Ahimsa Kerp is a man not easily categorized. He can read a book faster than you can thumb through a magazine, he’s an insatiable backpacker and traveler, he has degrees in esoteric subjects like philosophy and history, he has tattoos that make D&D nerds green with envy, and he guzzles fine beers with the best of them. He’s also a writer and good friend of mine. His short story, “Turning On, Tuning In, and Dropping Out at the Mountains of Madness,” has just come out in the erotic, Cthulhu-mythos anthology, Cthulhurotica, and he’s one of my collaborators on the historic fantasy novel, The Roads to Baldairn Motte (along with Craig Comer).
2010 was a good year from Ahimsa. In addition to Baldairn Motte and his erotic short story getting picked up, he published several travel writing pieces on Matador, the Art of Backpacking, and Where I’ve Been, not to mention a flash fiction piece on The New Flesh. As you may remember, Ahimsa interviewed me a month or two ago on his Blog, Be Obscure Clearly, so I decided to return the favor and ask him some tough questions of my own. So, without further ado, here’s my exclusive interview with Ahimsa Kerp.
You’ve been quite productive the last seven months or so. You’ve had several travel writing pieces published, a flash fiction piece in The New Flesh, and now your story in the new anthology, Cthulhurotica. To what do you owe your recent string of success?
I don’t really know, other than that writing is getting a little more effortless. I think reading a lot and thinking a lot about the process has helped from the ground up. Just as importantly, of course, is having the time… which I had a lot of this summer.
How would you describe your Cthulhurotica piece?
Fun, I hope. Lovecraft is of course a big inspiration, but he can be dense and dreary. I wanted to take some of his elements but use them in a new way. Mashing up Nyarlathotep with some hippies seemed like a story I’d like to read—hopefully readers will feel the same way. I kind of wanted to achieve that same feeling from the story that listening to some of the trippier songs by the Beatles or Doors can get to.
Well, I think you achieved that pretty well. The hippy milieu of the story is great.
Thanks! I actually spent more than 10 hours researching the background stuff—then at least that much time trying to integrate it into the story without making it too showy. (The slang I left at unrealistic levels, but that was more for characterization purposes.)
Have you read any of the other stories yet? Is there any kinky shit going on with tentacles?
I’ve had a look at a couple, but I don’t have the physical copy yet and I’m still kind of an old-fashioned-read-on-dead-trees kind of guy. I am really excited to read them, and I have the impression that mine, sadly, is going to be one of the least sexually explicit. One of the most exciting parts of being in this anthology has been communicating with the co-authors.
I look forward to reading all of the stories. I turn out to be a big fan of the Chtulhu mythos, as well. And sex too.
The combination, I think, is one that you either are instantly interested in or instantly repulsed by. There’s really not a middle ground when it comes to sex and eldritch horrors.
Not to purposely veer away from Lovecrart, but... You’ve lived all over the world—Scotland, Australia, Korea, the United States—and you’re an avid traveler. How has experiencing so many landscapes and cultures influenced your writing and your views on life?
That’s a great question. Hmmm. I feel like my writing is highly influenced by the countries and people I’ve seen in my travels, but I’m not sure I’m able to describe or even know all the ways it does. One example, though, is that I’ve learned to make my settings more explicit. Rather than set a story in suburbia, for instance, I’ll research the hell out of a particular suburb and use that. I might not ever say where it is, but I know where it is in my head. Traveling has definitely helped me develop a sense of place in my writing.
Additionally, I think it’s the same impulse that makes me want to read, write, and travel—the thrill of discovery. That sounds wanky, but all those things are about discovering new places and new people (some admittedly more real than others).
I have you to thank for broadening my writing horizons. You introduced me to screenwriting and travel writing. To who or what do you attribute your eclectic writing tastes?
I think it comes from a combination of broad interests and a short attention span. It’s fun to learn about things, but I have to admit I tend prefer things that don’t take a whole long time. A travel article only takes a couple of hours. One could write a screenplay in a weekend. Those things are fun. But short. I have yet to finish a novel because my attention span wavers...
You’ve been writing as long as I’ve known you (15+ years), and you’ve always been an adept writer, but in the last two years I’ve noticed a drastic improvement in your writing, to the point where your work is as good as or better than most of what’s selling on book shelves. Is this something that you’ve noticed as well? Is your improvement due to a renewed focus on your craft, your skills coming to fruition after many years of hard work, or something else?
Firstly, that is a very nice thing to say and I appreciate it. I do feel that my writing is improving, though of course it has a ways to go. I sort of think my recent stories are effective (to those who think they are) because I have more life experience. In high school and college, my stories were pastiches at best, largely influenced by David Eddings and Michael Moorcock. I think good stories, regardless of genre, have to say something important, and until you’ve lived life a bit it’s hard to know what to say. (It was for me, at least.) I’m also putting more thought into my stories before I write them, other than “hmmm, a guy walking through a desert would make for a good story.”
