Kevin Kauffmann

After meeting Kevin Kauffmann at DragonCon this past year, we knew we had to read his books!  Kevin has taken some time out of his busy writing schedule to sit down with us and chat about his first series, “The Icarus Trilogy”, containing the books Murder of Crows, Phoenix Rising, and Swan Song, which follows the exciting and difficult life of Ryan Jenkins.

Tell us a little bit about your series, the Icarus trilogy.

The Icarus Trilogy was my first professional project, one which started as just a short story and then mutated into a huge literary endeavor.  I had come up with the first inklings of the idea about four years ago and the story was originally meant to be a comic book.  Unfortunately, I am a terrible artist and so that idea was scrapped.  I really didn’t get started with it until April 2011 after my first attempt at National Novel Writing Month, which was a complete failure and no one will ever read that novel.  Do not ask.

Back then I was just writing a short story about a group of 20-somethings being stuck in gladiator combat, but as I continued to write and start appreciating my characters, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.  As soon as that happened Murder of Crows became a way for me to channel my grief into something productive, which was a good part of the reason that the first book was so dark.  The tradeoff for feeling that grief and emotion was that it made me that much more invested in developing the tale of Ryan Jenkins.  I wasn’t just writing a story anymore, I was immersing myself in it.

And, well, the story just got away from me.  I wrote the next two books within ten months of finishing Murder of Crows and now I have this self-published trilogy that I promote at conventions up and down the East Coast.  I just got back from Magfest in DC and I’m running the last free promotion for the entire series over the next two days.  We’ll see how that plays out.  I’ve gotten into the Top 5 for Free Sci-Fi three times now, but I’m not sure I’m going to see numbers like that for this promotion.

Which author has been your biggest influence?

Although I have quite a few favorites, I think the most influential people on my writing style are George R.R. Martin, Dan Simmons and, even if this is a cheat, Joss Whedon.  I actually used to say I was from the “George R.R. Martin School of Character Development,” but as time went on I realized that Whedon was probably a little more appropriate.  Basically, I try to create likeable characters and then force them through Hell.  And don’t bother having a favorite, because that probably won’t go well.  I didn’t actually realize how similar my stories and situations were to Whedon’s until I had a marathon of his work (Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods, Firefly, and The Avengers were all part of that).  Then I cursed his name because I will never be that good at being terrible to my characters.

Oddly enough, I actually enjoy Martin more for his short stories and his work on Wildcards than I do for A Song of Ice and Fire.  If you’ve never read Dreamsongs, which is two volumes of his short stories, go ahead and check that out.  It’s a great look into the development of an author.  I love A Song of Ice and Fire, too, but the last two books have been wearing down my a patience a little bit.

And to round it out, Simmons is definitely an influence and the biggest sci-fi name of those three.  I was a huge fan of his Hyperion/Endymion series and his Ilium/Olympos series and I loved the mix of science and literature.  His modern recreation of The Canterbury Tales in Hyperion is something that I really respect, and I hope I can come up with something that clever at some point in my career.  I’m never going to dive so deep into Proust like he did in Ilium/Olympos, or really any writer or philosopher, but I can definitely appreciate the intellectualism.

Do you have other genres you like to write in?

Oh, yeah, tons of ’em.  To tell the truth, Sci-Fi is something I like but I’m not all that interested in it.  That’s probably why Icarus doesn’t actually have that much science in it.  I actually have a side-project which allows me to write in all kinds of genres in all kinds of time frames, and if I wasn’t so obsessed with my next series I would probably spend more time on it.

That’s going to be a while, though.  I only just finished the first draft of The Fourth Horseman, which is the first book in a biblical apocalypse trilogy, and I wouldn’t expect to have the whole series completed until…. maybe the end of the year?  We’ll see; once I get started with a project I get anxious about getting it done as fast as possible.  I wrote The Fourth Horseman in two months, so I might be getting more efficient at writing these suckers.

Aside from writing, what is your dream career?

Waiting tables.  I just want to be around people all the time, and make sure their water glasses are full.  I definitely care about the special sauce.

