I tied this paragraph to trees to lure Lane Kareska into the tank as part of a Lane’s blog tour promoting Lane’s book, North Dark. Keep reading to find out why Lane scribbled in Lane’s red pen all over the pages. How Lane missed the fact that the paragraph told how Lane was being led into a trap, we may never know. But Lane arrived with Lane’s scribbling pen in hand. Even though Lane had marked through all the offending overuse, Lane still agreed to answer my questions.
Why writing? What drew you to it? Why do you continue?
More than anything, writing is just fun. Invention, problem-solving, world-building; it’s all just a blast. In grade school, my friends and I used to sit around and “create” video games. All this meant was just sitting around and sort of verbally—collaboratively—imagine these video game concepts and story board them out on paper. That’s a great way to begin studying fiction, by the way, right off the bat you get the basic ideas of a protagonist, motivation, an antagonist and conflict.
I continue to write because it’s what I love. I’d rather do this than anything else. It allows you the perfect freedom to explore whatever you want, study what interests you, process and synthesize, toil, craft, sculpt and at the end of the day, there is a real, visible result. It’s a hallucinatory practice, but it’s also completely real. The end product exists: words, sentences, pages, a book(!)—an entire narrative experience that is demonstrable, shareable, and eventually entirely independent of the author.
If you were freezing to death and the only thing left to burn were the books in your library, what 5 books would you burn last? (And yes, everything else burnable has been burnt.)
The last books to give up would be Second Sight by Charles McCarry—this is an insanely powerful and sweeping historical spy novel by America’s best contemporary author.
Then Child of God by Cormac McCarthy—a swift and horrific novel, beautifully written, about one young man’s disturbed and gruesome life in the American Southeast.
Call of the Wild by Jack London—this book, besides being a beautiful love letter to animals and the natural world, was a primary influence on North Dark.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is, as far as I can tell, about as good as it gets in terms of voice, narrative drive, and characterization. It’s one of those books that gets assigned in high school but no one reads, and then when they do read it years later, it’s a profound discovery (or at least that was my experience of it).
One of the novels I’d be most reluctant to part with would be American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. Maybe that’s not a very unique or interesting answer in 2013, but I do return to that book as much as any other and for a very specific reason: the narrator’s voice is urgent, absolutely clear and surgically sharp. There are countless great voices in fiction, but Easton’s protagonist, Patrick Bateman, has always done it for me. You could fuel a car with that voice.
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done in writing?
Writing is challenging all around. It’s almost never easy. I think the hardest, and longest-term challenge, is developing an understanding of craft. Writing was always something I was drawn to but I definitely did not begin to understand the importance and necessity of craft until after I had tried and failed to write my first novel in my late teens and early twenties. Writing, in my view, really is not just as simple as thinking or drawing out an idea to fruition. There’s so much more to it; point of view, voice, image, pacing, structure, escalating tension, character development, and maybe most importantly change. The list goes on and on. That is all craft and the best way to learn it is probably the hardest way: failing repeatedly.
What’s one word or phrase that drives you nuts? Why?
It’s not a phrase so much as a crime: overuse of a character’s name on a page. Once you use the character name to explain who you mean, as long as another character doesn’t intrude, you can just say he or she.
“John stepped through the doorway, meat cleaver in hand. As John’s eyes adjust to the dark, John became aware of a thousand disembodied eyes blinking at him from out of the shadows ahead…” could really just be “John stepped through the doorway, meat cleaver in hand. As his eyes adjust to the dark, he became aware of a thousand disembodied eyes blinking at him from out of the shadows ahead…”
This bothers me because I’m frequently guilty of it. Being aware of whatever your own weird bad writing habit is seems to make you extremely vigilant against that crime in others’ work.
Do you have a favorite character you’ve created? If so, who is it and why?
