Interview with Author Kevin Berg

Like me, Kevin Berg is new to the indie scene, having published his debut novel, Indifference, a few months ago. You can read my review of the novel here – I’m definitely not indifferent about Indifference. Ha ha ha, haw haw haw.

I tracked Kevin down and threw some questions his way, and he threw answers back at me. The exchange is below.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. What does Kevin Berg do when he’s not crafting stories?

A: I have two daughters that exhaust me. They are four and one at the moment, and are amazing, but completely tiring. Beautiful and frustrating and smart and emotional and energetic. All at once, all the time. Being a father is extremely rewarding but more work than anything I have ever done. I feel like I have aged decades in four quick years. I can only hope that they grow up to be as happy as they make me. That is success.

I am also lucky to have problems sleeping like everyone else, since this allows me the time to read and write and skip any rest to continue to learn and entertain myself. Like right now, the girls are finally asleep, and I can answer some questions.

I am also an avid reader. I like to read a bit of everything, and have started writing the things down that clog my thoughts. I don’t know if this will be therapeutic or depressing or entertaining to anyone other than myself, but it is worth a try.

I won’t talk about my shitty job, I am as underpaid and overworked as the majority, but I have plans. If I don’t hit the Powerball soon, I will just keep writing and improving, hoping to find a way out of the office and into something I enjoy. And if I do hit the jackpot, I will keep writing and just do everything on a larger scale.

Who are some of your artistic influences?

I have several authors listed as influences on Goodreads, all of them fantastic storytellers and terrific writers that have reached me for different reasons. Ryan Bracha, Mark Wilson, Chuck Palahniuk, Jack Ketchum, Bret Easton Ellis, Hubert Selby Jr., Craig Furchtenicht, and Kurt Vonnegut, for starters. The cool thing is that some of these guys are Indie also, so I have had the chance to talk with them. I will never be able to meet and chat with all of them, I am not famous enough to know all the greats, but I am happy with the few I am able to talk to and learn from and support in any way I can.

Others, like Shakespeare and Lukyanenko and Dumas and Palahniuk and Poe and Burroughs haven’t returned my messages or accepted my friend requests, but I will wait patiently. I still have hope. In the meantime, I am constantly meeting new people, reading a ton of great writing, and finding inspiration everywhere. Seeing everyone else work so hard to bring their ideas to the world makes me feel better that I put in so much effort with mine, the reward is in someone else reading my words or me finding theirs.

What’s the biggest “holy shit” moment you’ve experienced when reading?

There are several for many different reasons, honestly, but I think that these moments are fundamental in telling a successful and memorable story. Learn young. Know that the wrong decision in a Choose Your Own Adventure will get you killed. Be smart about it though, hold the page with your thumb, in case you fucked up. Then you can go back and make the right choice. Just like in real life.

Now, rapid-fire: Othello when Iago’s plan is successful and he tells the poor bastard about it. Always good to rub it in. Edmond Dantes’ quick thinking to escape Chateau d’If in The Count of Monte Cristo, most of The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. Holy shit, man. Of course Tyler Durden from Fight Club, but then things seemed to slow down for me. I am sure there are more, but everything felt exactly the same for a long time. Until I stumbled across an Indie book, and read two stories that helped me fall in love with reading again. That was Parental Advisory: A Transgressive Double A-Side, with The Switched by Ryan Bracha and On the Seventh Day by Mark Wilson. I saw something pure, something exciting, something entertaining, something fun.

Indie authors have the ability to make stories interesting, they can break outside of the common plots and endings to knock the wind out of you. It was exhilarating to read something fresh, so I tore through their back catalogues and have become a huge fan of all their work.

Most recently, Phoebe Jeebies and The Man Who Annoyed Everybody, or PJATMWAE to her many lovers, has a wicked twist that made the book that much greater. Today, I finished Alice, and one part really got to me. Completely fucking surprised, and I wasn’t crying…I had something in my eye.

As you can see, I can name a million twists and turns through many different genres of literature from different periods that resonate with me. That sounds cheesy as fuck, but the power of words is truly inspiring, and the skill of authors past and present continues to amaze me. Moments that surprise or move me in books are why I love to read. That’s a painfully long answer to a simple question, bet you are saying “holy shit” yourself. But you asked, so there you go.

You’ve recently published your debut novel, Indifference. What do you think of the whole self-publishing process?