But seriously, writing IS the dream job.  Ever since I was a kid I wanted to tell stories and, except for a brief detour of pragmatism during college, I wanted to find a way to do it for a living.  That said, I would love to get into writing for comic books, games, movies and maybe even a rock opera band way down the line.  Though, I would need to learn an instrument first, as I’m only a “decent” singer.

As long as I’m telling stories, I think I’ll be alright.  Just need to get to the point where I can live off of it.  If this next book does as well as I hope it does, that might not be too far in the future.

If War Games is such a barbaric practice, why does your future society let it continue?

It’s really more social critique than anything.  As a society we’re becoming more and more callous to suffering and becoming harder to please.  There is a trend that everything has to be more dangerous and more extreme, and this extends to a lot of different aspects of our entertainment.

Though I’m a huge fan of video games, I’ve been gaming since I was 3, online gaming has become this …. almost…. cesspool of dehumanization.  Games like Halo and Call of Duty pit people against each other and glorify violence and devalue death.  That was the reason I made resurrections painful for these soldiers; to comment on how it’s not so easy to kill someone and that there are actual consequences for those actions in real life.

I really didn’t think it was much of an extension for this callous attitude to extend to ACTUAL gladiatorial combat, where these corporate-sponsored teams fight off against each other every day.  To this society, it’s just another thing to watch.  Just like it was back in Rome, except now there are guns, chainsaws and grenades.

And just so this is clear, I’m not saying that games like Halo and CoD are the problem.  They’re just the games we like to play, myself included.  Now that I’m all done with this book, I finally have some time to sit down and play Halo

Which character do you most identify with and why?

I identify with all of them to an extent, even the villains, but I’ll settle with just two: Gregory Feldman and Douglas Finnegan.  I did everything I could not to have any direct representations of myself in the books, but these two came out anyway.  In short, Gregory is the ideal of who I want to be, while Douglas is what I actually am.

Greg is the kind of guy who will stand up for the moral choice, even at great cost to his own well-being, and is basically what I aspire towards.  If I can be half the man that Feldman is, I’d count that a life well-lived.  There’s a line in the fourth chapter of Murder of Crows where he says, if you allow me to paraphrase, that “the goal of his life is to serve as an example for others.”  When it’s all over, I want to be able to say that.

Douglas is who I really am, right down to the false superiority and general misanthropy.  He’s one of the major developing characters over the series and it actually mimics my own personal journey, sometimes a little too closely and, thankfully, sometimes with very different results.  If you get around to reading Swan Song, you’ll see what I mean.

We started our site to share our projects – cosplay and geeky stuff we’ve done to our home.  What is your favorite geeky project and why?

Besides writing a sci-fi trilogy based around an Ancient Greek myth?  I’m not exactly sure.  That’s the problem with being a lifelong geek; there’s just too much to talk about.  I’ve had a ten-year long love affair with Dance Dance Revolution so I have a mountain of broken soft pads, I used to have a collection of Mageknight figurines that covered the floor of my bedroom, I have a decent-sized game, comic and book collection and a media server full of cartoons, anime and geeky shows…..

I’m going to cheat, since it’s technically work, though it’s not that bad.  A lot of the stories I plan on writing were originally created as ideas for comic books, including my upcoming book, The Fourth Horseman.  Before I took the leap into writing books, I actually tried to create my own webcomic for this new series.  I got about eighteen pages in before I gave up, but I still have those pages, along with the original concept art for all of the covers for Icarus, in my sketchbook.  I only show it to people when I’m feeling masochistic.  The novel is much better, I think.

But if that fails to impress, there are still pictures on the internet of me and my friends wrapped in tinfoil, trying to “cosplay” during an early Animazement (we weren’t actually cosplaying as anybody, we just felt like being shiny).  It’s only a little embarrassing, because it was half-assed, but that picture is out there.

You can follow Kevin on Twitter to get all the updates on his upcoming appearances and books. And for 1/7/13 and 1/8/13, the Kindle editions of the “Icarus Trilogy” books are available for free download.  Keep an eye out for his next books – I know we will!