We talked about the Cthulhurotica anthology earlier. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos is more than just a passing interest for you. I haven’t seen it in person yet, but I’m told you’re getting a tattoo of the Great Cthulhu himself on your arm. How’s the inking coming along? And of all the mythical beasts out there, what inspired you to choose Cthulhu to grace your body?
You are told correctly. The tattoo is coming along really well and I’m excited to get it finished. As to why Cthulhu, I think he works for two reasons. First is aesthetically; I think he makes for a really interesting creature to portray, especially when you think how little Lovecraft actually described him. But more importantly, to me, is what he represents… the unknown, the hidden world buried beneath what we know, the alien being so vastly different that just beginning to comprehend its existence is to invite insanity. Finally, he represents water. I already have Hugin and Munin (Odin’s ravens) to represent air, and I’m thinking of eventually getting something for fire and earth. So Cthulhu, for a lot of reasons, was the right tattoo for me.
Might I suggest a balrog and... an earthworm?
One step ahead of you with the balrog, sir. And thinking of maybe an Ent for the earth, to double up on Tolkien. The only other possible fire creature would be a djinn… but he and Cthulhu might not get along.
Yes, trees would be a nice touch. So, what’s in store for you in the near future, both writing-wise and travel-wise? We have our book The Roads to Baldairn Motte coming out in the next few months, of course. Any big plans for promoting the book? Any other projects in the works?
I’m still aiming to finish my novel which pits the Roman Empire against an undead menace, but I do have a short attention span. I have several other short stories I need to finish and find homes for. I am really excited to promote Baldairn Motte—it’s a mosaic novel from a trio of unknown authors, from a tiny press sure, but I think all three of those stories are top-notch and it’s something I can really get behind. As far as balancing writing with traveling, it’s hard to get to a place where I can both travel and write. But that will be a fun challenge to face; I don’t have a specific destination in mind yet, but I can’t “not travel” like I can’t “not write,” if that makes sense.
Indeed it does. Okay, ready for the speed round portion of the interview?
IPA. Drinking some Deschutes Inversion as we type.
Nice. I finally got around to trying Dogfish Head 60 and 90 minute IPA. Damn tasty...
Had some of the 60 for thanksgiving. Good stuff.
Which is more likely to get played out in the coming months: zombies or Cthulhu mythos?
They’re both kind of played out... but zombies on a much more mainstream scale. With Del Toro’s Mountains of Madness set to film soon, and Cthulhu sighted on South Park, I think the Lovecraftian mythos is quickly catching up though!
It’s okay. I don’t think we have to worry about either reaching vampire status.
Sparkly vegetarian Cthulhu? I’d just kill myself.
What bands are you digging right now?
The albums I listened to at work today were The Knife, Tribe Called Quest, and Bad Company. Each brilliant in their own way. I think we are still pretty lucky with all the great bands out today: Black Keys, Broken Bells, Arcade Fire, Wolfmother, etc. It’s a far cry from the early-to-mid 2000s.
Agreed. Top 7 most influential writers for you?
Aargh, that’s a hard question. Most of all, Tolkien, for his world-building and integration of small personal struggles into an epic scope. Later, more derivative writers made everything as epic as they could. Part of Tolkien’s genius was that Sauron was just a servant, a story within a story. At one point in the late 90’s, I had read everything ever written by Michael Moorcock, and that guy was puking out a novel a night in the 70’s. I still admire his high-concept settings. Tim Powers is amazing in his ability to integrate multiple elements into a cohesive narrative. Lovecraft, obviously, for getting closer than anyone at putting eeriness and creepiness into words. Stepping slightly out of the genre, Aldous Huxley was a master of words. Graham Greene is as polished a writer as I have ever read. I can’t say a 7th because there are too any I’d have to leave out.
Isn’t Terry Goodkind missing from that list? I’ve actually only read one Harry Potter book, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t by any means good. I realize that hundreds of millions of dollars can serve as affirmation, but I really think Rowling should be more apologetic about the tepid, derivative, and contrived prose she’s been churning out. (But I haven’t tried to read Sparks, so he may be even more of a blowhard; his opinion of himself is certainly at odds with his blasé chic-lit sounding crap).
Awesome. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Any last words or anything I forgot to mention that you want to plug?
Thank you for the challenging questions. I didn’t realize interviews were so hard. I don’t have anything more to add, other than that I should have mentioned Douglas Adams as an influence. And George RR Martin. Oh man I failed that question!
I better cut you off then, because you’ll just keep adding influence after influence after influence....
Oh and I just thought of several more good bands! Just kidding. That’s all I got to say. Thanks again for interview. It was fun.
You can follow Ahimsa's writing exploits on his Blog, Be Obscure Clearly.