This is something I am learning to love. It is a lot of work, and honestly, there are ups and downs like everything else. The toughest part is not writing, editing, or even publishing your work. Not even close. Amazon KDP and Createspace make everything simple. Just write a story down, and they can help you get it out of your head and in front of other eyes. I have read that “everyone and their sister” can be an author now, well, I guess I am that sister, and I am achieving that dream.

The real difficulty for me lies in the necessity of pimping the book. I have to send it off, often at low or nonexistent prices, hoping that it returns with a rating or a review to entice another customer. I hate thinking of writing as a business, but to achieve my goal of getting my words in front of you, I have to treat it as such. I have been able to run some free promotions and my work either has, or will be, read in ten countries so far. That is ridiculous. The ability of anyone with a good story to reach people around the globe in a few easy steps makes me love the process and its benefits.

And it isn’t the fact that I am not a multi-millionaire a few days into the release of my first book that is tough, it isn’t about money, the real work is finding someone to invest their time in reading your writing, and hopefully tell you what they did or did not like. It is especially tough if they are an author as well, trying to achieve the same goal. Everyone is busy, but I am truly thankful when a reader spends time in my world and lets me know about it. Even if my language was offensive. Or the writing was too graphic. Thank you for helping me get better at this.

I am also enjoying meeting other Indie authors and reading some really great books, and I think that makes this process more fun. Try and make some friends and help the world have good reading available. Something for everyone and no one. One of the many quotes I have pinned near my desk (at home AND at work) helped me make the decision easily, and to appreciate doing things myself. Mark Wilson wrote, “Do not settle for being an Indie-Author. Fucking aspire to be an Indie-Author.” For me, that says it perfectly. Read his blog, learn a lot from it.

This is the book we’re talking about.

You depict a thoroughly rotten, yet uncomfortably familiar, society in Indifference. Is writing in such a dark, subversive style cathartic, or does it depress and frustrate you? Or do you experience other emotions?

Great question. For me, writing this helped me feel a little better. Writing in general does. I was told once that the physical act of unburdening myself by writing down the things that bug me also helps me emotionally. Or something. I wasn’t paying too much attention, since that was when I let things get to me more than they do now. I was distracted at the time with someone or something that really wasn’t important. To me or even generally speaking. Some new idea to add to my misery or help me justify my ideations.

Indifference is packed with people who are evil, worthless, selfish, and deserve a slow and painful death for their misdeeds in life. But this is far too common, and it is familiar because many of us will recognize someone or something in the story that hits a little close to home. That is depressing and frustrating for me, since I can see personality traits everywhere that piss me off in the characters and their world. It is sad that such a shitty reality lends to a hopeless world for these characters.

Indifference moves quickly between characters and scenes; it can almost be called a short story collection with an over-arching theme. How did you decide on this structure?

This is my first experience with writing, aside from term papers and computer code and the normal office bullshit that clogs our emails and our days. When I first started, I wanted to pick the characters, and see if I could get them to connect in the story somehow. I chose things that bug me about interactions with others – in the hall, or on the street corner, or on a phone call, or in the car. That’s really where this whole idea was born, shitty drivers and poor manners and the anger and hate that flow so easily from behind the steering wheel.

Most of the annoying things that stand out from the separate car scenes have happened to me personally. But I’m not special, so I know these things happen to others too. People that use exit lanes and the shoulder to pass and reenter traffic, or honk immediately as the light turns green, or drive like fucking maniacs, or text behind the wheel, or survived the Great Depression and still feel it necessary to climb behind the wheel.

I wanted to write things down, and I had too many characters and too many things that pissed me off. Then, work and family and life and trying to find some time dictated that I write what I could when I could. This ended up in a few sessions getting some ideas down, and then expanding upon them later. Finding the characters that connected with each other and where I could bring them together, and trying to connect everything without it being completely confusing or tedious for the reader. Rearrange some scenes, change the pace, and make it readable.

I also thought it might make my first book easier to write if I broke it into parts, but it still turned out to be a lot of work. It did let me highlight specific things in each of the characters, so I think it turned out well for a debut.

Michael, the Vietnam War veteran, is the closest thing the story has to a “traditional” protagonist. Why did you decide to focus on him?

I see this guy every morning on my drive to work. Well, the inspiration for Michael. I am just as shitty and indifferent and selfish as everyone else, so the elderly gentleman on the corner that I give money to, or ignore completely, depending on my mood and financial situation at the moment, is a daily occurrence for me.

