Q&A With WriteByNight Consultant Daniel Kalder
Daniel Kalder (Leander, Texas) is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (Scribner, 2006) and Strange Telescopes (Overlook, 2009). He is also a freelance journalist who contributes regularly to the Guardian and numerous other publications while also writing a weekly column for RIA- Novosti, the Russian State News Agency. Besides English, his writing has been published in German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. Originally from Scotland, he lived in Moscow, Russia for ten years before moving to Austin in 2006. His website is danielkalder.com.
Where are you from?
Where did you study?
The University of Edinburgh. I did English Literature. The faculty members told us it was the oldest such program in the world. True? Who knows? I report, you decide.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I was living in Moscow around 2002/2003 and submitted an article about Peter the Great’s Cabinet of Curiosities to Fortean Times, a UK magazine about strange phenomena. Simultaneously I sent off a short story to Chapman, Scotland’s top literary magazine. And another piece to a glossy magazine for expats in Russia. All pieces were accepted. Two of them paid.
Who are some of your influences?
I don’t really know the answer to this question. I read lots of different things, including trash, to keep my writing muscle flexible. Early on, before I’d published anything, I was into Borges, an absurdist Russian short story writer called Daniil Kharms and a scandalous Russian author called Eduard Limonov. I tried to write like Dostoevsky but couldn’t. There was no doubt much more stuff I wasn’t conscious of that was also informing what I did, which is the way it should be. But by the time I started writing seriously I was also drawing upon music, film, trash and even non-literary stuff like phrasebooks. I structured my first book, Lost Cosmonaut, with musical movements in mind.
What is your favorite thing about educating writers at WBN?
I love going deep into somebody’s manuscript and finding the stuff at its core, doing a thorough structural and thematic analysis, then helping the writer realize its full potential. It’s exciting to be part of a book as it’s created, to discover it along with the author. Since books are usually very personal, I also feel privileged that the author shares the work in its raw form with me.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Coming up with the idea is great fun; turning it into words on the page is never easy. You just have to do it.
What is your strangest writing experience?
Since my work is non-fiction, and is usually based on my experiences, I’ve had lots of strange encounters. In 2005 I traveled to Siberia to spend a week with a man who believed he was the Messiah. That was strange. I also visited an abandoned city dedicated to chess located in the middle of a desert a few years earlier. Two or three years ago I went to Poland and discovered my first book was a big hit and I was a minor literary celebrity over there. That was extremely strange.
What’s the last book you read and what did you think of it?
I always have a bunch of books on the go at the same time. The last novel I read was Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and The Territory, which was great–very funny, very insightful, and more restrained than his other books.
What’s the last movie you saw that was based on a book and how was it?
I’m not sure. I don’t like adaptations of books. It may have been Thor, which was based on a comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I appreciated the fidelity to Kirby’s sense of design.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Do it for pleasure, not for fame/money or any of that nonsense. Take care over your words. Tell a good story.