Stephen: One thing that particularly impressed me with False Positives was how quickly I was drawn into the story, from the very first paragraphs—and how you went about it—no blazing guns or exploding cars, just a quiet, building sense of tension and mystery. Quite honestly, one of the best openings I’ve read in a long while.
Kim: Wow. That’s a very nice compliment. Thanks; I’m flattered. The tension/mystery thing is something I worked very hard on. A good many thrillers are all about suspense. It’s like, “Oh, my! How will our hero ever get out of this mess?” They’re future driven with no window to the past—no sense of mystery. It’s all about what’s going to happen next. With FP, wanted there to be an element of mystery as well. The prologue—and some people hate prologues—is intentionally mysterious, taking place thirty plus years before the main story line. Some might notice that it’s actually written in a different style than the rest of the book—as if you’re reading an acid trip, which you pretty much are. The entire Vietnam storyline and the revelations that occur throughout it are there to provide a mystery that ultimately ties in to the main story line. It’s that “Ah ha!” factor combined with impending peril that I hope delivers satisfaction in the end.
Stephen: Well, you certainly achieved that goal very well—and I won’t ask how you did your research on acid trips. . .What motivates you to get up every day and head back to the computer to write? Do you have some kind of aim, goal, or even mission in your work?
Kim: I’ll tell you a story. I did kind of a dumb thing when I started False Positives. A couple dumb things, actually. I changed jobs and started a Master’s degree at the same time. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. Oh, and by the way, my first son was born right along in there too. It was like a perfect storm of time-vampires had decended upon me to suck every spare moment out of my life. That’s part of the reason it took me so long to finish FP. But the thing is, you make time for the things in life that are important. Family is of course very important, but then so to is following one’s bliss, if you’re really going to be happy that is. So it’s really loving writing that is my motivation, and I make time to write whenever and wherever possible.
Stephen: If you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life. Share with us a bit about your writing methods. Do you set up a meticulous outline, or do you do just jump in and write by the “seat of your pants”? Or some combination? Do you write in a special place? On a particular schedule?
Kim: All of the above! If truth be told, I’d been tossing around the idea of a computer that reads the Bible and attempts to manifiest Armaggedon for probably twenty years or so before I actually tried to write it. Actually, I lie. I tried writing it twice, hated what I’d written, and trashed both attempts. Regardless, my process is a little long—something I probably need to improve upon if I’m going to finish my second novel before I finally roll a seven.
The first draft of FP was written in a series of “seat of the pants” writing spurts over maybe two years (remember I had my hands full). It was originally structured in a Part I, II, III format, where Salome (a fairly significant secondary character) didn’t enter onto the scene until halfway through the book. In Part III, everything came to a head. After that was done, I “let it steep,” as Stephen King would say. I didn’t look at it for probably more than a year. Then then I came back to it, only this time I was looking at it from a different perspective. First, I just read it as any reader might, except I took notes along the way where things needed attention. Then I analyzed the story structure comparing them with my notes. In the end, I wound up changing the structure entirely by interweaving three storylines together. This involved a serious amount of outlining. I used corkboards, notecards, mindmaps, and even broke out Microsoft Project to finally get a clear vision of how it all interrelated.
So, really, my method for getting an idea from my mind onto the page is fairly organic. It just flows. That’s writing. Then the editing begins, which is a different beast. I think these are two very important yet distinct parts of the process.
Stephen: A large part of the plot of your thriller centers in Thailand, where you currently live. What took you to Southeast Asia and how do you think your experiences there affected the book?
Kim: Having grown up in Califorinia and spending my twenties in Hawaii, I found myself one day with a goal: To find a place as beautiful as Hawaii, but as cheap as Mexico. While I detoured through Japan for a couple years, I think I finally found what I was looking for in Thailand plus a whole lot more. Thailand is a fascinating place. It’s exotic. For one of my characters, Andy, it’s a place to escape to. It’s where love can be found and lost and found again. Andy fell in love with and in Thailand, but had to leave it all behind. He also escaped to Thailand, when life in the U.S. threw him a dirty, curve ball. One of the neat things about living abroad is how far removed one can become from the continuous media bombardment that you get in the States (or anywhere that broadcasts regularly in your language). Being away from it all allows you to observe from a distance, without suffering too much from all the hyperbole. I think Andy’s doing alright. I’m still working on it.
Stephen: Despite its setting in 2007, False Positives addresses a lot of issues that are sadly still relevant today, particularly the increasing reliance on computers/artificial intelligence in deciphering terrorist threats—and the danger of relying on them too heavily. How did you go about researching the book and how real do you consider that threat to be?
Kim: An underlying theme of FP is that over reliance upon technology is a bad thing, especially if it’s going eliminate human reason from decision making. There was an article written a while back by Bruce Schneier in which he discusses the problem of false positives. This is where I came up with the idea for the title by the way. One of the biggest challenges of using technology in counterterrorism efforts is the amount of people who are flagged who aren’t actual threats. There is an unfathomable amount of data that’s being crunched, and what’s coming out of these systems is not entirely accurate. But it is getting better, and it will continue to get getter over time, which brings about another “threat,” which is the erosion of personal privacy and civil liberties as a result of the efforts of ensuring national security. The question really is: “How much security is too much?” And that’s a very tough question to answer.
