Today, we are joined by S.L. Kerns. I came to know Lloyd as we were both included in the Burning Willow Press Anthology, Crossroads in the Dark 2: Urban Legends. How about you start by telling us about that story before we get a little deeper into what you have in the works?
Foremost, many thanks for the warm welcome and the opportunity to discuss my life and my writing. Also, congrats on the release of your first novel. The Rise of Umbra has some very impressive cover art and sounds action-packed. I’m holding out for a paperback edition.
“The Spirited Children” is a post-apocalyptic short story about a momma’s boy from Kentucky. Once his mother, a globetrotting woman, innocently brings a Luk Thep doll—check them out on YouTube to be freaked out—back from Thailand, Hell ensues.
The dolls are housing homeless spirits brought on by black magic in their Pali-Sanskrit tattoos (known as sak yant—it’s a real thing), and these souls are hungry for retribution. They have the ability to corrupt the people near them, turning them into possessed, zombie-like creatures who must make sacrifices for the spirits inside the dolls. Our unlikely hero’s family suffers a tragedy that sends him on a journey to rid the world of the popular doll that trended heavier than Furby and Cabbage Patch ever dreamed of.
My story “Ugly as Sin” is also slated to appear in Crossroads in the Dark III: Monsters Under the Bed. Big shout out to Edd Sowder and all at Burning Willow Press for believing in my writing and for all their great releases. A great many of them I have recently read.
I have to bring this up, because I’m a HUGE fan of Queen. I heard you were in a charity Freddie Mercury anthology. Could you tell the reader what inspired you to write that particular piece and what charity it supports, and please, give us a link because I’m all about helping out charities.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate the songwriting and vocal talents of the late Freddie Mercury. Not everybody likes Queen, but a performance by Freddie commands respect and awe. My favorite clips are those of him serenading the masses with “Somebody to Love” on the grand piano. Breathtaking.
Chris Thompson of Penny Dreadful Publications must agree because he put together this great anthology to benefit the Mercury Phoenix Trust for HIV Research Foundation, with all proceeds going there. I had worked with Chris before on two volumes of an antho inspired by David Bowie, and he is an honest and pleasant guy. My stories “Guizhou Girl” and “Silhouettes and Shadows” were included with all proceeds, again, going to cancer research.
Please support the causes and read my heartbreaking tale “Mon Ami, Le Papillon.” One reader said it had “a beautiful ending.”
Want a copy? Get it RIGHT HERE.
Not everyone might know this, but you actually live in Japan now. How’d you get over there? Was it a culture shock? Would you recommend it? From what I hear quite a few Americans are looking at alternative living locations… snicker
When I was eleven-ish, I distinctly recall telling Mom my plan to relocate to Japan after school. My best buddy, Ken, has and American dad and Japanese mother, and with little diversity in my farm town in Kentucky, I was fascinated by him. Every visit he made to Japan, he’d return with futuristic-looking magazines showcasing the Land of the Rising Sun’s uniqueness. I was mesmerized.
It was while studying at Western Kentucky University—the home of the fake “Bowling Green Massacre” reported by the Trump squad—I had the opportunity to befriend several foreign students and, long story short, met my Thai wife. This ultimately derailed the plan to uproot to a place famous for samurais and robots, and instead I spent six years in the Land of Smiles. I still love Thailand, but the clock of life is ticking and there is much to do. My wife and I made the transition to Takamatsu, Japan two years ago and it has proven to be an experience to cherish.
Thanks to my wife, I have seen more of the world than I ever dreamed. I’ve been to Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and of course, Japan and Thailand. I’ve met people from countries I’ve never heard of, and I can’t fathom what people back home are so afraid of. Every person in every place has been welcoming.
Just got to throw this out there: sushi or pizza?
Well, my wife and I often buy sashimi and frozen pizzas from the local supermarket and combine the two in the oven. You gotta try it! Of course, that is only for my weekly cheat meals. I got to stay in shape for the annual bodybuilding competition. It’s held each August in Takamatsu.
