Friday, December 12, 2014

Spec-Fiction Author Interview: Ahimsa Kerp

Author Ahimsa Kerp is an emerging fantasy and horror author who just had his first full-length novel, Empire of the Undead, released by Severed Press. Kerp and I have known each other since college, where we first bonded over our shared love for fantasy books (in a time, mind you, when being a geek was more likely to get you beat-up than laid, so you had to keep those sort of things pretty mum!). We grew into fast friends, and after graduating travelled together to Scotland to research and co-write a screenplay on the most infamous cannibal in history, Sawney Bean. We have subsequently collaborated on numerous other writing projects, including our mosaic fantasy novel The Roads to Baldairn Motte (also co-written with fantasy author Craig Comer). Although we couldn’t be living more different lives—he’s a vagabond who received his master’s degree from University of Queensland and has backpacked in more countries than I know the names of, while I’m a homebody who likes to garden and raise animals—in many ways our careers have paralleled one another. In order to get his perspective on what it’s like to be an emerging author in a very unique time in the publishing world, I stole an hour of his time for an online interview.

Calcaterra:  First of all, congratulations on the release of Empire of the Undead. Would you tell us what the book is about and how it came to be?

Kerp:  Empire of the Undead was at first called the Dead Walk when it just a vague idea of Romans vs. zombies in 2004. Then, around 2007 when the comic [The Walking Dead] got popular, I started calling it Lifeless. In the end, I made a list of words having do with empire and one of words with undead and just sort of played around with them until I came up the title that I did. No matter what it's called, it was always an exploration of how another culture would deal with zombies. You don't have to reload a sword, as Max Brooks says, and the Romans had not just swords but spiked chariots, artillery, and war elephants. And so the plot began to form, but I definitely wrote it as a pantser and I was surprised by a lot of what happened. I know zombie books are kind of played out, but I do think that there is quite a bit of crossover appeal to those who like The Walking Dead in the sense that it's about how to survive when the world as you know it has ended and yet is always changing, never for the better. The big difference between Empire and other zombie stories, aside from the setting, is that
animals are able to become infected (which leads to some terrifying monsters) and, even more importantly—because the plague starts via alchemy—there is a cure. And while it's a dark book, filthy at times (as Stuart Gordon says, sex is the inverse of death), there is, at the core, a story of misfits that band together to face impeccable odds.

Calcaterra:  Empire is your first solo novel to get published. How does it feel?

Kerp:  How does it feel? Complex. I'm super excited to get it out there and really happy that Severed Press took a chance on me. But, you know, I'm worried not so much that people won't like it (because a lot of people won't), but that people won't read it at all. There are so many books out there; it's tough to make a ripple in that vast ocean.

Calcaterra:  It seems Severed Press has sort of taking that into consideration by signing you to a multi-book deal. Is the goal to get more exposure with multiple titles, and what will those titles be? What can readers expect from you with the Severed Press line of books?

Kerp:  Yeah, they know what's up. I'm writing two more books for them, one a Lost World Tale (set in the present day). I love those old Verne and Doyle and especially Burroughs books, and I'm really excited to throw all kinds of fun things in there, including some of my favorite megafauna and, of course, Incan gods. It's only a novella, so I'm going to try and get the rough draft done as part of Nanowrimo. The second book I'll write for them is a kaiju story, and I'll incorporate a certain Lovecraftian heavyweight into that one. I'm not sure when that will be done, but I'd guess it would be out there sometime next year.

Calcaterra:  Both projects sound pretty fun. Any other books in the works?

Kerp:  Yeah, I'm about a third of the way into my second full length solo novel, Yesternight, and it's by far the most ambitious thing I've ever tackled. It's really fun to write, but at the same time I'm sort of paralyzed by that impulse to get it right.

Calcaterra:  Sounds intriguing. What's the general gist of the novel?

