Writer on the Verge: First of all, thank you so much for being the very first Author on the Verge! This is so exciting! If you could see me, you’d see that I’m doing that dance Snoopy does when he’s really happy. Let’s talk about your first book, A Life Transparent. My blog is spoiler-free, so we try not to give too much away, but the title gives a bit away, so we’ll try not to get too spoilerish, okay?
Todd Keisling: ALT tells the story about Donovan Candle, a rather mundane fellow who lives a normal, boring life. In fact, he’s so boring that, one day, he wakes and discovers he’s beginning to physically disappear. The world around him occasionally flashes gray, and there are strange figures always looming in the monochromatic shades, watching him. Then his wife is abducted, and Donovan finds himself caught in the middle of something far bigger than he imagined.
WotV: You’ve won some awards, correct?
TK: Correct. I attended the University of Kentucky, and during my freshman year, my counselor told me about a university-wide contest for something called the Oswald Research and Creativity prize, inviting entries from all matters of study. Fortunately for me, there was a fiction category, so I entered, and a few months later, I learned I’d been award second place. It was the first time I’d ever made money from my work, and that was when I decided to stick with this writing thing. Three years later, during my senior year, I entered the same contest with a new story, and won second place again. Second place never bothered me. I was just happy for the recognition (and the prize money didn’t hurt, either). So, these days I get to say “two-time recipient of the Oswald Research and Creativity prize,” etc.
WotV: A Life Transparent is your first novel.What did you write before that?
TK: Technically, ALT is my fifth novel, but it’s the first one that’s published. I’ve dabbled in poetry and screenwriting, but long-form prose seems to be the one I come back to every time. I do have a number of shorter works which may see the light of day in a collection, but these days it seems most of my ideas want to be novels.
WotV:Did you self-publish first and then get picked up by Precipice Books? They are a relatively new publisher, aren’t they?
TK: ALT was originally self-published through Lulu, and early last year, I utilized Kickstarter.com to raise funds necessary for going completely independent. Funding was successful, and with that money I was able to hire an editor and a designer. Precipice Books formed from that. ALT’s second edition (and its forthcoming sequel) is intended to be a test run for the business. Provided we don’t fall flat on our faces, at some point in the next couple of years, Precipice will open its doors to other writers.
WotV: So, you’re a publisher now? What is your “title” at Precipice and can you give us anymore info about it?
TK:My technical title is “Owner” or “Publisher” of Precipice Books. I wrote, at length, about it late last year on my blog and called it the Precipice Manifesto
WotV: Okay. Let’s get down to business. First of all, there are two covers to your book. (Disclaimer: I totally stole these images offline so please don’t arrest me).
Can you elaborate on why the two covers? As a reader, I read it electronically with what I thought was the first cover. The actual first cover is more dynamic and representative of the story. Are there differences between the covers as well as on the outside?
TK: When I decided to do a revised, second edition of the book, I wanted to have a different cover to set it apart from its previous incarnation. My wife designed both, but as it had been several years since the original was published, many things had changed. For starters, we lost the source files of the first cover in a hard drive crash, which meant she’d have to recreate it from scratch. Add to that the bad memories of altering the cover to fit Lulu’s guidelines, and the first cover just seemed to have a weird, negative mojo about it.
So, we decided to do a new cover. I wanted something simple, less busy, with a non-serif font. My wife took those guides and the rest is history.
Regarding the content between the covers, yes, there are differences. When I sat down to work with my editor late last summer, I knew there were things I wanted to do differently. It had been over 4 years since I’d looked at the manuscript, and what I saw were things that needed to be changed, updated, and fleshed out. There was also a lot of superfluous stuff to cut. Ultimately, I decided to take my editor’s comments, and rewrite the book from scratch.
In the end, we took a 60k word manuscript and cut it down to 53k. The story is the same, but there are additional scenes that flesh out the characters, and it sets up a conflict which carries over into the next book. So far none of the book’s fans have cried foul at the changes, and that makes me happy. It means I didn’t George Lucas the whole thing.
WotV: Which cover is YOUR favorite?
TK: I prefer the new cover. My wife prefers the old cover, despite the bad mojo.
WotV: Let’s talk names… I’ll throw them out and you come clean about the significance, okay?
Donovan and Donna Candle: The last name came first as a tongue-in-cheek reference to what the protagonist experiences throughout the story (a bizarre affliction called the “flickering”). I wanted a name to go with Candle, something that was both ordinary and yet would stand out when paired together. “Donovan Candle” had a ring to it and survived a three-day test.
Donna was obviously a play on Donovan. I imagined the pair as a painfully ordinary 30-something couple, complete with their quirky Americana qualities. And with that, Donovan and Donna came to be.
Mr. Precious Paws: My aunt had a tomcat named Kitty Precious. I thought that was the cruelest thing she could name the poor animal. So, when it came time to name Donovan’s cat, I tried to think of the quirkiest, most inappropriate name for a cat. I thought of Kitty Precious and, well, you get the idea.
