Author Spotlight – Charles Kowalski
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Charles Kowalski!
Charles Kowalski writes both adult thrillers and fantasy for younger readers. His debut thriller, MIND VIRUS, won the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Award and was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award (Best Thriller) and the Adventure Writers’ Grandmaster Award. He has lived in Japan for over 20 years.
His latest novel, SIMON GREY AND THE MARCH OF A HUNDRED GHOSTS, was released on August 1st 2019.
Welcome to the Hive, Charles. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. (I know, I know. I resisted for a long time, partly because everything I had heard made me think those books would be rather too graphic for me, both on the battlefield and in the bedroom. But I finally caved and picked up a copy just to see what all the shouting was about, and while my prediction was correct, I also admired the author’s worldbuilding skill and the way he wove together so many storylines. I can see how so many people found themselves drawn into his world so completely.)
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
A wizard. And unlike some wizards in fantasy series, I would actually use magic.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
To hand-write, with freshly-ground pine-charcoal ink on mulberry paper, using a brush made from the tail of a tanuki caught under the full moon. (No, really, I use a hybrid notebook/tablet that I can whip out any time inspiration strikes: in a café, on a train, in a faculty meeting while the dean is reading aloud from page 31 of the agenda…)
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
Now that last never occurred to me! I suppose I would be most inspired with a hundred Japanese demons parading by my window, but never having had a chance to test that hypothesis, I prefer to write in silence. (I’m the sort that notices background music, and anything with a complex melody line becomes a distraction.)
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser?
An architect or a gardener? I’d say I’m a landscape architect. I have my plan ready when I sit down to write, but I realize I’m working with organic material, and oftentimes it knows which direction it needs to grow in better than I do.
D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
My garment of choice is a robe with the characters of the Heart Sutra written on it – invaluable if you work with Japanese ghosts. (You’ll find out why.)
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
For Simon Grey, the films of Miyazaki and other Studio Ghibli works.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
The news. Why did I choose to watch it? Why would I voluntarily do that to myself? Good question. I often wonder the same thing these days.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Probably take my eldest out to see the latest Marvel movie. (Does it count as working if I’m plotting in my head?)
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
No punctuation mark is illegal! (But there should be a fine for the overuse of exclamation points! Their place is in dialogue! Never narration! And never more than one at a time!!)
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
SIMON GREY AND THE MARCH OF A HUNDRED GHOSTS takes place almost exactly 400 years ago, during the brief 10-year period when England had a trading post in Japan (1613-1623). Simon Grey signs up as a cabin boy on a ship bound for Japan, hoping that a long sea voyage will offer some relief from the ghosts that haunt him everywhere on land. But when a mysterious shipwreck leaves him stranded alone in Japan, Simon must earn the trust and help of yokai – quirky spirits from Japanese folklore – to defeat the forces pursuing him and find a way home.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
Rick Riordan, not just because I would love to have access to his fanbase, but because I like his blend of classical mythology and modern snark.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most helpful piece of advice was from Lee Child: “Ignore all advice.” (But if I were to follow it, I would have to ignore it, which means I wouldn’t be following it, which means…oh, forget it!) The least was the conventional wisdom that says, “You can’t write in more than one genre.” (To which I reply: “Those who say it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt those who are doing it.”)
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
For research purposes, Japan in the early Tokugawa period (17th century) would be very educational…except for the minor inconvenience that if the authorities discovered me, they would kill me on sight. Out of personal interest, Roman Judea in the early 1st century AD, to see with my own eyes how much of the “Greatest Story Ever Told” is true…and to put my high school Latin to the test!
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I try to visit my imaginary world every day. Even on days when the time, or the energy, or the inspiration to write something new isn’t there – and to be honest, it’s a rare day when all three of those stars line up perfectly – I’ll do some research, or go back and revise something I’ve already written. Keeping the momentum going is key.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
MIND VIRUS by Charles Kowalski. (No, but seriously, I’d like to use this space to acknowledge other authors who are working to make yokai lore accessible to an English-speaking audience, like John Paul Catton with the SWORD, MIRROR, JEWEL series, and Kathryn Tanquary with THE NIGHT PARADE.)
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
Erm…hello, Mr. Shark…You know, I’m working on the second Simon Grey book, and there’s a very important part that I had in mind for a dolphin, but I’m sure a shark would work brilliantly instead. The working title is Simon Grey and the Curse of the Dragon…I mean, of the Shark God! Who knows, maybe it will be made into a movie someday! The last movie with a shark in the title role did rather well, and Hollywood is way overdue for another, don’t you think? Ah, you’re intrigued, I can tell by that toothy grin…
Fantastic, Charles. Thanks again for joining us, and good luck with the Simon Grey series!
Charles Kowalski is the author of modern thrillers MIND VIRUS and THE DEVIL’S SON. His latest novel, SIMON GREY AND THE MARCH OF A HUNDRED GHOSTS, is a high fantasy adventure set in haunted historical Japan, and is available now.