A Conversation with Chris Kelso

Our latest literary guest is Chris Kelso, a writer, editor, journalist, illustrator and co-creator of The Imperial Youth Review. He has stories published in many magazines and anthologies and books (Schadenfreude, Moosejaw Frontier, A Message From The Slave State and Transmatic, among others) available on Amazon – I think you should check them out. Visit http://www.chris-kelso.com to find more about Chris and his work.

Chris Kelso

Chris Kelso

Hi, Chris – can you, please, tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi Renato. I’m a writer, illustrator and editor from Scotland. I like animals, reading, writing, drawing and playing music. I have a handful of publications available (of varying quality) that you can buy – “Moosejaw Frontier”, “Transmatic”, “Schadenfreude”, “A Message from the Slave State” and the upcoming manic depression fable “The Black Dog Eats the City”. I also run a really cool counter-culture journal with Garrett Cook that comes out quarterly…or whenever we feel like it really. I also sometimes work in a library and teach art and guitar classes for beginners because I’m all about the community.

You come from Scotland – Scots are obviously great storytellers (Irvine Welsh, also one of my literary heroes comes from Scotland), Ignius Ellis came to SF from Scotland … How does your country define you as a writer?
There has been a big boom over here in the science fiction community which is cool to be around, I’d like to think I’m an exponent of that. I edited an anthology recently with Hal Duncan called “Caledonia Dreamin’ – Strange Fiction of Scottish Descent”, so I suppose some part of me must be affected or inspired by Scotland in some way. This is a great country and plenty of folks have been stirred and stimulated by it before, rightfully so but I think my writing has more in common with American literature. We do have a good rep as storytellers over here. I’m very proud of the great history of literature and art we have in this country, so I suppose you could also say that I’m ‘proud’ to be Scottish.
I do, however, find that the accident of geography which saw me born and raised here is entirely incidental and I don’t express or myself in a purely Scottish way – very rarely do my characters ever have anything stereotypically Scottish about them either. I mean, I’m outwardly VERY Scottish. I have that thick parochial brogue and I enjoy a drink or six, but inwardly I’m inspired by very little of my immediate environment.
I mean, rural Ayrshire is beautiful but it’s also unbelievably languid and soberingly dull. In fact, even my characters who are actually Scottish (Kip Novikov, Ignius Ellis, Mr.M) are atypical of what you’d find if you ever actually came here. I’d go as far as to say they’re not even exaggerations of people over here, heck, even the surnames don’t sound very Scots! More often than not I’m inspired by books and films from the US or elsewhere around Europe. That’s not to say I don’t admire this nation’s output, because I do; Alasdair Gray and Irvine Welsh were a big part of my life when I first got into reading. I’d say I have that famous defeatist attitude that we Scots are accused of from time to time.

You create in many fields – writing, editing, illustration, … Where are you able to express yourself in the most efficient way?
I think they each satisfy me in different ways. I think I want to be the most proficient at writing. I feel like it’s something I actually want to get up and do every single morning, but I know I have a long way to go until I get any good. The hermit in me likes the loneliness and isolation of writing and drawing. It’s a bit different with the music and editing side of things. I go through phases of being passionate about each but it’s less lasting than it is with the writing. Writing allows me to express myself succinctly, or has the potential to. It can be frustrating (as you know) and there’s no worse feeling than when you just can’t articulate what you want to say properly.
Teaching young people is tremendously fulfilling too. I think I’m probably best at that to be honest. I think I’m relatable enough that the kids are comfortable and I can get the best out of them. I know what it’s like to be young and awkward and nervous so I’m able to identify with the tougher to handle kids.

How does your typical working day look like (if there is such a thing as a typical working day, being active in so many areas)? You are also a librarian?
I am indeed. I work every day at the library (for the moment anyway), alternating 8 hour shifts. This involves dealing with the public every day – for a misanthropic writer you can imagine how difficult this probably is for me. I have good co-workers and I love being surrounded by books, so I can’t complain. You might even say I enjoy it. After that I’ll come home and usually get some writing or editing done, oh – before that I have to deal with the various animals that need tending. There are always dogs, cats or horses frolicking around the farm that need food and attention…

How do you approach your writing? A lot of research and planning or just write out from your head?
It differs. I don’t think I have an approach, maybe I should get one! Two of my books came into existence in one big angry 8-day rant. It all poured out of me and I finally understood that Burroughs quote about it being like dictation. I’m hardly ‘thinking’ at all during it. Other times, if I have a premise I want to expand on in my head, I’ll take more care and precision during the planning stages. “Transmatic” was actually the first book I sat down and tried to write ‘properly’ from notes. Whether or not I achieved that is probably up for debate.

What about Social Media and your work, promoting your work and networking with fellow artists and your audience?
Networking on Facebook is so crucial. I’ve had the chance to meet some great writer friends and mentors through facebook. Most of my limited audience are able to contact me directly through that very medium. I know people are quick to trash social media, but if you’re an emerging writer and you DON’T have Facebook, you’re at a serous disadvantage. Goodreads is also brilliant for promoting your work and offers some good deals to shift some books.
Don’t be so resistant to these things and end up shooting yourself in the foot.

Can you tell us more about The Imperial Youth Review?
Imperial Youth Review started as an idea of mine coming out of university, it was kind of a reaction to the hoity-toity literati that I was surrounded by at the time. Think of it as an Anti-New Yorker journal – no politics (most of the time), no restrictions, no prejudices, no cliques and no sanitization. I asked Garrett Cook to help me because I was a fan of his fiction and he had a reputation as a good editor and a savvy individual (he still does). He’s been a great friend of mine since. We’re working on issue 3 right now and with any luck there’ll be a few big names in there too.

What are you working on at the moment?
Issue 3 of IYR aside, i’ve just finished a highly experimental novel called “The Dissolving Zinc Theatre” which has already found a fantastic publisher (I’ll be announcing that soon). “The Black Dog Eats the City” is due out from Omnium Gatherum at the tail end of March which is exciting. The opportunity to work with Kate Jonez is really thrilling for me. I’m also editing a surreal anthology for Oneiros Books featuring exclusively European writers. It’s going to be a busy year!

Who are your literary heroes?
Hmm…I’d say Burroughs, Phillip.K.Dick, Poppy.Z.Brite, Samuel Delaney, Sebastien Doubinsky, Alasdair Gray, Bukowski, Selby Jr, Coetzee, Irvine Welsh…the list is endless. I love so many writers.

What would you tell an aspiring writer about how to become a writer?
You mean, apart from “DON’T DO IT!!”…?…um, I’d say take your time (but don’t procrastinate). Don’t be afraid to ask people for help and advice, above all make sure you respect the help and advice other writers are offering, especially ones who’ve made it in the big ugly world of publishing books.
Keep reading, keep honing your craft, stay humble, work hard…

How can we get out of the Slave State?
You can’t.
Once you’re there you become part of the fiber of the State, a servile automaton who’ll work in a forced labor enclave mining inessential minerals until the end of frequented time…

One more question, Mr. Kelso … Are you – transmatic?
Haha! I knew you were going to ask that! But seriously, yes – I absolutely am Transmatic…

Thank you, Chris!
Thank you Renato!

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