This week, Kai is interviewing Kwinn Mitchell. Kwinn is an author (and artist, as you’ll see!) based in Phoenix, AZ with a sci-fi trilogy in the works. He runs a podcast (Sci-Fi Happy Hour) that talks about sci-fi and geek culture. The podcast is on hiatus at the moment, but he has plans to resume it in the hopefully-not-too-distant future.
Kwinn and Kai met at the San Francisco Writers Conference at 2017. They met in line for lunch, and had such fun chatting that they decided to sit together for the meal, where they went right on chatting until they ended up whispering under the keynote speech. They’ve kept in touch since, mostly defaulting to DMs on Twitter, where Kwinn is active daily.
Kai Raine: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kwinn Mitchell: I love to write and am excited about my first novel. I had published two short stories in a college anthology years ago. This story will be my first printed work in a long time.
I am happiest when I’m challenging and expressing myself. I challenge myself in many ways – learning to trade the stock market, learning violence, building good habits, fitness, diet, all in a constant struggle to improve. New challenges give me inspiration. My inspiration is best expressed through the art of drawing, painting, and storytelling.
Kai: What can you tell us about this book you have in the works?
Kwinn: My unannounced book series was originally conceived in the backstory of a table top game I invented. The game began with four factions that would clash on the map, and I found myself building an entire world for the conflict. The game was never marketed. But the notes were packed with such a juicy story that I had enough raw material for a novel.
I wrote the original draft in six months. Revisiting the manuscript later made me realize I was telling the story entirely too fast, and that it was too dense for a single novel. So, I split it into three books.
I’m on my fifth revision of the first book and slicing through multiple chapters to completion. The other two books are drafted through for the whole story.
For the first book, the reader is introduced to the main characters in the Western part of America that is over 100 years in the future. We’re not talking post-apocalyptic though.
Kai: Did any personal experiences influence your book?
Kwinn: Yes, my professional experience and the locations I’ve lived and visited were wonderful sources for technology and sites in the story. As you can imagine, since it’s set in the future, I was imaginative with transportation, weaponry, and the environment but it’s still familiar.
Sci-fi is simply taking familiar or advanced technology, and amping it up to the borderline of ridiculous (or at least sideways believable). One can gain a lot of knowledge about a technology by researching – physics, spacecraft, lasers, nano, et cetera. I have some experience with design, testing and evaluation of weapons systems, as well as military training, and I’ve certainly weaved that into the scenery.
The story begins in the Red Rock Canyon of Mojave, which is a gorgeous state park with scenic cliffs and gorgeous formations. The Mojave Desert is a majestic land with a rich history of ghost towns, mining towns, petroglyphs, and mysteries with a littering of cities and sturdy souls. Stretching from the San Gabriel mountains in California to Las Vegas and beyond to the Eastern reaches into Colorado and Arizona, I had lived in and visited many of these enchanting places. Those years gave me the backdrop of the hero’s scenes.
Kai: Would you care to share some of your art and tell us about it?
Kwinn: I painted a scene from Breda Centrum in Netherlands. I haven’t visited Netherlands, a friend sent me a photo and I rendered my impression of Vismarktstraat. Breda is a location in Book Three of my story. This painting now hangs in my sister’s home.
Another painting I rendered from a scene in Atlanta was also sent as a photo and I rendered it with warm colors. But no part of my story takes place in Atlanta. This was simply for funsies.
Kai: What book or story influenced you as a child or teenager?
Kwinn: I was really impressed with Stephen King. The Dark Tower series probably influenced me the most. I had a steady diet of sci-fi, horror and YA, but beyond fiction, I read religion, military history, military biographies, and books about business.
Kai: How do you feel about Stephen King now?
Kwinn: I read through the Dark Tower again last year, and it was like visiting an old neighborhood with a close friend – Roland the Gunslinger. The story was the same, a faster read, but I see myself as a sort of Roland on my own quest.
Kai: What’s a book, movie or story you’re particularly into at the moment? Why?
Kwinn: For books, I’ve recently been reading police, crime, and murder mystery novels. For shows, I really enjoy watching Black Mirror, Stranger Things, and Altered Carbon. Excellent writing. But mostly, I’ve been riveted to my story at the moment.
