I would like to welcome Anthony Kobal, to Black Satin. Anthony is the author of The Second Ring a work of historical M/M fiction. Thank you Anthony for taking the time to speak with us today. There will be links at the end of the interview where you can find Anthony and drop him a line. The Second Ring is due to be published by Noble Romance this year.
Who is Anthony Kobal?
A good question. I ask myself that every day, and find that my answers get more interesting to me, the longer I am around. I don’t mean that in a purely egotistical sense, but you shape your own character the same way you shape a fictional one. There are parts you emphasize to the outside world, parts you try to improve, and parts you definitely keep in a tin canister under the workbench, with a couple of air holes hammered into the lid.
2. When did you first start writing and why?
I can’t recall a time I was not interested in writing. As an avid reader—I used to read to my first grade class as a kind of trained monkey—I could not help but want to create something similar. I envisioned plans for novels and illustrated books. I collected books, too, which made me more interested to see my own name in print. I first wrote a story in second grade, about my beagle. I folded all the pages together and stapled them into a little duodecimal folding, illustrated it in crayon, and wrote out the text. I was very proud of it. I continued to write throughout my adolescence, florid, far-flung stories that we would call steam-punk nowadays. I liked the meshing of the historical with a modern aesthetic, even with science fiction.
3. Are there any particular writers who inspire you?
There are many writers who inspired me as a youth: Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, August Strindberg, Hendrick Ibsen, Pierre Loti, and Honoré de Balzac. More contemporary writers I enjoy are Richard Russo, E.M. Forster, Patricia Highsmith, Gore Vidal, Edmund White, Davis Sedaris. I am not above enjoying Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, as I think their stories are superbly crafted. I enjoy some authors for the sheer language and style, such as James Joyce, Edgar Allen Poe, or Anthony Trollope, and others for beauty of the structure, such as Wilkie Collins, Ignacio Silone, even Ira Levin.
4. Would you tell us a bit about your current work(s)?
I am readying a novel, The Second Ring for publication next month (more about this later). I am also working on a long story called “Hidden Places” that takes place at a college campus, about a filmmaker who runs across a long-lost love, who in turn is romantically involved with a person whom we are not sure is a man or a woman.
5. What made you choose to set your book in this particular time and place? Norway in 1941?
I’ve always been fascinated with German culture and how their language, their methods, and very ideas are so different from others in Europe. While England, Spain, France, Italy and Germany all thought of their culture as the best (and thus worthy of colonizing the world), Germany’s world-view was singular. Their people seem to me (and this is a very personal observation) to be methodical but somewhat sentimental. My protagonist is very clever, very sensitive. He’s a soldier, and he’s gay, and has been abused during his schooldays. As he enters military life, it’s the beginning of the Third Reich. World War II, of course, is a volatile stage on which to place people and have them interact.
One of the most volatile places was the Norsk Hydro plant, in Telemark, a district in Norway. There, they made heavy water, was used in fertilizer manufacture. The plant was financed by both the Norwegians and the Germans. When the Germans discovered that heavy water could be used to create refined uranium toward making an atomic bomb, the Hydro factory took on great strategic importance. The Norwegians did their best to destroy it, and the Germans took great pains to protect it.
As I researched the story behind this, I became more and more fascinated by the very brave men who took on the German occupying army and sabotaged the plant. They were rather humble in acknowledging their achievement, but they may have single-handedly won the war, keeping Nazi Germany from building an atomic weapon.
Thinking about the relationship between the occupying soldiers from Germany and the local Norwegians, both those who collaborated and those who resisted, I could not help but see an adventure/ love story between people who were torn by the cruel exigencies of war in this place, at that time.
6. By your site it appears you’ve done a lot of research. What were some of the materials and/or sites you used?
As one would suppose, there are a number of sites devoted to just about every aspect of the German armed forces in the years 1933-1945. My protagonist is a member of the paratroopers, or Fallshirmjägers
, of which there are many sites with video, music, photos, artifacts, reminiscences, books printed at the time, books written since. One useful book was “Blood and Water: Sabotaging Hitler’s Bomb” by Dan Kurzman (http://amzn.to/11AGXvq
). While it isn’t factually viable, the 1965 film, The Heroes of Telemark
is interesting in that some of it was shot at the actual facility, and gave a great visual sense of the place and time.