Kerp:  This is such a hard question for me! Here's my best shot. It's set in a sort of 3rd Century Pakistan analog, but the idea is that if magic is real it wouldn't be used for fireballs and magic missiles. It would, in fact, be used for what we use technology for—communication, comfort, entertainment, and sex. I spent some time in India researching legends, crawling through museums, talking to people in different tribes. But it's equally inspired by Howard Zinn—the protagonist is a lowly pistachio salesman who must use his charm and wits to survive the journey he undertakes.

Calcaterra:  Sounds awesome, and it’s the perfect segue too! I was just about to ask you about your travels. I could be wrong, but it seems like you've spent more time outside the US than in it the last decade or so. How have your travels affected your writing in general?

Kerp:  In the last decade? That's definitely true. I was in Australia in 2005-06, then in the US from 2006-09, and since then all but one year has been spent teaching and/or traveling in Asia. I think I'd say traveling has affected me far more as a person than as a writer, but of course you can't really separate those two. If I had to pick one thing, I'd say I've lost all interest in both the traditional faux-European setting (there are so many fascinating settings completely underused) and in stories of princes and kings, when the stories of common people allow for so much more depth. It's a tough question though—how would anyone know how their last ten years affected them with any surety?

Calcaterra:  Good point. I can barely keep track of my yesterday, let alone the last ten years. All right, moving on then. When you and I were in college, being a fantasy/sci-fi fan or a gamer wasn't something you advertised, yet now geekdom has become widespread, even cool. Do you think it's merely a fad or is geek culture here to stay?

Kerp:  Good question. This is just my perspective and I could be wrong, but it seems to me that geeks as you mention (in the "historical" sense) don't even exist anymore. More precisely, I think the nature of geeks has changed—it's not something that will get you bullied anymore, not something that you have to hide from an attractive woman in the hopes that she'll go out with you. That's great. Mainstream acceptance—from Weezer to Game of Thrones to Thor and Loki on the big screens—is a fantastic boon to geeks who suffered through the 80s and 90s. The trade-off, it seems, is that geeks (or nerds or whatever synonym you want to use) used to be this diverse group of interests. It's now become another clique with very predictable interests (Dr. Who, Firefly, Harry Potter). I have the impression that geeks have been streamlined into just another group. But in that sense, yes, I think that sort of newly codified geek will be around at least until the end of the world as we know it.

Calcaterra:  Well said. All right, last question! Cosplay is a big part of this new era of geekdom and fandom, but you've chosen another medium to express your fandom: tattoos. Mind describing the F/SF and mythology inspired tats you have?

Kerp:  Yeah, I describe my tattoos to students (5 or 6 year old Koreans, who grow up in a culture that demonizes tattoos) as the same as having pictures on the walls of your house, except that since I won't ever have a house, I use my body. My first tattoos were Hugin and Munin and Odin. It's been interesting to see recognition of them grow as the Marvel movies have emerged. I have a half-sleeve of Cthulhu, because I heart Lovecraft and I like to remind myself that there's a lot out there we don't understand. On my calves are the white tree of Gondor and an Ent. And I'm working on a tattoo inspired by China Mieville's The Scar for my other sleeve. Tattoos are expensive but as a vagabond geek it's really a fun way for me to commemorate my interests.

Garrett Calcaterra and Ahimsa Kerp squeezing in
a hike in California.
To see all of Ahimsa Kerp's published works, visit his Amazon author page. You can also keep up with his writing shenanigans at his blog, Be Obscure Clearly.

Garrett Calcaterra is an author of dark speculative fiction. His newest book, Dreamwielder, is an epic fantasy novel from Diversion Books. He recently finished the sequel to Dreamwielder, Souldrifter, which is due to be published in the spring of 2015. Learn more at


Peter Hogenkamp said...

Garrett, what a fun and informative interview, (And what a great wsy to live) enjoyed it

Unknown said...

Thanks, Peter!

Peter Hogenkamp said...

Garrett, what is your Twitter handle?

Unknown said...

My handle is GCalcaterra