Kai: Those are a lot of Netflix shows! Netflix apparently operates largely by analyzing its audience, and trying to create content designed for maximum appeal—and has succeeded at pumping out a lot of widely acclaimed shows. What do you think this data-driven wave of media means for us writers?
Kwinn: There are programs that can write novels. It won’t be long until software can put together a very cogent and artistic story. This is on the heels of a wave of writing that goes cross-grain to the Stephen King maxim – “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I don’t mean to demean anyone at all, that’s not my point. But it wasn’t long ago – and probably still happening – that one could easily find novels on Amazon that were filled with adverbs in their writing. Books previously went through a system of editors, agents, and publishers that filtered for marketable content and quality. And they still do, but at a fraction when compared to historical numbers. What changed? The ease of self-publishing.
Indeed, there’s even been a recent trend of entire books being published filled with the Latin writing used with templates and such; nonsense words used as filler to cover the pages. This was being purportedly used for laundering money. And it had been going on for a while according to Krebs on Security.
Patrick Reames had no idea why Amazon.com sent him a 1099 form saying he’d made almost $24,000 selling books via Createspace, the company’s on-demand publishing arm. That is, until he searched the site for his name and discovered someone has been using it to peddle a $555 book that’s full of nothing but gibberish.
The story goes that these expensive books (with no real story) were being bought up with tens of thousands of dollars simply to clean money. But the problem that we face is the ease at which they can write and print these books.
I don’t think it would be long before information systems could spit out novellas and novels of average quality, with real words, meeting all the conventions of the writing rules, as it were. Writers, human writers, will have to level up. I think even self-publishing stories of average to dull quality will invariably be corrected by the market.
Kai: What’s the most crucial insight you’ve had about writing, as an aspiring author?
Kwinn: Learning to trust my instincts. Being open to learning the craft means taking in all kinds of knowledge and practicing that with repetition. Meeting the right people and listening to their advice has been a tremendous boon for me. I’ve learned so much and have surrounded myself with intelligent, creative, and supportive people. But at the end of the day, it’s my butt in the chair telling my story. I’ve learned to act instinctually for the essence of the story, and the knowledge of my craft helps to shape it. It’s an exquisite art.
Kai: At the beginning of this interview, you talked about how you like setting all sorts of challenges for yourself. What has been the craziest challenge?
Kwinn: I don’t know about crazy but giving up sugar was quite an experience. I’m not talking about only cutting out cookies and fruit juice. If one goes all out to starve the body of sugar, wow, that is a very strong commitment. I allow sugar in my diet today, but I had gone about four months of no sugar except for the scant amounts found in nuts, avocado, and spinach for example.
Kai: That’s quite a commitment! Did you notice any health changes? Why did you go back to eating sugar, in the end?
Kwinn: Starving the body of sugar was absolutely important to reaching my weight goal. I just couldn’t burn the fat even though I was eating moderately healthy and exercising. But when I was turned on to the concept of sugar elimination (reduction), I understood that was the missing step.
After what feels like a sickness/flu, the body adjusts with decreased production of insulin and switches to producing ketones. The body naturally prefers to use sugar fuel, but without sugar it looks for fat. I kept my fat intake stable and ate mostly cruciferous greens and proteins. Stored fat was consumed in turn, and I started to see the results around my waist, even with reduced exercise activity. Once I reached my goal, it was okay to bring in the sugars such as fruit, beans, bread, pasta, and rice. In moderate amounts.
My metabolism is back up, I feel healthy, mind is clearer and my clothes fit baggy lol. It’s easy to mentally assent that sugar is bad for you, but when you truly detox from sugar – you get it. It’s a realization like “wow”. Sugar is a drug.
So why bring sugar back? I don’t need to lose any more weight. In fact I’m in the gym with free weights to build muscle and with my metabolism stronger than years before, I can afford healthy sugars with fiber. But to target that stored fat, I went to zero sugars in my diet for positive results.
Kai: If you died tomorrow, what would you want people to remember about you?
Kwinn: Oh, tomorrow is too soon. You gotta give me some time so that my answer is: “I would want them to remember that I used my words to tell great stories.”