Thirteen Questions with KARL DANDENELL
In the early 1980s, I spent a few days in England as part of a trip to Sweden, where my mother’s family lives. There was a heat wave going on, and the airlines had lost my sister’s luggage, so when we went off to Stratford-on-Avon and she had to wear all my gaming and athletic logo tee shirts. Man, you do not want to see British folks sunning themselves in the public park.
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
I would say that I prefer “having written” to “writing,” except for those times when the Muse actually bothers to stay for breakfast. That sort of flow is energizing but in a calming way. When writing is exhausting, it’s usually due to the fact that I’m writing the wrong thing, or fighting the POV, or just flogging a bad idea.
- What are common traps for aspiring writers?
You know the old phrase, perfection is the enemy of the good. That one gets you every time. You don’t think about the fact that what you read is the end product of a long development process, with many hands (and eyes) contributing. Your own stuff on the page is just potential.
- Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I did, back in college, because I was embarrassed about my (admittedly pedestrian) fantasy stories. I actually have a pseudonym in a way, since my earliest stories were published under my birth name, whereas everything since I got married have appeared under my married name, which is slightly different.
- Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I don’t think lack of affect will sink your writing. It’s a bigobstacle to overcome, certainly, but you could potentially write amazing prose or explore outrageous ideas without all the icky emotions. I suppose it’s a question of compensation. Some of the early SF I read wasn’t exactly populated with emotional, three-dimensional characters.
- Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Yes and yes. When I look back at my stories (no published books yet) I see some consistent motifs, themes, and character types. So you could say that my work exists in some sort of shared universe. Having said that, you could pick up anything I wrote and still enjoy it without getting the connections.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Good heavens, that would have to be Viable Paradise. It just kicked my ass in the best way, and forced me to get real. It also cemented the idea of having a proper tribe that supported your work and inspired you.
The worse money I spent was tuition at graduate school for MFA. I learned some valuable lessons and met some great people, but I attended the program at a very bad time in my life. I was too young, and my fiancée broke off our engagement about halfway through the process, so much of my time after that was a depressed blur.
- What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I use to get in trouble in school for “acting out” and otherwise disrupting the educational environment. So my apology notes and punishment essays showed me that a good turn of phrase could fix a lot of situations.
- How do you select the names of your characters?
With contemporary stories, I can usually draw from my own experience (office phone lists are great for this.) For fantasy pieces, I might use one of the random name generators and then tweak it until it sounds right. I’ve gotten lazy lately, and usually fire up a baby names website to pick a couple for each story, depending on the genre.
- What was your hardest scene to write?
Transition scenes and housekeeping scenes are the worst me. Characters have to get from Point A to Point B, whether it’s a physical move, or just shifting the reader’s attention from one object to another. I envy writers who can see the movie in the their and follow their internal camera. For me, it’s more about doing stage directions and hope the actors can make it look natural.
- What is your favorite childhood book?
Runaway Ralph. I was fortunate enough to meet Beverly Cleary at a school book fair-type event. We had to take a bus to Santa Barbara, and the bus was late, so we didn’t get as much time to see and hear the authors. Ms. Cleary was kind enough to stay later and answer questions for all the kids. What a class act.
- Do you believe in writer’s block?
Believe in it? I have an annual membership, sir. It’s more real than the Easter Bunny and twice as deadly. I think the problem people have with writer’s block (or any other creative impediment) is a tendency to make it a binary state. Blocked or not. Mauren McHugh described her writer’s block in this way: it wasn’t that she couldn’t write. It was that she felt she could only write shit.
- What is your writing Kryptonite?
Anxiety. And depression. The Evil Twins. When I fall down the rabbit hole of worry, then the Muse pour her wine down the sink and grabs her coat. Serious depression makes everything harder, and you have also the lovely side effect of not caring about your work. Anxiety, on the other hand, can make you question every damn word and punctuation mark on the page.
Karl Dandenell is a first-generation Swedish American, survivor of Viable Paradise XVI, and active member of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He lives on an island near San Francisco with his family and cat overlords. He is fond of strong tea and distilled spirits. When not sitting in project meetings, he reads a lot of speculative fiction, and serves as a First Reader for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.