Right now I’m partial to Two Crows, the protagonist of North Dark, because he’s fresh and I’ve been thinking and writing about him lately. Two Crows is a young man, early twenties, who has lived his whole life in his arctic village. He’s the son of the local chieftain, so he has status, security, and stability. One day all of that is upset violently, and Two Crows is launched out into a dark and bitter world on a quest for vengeance.
The thing that interests me about Two Crows is that he would like to believe he is a simple person; he only has one vision of himself. This is amplified when he begins his quest. All he cares about, or believes that cares about, is vengeance. He is his hunt for revenge. But there are indications in his mind and in his actions that his world view is not that simple. He’s haunted by a visitor who may or may not be real. Is it a psychological projection? A ghost? A demon? Two Crows doesn’t know, but this visitor offers the first glimpses into who Two Crows, at heart, really is. And the answer is far more complex, and darker, than he would like to believe.
Creepiest place you’ve ever been? Has it appeared in your fiction? Why or Why not?
Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland ranks pretty high on the list. It’s an old prison that used to house Irish rebellion leaders, now it’s a museum that offers walking tours inside. You can still read the defiant graffiti in the cells, or see the bullet holes left on the walls from firing squads. I visited on a cold, dank, very Irish day—so that strengthened the overall effect.
Kilmainham hasn’t shown up in my fiction directly, but more than once in North Dark, Two Crows finds himself held prisoner. One particular dungeon is a pit filled with masked prisoners, most of whom have all gone insane over time. Escape is hopeless, the air itself diseased, pure misery permeates the entire atmosphere. I think a lot of that came from the places I’ve visited like Kilmainham: Auschwitz, torture museums in Europe, etc. (Have you ever been to a torture museum? They’re all over Europe and they’re not really museums so much as dark rooms full of mannequins sawing each other in half.)
What’s the best rejection you’ve ever received?
When I was 18, I sent a writing sample to Marvel Comics. I have no idea why I thought an 18 year old without any publishing credits would be an easy sell to the largest comic book publisher in the world, but that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re 18, I guess. They said no, but they said no very kindly in a personal letter that I still keep in my wallet.
How did you get that scar?
I was tobogganing when I was five years old, and I hit a tree. Broke my nose and smashed up my face, bit all the way through my tongue.
What song would precede your entrance into a room if we all had personal soundtracks?
I recommend North Dark if you like adventure, horror, fantasy or any combination thereof. It’s a swift and dark adventure about a young man traveling through an arctic wasteland by dogsled, gunning for his mortal enemy. Knives get drawn.
And now a word from the publicist…
Set in a lonesome and barbarous failed state, North Dark is the story of a lone man traveling by dogsled across a frozen wasteland in pursuit of the fugitive who destroyed his family.
Haunted by predators both physical and spectral, the musher’s journey takes him across a deadened tundra, tortured cities and the remains of civilizations long-lapsed into madness. All the while, his enemy slides in and out of striking distance, always one step ahead, always one act of violence away.
Lane Kareska was born in Houston, Texas. He studied writing at Columbia College Chicago and his MFA is from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he was also awarded a Fellowship to live and write in Ireland. Lane traveled Europe and South America to research his graduate thesis. He teaches creative writing and works in technology and new media. His fiction has appeared in Berkeley Fiction Review, Sheepshead Review, Flashquake and elsewhere. Lane currently lives in Chicago and can be followed on Twitter @LaneKareska as well as reached at Lane.Kareska@Gmail.com.
Final thoughts before you run screaming for your life?
Thanks for the opportunity to talk about North Dark. Anyone who wants to get a hold of me and tell me what they thought of it, ask a question, let me know their interpretations, or whatever, is very welcome to message me at Lane.Kareska@Gmail.com. I’ll respond.
Thank you, Mr. Kareska, for your enlightening answers. If you’ll follow the dark hallway through the rooms of mannequins…well, mostly mannequins, you should find your way back to civilization. Make sure to take a right at the left pointing finger. And don’t go down an up staircase. Remember, the locked doors may not always be locked. Your parting gifts will be waiting at the exit.