Todd Keisling made my “Top 10 New Authors” list, so you can go ahead and make an assumption: I think the world of the man’s work. He’s clever, refined and legitimately creative. That’s a combination we don’t often see, so when a talent of this nature comes along, I pay close attention. Fortunately for readers, Todd’s been paying attention to the fact that I’ve been paying attention.
This rising star agreed to be subjected to an assortment of interesting questions, and I must say: the man delivers in his answers. There isn’t much beating around the bush here, just a look at Todd, his writing, his future and what waits in the world of the Monochrome.
This is an interview you absolutely must check out… and that’s all that need be said, really!
Matt Molgaard: Before we talk about Donovan Candle, we’ve got to touch down on Joe Hopper. Where did this manifestation come from? Is he symbolic of anyone you’ve known, or idolized in the past?
Todd Keisling: Joe Hopper originated from an idea I had for a story that predates ALT, and may yet see the light of day (more on that later). In that story, he was going to be a police detective who befriends and aids a serial killer. When I hit a wall with that story, I filed him away and began what eventually became A LIFE TRANSPARENT.
Hopper was never based on anyone I’ve known or idolized. He’s my vision of a weathered detective: wise and hardened, Hopper’s a guy who’s seen some shit and who can still hold his own in a bar fight.
As Donovan Candle’s image began to take shape in the story, I thought it would be interesting to have Donovan talk to his own creation. This necessitated another character, and since Donovan happened to be writing a detective novel, I realized I’d already created the perfect player for the stage. The result of that is Joe Hopper’s inclusion in the story.
MM: Joe’s a bit like the unsung hero of this story. He’s the guidance when there seems to be none other. How pivotal would you say Joe is to this story?
TK: I think that’s the first time anyone has commented on Hopper’s character! Yes, I’d say he’s a pivotal figure in the story considering the purpose he serves. Joe Hopper is Donovan’s conscience, necessitated by Donovan’s lack of identity. Donovan needs someone else to validate his actions, to guide and reassure him of what he’s doing, and I think Hopper does the job.
MM: You told me that you’re actually contemplating crafting a standalone novel focused on Hopper.
TK: The idea of a full Hopper-focused novel has been tumbling around in the back of my head for a couple of years now. Unfortunately, my plate is a little full at the moment, so that idea will have to sit on the shelf for a while–although I haven’t ruled out testing the waters with a short story centered around Hopper. I’ve got a scene in mind that involves a bar fight, with AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” playing in the background. (Somewhere in Arizona, my editor just rolled her eyes.)
MM: Do you think he’s a powerful enough character to potentially front his own line of stories? Because personally, I’d love to see a full-on Hopper spin-off series. He’s not even “real” and he just… commands attention.
TK: I can’t say for sure, and I won’t know until I actually sit down and start pecking away at the keyboard. The story I mentioned before (the one that may still see the light of day) had Hopper’s character as a secondary character, and I’ve toyed with the prospect of “co-authoring” that book with Donovan Candle, a la Stephen King and Richard Bachman. I like that idea, for as corny as it seems. Once that story’s fleshed out (I have almost a full outline), I’ll be in a better position to judge whether or not Hopper can stand on his own.
MM: Now…Donovan: In A Life Transparent you illustrate this man who lives such a tedious and redundant life that he finds himself sucked into an alternate reality. A reality where he’s basically forced to live, in order to ensure he survives. Is there any piece of you in the Donovan Candle we meet in A Life Transparent?
TK: Absolutely. When I originally created Donovan’s character, I imagined myself ten years older (I was 24 at the time), still working the same dead-end job (I was a law firm clerk), still wondering if life would ever get any better. I’d already felt the pain of having to set aside my dreams for the sake of a paycheck. Everything I feared becoming is embodied in Donovan Candle. He’s complacent, stagnating in his creative endeavors, and blind to the hole he’s dug for himself—sort of the same place I was headed all those years ago. You could say that completing ALT was my own sort of “life pitch.”
MM: Reading the book I felt like, this guy is me! Just constantly running through this mundane circle of life. The accuracy in which you nailed that lifestyle was uncanny. Do you think this is the kind of story that can open the “boring” (for lack of a better term) man’s mind and make him question his routine?
TK: Y’know, the funny thing about the first book that continues to astound me is how much people relate to it. I wrote the story out of desperation. I’d hit a wall with a couple of other story ideas, I hated my job, and I was questioning whether or not I was cut out for writing altogether. The entire book was an act of self-examination, of figuring out who I needed to be and where I needed to go.
I say all this to drive home a single point: I wrote the story for myself. I honestly didn’t expect others to relate to it, or to see themselves in Donovan’s shoes. A reader emailed me about five months ago to tell me that ALT inspired him so much that he quit his job to pursue filmmaking. Another person wrote in to tell me that, after suffering through a depression and contemplating suicide, they’d read my book and began taking steps to change their life for the better.
In light of all the emails and comments and reviews the book has received, I have to say yes to your question: I do think it’s the kind of story that can open a person’s mind and make them reconsider their routine, but that was never the purpose I intended.
MM: Getting the chance to follow Donovan as he crosses the threshold in the latter portions of A Life Transparent was great, because you get the idea that a… zero has completely transformed into a hero, and he’s done so for the love of his family. What’s the underlying message of Donovan’s character? This guy certainly feels as though he stands for (or represents) something.
