Arthur Golden, Atlanta, Atlanta Braves, ATLiens, Blue Lines, California, Chicago, Christina Milian, interview, Joy Bryant, Jr., Kenneth Suffern, Lauren London, Memoirs Of A Geisha, North Carolina, OutKast, Paolo Coehlo, Sacramento, Starbucks, The Alchemist, UNC Chapel Hill, Zoë Kravitz, Zoe Saldana
Alright, to switch it up…something different, the continuation of the interview with Blue Lines author Kenneth A. Suffern, Jr.
I: What inspires you?
KS: Life and experiences. Not mine, per se, but life and living in general.
I: Every writer has a method to his or her writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
KS: In the beginning, my writing consisted of specific items. My (or borrowed) computer, my disks set out, I file of pictures relating to the story opened on the machine, some paper and music, whether playing on the computer (now iPod, or whatever).
I: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?
KS: I would say that if I am focused on one piece of work, possibly about a year and a half to two years.
I: Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
KS: With Blue Lines I wrote the manuscript all the way through, and then I returned to the work to revise.
I: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?
KS: Genre no, but I try to put myself in the readers shoes, especially with my other works.
I: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
KS: I plot out the story, but I do not put the outline on paper, I have the idea and outline in my head, and I fill in the story as I write.
I: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
KS: Due to Blue Lines being drawn from real experience, I had some experience to draw from, but as I began to set the location for the manuscript, and the back stories for my characters, I traveled to those locales; UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Sacramento, California. I want the reading experience to be realistic to readers from those areas.
I: Do you visit the places you write about?
KS: Yes, numerous times. The worst part is when you think that you have touched all bases, and as you take off to leave (especially travelling from the Southeast to northern California) you remember or hear of something or some detail that you missed.
I: In Blue Lines where do your characters come from? How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?
KS: The main two characters are based on true people. I see a lot of myself in the character based on me, either myself, or the persona that I portray. Many of the people I knew during the time period of this manuscript are echoed through traits that make of characters who are composites of those traits.
I: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If yes, what measures do you take to get past it?
KS: initially no, but after I completed the manuscript and tried to edit it, I always wanted to add to the story, and in adding one scene may spark memories, but then at times I could not add to other parts of the story. I used that time to work on poems that I may have added into the story, or my second manuscript.
I: What do you hope readers gain, feel or experience when they read one of your books for the first time?
KS: I want the readers to feel and understand my story, but most of all I want them to understand and feel the essence of my manuscript which is the unknown dynamic of love.
I: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
KS: I run, workout, enjoy concerts, I try to stay open to new experiences.
I: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
KS: I’m new.
I: What is your favorite word?
KS: Fuck, it just flows off the tongue, and has so many uses, I use it too much, so that must be it.
I: Do you plot extensively in advance, or let it unfold organically? Have you ever been so unhappy with a scene or a plot thread that you’ve chucked it and started over?
KS: I like to have a basis for the plot as I am writing, but then to allow the scene to evolve on its own. The unknown of the direction that a scene can take, allows for a more realistic effect in storytelling in my eyes. I may go into a scene thinking that KLW will say yes to one thing and have an idea of the direction of the storyline and then the scene develops to her eventually saying no, and I am now writing something that was not planned.
Yes, I have written entire scenes, and for some reason what I felt or had intended, just doesn’t come out the way I had planned. I cut the scene and keep it somewhere else, but no I have to rewrite the entire scene again from scratch.
I: What was it like to transition Blue Lines from having been written as a short story to a novel?
KS: it seemed like a normal transition. The short story version helped outline the general flow of my work, I just had to add the substance to the story from that point.
I: While I was reading Blue Lines I kept visualizing the story as a movie playing out in my head. If Blue Lines were a movie, who would you cast as your characters?
KS: Good question…I’ve had several ideas, at least of the principles over time, but as I held on to the work, and it was not published, the thought of who could play my characters have changed. I had thought of Christina Milian, Zoe Saldana, Joy Bryant, even Lauren London, but as time passes, I have my sights set on possibly Zoë Kravitz, but as time passed on the others, I have no one specific in mind.
I: How much of Blue Lines is autobiographical, if any? Do you frequently draw on your personal life when looking for ideas for your stories?