A good number of them have a sign or hat or filthy jacket that indicates they are vets, and when I was trying to tie everything together for this story, we were close to Veterans Day. As a vet myself, I wish there was more I could do for some of them, and sometimes things do seem hopeless. Some are obviously full of shit, but a lot really do need help. A couple bucks or leftovers from lunch isn’t too much to ask, oh, and enough with the preaching. If getting a job or place to live was that simple, I doubt they would choose to sit in the cold and let people talk shit to them all day.

Which character in Indifference do you have the most in common with? The least?

There is a piece of me in a lot of them. Parts of myself that I don’t like, or take too much pride in, that need to be killed. And most of them are in everyone else. Just different traits that make people difficult to be around, and completely unavoidable. I wish I could just say Michael, with his humility and sacrifice and wisdom, but there are pieces of Kevin in most of them.

I have been the dick on the phone to someone helping me, I have been that someone helping but makes a game of things to pass time as a caller gets frustrated, I had an incompetent and greedy lawyer that was only concerned with his percentage and not the outcome of my case, and I was told to keep working instead of calling an ambulance for a man that was dying on a bus bench outside. I ignored the instruction and he got help, but sometimes (often? usually?) people have fucked up priorities. Work and image and wealth cannot always be the driving force behind our lives and a reliable measure of happiness.

This is the author. Photo courtesy the author.

How much research did you have to do for this novel, and how do you handle this aspect of the writing process?

For this novel, I didn’t need to do much research, most of it was keeping my eyes and ears open to the world around me. The research that I did have to complete was pretty easy, have to love the internet. I can find out anything I need to know almost instantly, from a self-proclaimed expert somewhere, usually for free.

I based the stories in Denver, where I live now, which I think adds to the realism as well. Then, when I was cleaning up the manuscript, if a new experience or complaint or anything had come across my path and worked better, I played off that instead. Mostly it was an ongoing process, just watching and listening to people everywhere I could.

In your novel, you launch fusillades at everyone, regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Have you been criticized for any of your depictions, and if so, how do you deal with it?

Not yet. I didn’t hold much back, and tried to make things as unpleasant for most as I could, regardless of things like race or gender. We are all in this shit together, so the soapbox stays in the closet for now. I expected that I would get some complaints, someone would have found something offensive, but that is part of the success with this genre. There are things that I will learn and tighten up as I continue to grow as a writer, but I feel many were necessary to make the ideas and imagery as strong as they were.

The book is listed under satire and dark humor, which fits perfectly with some of the ideas in the novel, but I also wanted to include some aspects that are transgressive, in order to add to the power of some of the things I wanted to say. If and when I piss someone off, I think it will be another learning experience. Writing is extremely personal, and being criticized for it might be tough, but I can assure you I had no particular person in mind when I wrote it.

Other than parts of myself, the depictions are supposed to be an accurate measure of humanity at the moment. It is all of us, me included, so hopefully nobody takes it as a personal attack. It is something written to entertain, and hopefully people will see how messed up things are. Just be decent and try to evolve as a species, not stick to antiquated ideas that slow our progress. Everyone is just as bad as everyone else, so it is more than one person or one sex or one color. Everyone needs to harden the fuck up, pull our heads from our collective asses, and quit being so damn mean to each other. Just enjoy and live your life, and then die like everyone else.

Do you think we can cure – or at least mitigate – the sicknesses you’ve diagnosed in your novel? Or is modern society doomed?

I think it will be difficult to change where we are, and where we seem to be headed. Looks like we are in a downhill run, and only picking up speed. It is interesting to see that in my short-ish life, drastic changes are already taking place, but it seems like the world and its residents are becoming weaker.

Being politically correct and avoiding problems and conflict doesn’t make them go away. More likely to blame others for our own problems, entitlement and laziness and stupidity choking our evolution as a species. All of the good ideas and great thinking are long gone, dead along with the progress made in the past. At least we can devote so much time and energy to making things easier, oh, and worrying about people’s feelings. It is important everyone gets a participation ribbon for this one.

If you were given unlimited funds and access to experts in any field to make an adaptation of Indifference, what medium would you choose?

I think it is a popular dream to have a book turned into a movie, there is something intriguing about adapting my words into something said by someone famous. I don’t know who would want to pick it up and turn it into a screenplay, or what rating the film would get (at least R, surely), but it would be fun to walk into a theater and sit in a cushioned seat with my oversized popcorn and soda, and see what it evolved into. I would also be interested in seeing the reactions to some of the lines or scenes, and see how far the director could take an idea without it being banned for nudity or violence or whatever.

