Terrie Leigh Relf: What are your daily writing and/or artistic rituals? How do you prepare your space for these activities?
Kendall Evans: The top shelf of my computer desk serves as an “altar of inspiration” (as opposed to a religious altar). Objects placed on the shelf include: Several gastroliths – rocks that rattled around in the guts of a dinosaur helping to grind-up and digest its food (analogous to the gravel in a chicken’s gizzard). I keep them in a small, handmade fired clay bowl. A nickel-iron fragment from the immense meteor that crashed into Arizona approximately 50,000 years ago. My fragment is about one and ½ inch by ½ inch, polished on one side only, and mounted on a wire stand or support. A Day-of-the-Dead ornament a little over an inch tall, consisting of a skeleton bride and a skeleton groom. An oil lamp, a glass globe-like shape with a metal hummingbird inside sipping imaginary nectar from a metal blossom (sometimes I light the wick of the lamp just before beginning to write). An egg-shaped ecosphere containing two brine shrimp and a bit of algae; the only thing that gets into the sealed container from the outside world is indirect sunlight. The brine shrimp have been cruising around in there for about 3 years now, which shows how balanced the mini-ecology is. An origami dragon purchased last year at a science fiction convention (a poem I wrote, inspired by the paper dragon, is scheduled for an upcoming issue of Dreams & Nightmares). Other objects, too, but I think the reader gets the gist by now.
A frequent morning ritual of mine: I put a couple of pens in my pocket, grab a notebook, and head for Starbucks. I have a laptop computer, but I don’t take it with me. I work longhand at the coffee shop, creating the draft of a chapter for a novel, a short story, or a poem, while sipping my café latte. Most of what I write goes into a notebook first; it gets punched into a computer later. I personally prefer the hand-made feel of working in longhand.
Terrie Leigh Relf: With what media – or genres – do you work? How did you come to this media or genre?
Kendall Evans: I write sf and fantasy. After discovering a science fiction book in my junior-high school library, I’ve never really wanted to write anything else. I believe in some ways my mind works in schizophrenic ways. My writing serves as an outlet for all my intricately bizarre imaginings, allowing me to be, I believe, realistic and sane. Some might disagree with this evaluation.
Terrie Leigh Relf: Do you have a “day job” in addition to being a writer/artist—or is that your day job, too? If you have an unrelated day job, how do you balance your creative and work time?
Kendall Evans: At this point in time I’m retired, except for my writing. I will never retire from my writing, unless I suffer some debilitating disease or senile dementia. I am a writer. It’s part of my identity. It’s been a crucial part of my identity ever since I was twelve years old, when I decided I must be a writer more than anything else. If you want to be a writer, the sooner you make such a decision the better.
For years, I worked in the business world. I was the father of five children and I now, at this late date, have five grandchildren. I worked as an insurance salesman for 3 months and realized I was ill-suited to the job; I only sold one policy and that was to myself. I would never be a good salesman because I just don’t give a damn what other people purchase; and similarly no one can sell me something I don’t want; I have too much sales-resistance. When I was a kid I had a paper route. Like so many writers, I toiled at numerous jobs – warehouse manager; deliverer of auto parts; collator in a print shop in Oregon, customer service rep for an office products company, representative for a company that provided stationary to doctors, lawyers, and dentists; etc. One of the most interesting jobs: I was National Publicity Director for an independent motion picture company, Pacific International Enterprises, doing publicity on such movies as Windwalker, Mountain Family Robinson, Adventures of the Wilderness Family, Across the Great Divide, The Late Great Planet Earth, etc. None of the jobs I held rewarded me as much as getting poems, stories, and books published.
Relf: What tips do you have for other writers/artists? This could be anything from a time-management strategy to an inspirational quote or exercise.
Evans: This is partly an answer to the first question and partly to question 4. I have my own writing office. I strongly recommend this to other writers. I’ve already described my computer desk, but the office itself has award plaques and framed award certificates (for Rhysling Awards, etc.) as well as framed covers from my chapbooks, etc. Partly this is to remind my forgetful 68-year-old self that I have, occasionally, been a reasonably accomplished writer. And to inspire me to write something new that hopefully surpasses anything I’ve done before. This room was once a bedroom for one of my children before they grew up and moved out.
If you don’t have the resources to have an office of your own, I recommend a designated place within a room. And personalize that space – make it your idiosyncratic own, as the description of the top shelf of my computer desk suggests.
The following might sound odd or politically correct, and I’m not certain I should recommend it to others, but it is certainly critically important to me. I feel that it’s an advantage that I’m married and have children. Nothing changed me in life nearly so much as having children. The love you feel brings an unselfishness into your life that you might never have imagined possible. The drive to provide food and shelter for those you love can be all consuming. It can interfere with your artistic pursuits. But it provides a kind of perspective – I’m intensely aware of environmental problems because I want my children and grandchildren to have a survivable world. I’m not saying other people who are not parents don’t feel this way too. This is just my personal opinion, an aspect of who I am.
Relf: What are your thought on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular?
The creative process is instinctive and partly indefinable. A writer needs to be in tune with waking dreams and sleeping dreams. A writer needs to be as aware as possible of the environment. It helps to value the past, the present, and the future. To value your own experiences and the experiences and opinions of others.
