Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Interview with novelist Novelist S.K. Kalsi

Novelist S.K. Kalsi is chatting with me about his new contemporary drama, The Stove-Junker.

Influenced by poets, musicians, and philosophers, S.K. Kalsi crafts sentences that resonate with depth and power. 

He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of San Francisco, a BFA in creative writing from Long Beach State, and a diploma in screenwriting from UCLA. His short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including The Gettysburg Review, Glint Literary Journal, The Criterion, among others. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in the Bay Area. 

Welcome, S.K.. Please tell us about your current release.
In the winter of 2012, 79-year-old Somerset travels back to his ancestral home in idyllic Drums, Pennsylvania, to renovate his dilapidated house. Burdened by the loss of his beloved wife, the long- ago disappearance of his rebellious son, and angry at God and at himself, Somerset hopes to reach a final understanding of the meaning of his life.

While a blizzard barrels down from the north and “Armageddon” draws near, Somerset discovers an unnamed boy squatting on the property, a strange child who forces him to confront his past. As he unearths objects in the house that had been lost or discarded in the debris, Somerset remembers his father’s cruelty and the accident that cost him his brother’s life; he revisits the itinerant wandering of his youth, tethered to a troubled mother; he mourns the loss of his wife and ponders the decades-long absence of his son—all of whom are caught in the grip of Luzerne County’s ancient history of violence.

Part elegy, part history, part existential ghost tale, The Stove-Junker is a harrowing, lyrical meditation on loss, heartbreak, and the power of memory. In this extraordinary debut novel, S.K. Kalsi has created a haunting tale of unvarnished self-examination, as experienced through the story’s central character, Somerset Garden, the stove-junker.

What inspired you to write this book?
My uncle and the loss of his daughter (my cousin) in a terrorist attack/plane crash. But fictionalizing my own family history, delving into the historical violence in the town where I lived for three years of my life, I wanted he story to be an exploration of familial love, time, memory, identity and grief.

Excerpt from The Stove-Junker:
From Book I, Chapter 1

            A winter owl hoots. Hoo-hoo, it says. Now the boughs of the old oak shriek across the roof like claws across a blackboard. Now something clatters to the floor, like a board or a bone and still that dog barks in some distant field. Short stabs. A suffering howl. Ancient. Atavistic. There’s a rasp in its throat, the cold embedded in it. Embedded in the woods, nature speaks through the voices of animals. It’s a sound that hurts my ears, such sadness in it. Such sweet sadness in it. What have the wild animals inherited but punishing weather, indifference to human life, insufferable appetites? What is a howl but the inheritance of return?

            I am Somerset. It is night again. It seems to me that the roots of the trees spill their darkness into the winter sky gone black and starless. To secure a better vantage, I lean against the wall of my old master bedroom. The window, frosted in the corners, bears my warped reflection. What I see outside does not astonish me. At my age, seventy-nine and counting, nothing much astonishes me. A snow devil spins across the snow laden yard, a twig from the old oak falls unceremoniously, and still that dog barks, or is it a crow? The Emerson Bakelite radio softly susurrates (thank you, Armand, for the word) and I am attuned to things, my internal antennae positioned to receive messages from the dead. I am thinking, thinking back on my life... and what crossed my mind just now was this: thirty years is a long time away from a place you’ve loved; but here I am, back in the old, unfinished house, circumscribed by hills of astonishing greenery now gone white, back in Drums.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on a drama about an old patriarch and his family. Having suffered a massive stroke he is being tended to by a caregiver, an illegal immigrant. The old man’s wife is aloof, keeping to herself and slowly dismantling the house by selling off one object at a time. His divorced younger daughter is battling chronic depression, is taking drugs, and wants to reconcile with her ex-husband. His older son, recovering from cancer, harbors grudges against the family. As various family members arrive at the house to pay their final respects and leave, issues (blame, regret, hurts, sins, secrets, lies, etc.) rise to the surface. When the old man stops eating and drinking, signaling the end of his life, the family must either come together to let him pass away in peace, or keep to their grudges, petulance, and petty ways.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Once I signed my publishing contract and later received copies of my novel, which I stacked up in a pyramid on a table before my front door, I thought of myself as a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I don’t write full time as I have a family to support, feed, clothe, shelter. So I find time whenever I can. I steal an hour or two early, early in the morning, about 5–7 AM, before my routine of working starts. I will write little notes to myself throughout the day. I will work on my stories in between feeding time, diaper changes, trips to the park or grocery store.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
On my desk sits an old wooden cigar box. In it, lies a dead dragonfly. The dead insect reminds me that impermanence sits at the center of all life, so I should always keep exploring, discovering, finding new experiences to enrich my life and writing.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a musician.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
The best writing advice anyone gave me was my father. It was life advice really: Find something you love to do and stick to it. Stick to it even if you are failing, faltering, fading, eventually you will see the light, and eventually you will succeed, but not in ways you originally thought.


Thanks for being here today, S.K.

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