7. Is there some family history involved? For example a relative that fought in WWII?
I had several relatives that fought in WWII, one of whom received a purple heart for being wounded at the Battle of the Bulge; an uncle of mine also was stationed in Heidelberg after the war. However, I did not use any of their reminiscences in crafting my story.
8. Someone approaches you and asks you, what do you write? How do you respond?
Having the kind of personality that refuses to be pinned down easily, I normally say ‘all sorts of things’ – and then, depending on who’s asking, relate that I write poetry, drama, stories, business plans. I don’t normally announce that I’m a writer; if someone knows I write and asks me questions, I am happy to answer. I never speak person to person about romance novels, but I am voluble about my writing on blogs, in Facebook, in email, and in correspondence.
9. How do you handle the question, “Why don’t you write something serious?”
Everything I write is serious, even the humorous pieces. Something that takes thought, planning, skill, craft, and even ingenuity has to be presented seriously. It’s almost like saying, “why don’t you make a serious table?” All tables are serious. If they are not taken seriously, they fall apart. I am not sure anyone has ever asked me this question, BTW.
10. How do you feel about the current state of mainstream publishing? E-book publishing?
I think it’s very exciting, but it’s fraught with pitfalls. There is plenty to learn about it, and few people who can guide you through it. There are many, many sites and self-proclaimed pundits who say they know everything about it, and will give you formulas for success—and some who are very sincere, and relate what worked for them—but real experts are still hard to find. So far as how to really make money at it, that’s another skill that needs to be mastered, and I’ll talk more about that at about book #8 or 9.
So far as what the actual product looks like, it’s somewhat of a crapshoot. When a book is printed, that’s the way it looks in everyone’s hands. The size, weight, shape, kind of paper, font, illustrations, disposition on the page, margins, leading, and such. That’s not necessarily the case in ePubs; but if that’s the new medium, it’s up to us as writers to help shape how everyone can view it with the same user-experience. I am not sure publishers across the board understand what website developers have known from way way back: user-experience is paramount, and should be consistent.
11. Can you describe a typical day of creative work?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one. I dream of the day when I might carve out time in a day for time to create. I always feel as though I am stealing time to get things done. But they get done.
12. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
I thought of myself as a very good writer: one who could make people feel, one who could create situations to keep readers turning pages, and become engaged in the same situations that would engage me. However, once my book was accepted and I began making changes with my editor, I realized how much of the mechanics I was still behind on. After copy editing my own manuscript, searching diligently for commas and no-commas, now I find it difficult to read much of anything without putting on my editing spectacles, saying ‘who the hell didn’t catch that!’
13. What do you think makes a good story?
I am an advocate of character over plot. I think all stories spin out from characters and how various characters interact throughout the story. I also believe that the audience needs to be smarter than the characters (although that can sometimes be turned around).
14. What are some of your other interests?
I am a musician and composer. I enjoy writing for the theater as well. I collect all sorts of things, including opera postcards from the early 20th century. I play the trombone and tuba, sometimes to the despair of my neighbors.
15. Are you an introverted or extroverted writer/artist?
I am extremely introverted as a person, although I am extremely extroverted otherwise. When I am chatting electronically, posting on Facebook, emailing, boy am I extroverted!
16. Do you feel writers get a fair portrayal in other mediums such as TV shows and movies?
No writers are really alike, so it’s impossible to say. Also, since writing is such an intensely personal and subjective art, it’s not really possible to show what it’s like to be an author. In The Hours, we see Virginia Woolf, but do we really get a sense of what it was like to see her working? The visual medium is not great for showing such things. No one really has caught the immense effort it takes to conceive, write, and rewrite, then edit and rewrite one’s work. It’s like making a film of a watchmaker working. Yes, fascinating to some, but – really? I’d rather see the watch.
