[Interview] Jason Kahn

Jason Kahn lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn and works as a medical editor for a New York-based cardiology research foundation.

He is the author of works that include the e-book, The Killer Within (Damnation Books, 2009) and the blog novel, Dark InSpectre.

His short stories have been featured in anthologies that include The Best Of Gryphonwood 2007 (Gryphonwood Press, 2007); Strange Stories of Sand and Sea (Fine Tooth Press, 2008); Christmas Fear (Static Movement, 2010) and Best Left Buried (Static Movement, 2011).

In this interview, Jason Kahn talks about his writing:*

When did you start writing?

I was headed toward a journalism degree my second or third year in college, so I knew then that I wanted to be a published writer. But it wasn't until the summer after my senior year that I discovered I wanted to be a writer. I'd been reading sci-fi/fantasy books since I was a kid, and during my senior year, my then-girlfriend, now-wife, said to me, "Hey, why don't you write one of those?"

Incredible as it may seem, the thought had never occurred to me before.

That summer I started writing, and haven't stopped since.

I began by writing a couple of novels. I had no idea what I was doing and they turned out to be way too long and extremely over-written. But I slowly revised and revised, and got them pared down to pretty decent shape. But then, after several rejections, I turned to the short story market.

It wasn't until I submitted a short story to Jim Baen's Universe that I really learned the craft of writing. The comments and feedback I received there were invaluable. I learned more about writing in a few months than I had in several years. That's where I got my first (and thus far only) professional short story sale, for a story called "Devil May Care".

Since then, I have had other short stories published in various places, and am continuing to write.

How would you describe your writing?

My current writing is best classified as dark, paranormal crime fiction. It's a series being produced by Abandoned Towers Magazine called Dark InSpectre. I'm writing episodes that are posted every two weeks.

Here's the blurb for the story:
In a near-future society where 'normals' fear and mistrust those with telepathic ability, Jack Garrett leads a special police unit of telepaths with the unique talent of contacting the psychic awareness of the dead.

Seven years after solving a notorious murder spree that culminated in the killing of his best friend's daughter, Jack starts receiving visits from the murdered girl. Determined to follow her paranormal clues, Jack uncovers a web of police corruption that threatens to end his career and his life the closer he gets to the truth.
As of my writing this, there are still five episodes left in the current story arc, but they've already been written.

I've already started writing the next story arc for Dark InSpectre, which I'm very excited about.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience always starts out with myself. What story would I like to read?

Hopefully, the story matches up with other demographics.

In general, I'd say I write for people age 16 and up, since that's my general frame of reference.

Which authors influenced you most?

Many, many authors have influenced me: Raymond Feist, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Leguin, Anne Bishop, Patricia McKillip, Steven Brust, Katherine Kurtz, Sheri Tepper, Fritz Leiber, David Eddings, Stephen Donaldson, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, and James Ellroy to name a few.

Early on, I would say Feist and Eddings influenced me the most as I tried to write fantasy-adventures, but lately, much more Ellroy as I've been writing more noir crime fiction.

I read several detective fiction authors as I worked on Dark InSpectre ... Raymond Chandler, Peter Lovesey ... and then I read James Ellroy ... The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential, and many more ... I wasn't prepared, my mind exploded ... I could not put them down ... The first-person narrative style he uses in some of his novels and the way he illuminates the darkness that dwells the souls of his protagonists is very compelling. And his prose hits you like a hammer.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

My personal life has influenced my writing in both subtle and obvious ways.

First there were a few things from my childhood. On the positive side, a young friend of mine was instrumental in introducing me to sci-fi and fantasy books, which I read avidly and which formed the foundation and reference frame from which I write.

The negative side can best be summed up by the following anecdote: One day in fourth grade, the books we ordered through Scholastic came in. The boy who sat at the desk across from me took one look at the book I had ordered and said: "Jason, you're always reading such weird stuff!"

And it wasn't in a nice way.

That book was War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. I got this sort of reaction quite a bit, and it made me somewhat self-conscious about my reading preferences, which carried over to my writing, and still does to this day.

A way in which my personal life influenced my writing in an overt way derived from my inspiration for the Dark InSpectre series. It sprang from a dream I had, which turned into the first scene of the story. It involved the psychic ghost of a dead girl leading the main character, a telepathic cop (me in my dream), into a room with four prisoners (brothers) encased in blocks of semi-translucent material.