You originally used Barry Blokes, a pseudonym, for Indifference, but then you changed to Kevin Berg, another pseudonym. Can you talk about the reasoning behind this?

Because of the shitty job that I am trying not to mention, I am required to use a pen name. Originally, I chose Barry Blokes because it was from a line in a movie I saw a few years back. It was an Australian film called Snowtown. The movie is based on the events surrounding the murders in Southern Australia attributed to John Bunting, and the plastic barrels used to dispose of some of his victims. In the movie, one of his accomplices is being berated by a girlfriend or wife, who is calling the man a bitch and a coward and everything she can think of to belittle him. At one point, he says he is none of these, since he is out there “burying blokes.” Just that line stuck, and I thought it would be okay as a pseudonym. Bury = Barry.

Then, years later, I actually wrote a book instead of just talking about it. I published it using the name I had chosen before, but I received a lot of helpful feedback from authors in the UK and Australia. The main theme regarding the name was that it did not match my content. In fact, I was told it would work better with something like Barry Blokes’ Big Book of Jokes. (Thanks to Bracha again for that one). So I changed it, and kept my given name, with a variation of my last name. That way I don’t get in trouble at work, it sounds less goofy to readers outside of the US, and it is easier for me to answer to my own name. Plus, Barry sounds like the dude that does balloon animals at a kids party, and not a good fit for my work. Thankfully, I fixed it early.

What other projects are you working on?

Currently I have a few things going. I have a couple of shorts that I am trying to find a home for, and actually just found out that one has been picked up by Pulp Metal Magazine. I am really excited for the opportunity. Here very soon, a fun story I wrote entitled “Payday” will be on their website, alongside some big names, and other new authors trying to find their place like me. This was another of my big goals when I started writing, since I love reading the stories featured by PMM, and many of the authors I respect and enjoy reading have come through there at one point in their writing careers.

I am also finishing up the research portion of my next book, I have an interesting idea, and a lot of the feedback I have received for Indifference is that it is a dark work. This idea surpasses the darkness in Indifference by a good amount, so I would like to try my hand at “horror.” It is difficult to pick a genre right out of the gate. I will have to see how it turns out, though, I started Indifference with the intention of writing a tragedy, and some parts came out funny or painfully close to our reality.

After that, I have notebooks and sheets of paper and sticky notes and things in my phone and computer that I need to turn into novels or short stories. I write down everything that I think would make an interesting read, and then do what I can to make it enjoyable for everyone else. I will find the time to write the next novel, and fill in the gaps with short fiction, and do my best to improve and learn with every piece.

If you were being inducted into some Literature Hall of Fame, who would you want to give the induction speech?

That is a good question and hard to answer, but I have a pretty strong feeling it will happen one day, so I will try my best. I would ask that it be a sort of roast, famous names from the past and present there to make me feel horrible about myself, yet incredibly lucky to have received such a prestigious award. I am always ready to learn what I can improve.

I would like any and all of my influences to make an appearance (with the dead ones by their side), and have everything hosted by a comedian. Maybe Tom Segura or Bill Burr, just to make sure they put me in my place, and the authors I enjoy reading and learning from would be there to make sure my head didn’t get too big. And do it with an accent, so it sounds educated and worldly and fucking sexy. Like a spy movie.

Then, a lucky member from the audience would be selected at random to come on stage, and play a game of Russian Roulette with me. We would get through three rounds and everyone in the audience would laugh and cheer and hug, then each would look under their seat at my suggestion of a prize. When they discover nothing is there, and begin to leave disappointed, people at the doors would hand them each a copy of my book as a consolation prize.

I would go home that night, walking on the clouds, thankful to have been a part of this whole thing. I have always loved reading, and now I am writing, sharing my thoughts with the world. That is impressive in itself, but scary, and I look forward to growing and improving and meeting many interesting and helpful people along the way.

Thanks to Kevin for agreeing to be interviewed. Again, you can find Indifference on Amazon right here. Also check out Kevin on Goodreads and Facebook. Drop him a line, massage his ego, or toss a metaphorical molotov cocktail his way.

And, of course, follow this website and all my other stuff to stay informed of all my goings-on, including when I post awesome author interviews such as these.

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