serling put contemporary messages into his other-worldly tales. I’ve always enjoyed finding cryptic messages in stories.
You are hosting a dinner party and must invite 3 famous people. Who would you choose and why?
Stephen King (yes, him again) for his insights on horror, Dave Barry for his humor, and Woody Allen for his intellect. (If any can’t make it, I’d invite John Lennon or Rod Serling for back-up if they could manage not to be dead for one night.)
What kind of research did you do when you were working on your novel?
I researched Indian legend and lore as pertains to Wakinyan, The Thunderbird, who really is a spiritual bird according to the Oglala tribe’s history. Just about everything I wrote in OF A FEATHER regarding that legend is accurate. I also did a little digging about telepathy among animals and birds, as shown by the Hive Mind among bees. It’s all in the story.

In ten words or less:
  • Are you a morning person or a night owl?
    • I often get up at the crack of noon.
  • Biggest fear?
    • That ten minutes after I die no one will remember I was here.
  • Favorite TV Show?
    • Breaking Bad. Selling meth -- Great career choice for an ex- teacher.
  • First item on your bucket list?
    • To write an A-list novel and see it really hit the charts.
  • Happiest moment in your life to date?
    • Nope. Too personal.
  • If aliens landed in front of you and, in exchange for anything you desire, offered you any position on their planet, what would you want?
    • Left field.
  • If you were a Star Trek® character, which one would it be? Why?
    • Gene Roddenbury, although he’s technically not a character, is he?
  • If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
    • Flying, hands down. (I told you I have this bird thing.) Invisibility would be nice, so I could hear what people REALLY think about my writing.
  • If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?
    • Chinese food. Moo goo poo anything.
  • If you could meet anybody in history, past or present, who would it be?
    • Any of The Beatles just to say thanks.
  • If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
    • Chinese food. Moo goo poo anything.
  • If you realized that you got a free item by accident after leaving a store, would you go back and pay for it?
    • I would, and I have.
  • How would your friends describe you in 3 words?
    • Single Single Single
  • Last thing you dressed up as for Halloween?
    • A pirate. Wait, that was yesterday.
  • Mac or PC?
    • Definitely Mac. Especially with cheese.
  • Oreo’s…Bite into the entire cookie or deconstruct it?
    • Deconstruct, lick, chew, swallow, repeat.
  • Pie or cake?
    • Pie. Then cake. Often at the same time.
  • Quirk that annoys your spouse/friends?
    • I stubbornly stick to what I’m comfortable doing.
  • The zombie apocalypse has begun. What zombie fighting badass would you want on your team?
    • No badass. A woman. We’re all going to die, right?
  • What is one thing that you can’t live without?
    • My frontal lobe. Believe me, I’ve tried.
  • What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
    • Bought a vacation home. (You expected sky diving?)
  • What is your biggest pet peeve?
    • Angry people. They make ME angry.
  • Who is the most famous person you have met?
    • I once served a hot dog to Pierre Salinger.
  • Who’s your favorite blogger? (cough)
    • Rhymes with Nookie Ronster.
  • Worst job ever?
    • Substitute teaching a class of Marquis de Sade wannabes.
  • Would you rather be homeless for a year or be in jail for a year?
    • Because I’m a writer, this question may eventually answer itself.

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