Leading to the next topic: you’re pretty heavy into bodybuilding. For those of you who don’t know, the man is ripped like a Bruce Lee villain. I kid you not! You don’t see a lot of authors chiseled from stone. What’s it like balancing that creative side with your drive in bodybuilding? Do they ever get in the way of each other or do they balance themselves naturally?
Honestly, I don’t watch must television. My new home doesn’t even have a TV. So that shaves a few hours wasted off of each day. Doing competitive bodybuilding and writing on top of my full-time teaching job is very challenging. Both take tremendous effort. My dad taught me to be a hard worker by following his example. And bodybuilding has taught me discipline. To paraphrase the Austrian Oak, everything is possible with reps. Just like training pound after pound, writing is all about repetitions of words. Same goes for my guitar playing and learning languages. Just repeat. Training is two hours of my day, tops. Dieting is non-stop. If a person can handle that, I reckon they can accomplish anything, and if I did it, anyone can. I used to think I’d never get defined abs…like it was genetic. It’s not. It’s discipline.
Photo taken August 8, 2016 in my first competition by my incredibly gifted friend, Kevin Cozma.
I know from some of our previous discussions that you’re a criminology minor. I also know one of the manuscripts you’re writing stars a criminologist in a psychological horror. How much did the schooling influence the story? I imagine if anything it should lead to the story being much more authentic as you have a background in that career path. And please, feel free to share as much of the plot as you’re comfortable sharing.
This is still in the works, but I know where it’s headed. Tentatively titled “Rut”, this story is a psychological horror. The main character is writing his second non-fiction manuscript. In doing so he meets a serial killer who believes in hypnosis and mind-control. This murderer is part of a cult who believe they can earn rankings in Hell and experience Satan’s power on earth. This is also believed by some denominations of Christians on the opposite end, dealing with the Holy Spirit and God’s divine power.
The writer’s life spirals out of control as he begins to question things. He is not sure if the hypnosis worked or if he is living out his own dark desires. His marriage is in a rut and his wife only falls back in love with him after a loved one passes away. She has an extreme fear of death, and it has a way of sobering her up and reminding her what’s important. How far will her husband go to save his marriage? Is it possible to love someone too much? Could he kill for her?
I’ve always wanted to use my degree—outside of the way I use it daily to analyze and scrutinize any and every thing. In writing this tale, I’ve had to go back and brush up on a lot of theories I had learned at university. It’s been enlightening. I grew up in a religious town, but not a very strong Christian upbringing, so I’ve also been spending several hours with the Bible in conducting research for this book. The Bible has always been interpreted in several different ways and I am giving my own interpretation of some aspects here. It may not be correct for all, but I think it’s accurate, or enough so to be believable. It definitely works for the world the characters live in.
Horror, Sci Fi, or Fantasy? (And yes, you can only pick one)
I’m not a big of fantasy. I read the Hobbit and enjoyed it. One of my best friends wrote a fantasy called Twelve Cataclysms that I loved. (Mr. Rob Queen, I know you are busy on the new novels, but I need the second book like yesterday.) I have a thing for realism and realistic scenarios. Twisted people scare me more than monsters and aliens, so if I must choose one, I’ll side with horror. Stephen King got me into horror, but since I’ve read several other greats, including many that are working their way up like fellow BWP authors Mark Reefe, Kerry Alan Denney, and even your short stories, Mikey. I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented group. I’d also like to give a shout out to my poetic friend A.S. Coomer. His debut novel, Rush’s Deal, is important and must be purchased immediately. It’s two stories in one, and includes a non-visual comic. Not sure how that works? Well, check it out. It most definitely works!
By the way, I’ve heard you have a baby on the way! Congratulations! Can you tell us if it’s a boy or a girl yet? And do you have any names picked out?