KS: with Blue Lines, much of it draws from my life, the other manuscripts that I’m working on, draw from experiences, but currently a lot less of my experiences.
I: What basic philosophy do you try to express in your books?
KS: To try to tell my story, I think my manuscripts, other than Blue Lines are tailored to audiences, but Blue Lines is definitely me.
I: When did you start writing?
KS: I would say I began to write consistently around 1996.
I: What inspired you?
KS: Life inspires me.
I: Does an author cultivate writing, or is he divinely gifted?
KS: I don’t know, possibly a little bit of both.
I: What role does a writer play in the society?
KS: I think the writer is the same as the film director, or the music artist, they paint pictures regardless of fiction or non-fiction to reach their audiences.
I: Some authors set out to write a popular potboiler. What did you set out to do with Blue Lines? Did you have a particular audience in mind?
KS: I wanted a widely accepted book. I wanted to offer something to the reader that would stick to them, and they would want to pass it on to other readers.
I: Do you identify at all with the novel’s protagonist, KYW?
KS: Yes I do in many ways, although a female character, it is as if I knew her from afar, and certain traits were shared between author in character in trying develop who she was.
I: Grew up in?
KS: Atlanta, GA.
I: Favorite sports team?
KS: Atlanta Braves.
I: Book to take on a deserted island?
KS: The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo.
I: Favorite city?
KS: Chicago, IL.
I: Favorite State:
I: Favorite CD?
KS: ATLiens – OutKast
I: Where do you write?
KS: Starbucks or my home office, mainly Starbucks.
I: Qualities you most admire?
I: What do you do to relax?
KS: I don’t.
I: Place where you were/are happiest?
KS: At home in East Point during the 1980’s when it would rain.
I: What adjectives would you use to describe your latest book?
KS: Honest, Pain, Love, Cathartic.
I: What inspired you to create the character KYM from Blue Lines? Do any of KYW’s characteristics, qualities, childhood relate to your own?
KS: When I began to write, in earnest, I was watching an interview with Arthur Golden (Memoirs of A Geisha) and listened to how he would be questioned as if his work was one of non-fiction. That was the day that I decided that I would tell my story, but through my female protagonists’ eyes.
I: So the authenticity that you feel in reading this is merely because of the background you got, not specific events necessarily?
KS: It is generally both with Blue Lines, the work was drawn from some real events that served as a guideline for KYW’s character.
I: First of all, why a female, and why first person?
KS; I came to the conclusion that I wanted to tell my story through her eyes.
I: What’s it like, sitting there at the computer keyboard, trying — as a male, trying to put yourself into that skin?
KS; It was different , I’ll tell you that. One of the main items that I had to focus on, was that Blue Hurt, the male antagonist, could only have his character development and story told through her eyes. If there was a situation where she did not like him, his story is told through that slant, and vice versa, if he were regarded in a favorable light, his character’s description displayed that also.
I: Did you feel any reluctance, as a man, to try writing a novel from the point of view of a woman?
KS: Honestly no. the level of confidence that I had stepping into this manuscript was so overwhelming, that I felt it was not whether I could pull it off, but just to focus on the authenticity of the story.
I: Tell us a story about your writing experience.
KS: Back around 1999, similar to how I use the alias of Blue Hurt on social networking sights today, on a social network at the Time, I had created 4 pages, one for each of my principle characters, KYW and her best friend, and Blue Hurt, and his best friend. Well in using those pages, with the ultimate goal to change them over upon being published, someone on the site decided to take an interest in KYW. Now at first, I thought that I could take material from this and use it for a minor character in Blue Lines, or another work. But, after one night when this would be suitor claimed to have a “dream” about KYW and was talking of driving to UNC to see her, I had to kill the page. That was a little bit too much for me.
I: Well thank you for your time, again the Book is Blue Lines by Kenneth Suffern.
The manuscript Blue Lines is a fictional period piece, written by Kenneth Anthony Suffern, Jr., that takes place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill between the years of 1997 – 1998. Loosely based on true events, and experiences during that time, told through the eyes and voice of the main female protagonist, a freshman first attending the school.
Post your questions for the interview.