Today I have another Canadian author to introduce to you guys. Kevin Harkness is the author of City of Demons, which was just released Wednesday (July 25th). He's here today to tell us a bit about himself and his writing, so please help me give him a warm welcome!
Marie: Thanks so much for being here today, Kevin! Why don’t we start with you telling us a bit about yourself?
Kevin: Thank you for inviting me! I’ve lived in the Vancouver area with my wife, Cecilia, and son, Thomas for about twenty years. Before that, I lived for shorter periods of time in many different places around Canada, the U.S. and China, so it’s been nice to settle down. I’m a classic late bloomer: I didn’t go to university until I was thirty and didn’t seriously start writing until my late forties. I’ve recently taken an early retirement from teaching (the only time I’ve been early in my life) so that I can concentrate on writing. That’s the statistical story. As for the other stuff, I have been fascinated by martial arts and Asian history since I saw “Five Fingers of Death” at a movie theatre in the Seventies. I read – though not as much as I used to or should – and walk around a lot waiting for ideas. More of my day is spent staring off into space than I should let on.
Marie: You write science fiction, fantasy, and horror. What draws you to those genres?
Kevin: I think it stems from an early and abiding love of mythology. In fact, I don’t see much difference between that and speculative fiction. Watching Joseph Campbell’s work on PBS in the 1980s made me think deeply about mythology and the reasons we tell stories. The magic of fantasy and horror, and the (magic-like) science of most science fiction give you so many possibilities to bring to your writing. Don’t get me wrong; I like other genres, but to me, speculative fiction gives you the most latitude to tell your story.
Marie: You had several careers before you became an author. Did you always want to be a writer, or was it something that just sort of happened?
Kevin: I always looked up to writers. They were my heroes. To think that someone could create a whole world like that was astounding to a teenager living in small-town Southwestern Ontario. I burned through the re-issues of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, and new books from Andre Norton and so many others. I loved stories, or more specifically, the effect of a story. Of course, I wanted to imitate my idols, but when I tried to write as a teen, the results were wretched. I needed to read and live a lot more.
So I did that. I took Karate classes, chased bears, and worked for a decade in the Canadian North. I also discovered Heinlein and Le Guin. I studied Chinese in Shanghai and had a cup of tea sitting on the Great Wall, and I read Journey to the West and William Gibson’s cyberpunk novels. I got married and had a child.
The final push was teaching English classes in a secondary school. That really put a fire under me to start writing again. I had to understand how a story worked to explain it to a class. I compared, judged, and then rewrote things in my mind. Suddenly, reading became participatory rather than passive. Next, I started making up literary examples and even stories for my students. People read what I wrote and liked it. So I thought, why not?
Marie: What has your journey to publication been like?
Kevin: Hard, until it got easy. I had novel and short story rejections from many publishers. One kept me on the hook for a whole year before saying no. I admit I was getting discouraged. Before Tyche Books picked up City of Demons, I had published only a single short story in a horror e-zine. Half the time I would want to quit writing and the other half I’d be gung-ho about sending off another story to die. I realize now how important it is to keep slogging, to not take rejections personally, or at least to not let them stop you. Since Tyche accepted my novel, it’s been very smooth. Margaret Curelas is a professional and supportive editor, and the whole team at Tyche is great. They held my hand through the traumatic process of sacrificing my prose on the altar of word count. It made for a better book.
Marie: What/who inspires you most?
Kevin: If you mean who do I want to be when I grow up – and that better happen pretty fast, considering my age – Joseph Campbell is the first name that comes to mind. When he finished university, he decided he wasn’t ready for the world and retired to a cabin in the woods to read for years. That dedication to the intellectual life has always impressed me. He was a great teacher and philosopher, and he lived his life according to the principles he taught.
If we are talking about writers, then I would have to say Ursula K. Le Guin and Haruki Murakami. Le Guin is a humane writer who never wastes words, and Murakami winds reality and fantasy together in a way that surpasses my imagination.
Marie: What can we expect next from you?
Kevin: I do have a sequel or two in mind for City of Demons. Unfortunately, there are always three or four other half-written books on my mind at any one time. The one that nags me the most is an absurdist science fiction novel about the luckiest girl in the universe and the destruction of Earth.
Marie: Since it’s Canadian Spotlight Month here at Ramblings of a Daydreamer, I’d like to ask you a couple of Canada-related questions.
Do you have a favourite Canadian author or book?
Kevin: Many! Charles de Lint is a gem. His urban fantasies are brilliant, and I particularly love “The Mystery of Grace”, which is set in the American Southwest. Guy Gavriel Kay is a second pick. His book, “Under Heaven”, is an alternative, magical history of the conflicts in Tang Dynasty China. Because of my teaching and writing experience, I’m also a reader of YA fiction. Wendy Phillips, a friend and mentor, won the Governor General’s Award for “Fishtailing”, a story about four students on connected, dangerous trajectories – and she did it in poetry – and it works! How amazing is that?
Marie: What’s your favourite thing about Canada? Your favourite place?
Kevin: Maybe it’s just me, but I think we move around a lot up here. I’ve lived in five provinces so far, and can’t name a favourite place. Too many to choose from. Sorry. My favourite thing about Canada is that we haven’t given up on the idea that a contentious country made up of First Nations and recent immigrants, of French- and English-speakers can still make the damn thing work. Oh, and the health care is nice too.
Thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us today, Kevin, it was a pleasure getting to know you better. I love learning about other writers' lives, histories, and writing processes, especially when they have such a varied, interesting background like yours!
About Kevin: Kevin Harkness is a Vancouver writer who has just finished a third career as a high-school teacher. His first two careers: industrial 911 operator and late-blooming university student, were nowhere near as dangerous and exciting as teaching Grade 10s the mysteries of grammar and the joys of To Kill a Mockingbird. He also taught Mandarin Chinese – but that’s another story. Outside of family and friends, he has three passions: a guitar he can’t really play, martial arts of any kind from karate to fencing, and reading really good stories. In this fourth career, as a writer, he attempts young adult fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
Demons are invading the Midlands for the first time in centuries.
The farmers have no defences against the murderous creatures. Swords in the hands of ordinary soliders have no effect against demons, for the ability to resist a demon's power - a projection of paralyzing fear - cannot be taught.
Garet's life is forever changed the night his midlands family is attacked. Demonstrating a rare talent for resisting demon fear, Garet is taken to the city of Shirath to become a Demonbane: one who can withstand the demons' psychic assault, trained in combat, and learned in demon lore.
But the ancient city isn't a safe haven, it's a death trap. While opposing political forces vie for the throne, a new demon terrorizes the citizens. To save Shirath, Garet must find friends and allies quickly, because the biggest treat to the city isn't the demons, but the people living within the city's walls.
*Thank you to Tyche Publishing for arranging this interview*
Be sure to check out Tyche Publishing, a Canadian small press specializing in science fiction and fantasy anthologies, novels, and related non-fiction.
This post has been part of the Canadian Spotlight Month. Click the graphic below to check out the schedule and all things Canadian here at Ramblings of a Daydreamer.