TK: I think the core “message” of Donovan’s character is something I tried to focus on near the end of the second book, THE LIMINAL MAN. There’s an overall theme of defining oneself that I feel is the essence of the entire series, and Donovan becomes the vehicle for said theme. He goes from being at his lowest point to realizing his purpose and doing what needs to be done. As our friend Aleister Dullington would say, “Actions birth definition.” To put it another way, one should live up to their potential, rather than run from it.
MM: Donovan’s troubles continue in The Liminal Man, but rather than being lured into this world because he’s a human broken record, he’s pulled into the Monochrome because he exhibits complacence at the worst point possible, and because a certain villain (who we both know has already been introduced) has designs on revenge. Were you worried about the slight change of structure for the second book?
TK: Of course I was worried! One thing that people enjoy about ALT is that it’s a quick read. You can crank it out in an afternoon. With TLM, however, I wanted to slow things down a bit. I wanted the novel to be a slow burn, escalating gradually until the final chapters. I also wanted to write a longer book. TLM is twice the length of ALT, broken up into five parts if you include the prologue and epilogue. Although it wasn’t my original intent, I found that structure worked well for the story and the thematic arc I wanted to capture. Yeah, it was risky, but so far the folks who’ve read it say it’s on par with the first book.
MM: Now, without giving everything away, what do you tell fans when they ask you: What’s the grand plan for The Monochrome?
TK: I tell them good things come to those who wait.
Just kidding. There will be a third book to complete the trilogy (obviously), and there may be a collection of side stories that fill the gaps between the first two books.
In the “alpha” draft of TLM (so early in the process that it wasn’t even part of the first official draft), there was an entire section involving the moment Dullington disappeared from the Monochrome and left Sparrow in charge. There was more insight into the characters of Alice, Joel, and Evelyn. There’s also a lot I cut out of the final draft involving the murders in TLM. I’d like to revisit those scenes someday and flesh them out. But first thing’s first: I need to finish book #3.
MM: There’s still so much mystery surrounding Dullington. Again, without getting crazy with spoilers…what the hell can we expect from this character?
TK: I think you can expect a lot. I’ve set up a lot of questions over the course of two novels that need to be answered, and doing so is one of my main priorities with the final book. Questions such as “Where did he come from?” and “What are his true intentions?” will be answered. Oh, and we’ll also find out why he’s so interested in Donovan. All in time, of course.
MM: Let’s talk real quickly about the correlation between Donovan’s brother Michael and Joe Hopper. Hopper’s a fictitious character modeled after Michael, yet Hopper is always in the know, he’s always logical, while Michael tends to stick to his guns, and can be a little hard-headed. Why the substantial differences in personalities? Is Hopper what Donovan would like Michael to be?
TK: Another great question! You have to consider that Hopper is a part of Donovan’s psyche—which reflects back on how he views his brother. Michael is successful and confident—two qualities that Donovan does not possess at the beginning of ALT. Donovan created Hopper in Michael’s image, yes, but he did so by taking his brother’s best qualities and melding them with the grit of more well-known private investigators of the 20th century. I think the differences exist between Hopper and Michael because the former is a romanticized version of the latter.
MM: Can we expect to see some manifestation of me in the next book? Maybe the hungry voice of ambition? The counter-voice to Hopper perhaps? How about the one cast from The Monochrome because his life is so dull it’s draining the gray from the Chrome? The couch potato?? I need to be immortalized within The Monochrome.
TK: In the voice of Aleister Dullington: “Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Molgaard. You may just receive it.”
MM: As I recall you have a third installment of this story planned. What’s the status on book three? Is that something that you’ve even begun working on, or are you pretty occupied working the promotional rounds for The Liminal Man?
TK: After spending almost four years working on TLM, I’m taking this year off from the Monochrome series, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the third book. I have a broad outline of Monochrome #3. I know how it starts and I know how it ends. I even have a title, but I’m not quite ready to reveal that one yet. All I really have to do is connect the dots in between. For the time being, I’m focusing on promoting TLM, and also working on some shorter fiction for a collection which I hope to have published by the end of the year.
MM: Are you pleased with the embrace these novels have received and can you perhaps share any accolades that have already come your way?
TK: Absolutely. I never expected my books to find an audience at all due to their cross-genre tendencies, so I’m constantly surprised and humbled by all the positive responses they receive. A LIFE TRANSPARENT was recently named an Indie Book of the Day, and the Kindle Book Review was quite kind to it last summer. The jury’s still out on THE LIMINAL MAN, though, as that only just came out in October.
MM: Steering away from these specific works, I want to throw a few general questions in your direction…
MM: What authors inspire you?
TK: Oh man. I’ll try to keep my list short: Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Albert Camus, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk, Chip Kidd, Ray Bradbury, Cory Doctorow, Franz Kafka, Joe Hill. I typed all of those in about a minute. Do I win a prize?
MM: Favorite novel/novels of all time?
TK: Okay, I can’t comment on my favorite novels of all time—doing so would take me days to deliberate—but I can comment on three novels that influenced me prior to writing ALT: AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman, THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE by Haruki Murakami, and THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW by Clive Barker.
MM: How do you really feel about Reality Television?
TK: “Reality” TV is a cancer that is consuming our society and culture one agonizing day at a time.
MM: Anything you’d like to say to your fans out there, Todd?
TK: Yes! I’m kicking off a blog tour on January 28th, and as part of the tour, I’m giving away a grand prize package that includes signed hardcovers of my novels, a TLM-themed T-shirt and coffee mug, and an eBook package that includes books by Anthony J. Rapino and R.J. Keller. You can get more information here.
And one last thing: Thank you for taking the time to read my weird stories. It’s an honor to be able to entertain you!