Saturday, April 9, 2016

Exclusive Interview with Stephen Kozeniewski!

Hey folks,

We have a really great treat you for you this week with an interview from one of my favorite "one and done" authors in Stephen Kozeniewski. Stephen is a Pennyslvania author who has written numerous one-shot novels which explore such high concepts as cloning in a single-sex world of dinosaurs, a zombie Detective novel where the undead replace other minorities, and his most recent work in EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED (reviewed here).

Every Kingdom Divided is a dystopian black comedy where the Red and Blue States have finally split with a number of middle ground White States fighting over who gets to run everything. Receiving a text from his girlfriend across the country, the protagonist Jack Pasternak and a cute barista he's just met go on an epic journey past an eccentric cast of caricatured zealots to what seems to be his end at a firing squad. Can Jack talk his way out of being shot or is the ultimate Shaggy Dog Story? Read and find out? 

 Let us begin our interview!

1. What's the premise of Every Kingdom Divided?
The premise is as old as “Super Mario Brothers” (possibly even older.)  A man must go on a long and perilous journey through exotic and dangerous foreign lands to save the woman he loves.  What’s differentiates this novel from, say, THE ILIAD, though, is that the exotic and dangerous lands are places like Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, and Ohio.  You see, in 2016 (hey, that’s this year!) the United States dissolved into several warring factions along geopolitical fault lines.  And by 2035, when the novel takes place, the world is a very different place…

2. What's the protagonist like?
Jack Pasternak is a laidback California surfer-dude type.  He loves weed and tweaking the nose of authority, but he’s also quick-witted and, perhaps most importantly, astonishingly lucky.  As some people have intuited from the name, he’s supposed to be a blend of Jack Kerouac’s viewpoint character from ON THE ROAD and Yurii Zhivago from Boris Pasternak’s DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.  And that’s a weird juxtaposition, isn’t it?

3. What inspired you to do a Red vs. Blue State premise?
Shortly after President Obama was inaugurated for the first time two things started happening simultaneously:
- the level of vitriol against the president reached unprecedented levels and real, physical revolution seemed possible
- pollsters like Nate Silver began to predict that, mathematically speaking, it was going to be almost impossible for a Republican to win the presidency anytime soon
It occurred to me that the political right would probably tolerate (albeit despise) eight years of Obama, since incumbent presidents almost always win a second term.  But come 2016 another Democrat would be elected and they might well violently revolt.  And I began to think about what a modern American civil war would look like.  Although, as certain astute readers have noted (read: only our dear host Charles) EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED is a carnival mirror answer to that question.
Instead of playing the idea more or less straight, I struck upon the idea of having all of the worst, craziest accusations that the right and left make against each other come true.  Which is why in the Blue States abortion is mandatory and welfare queens dine on caviar and in the Red States science is illegal and minorities are put in concentration camps.

4. What are the themes of
 Every Kingdom Divided?
It’s about communication.  It’s all about communication, right from the initial communication breakdown that spurs Jack into action. 
It’s about talking to each other.  And listening to each other, for God’s sake.  So many of the problems of the book stem from people not listening to each other, or willfully turning a blind eye to problems.  What if Haley’s dad had just listened to her?  What if the Blue leadership had just listened to Graves?  The only times anything gets resolved is when people are willing to listen.  Against his better judgment, Graves listens to Jack’s story.  And in the end…well, perhaps I’d better not spoil it.

5. Do you have a favorite supporting characters?

6. So, which side would you be on? Red, Blue, or White?
I guess if I was smart, I wouldn’t say.  I took pains to be as even-handed as possible with the book (that is to say, every side was portrayed about equally ridiculously), and even offered a little bit of hope that maybe the sides could work through their problems some day.

7. What's your favorite "kingdom" in the Divided States of America?

That’s a tricky question.  I guess the most interesting to me is the White factions.  My initial idea was that there would only be two countries: the Red States and the Blue States, representing our modern conservative right and the liberal left respectively.  But the more I dug into matters, the more interesting I found the place of so-called moderates in our political system.  Moderates or independents are important, and often reasonable, but they also have a tendency to think their shit doesn’t stink and to declare a pox on both the other houses, even when one side is clearly correct.  So they can be just as much a part of the problem as partisans.  I began to think about what it would be like to be so up your own ass about your own neutrality, and I began to sketch out the Whites as bands of “Mad Max”-style adventurists, and that’s just fun to write. 
8. Who is your favorite supporting character?
Ah, I was afraid you would ask a follow-up to question #5.  Sidney Graves is one of my favorite characters of all time, period.  He is a real-deal iron-spined killer, a devoted revolutionary, hardened by decades of battle.  I love that Sid never backs down from a fight, either physical or ideological.  And he’s always one or two steps ahead of his enemies.  He’s like a master chess player, even though his own caginess has made him such a political liability that his superiors always find reasons to sideline him.  He should be in charge of the PRA, but a confederacy of dunces conspires to make sure that will never happen.  I think he represents every frustrated genius out there, and who doesn’t sympathize with that?

9. What other books of yours would you recommend to fans?
If you enjoyed the heady politics of EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED, definitely check out my magnum opus THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.  It might be my most politically charged work, although not a lot of people have noticed because of the stomach-turning super-gore.  BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS is also a pretty nihilistic takedown of some of the nastiest impulses of our society, but it’s very short and easy, almost a novella.

10. What can we expect from you next?
EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED is the first book in a four book contract I have with horror publisher Sinister Grin and their science fiction imprint Mirror Matter.  My next novel will be with the parent company, and is a (hopefully) original look at vampires called HUNTER OF THE DEAD.

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