Stephen: It certainly is. Even for someone like myself who has visited(briefly) Ft. Meade, the amount of data being crunched is mind-numbing. Artificial intelligence is a must, and yet where might it lead us? Your book sheds some light on that. You decided to publish False Positives independently—what prompted you to go this route?
Kim: The reality is, as with I’m sure a very large percent of indie writers, is that it’s next to impossible to get published traditionally these days. This is especially true for first time author’s with no platform; plus, the thriller market is an exceptionally tough genre to break into. I mean I queried nearly a hundred well-targeted literary agents, twice. There was interest from a handful of them, but most never replied. They apparently get thousands of letters a week and are overwhelmed. I still get rejection form-letters to this day that I’d sent out over a year ago.
I was fortunate though to get some very constructive feedback from a few kind souls. These were agents that had actually requested a partial or full read of the manuscript. Phone calls and emails were exchanged. We were talking about my characters as if they were real people. I was so excited! But in the end, no one seemed ready to carry the torch. “Timing is everything,” they said, “the market is tired of this stuff,” “people are sick of hearing about Muslim terrorists.” Some wanted some radical changes to the story and my characters that I wasn’t ready to make. All were ready to read anything else I had, which was nothing, so I thanked them, sulked for a bit, and I was about ready to throw in the towel.
But there was one thing that one of the agents (a real NYC muckety muck) said to me that stuck in my mind. He said, “There’s success in your future. You’ve done too many things right here. I will watch for your name in the lists.” With those inspiring words ringing in my ears, I began researching the world of self-publishing. And then I jumped into the deep end and did it.
Stephen: In the end, that’s sometimes the only(and the best) thing you can do. Jump in and start swimming. What advice would you have for those considering going “indie”?
Kim: My first bit of advice would be, “Don’t rush it.” While it will surely be one of the most exciting things you’ve done as a writer, getting it out too early might mar the experience. Be sure your story is ready. Make sure it’s been edited and proof read several times. If you can do this by yourself, all power to you, but I’m a firm believer that just about anyone will benefit from a professional editing job—the more the better.
Stephen: Listen to him, people. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: just because you can “publish” whatever trash you wrote during your last hangover, doesn’t mean you should. Be polished. And now back to you, Kim. Pardon the interruption. . .
Kim: Another thing you have to be prepared for is the fact that you are now a publisher. That means that you have to do everything! Not only editing, but typesetting both your eBook and your paper editions, and marketing. I think a lot of authors will be a surprised at the amount of time that will go into these things—things that take away from your writing time. It’s a good thing to be prepared for this, so that you can manage your time as best possible.
After that, “have patience.” Indie writers do not have the marketing machine of the big publishers behind them. While there are some famous indie success stories, these are the exception. You can dream to become the next best selling author, but don’t let it dash your hopes when it doesn’t happen overnight. Good things take time. Rather than dwell, start your next book. It’s my belief that if a book is good enough, readers will eventually find it. That’s when that magical thing called “word of mouth” comes into play. And that’s the most powerful marketing of all.
Lastly, “don’t give up.” If you love what you’re doing, keep doing it. Follow your bliss.
Stephen: Word of mouth—so important. If you like a book, recommend it. Please. . .With one novel out there, Kim, what are your plans? Will there be a sequel, or have we seen the last of Marnie, Phet, and the rest of the crew from False Positives? Tell us about your future writing plans.
Kim: You know, I’ve seen a lot of writers set their book up from the beginning to be a part of a series. I think they’re considering the marketing aspects of writing before even writing their first book. I never thought about that, but perhaps I should.
The thing is that I’ve had more than what eventually became False Positives rattling around upstairs for some time. These are ideas that I’m passionate about, which I believe is important to fuel a good story. It’s not that I’m not passionate about Marnie & Co. They may be back in time, but I’d like them to have a little vacation after all they’ve been through. The draft for my second novel is presently “steeping.” I kind of see it as Inception meets Source Code, but cooler. That’s what happens when you take too long to publish: people have similar ideas and get them out before you do. I thought both of those movies had very good stories. Now, I’ve gone and set the bar so very high again.
Stephen: Hey, shoot for the stars, my friend. Contentment is the enemy of excellence. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before you depart?
Kim: Well, gee! I think you’ve let me go on quite enough, but again, thanks for having me. I’m very appreciative of your interest, time, and being the first person on the show. I’d also like to give big thanks to those who’re supporting my work and other indie writers out there. Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on truckin’.
Stephen: That we will. Thanks for sitting down with us and keep up the good work. You can read more about Kim on his website at www.kimaleksander.com and you can buy his book on Amazon at http://amzn.to/yXgWar
Regards, The Rogue Writer