Let’s see how I do with balancing writing and bodybuilding after our baby arrives this June. This is our first child, and we are over the moon. The docs just confirmed we are having a daughter and now I can’t stop imagining how adorable she’ll be in her itsy Black Flag and Faith No More t-shirts. My sister doesn’t know it yet, but she’ll be making some for me.
Names? That’s tough. I can tell you she will have a Thai first name, English middle, and my surname.
I heard you also have some experience in the musical field. You’ve got that “jack of all trades” going on, sir. What’s harder: writing a song or a story? Which is more rewarding?
Music was my life. I played bass in bands from middle school to the age of 27. My old band in the states were fortunate enough to be a minor part of the Vans Warped Tour 2005 and toured around the USA in a van on a low-budget diet of peanut butter and apples. This was with Ken, my earlier mentioned buddy. He taught me most of what I know about playing. Since, then, my buddy and ex-guitarist Jordan has moved on to playing in a group called Mona who are turning some heads their way.
My band, Polar Bare Knuckles, in Thailand was also a blast. There are some vids on YouTube if you are interested. I now suffer tinnitus in both ears and have given up the loud rock. I pick a little folk and classic country at home these days, and am a fan of John Prine and Blaze Foley.
To answer your question, both are rewarding. For me writing a great song is tougher than a novel. Novels can be planned to perfection, but a song, for me, comes from the soul. However, sharing a novel with the world is more terrifying and likely to be criticized. It’s a bigger risk because it takes longer to create, longer to decipher, and involves more stakes. At least, that is true for me at this stage in the game.
I know you also have a contemporary novel in the works about a washed up punk rocker who has to take a change of careers to support his family and the stress and struggle that causes. Tell everybody what you’ve got going on here. You told me a bit before our interview and it sounds very fascinating.
“Slack on the Wheel: Punk-Trucker Blues” is a contemporary novel that has had some positive feedback from potential publishers with appraise for the writing style and one saying the author—ahem!—has “an amazing talent.” Unfortunately, it never fits what they are looking for. It’s between a romance and “gritty” realism.
The story is told through the POV of two characters: Tommy, the washed-up punker, and Fiona, his ex. Tommy is a hard worker who loathes wasted time. After moving from LA to Kentucky, where he settles for a career trucking to provide for his family, he loses hope and it costs him his marriage. Between the distracting attention of local women, a difficult boss, and the opposing political views of the locals, he can’t stay out of trouble.
Fiona is the love of his life and the mother of his only child—who resides in Thailand with his transgendered fiancé. All Tommy wants is to win her back and get to his son’s wedding overseas. But while Fiona knows she is Tommy’s only light, she realizes he will never change, never stop using his fists to settle his problems, or dreaming, or grow up. Since their split he has also become a sleaze, and the thought of him with other women sickens her, even if he is only with her because she let him go.
However, a frightening date that ends terribly puts things back in perspective. Is she too late? Has Tommy moved on? Maybe she can get him back before he gets killed by the locals or the authorities. Before he finds someone else.
This is a brief summary. There are several minor conflicts that beg attention from the modern world. It’s all relevant to the issues that get debated daily in America.
An appropriate tag line would be: Humor is his only defense against the death of all hope.
Is there anything else you’d like to promote and where can our readers find you on social media?
The next release I have is a collection of poetry called Rise: an Anthology of Power and Unity. Mark Lipman put this together and has set up a release event in California. I’ve been invited but can’t make the jump from East to West that easily. The anthology features two of my poems, “An Amendment in Angst,” and “A Gun to my Head.” Both came about after news of mass shootings and police brutality back home. It pisses me off and, though I’m not a poet, I wrote these frustrations out. Here’s a link to purchase the book and gander at the powerful cover art: http://www.vagabondbooks.net
I don’t tinker much with twitter and haven’t set up an author’s page hardly anywhere. I’m busy with other things, but I do update www.slkerns.wordpress.com quite often. After one of these novels finds a home, I’ll be using every tool I can to market my work and offer some giveaways for any diehard followers. I hope they exist.