by Ian Sputnik
Kenneth W. Cain is the author of four novels, four short story collections, four novellas, and several children’s books among his body of work. He is the editor for Crystal Lake Publishing’s Tales From The Lake Volume 5 and When the Clock Strikes 13. The winner of the 2017 Silver Hammer Award, Cain is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association, as well as a volunteer for the membership committee and chair of the Pennsylvania chapter. Cain resides in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and two children.
Sanitarium: Do you lean more to the long or short story market? What makes each special for you?
Kenneth W. Cain: I’m not really particularly drawn to one over the other. For me, it’s about the story. Some stories are longer and more complex with many more characters that need to be developed. Some need less. I let the stories be what they want to be, and, a lot end up being short, quick hits. I think it depends a lot on the complexity of the plot. I just write…A LOT, and that’s how it’s ended up thus far. But I’m striving to write more long fiction pieces in the future and even have a couple novels I’m currently subbing around.
S: You are an active member of the HWA (Horror Writers Association). What made you join? Tell us about their mission statement and more about your involvement within the organization?
KC: To be honest, I didn’t know the HWA existed until I started actively selling my fiction, a little over ten years ago. But I joined up right away and don’t regret it one bit, mostly out of curiosity than anything. I made some great contacts there, several mentors of a sort whom I most appreciate, that have guided me along the right path.
Their mission is to spread interest in the genre, one I take to heart as a writer of horror and dark fiction. I’m chair of the local PA chapter, and I wish nothing more than to create more of a local appreciation for the genre. The HWA has been a valued resource toward that end. I also perform a few other tasks for the HWA, the majority of which is my recent promotion to chair of the membership committee.
S: What are the benefits of being an active member?
KC: The benefits, as with most things in life, are what you make out of them. I think there’s great opportunities to meet and talk craft with more experienced authors because of the HWA. They have some great resources for publicizing new releases and such. I wouldn’t say joining the HWA is going to change anyone’s life and make them an instant bestseller, but you might just learn a thing or two if you’re willing to listen. And, above all else, I’m a student of life. I very much appreciate the time more experienced authors have taken to guide me on my way.
S: When did you realize that you wanted to write, and was horror always the direction for you? Have you ever written any non-horror? If not, would you ever consider doing so?
KC: I’ve written fiction since a very young age, shortly after a reading of Baba Yaga in grade school. That story, along with my mother’s love for the genre, made horror appealing. And I’ve never looked back, in that regard. I have written in other genres, or mashups (which you’ll see in a lot of my shorter fiction), but I tend to try to keep a darker element to most of it. Even A Season in Hell—one of my most recent releases—which would be classified as literary has a dark side to it that is undeniably horrific. But I do dabble a lot in other genres, as well.
S: When you decided to write and submitted your first piece, was it accepted quickly, or at all? What were your feelings of waiting to hear from the publisher?
KC: My first piece was the short story “Warmth Within Thy Depths,” and it was accepted on first submit. Then, the press fell apart, and there was some controversy surrounding the whole mess. So, I started out rocky. Afterward, I hit a huge dry spell before I finally placed the story again. I’ve had a lot of bumps and bruises along the way these last ten years, but I’ve learned a lot from those experiences. Who knows? Without those lessons, I might not be where I am now (which really isn’t very far along).
S: Who are your hero writers, and why?
KC: Well, King for obvious reasons, but I’ve taken to his son, Joe Hill’s work recently and love it. When I started reading a lot of horror in my early teens, I spent a great deal of time in the basement of a local used book store, checking out mostly anthologies. That’s where my true roots lie, and thus, my greatest appreciation for writers like Hawthorne, Poe, Lovecraft, Steinbeck, Jackson, Matheson, Shelley, Barker, and so many others. I further explored many of those authors in college through several fiction appreciation classes.
S: You’ve recently started hosting web interviews. In your comfort zone or out? And what made you start conducting them?
KC: I’m not really fond of the whole interview process, mostly because it makes me uncomfortable. A lot of people meet me, and they likely think I’ve got it all together, that I’m perfectly comfortable in those situations. In truth, I have to prepare myself, psych myself up. Even then, in my head, I’m constantly correcting myself and putting myself down. It’s not really my thing, at all, but it’s necessary to put myself out there more, to interact with readers. That’s all part of growing as a writer, so I’ve sort of forced myself to do it. Hopefully, over time, it will get easier.
S: Amazon have recently started removing book reviews that they deem fake. How do you view this act?
KC: It’s silly. I mean, in today’s day and age people connect with all their favorite writers, sports figures, movie stars, etc. It’s perfectly natural to want to leave a positive review for those whose work you appreciate. There’s nothing fake about that. Not one bit. Now, if they really wanted to rid themselves of the fake reviews, they could start by identifying those accounts who are charging people for reviews, such as Fiverr reviewers.
S: What did it feel like to get asked for your first autograph or a request to sign a book that you had written?
KC: Surreal. Like a lot of writers, I suffer from imposter syndrome. So, whenever someone asks for an autograph, it feels wrong to me. I mean, who am I in the grand scheme of things? It’s all incredibly humbling—the signed copies, the reviews, the emails and messages, all of it.
S: Do you draw on personal experiences when writing fiction? Do you ever use real people as characters in your writing?
KC: Absolutely. That’s my special resource for story fodder, which is unique from everyone else’s, because they are my experiences alone.
S: Self-publishing vs publishing contact? What is the route you have chosen and why? And what are the pros and cons for each.
KC: I do a little of both, and I think that’s important at my current rung on the ladder. If I have enough faith in a story, I want it out there. Yes, I always prefer to have it published with a great press or magazine, but with most venues getting so many submissions these days, that doesn’t always pan out. Then, it’s on me to decide whether a story is good enough to self-publish or not. For that reason, several have ended up in a folder, never to be seen.
The main difference between the two is the key to doing it right. With self-publishing, you become the publisher. That means you’re responsible for everything, including the editing, the artwork, the cover design, the proofreads, the preparation and formatting, the design, the promoting, EVERYTHING! Personally, I prefer the traditional route because of the amount of work necessary to self-publish a book the right way, as it takes time away from writing new stuff. But I’m not one to put it down in today’s era of being capable and mindful enough to do it yourself. And I think anyone who takes the time to self-publish the right way doesn’t deserve to be thrown in with those who don’t. There’s a hard line there too many authors refuse to acknowledge.
S: What are your tips for anyone trying to break into the writing market?
KC: I say this a lot, but patience. Don’t rush into it. Make sure you read your contracts. Don’t give your work away for nothing. Find respectable publishers and submit to those who pay the most, first. Then work your way down. Expend all resources in trying to place the story with a good publisher before you even think about self-publishing.
S: What is your writing regime? Do you sit down and afford a time slot, or do you play it by ear, depending on your mood?
KC: I’ve been a stay-at-home dad since my job went under, right before I started writing again. I needed to contribute something to our family income, however little, in part for my mental health. So, I treat it like a job. I wake up, have my coffee, and get started early. Every day, it’s the same, starting early and writing/editing throughout the day until my wife and kids get home. I take breaks here and there to work out a little, to read and such, but I very much work at it all day. It’s important to me to improve the quality of my fiction, and that’s how I get there.
S: Was there ever a moment in time that you thought ‘that’s it, I’m through with this?’ If so, what made you carry on?
KC: Well, a week ago. And the week before that, too. So, all the time. Writing is hard. Getting your work read, even harder. Getting reviews—well, let’s not even talk about that. This business is hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would do it. It’s like that with any job. I set goals with my writing, trying to always improve my fiction, to get better responses, to hit hard. That’s all I can do. There’s only so much one can do to get their work seen, and it can be frustrating beyond belief. But I do it and keep doing it because I love it. I can’t even imagine a life without writing. So, whenever that feeling hits, I push myself harder and harder. Perhaps too hard sometimes. What I can do on my end, though; that’s all I can control.
S: Hard copy vs e-copy. What are your feeling on each?
KC: There’s nothing like holding a good book in your hands, so that’s always my preference. But I do love my Kindle. Having thousands of books at the touch of finger is quite awesome.
S: Narrated stories; how do you feel about them? Have you ever had a story narrated? If not, have you a favourite piece that you would like transferred to audio?
KC: I love audiobooks, though I don’t go through them as quick as I used to. I used to have to drive the kids to school and pick them up, an hour each way (4 hours total). Back then, before we moved, I went through a lot of them. Now, I listen to a lot of podcasts like Pseudopod and Nightmare magazine. I’m a HUGE fan of audiobooks.
My first two collections, These Old Tales and Fresh Cut Tales, are audiobooks. It was quite a humbling experience, and I hope to have more made in the near future. Though, a movie/series would be the ultimate dream.
S: What is your preferred medium of marketing? Do you attend conventions to market your work, or do you promote solely online?
KC: Social media, unfortunately. It often feels like I’m promoting too much, and it feels kind of yucky. But, a lot of small publishers expect it, so it’s necessary. I attend cons when I can, but often it comes down to money for me. I’m hoping to attend more in the near future.
S: You have an idea, you draft it out. Who, if anyone, do you pass it by, to see if it has legs?
KC: My wife, Heather. She’s brutal when it comes to my work. If it sucks, she has no problem saying so. And that’s important to me, because I trust her opinion. I have a few others who beta read for me now and then, too, but Heather reads everything I write; even the really bad stuff.
S: What is the most defining moment to you in your writing career? What, if at all, made you punch the air and made you want to kiss the first person you saw?
KC: Getting accepted at Crystal Lake Publishing was a dream come true. I’d been trying to get in for a while and cracked the shell with my story in Tales from the Lake Volume 3. But getting Embers accepted there blew my mind. Heather and I celebrated quite a bit that night.
S: Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time? What is your biggest ambition?
KC: Well, I’d like to get an agent and try my hand at some of the bigger presses. In ten years, I expect to be putting out more higher quality work per year and focusing on bigger targets. Progress, if you will. But always writing. On and on. Story after story. An eternity of fiction. Such is the life of a dreamer, living inside their dreams.
S: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
KC: Thanks for having me. Much appreciated.