Yes, I know, very strange dream. But more important than the actual scene was the mood. It was futuristic and very dark and brooding.

I mulled over my dream for about a month as I wound a story around it. I saw it as a cross between L.A. Confidential and the psi-core of Babylon 5. And at heart it was a hardboiled crime thriller.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern, as always, is to tell a good story, no more, no less. Whether it's a high fantasy or a dark, sci-fi piece.

An idea will pop into my head and I've got to get it out and onto paper. Sometimes it will be pretty quick, sometimes it will take much longer.

It usually starts with the all-powerful "What If?" question. Then I flesh it out, saying, "Wouldn't it be cool if this happened?", "And then that?"

Pictures form in my head, and I try and relate them as faithfully as possible through words.

Each story is different, but the goal is the same. To provoke that indefinable wow! by the end of it. To transport the reader for a brief time and take them on a journey, whether to somewhere dark and scary or bright and airy, and to give them a hell of a ride while they're there.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I'd say the biggest challenge is finding the time. Both to write and to just think about a story, to work it out in my head. I'm a news editor by day, and my job is extremely busy. I'm also a husband and father of two boys in elementary school.

I'll write whenever I can, but long stretches can go by during which I'm not writing. It can be very frustrating.

I go on business trips about four times a year, and I find that I can get a lot of writing done on the plane if I'm traveling by air. It's great getting a few hours of uninterrupted writing time during a flight.

Sometimes the writing itself can be hard. Not the "big scenes," those are usually pretty well thought out. It's the little scenes, the transitions, the mundane stuff. That can be extremely hard for me to write.

Do you write everyday?

I don't write every day. I wish I could, but time unfortunately does not allow. I write whenever I can.

A session will start with me at my computer, either at home or somewhere else (like with my laptop at my older boy's karate practice, for instance) and me typing away.

I'll review the last section I wrote and try and push on.

Either I've got the scene worked out already, or I have to muddle through, seeing where the story leads.

I'll stop when I have to due to time constraints, or if I'm at a natural breaking point.

How many books have you written so far?

A short story of mine, The Killer Within, was released in September 2009 as an e-book by Damnation Books. It is a paranormal crime thriller.

In terms of other fiction, the Dark InSpectre series is currently running, as mentioned above.

In addition, I have a fantasy short story, "Cold Comfort", coming out in the print version of Abandoned Towers Magazine in May 2010.

How would you describe The Killer Within?

For The Killer Within, here's the blurb:
When Metro City's number one crime family develops a drug that turns ordinary people into mindless assassins, detective Frank Arnold makes it his mission to bring them down. But things take a turn for the worse when the syndicate targets someone in the police department to carry out their next hit. Everyone's under suspicion, including Frank himself as he tries desperately to crack the case before his time runs out, permanently.
I chose the publisher because the story seemed like a good fit in terms of the genres Damnation Books was interested in. The whole electronic book concept, though, is pretty new to me.

The Killer Within is not available in print. It's solely an e-book that can be purchased from Amazon and a whole host of other e-book distributors. But do people really buy or read short stories as e-books? I honestly have no idea. I thought it was worth a try and was an interesting avenue for my work.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The only difficulty was finding the time to write, same as with any of my stories. Most of the time I deal with this by writing after my kids go to bed.

Unfortunately, this makes for some very late nights.

The Killer Within predates the Dark InSpectre. It represents my first foray into noir, crime fiction. I found it immensely enjoyable to get into the hardboiled detective mood and voice. I can't really explain it, it's just a lot of fun to write in that genre.

What sets the e-book apart from other things you've written?

Most of my writing has been fantasy or science fiction. The speculative element in The Killer Within barely qualifies as sci-fi. It's almost purely a crime fiction story.

The Killer Within is similar to the Dark InSpectre in that they're both hardboiled crime stories, but the Dark InSpectre is darker with a much more sci-fi angle.

What will your next book be about?

I have many other short stories on submission that I'm waiting to hear back about.

I can say, though, that the next story arc for the Dark InSpectre will involve a direct threat to Jack's unit and a drug that only affects telepaths.

*This article is based on an email interview with Jason Kahn which took place in June 2010.

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jason kahn said…
Thanks, Ambrose. This was a lot of fun!

The insight you gave into your writing was fascinating, Jason. Thank you very much for taking part.

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