Kieran Shea’s fiction has appeared in dozens of venues including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Dogmatika, Word Riot, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir …as well as in some beefy-looking anthologies most of which will make you question the tether of his shiny, red balloon. To his self-deprecating astonishment he’s also been nominated for the Story South’s Million Writers Award twice without sending the judges so much as a thank you note. He co-edited the satiric transgressive fiction collection D*CKED: DARK FICTION INSPIRED BY DICK CHENEY and his debut novel KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY is out today from Titan Books. Kieran divides his time between 38°58’22.6?N- 76°30’4.17?W and 39.2775° N, 74.5750° W.
Kristin Centorcelli: Your short fiction has been published in a number of publications, and your new book, Koko Takes a Holiday, is amazing. Will you tell us more about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Kieran Shea: I started writing for my own amusement around the age of nine or so. After quite a few years of not turning on the creative spigot, about eight years ago I started writing again seriously. As for my background…I’m guilty of more zagging than traditional zigging. Many hats in many different fields, none of which felt right for very long.
KS: Koko best qualities are her adaptability and forthrightness. She possesses a Zen-like commitment to live fully the present.
KC: Your vision of the future is rather dark. Will you tell us more about it and why you decided to set the book in the 2500s?
KS: I think it only seems dark because I was trying to amplify the novel’s topical and satirical elements. Not to throw a damp blanket on things, but despite our chest-thumping advances it’s obvious to me we haven’t improved the world all that much…nor will we change things unless we’re pushed into a crisis. I really don’t want to talk about the fears at the root of all this, but as a species we’re violent and vulgarly predictable. Anyway, the short story where Koko made her first appearance was set 500 years in the future so I just stuck with it.
KC: Flynn starts off as a bit of a sad sack, but he eventually comes into his own. I also appreciated that, while Flynn is very capable, Koko is a guiding voice and source of strength for him, when a lot of the time, it’s the other way around, with the male as the “strong” one. Was this the plan from the beginning?
KS: Plan? I don’t know about you, but to paraphrase Prince’s “Kiss“—women and girls have always ruled my world. I’ve written a lot of stories with male protagonists, and when I started pulling together Koko’s character I wanted to push back on all that. I believe it’s important to test yourself as a writer and to mix things up. Strong, assertive people regardless of their sex are fascinating to write.
KC: As violent and deadly serious as Koko and Flynn’s situation is, you managed to insert some dark humor into quite a lot of the book. That’s a very fine line, and, I would imagine, not easy. What’s your secret?
KS: People say that embracing cruelty is essential to executing effective comedy. Down deep I think I’m a romantic absurdist, and humor sometimes is the only thing that defuses life’s overwhelming heartaches. While working on the book, if I found myself laughing I knew I was on the right track even with all the violence. Violence and comedy are visceral, visual things—I mean, just watch some televised boxing or an MMA fight sometime. When a fighter gets knocked out it’s pretty damn terrifying, but it’s also funny. Here’s another example—the other day I spent about two hours researching people’s last words. Yeah, I know it sounds ghoulish, but more than half of the time just before they died people said these wonderfully ludicrous and absurd things. I’m not sure, but you can mine a lot of life’s essence right there.
KC: What is your writing process like? In what ways did writing Koko differ from your shorter work, and what were the challenges involved?
KS: Let’s do metaphors, okay? Typically my process consists of a throwing large lump of “words” and “ideas” on the potter’s wheel and shaping it with multiple passes. I really like writing short stories, but there comes a point when you need to prove yourself. I often liken the leap from short fiction to novels to being on an island with dwindling resources. Eventually you need to swim to the bigger island across the way. You may drown, you might get eaten by a shark, and you might find out there’s nothing for you on the bigger island. The thing is you’ll never know what’s possible until you brave up and commit to the big swim. It took a while for me to realize that.
KC: What kind of research did you do for the book?
KS: Not much, mostly I just pushed myself to write in new ways that we’re frightening to me.
KC: Who, or what, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing?
KS: A handful of teachers and friends who’ve had my back.
KC: Have you read anything recently that really stood out for you?
KS: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory.
KC: What’s next for you?
KS: I’m about to start revisions to Koko the Mighty. I have a couple of other novel ideas, and I keep meaning to pull together a short fiction collection. For the summer I think I’m going to float around in the ocean as much as I can and maybe fly a few kites.