Albert Sparrow: This one’s a bit more direct. The name Albert came from Dr. Albert Hofmann, the scientist who first synthesized LSD. The last name, Sparrow, came from one of my favorite Stephen King novels, The Dark Half, in which sparrows are depicted as harbingers of the dead. They’re liminal creatures, ferrying the living into the realm of the dead, and it seemed appropriate considering the character’s role in the book.
Aleister Dullington: The last name is, again, a tongue-in-cheek play on words which fits the character’s purpose in the story. The first name, however, was originally just Al, but that didn’t fit with the type of character he needed to be. I remember driving home from work one evening a few days after starting the story, and the song “Mr. Crowley” by Ozzy Osbourne played on the radio. This made me think of its namesake, Aleister Crowley, and hey, Aleister is a great name. So Aleister Dullington, the book’s antagonist, came into being.
Michael Candle: Donovan’s brother needed to be more grounded in reality, a person who stands on solid ground and lives the life he wants to live. In other words, a foil for the main character. To me, the name “Michael” has more of an edge to it than Donovan. It’s a stronger name, even if it’s more common, and when I tried to imagine who Donovan’s brother might be, the man I saw in my head looked very much like a Michael.
George Guffin: A friend of mine once asked me if I named this character after a plot device known as “the MacGuffin.” To be perfectly honest, I didn’t, and I can’t remember how I came up with this name. It’s one of those things I plucked from the data bank, I guess.
WotV: Can you explain the plot device “the MacGuffin” to readers?
TK: The MacGuffin is usually an object that serves as a character’s motivation, often driving the plot forward. A good example is the Maltese Falcon in the novel by Dashiell Hammett, or the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
The Yawning: When elements of the story first came together, I imagined a gray place where people who’ve flickered out are bound to spend the rest of their lives. I saw it as a version of limbo, without texture, temperature, or color. I called it the Monochrome, and early on, I pictured it as a giant labyrinth-like place, complete with its own version of the minotaur. Except this creature was tall, spindly, and could devour a man whole with a huge, gaping mouth.
In context with the story, the name seems obvious, but at the time I was taking notes, it was about 10 AM on a Tuesday morning way back in September ’06, and just couldn’t stop yawning.
See what I did there?
WotV: When I see you refer to the book as ALT, I wonder… Did you ever consider going in any other directions with ALT? An “alternate ending”?
TK: The ALT abbreviation was a happy accident. It has a better ring to it than the book’s forthcoming sequel, which abbreviates as TLM.
ALT was originally conceptualized as a short story, and at the end of that story, the main character would ultimately fade away while everyone around him went about their lives. It was intended to have more of a Kafka-like tone, but once I started to chip away at the story and details came together, I realized it couldn’t end that way. At least, not yet.
WotV: Do you still work a “regular” job?
TK: I do. I’m a working class guy just like most of everyone else. I’ve had a number of jobs since I originally wrote ALT, but now I’ve settled into a stable career which, oddly enough, has nothing to do with writing. It does afford me the opportunity to pursue my passion in the evenings and during the weekends. An unfortunate side effect of this is sleep deprivation, but I’ve decided I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
WotV: When I read your book, Dean Koontz came to mind. Is there any author you would like to be compared to?
TK: Thank you. I consider a comparison to Dean Koontz a good thing, and it’s not the first time I’ve been told that. It’s fitting, because I didn’t consider writing as an outlet until I started reading the work of Koontz.
I guess, if I could be compared to anyone, it would be Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Albert Camus, maybe Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, or Haruki Murakami. All literary gods in their own right.
WotV: Let’s get onto the new stuff… you have a new book coming out, don’t you?
TK: I do. It’s called THE LIMINAL MAN, it’s a sequel to ALT, and it’s in the editing phase. We’re aiming for publication early next year.
WotV: Will you give us some clues as to what it is about? You know, EXCLUSIVE clues that you won’t give to those other bloggers who are not nearly as nice as I am?
TK: Of course, Dorothy. In the next book, Aleister Dullington is not the villain, there’s a dog named Friedrich, and readers will learn how the Yawning and Cretins are made (hint: it’s really gross – think of the bot fly).
WotV: How about we do an e-giveaway of ALT? If you make up a question, our readers can answer and you can choose the best answer to win a copy…. How does that sound?
TK:This is an easy one. For a chance to win an ebook of A LIFE TRANSPARENT, tell me, what’s the most boring job you’ve ever had?*
WotV: Todd, thank you so much for stopping by on your blog tour. I know the questions here are non-traditional, so I hope we didn’t throw you off too much. I’m trying not to become monochromatic. Now, be careful on the way out… we are on verge, you know.
For more about Todd and his novels, visit
*To enter, simply subscribe to the blog and leave your comment on this post WITHIN THE NEXT TEN DAYS. Winners will be chosen by Todd Keisling on 4/14/11.