17. Do you have any quirky or unusual stories concerning your work?
The Second Ring
began as a kind of joke. I can’t reveal the underlying joke here, because it’s a spoiler that would ruin the whole thing, but I thought ‘could I spin a story around that?’ My friend Havan Fellows, also a M/M romance writer, and I chatted about it on Facebook, and I said that I didn’t think that I could make the story be more than a few pages long. However, as I got more and more interested, I added more and more incident, more characters, it became more solid as a narrative, and the joke became very serious. Now it’s submerged in the story so deeply that I am not sure anyone else but me—and maybe Havan—would see it as a joke. Havan is one of the dedicatees of the novel, BTW, and her latest book –she publishes so many—is called Harlan’s Ryde (http://amzn.to/15FscN5
) and is well worth a look see.
18. Just for fun — they’re making your book into a movie. Who do you imagine would play your characters?
I think Christoph Waltz needs to be in every film having to do with Nazi Germany. He could be Axel, but it would be a stretch for him, as his romantic lead persona isn’t well developed. He does the evil thing well, but I can’t see him as either of the evil characters in my book. Klaus, the love interest, I think needs to be a newbie. Someone out of nowhere, with a beautiful face, great body, graceful movement. Maybe taken from the world of opera, or ballet. Maybe Kellan Lutz or Nathan Gunn. My villain, Bruno, needs to be subtler than Jack Black, but something like him.
19. And speaking of movies, what’s your writing soundtrack? Or do you write in complete silence?
Silence is pretty good, since I am usually bombarded with awful music in the City. Music plays a big role in The Second Ring, but it’s operetta; so I listened to Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kálman, Johann Strauss; I probably should have listened to Richard Wagner more, but I’ve heard enough of that to have it embedded in my bones.
When I had a choice to listen to music, it was mainly romantic era concerti, verismo opera, some baroque music, of which I can only take so much. I am not an entire musical Luddite, however, and I enjoy the Eurythmics, Metallica, and the rock bands someone characterized as Dinosaur Rock: The Stones, Beatles, Kinks, Led Zeppelin.
20. What is the best and/or worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
“Just Write.” – I think that’s good. In the “Writer’s Way” we are told to just write and write and write and write in longhand, in a notebook, even if it’s nonsense, just to keep writing. I tried that, and I ended up filling 8 notebooks with nonsense.
When I was in college, someone pointed out that people in my stories ‘are always doing such silly things,’ which deeply hurt me, but it made me think about it. I still think they do silly things, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I can make them do these things more convincingly now. And frankly, I think most people spend 90% of their lives doing silly things.
“Write about what you know” – I think this is only partially good advice. Of course one is going to write about what he knows. You can’t do otherwise. I think it’s better to cast that nostrum into something more useful – ‘write about what interests you.’ That way you will research, and learn, and incorporate what you’ve learned into what you already know. If there’s more to learn, and you don’t realize it, then that will be the flaw of the writing, and you get the chance to improve it later on.
21. If you could meet three writers/artists (alive or dead), who would they be? Why those choices and what would you say to them?
I’d love to meet Twain, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. They all had personal tragedies in their lives and managed to write great works. I think I’d have a drink with each of them—maybe two or three—and then ask them about their earliest life. They all were deeply attached to and affected by their early careers. Mark Twain’s life on a paddleboat, James Joyce and his life in Catholic schools, Fitzgerald at college where his world-view was forged. I think I’d bring a modern perspective to the three of them, who were all so worried about posterity, and assure them that their work is still all right with us, and what they did was a gift to our culture.
22. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Just that I’d love to know what they think of my work. Join my blog, let me know.
23. Tell us about your future projects. What is on the horizon?
I am intrigued by the idea of a picaresque novel—one in which a hero goes on a journey and meets with adventure and love along the way, with many characters and situations, and a few anchors that he comes back to, over and over. I am not sure if this will be something like The Decameron, or more like Flaubert’s Voyage to Egypt. Maybe it will be two separate books.
The picaresque novel about France, set in 1849, is coming along. I’ve got four chapters written, and most of the plotline in my head, but I am still working out just how the protagonist relates to all the characters he’s going to meet, around Paris, then on his voyage to Egypt. He needs a buddy – but not a love-interest; at least not early on. So it’s still nascent, and I’m just diddling with the story.
I want to thank Anthony again for joining us today. You can find Anthony at: