An Interview with the Amazing Alex Kourvo
Posted May 27, 2016on:
A few years ago at ConFusion, I met author Alex Kourvo. We were on a Book Reviewing panel together, and while the other panelists were fiction reviewers, Alex runs a book review site called Writing Slices, where she reviews “the books that teach you to write”. She’s reviewed books that focus on writing dialog, books that focus on writing exercises, books for young writers, books that focus on characterization, you name it. If you’re a new writer, a writer who wants to up their game, or just someone interested in craft of writing, Writing Slices can point you in helpful directions.
An author and editor, her short fiction has appeared in Fantastical Visions IV and Reflection’s Edge. Along with her writing partner Harry R. Campion, she is the co-writer of the Detroit Next series of novels and novellas. The newest book in the Detroit Next series is Living All Day, and if “series” make you nervous, the novels and novellas in this series can be read in any order. I recent read the first book in the Detroit Next series, The Caline Conspiracy, and it was fantastic. Fast paced, great characters, and a thrilling story that pulled me right in. Review coming soon!
Alex was kind enough to let me pick her brain about just about everything – writing with a partner, the Detroit Next series, the Writing Slices blog, teaching writing workshops, and a lot more.
LRR: I recently finished the first book in your Detroit Next series, The Caline Conspiracy (it was awesome by the way!), a near future thriller. You co-write this series with author Harry R. Campion. How is writing novels with a partner different than writing on your own? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing as a team?
AK: Harry and I write short stories separately and I’m working on a solo novel, but our favorite thing is writing together. I couldn’t do this with everyone, but Harry and I share a brain. Often, after the book is published, we can’t remember who wrote which part! When you’re writing with a partner, the first draft goes more quickly, but the editing takes longer. You have to edit for consistency of voice as well as consistency of story. I think we do a good job of blending our voices. That’s why we chose to share the single pen name, “M.H. Mead.”
LRR: One of the many, many things I loved about the main character of The Caline Conspiracy, Aidra Scott, is that she is raising her teenage son by herself. How did Aidra’s character get developed? How did her son and sister become such an important part of The Caline Conspiracy?
AK: The first scene that developed in The Caline Conspiracy was the one where Aidra lost her beloved Doberman. The entire time we were writing, we knew her heartbreaking backstory. So when Aidra gets involved with the case of a genetically engineered dog who may or may not have killed its creator, Aidra isn’t sure she wants to take it on. She doesn’t want to live through that again, even secondhand. At the same time, she is sympathetic to the owner, who doesn’t believe her darling pet could kill. Of course, Aidra takes the case, and of course, she gets hurt again, but she also resolves some things in her life that needed to be resolved, and ends up in a much happier place.
As for the rest of Aidra’s family, Harry and I each have sisters (I have two, he has three) so when it came time to give Aidra a family, a sister seemed the logical choice. Ditto her son. Harry and his wife have four kids, I have two. We know about teenagers–how they talk, how they act, how they smell. Sometimes we think all they do is eat and sweat!
LRR: I’ve gotta ask – what kind of dogs do you have?
AK: None. Do you believe it? I had a funny little mutt who lived to age thirteen. But nowadays, we dogsit other people’s dogs. My favorite is a little Jack Russell named Stella whose family travels a lot. In fact, she’s snuggled up with me on the couch as I type this.
LRR: No Dogs? Sorry, I don’t believe it! We met at ConFusion a few years ago when we were both on a panel about book review blogs. You stuck in my memory because you were the only person at the panel who ran a non-fiction book review site. Your blog, Writing Slices, reviews books about How To Write. Why talk about these “how to” books? How is critically talking about a non-fiction book different than critically talking about a novel?
AK: Although I have a degree in English, my real education came from the bookstore. I devoured so many how-to books that my friends started asking me for recommendations. Nobody else was reviewing these books, and I thought someone really should. That’s how the Writing Slices blog was born.
Reviewing a non-fiction book means evaluating the book on two levels: the writing itself and the information within. I have some pet peeves. Anyone can go on a rant, telling writers what not to do, and some books contain only that, never bothering to give writers positive examples that would help them improve. I also hate jargon and academic-speak. If you can’t explain your point in plain English, you can’t explain your point, period. There is also a lot of misinformation out there. Just absolute rubbish.
On the other hand, I’ve found some how-to books that will shorten a writer’s learning curve by years. When I review one of these five-star gems, I want to parade it through the streets, shouting at all my friends to buy a copy immediately!
LRR: You and I recommend books to each other (and harass our friends until they read our favorites!). What makes a great book for you? When you think about your favorite books, what makes them stand above the rest?
AK: Two things: a character to care about and an interesting world to live in. As long as things are happening, I’ll go along with the most zig-zag, twisty plot. But let a character start to bore me and I’ll close the book forever. For example, The Martian by Andy Weir. I didn’t much care how Mark Watney made his water or how his spacesuit worked or how he tricked out his Mars rover. But I cared a whole hell of a lot about whether Mark would make it home. I cared because Mark never stopped striving.
LRR: You co-teach the Emerging Writers Workshop at a local library. How did you get involved with this workshop, and what is your role? What do you hope the attendees of the workshop get out of it?
AK: When the Ann Arbor District Library asked me to co-teach a monthly class for writers, I jumped at the chance. The Emerging Writers Workshop is the best job I’ve ever had. Each month, Bethany Neal and I focus on an aspect of writing craft or publishing how-to. Much like the Writing Slices blog, this is part of my service to the community. I’ve been mentored along the way by such great people, and I want to give some of that back.
LRR: You wrote a great article on your personal blog about finding quiet time and a quiet space to concentrate on writing, especially when life is full of distractions. Where is your quiet place? What are you recommendations to others for being able to find a quiet place and a quiet time in this modern age of distractions?
AK: It’s hard. The modern world is noisy with a short attention span, and the internet is a playground for writers. All those words and images right at our fingertips! It’s like asking a child to do his homework at Disneyland. Some writers use blocking software, cutting themselves off from the internet during writing time.
But here’s a funny thing. If the writing is going well and I’m “in the zone,” nothing is as compelling as the words on the page. So lately, I’ve told myself that I’ll just get started with a paragraph or two, and then I can stop to check my social media. Wouldn’t you know it, two paragraphs always lead to many more, and the next thing I know, I’m lost in my own imagination. The internet seems pretty dull when you’re creating whole worlds from scratch.