This might sound odd too: it helps to have strong religious or spiritual emotions. I’m not talking about the dogma of individual religions, which can be so counterproductive. I’m talking about the sacredness of reality. I’m saying that the cosmos has spirit in it everywhere, and you don’t need to know this, you need to feel it with your whole being. Take a look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. How many artists or writers will realize such a stunning vision?
Evans: Every experience, every dream, every feeling, every communication – ideally we should take these things into account. Of course this is an ideal; at some moments we are inevitably more talented than at others. I’m not the same person every day. That would be so damn boring.
Relf: What interview question would you most like to be asked? Least?
Evans: I love questions that poke me into revealing something honest. Questions that surprise me and make me think. Questions that the reader of the interview will find intriguing. Questions that make me say something that surprises me.
Relf: What are you working on now?
Evans: I’m working on one novel, four short stories, and I’ve also written four or five poems within the last month (although, as of today, I’m not working on any poems, I completed one yesterday and I might very well write one tomorrow if an inspirations comes my way).
Relf: Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years? Ten?
Evans: I’m tempted to say that I picture myself as a world-famous best-setting author. But of course that’s nonsense. The honest answer: I picture my future self as a writer who has accomplished five or ten more years of honest, magical writing. As long as the novels, stories, and poems I continue to create seem magical to me, and as long as my work continues to be published due to the kindness of editors and publishers, I will be a happy camper. And the publishing part is merely a bonus – it’s the process of writing, of creating miniature universes, that is the most important to me.
Relf: Anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked?
Evans: Well, let’s see. Advice to writers – try to write a thousand words a day. If you can’t write a thousand words, try for 250. Try to form the habit of writing as many days a week as reality allows. So much of life is dictated by habits. If you are in the habit of being productive, it’s likely you will continue to do so.
I’ve expressed a good many opinions here. I’m well aware these are merely opinions, and like any human being I can be mistaken. I’ve been wrong-headed so many times in life it’s beyond count. At the same time, one needs to form opinions. And test them in the world. Yet it also helps to be flexible.
Questions you did not ask. Is cosmology important?
Yes, yes, yes. Each of us resides in a skull that assembles a mini-cosmos that is not totally in concert with the external or real cosmos. Our tiny brains inevitably summarize reality because we cannot encompass the vastness. But it’s critical that we have a cosmology, be it religious or spiritual or science based, or whatever. Our conception of the universe provides a framework for the works we create. T.S. Elliot pointed this out, although he leaned toward a Christian cosmology and I don’t believe that’s necessarily the best – especially since I could in no way be described as a Christian. However – it’s good to have a sense of our solar system, Mercury Venus Earth etc. It’s good to know that we are in a single galaxy surrounded by billions of other galaxies. Awareness of all the different religious cosmologies helps, I think. It helps to explore, at least on a layman’s level, things macro and micro. I read about quantum mechanics. The Copenhagen Interpretation might be correct, although personally I believe quantum weirdness might be primarily a misinterpretation of data and that Pilot Wave theory might be more realistic. I acknowledge, though, that I’m not a physicist, so . . . I do my best to explore current definitions of the universe. I’m skeptical about the Big Bang Theory, yet at the same time acknowledge it might be the best theory we have available at this time.
Each of us possesses a unique worldview, and it’s critical that we somehow bring that to our work.
In earlier times, religions provided the best possible consensual explanation of the universe. Now we have science. There is certainly value in counting, so to speak, the teeth in the horse’s mouth, if you want to know how many are really there. But science changes its opinions constantly. Recent experiments with the CERN collider suggest that the standard model might well be wrong.
Personal morality is vital, although morality seems at times nothing more than what is culturally in fashion at any given moment. Look at the shifts in morality that have occurred within our own society during the 20th and early 21st centuries. At my age I’m acutely aware of these shifts.
I don’t think you asked about influences. It would be impossible to list them all. Still I should mention authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Ruth Rendell, John Updike, Philip Jose Farmer, Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, Bob Dylan (his lyrics are unsurpassed), William Butler Yeats, Lewis Carroll, Dan Simmons, Martin Cruz Smith, Edmund Spencer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Stone, Robert Silverberg, Tim Powers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Piers Anthony (especially his earlier, more serious work), Jan Potocki, etc., etc.
Music has also influenced me tremendously – Bach, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Pink Floyd, Burl Ives, Stravinsky, Wagner, The Beatles, Eric Burdon, etc. And let’s not forget art – Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, Hieronymus Bosch, John Waterhouse, and on . . . and on.
Kendall Evans is the author of more than 250 published poems, more than 70 short stories, several chapbooks, and The Rings of Ganymede, a novel in the form of a dramatic poem. His work has appeared in Analog, Asimov’s SF, Amazing, Fantastic, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Nebula Award Showcase 2012, and many other magazines and anthologies. Writing in collaboration with David C. Kopaska-Merkel, he won the Rhysling Award for best long SF poem in 2006. Writing in collaboration with Samantha Henderson, he won the 2010 Rhysling for best long SF poem. His chapbooks include In Deepspace Shadows and I Feel So Schizophrenic, The Starship’s Aft-brain Said; and, written in collaboration with David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Separate Destinations and Night Ship To Never.
Note: This interview originally appeared in the 24th print issue of Illumen, I have made a few edits.