The ShatterColors Standard Interview -- Author Version: Kris Saknussemm

(Interview consists of 15 pre-set questions. Authors have published at least one novel or short story/poetry collection.)

1) Why did you begin writing, and how long have you been doing so?

I began collecting as a very young child. I had a sort of talismanic relationship with words (with the emphasis on “manic”). They were living things to me. Or, if not animate, then just as mysterious as magnets or petrified wood. I’d bring out my collection in the same way that Anthony Draper (who could turn his eyelids inside out) would show me his snake skins. Then one day I saw the number 8 next to the word “together” and I realized that my squiggly 8 reminded me of a snowman and that “together” was actually “to get her” and I wondered why the snowman wanted to get her and who “she” was, and so, like my collection of football cards, the words began to organize into a kind of a game. I still think the best stories have this quality.

2) What does your writing routine consist of?

My routine has changed entirely of late, in that I’m writing as much as I can. I’m working on two novels simultaneously, one of which has become a genuine obsession. I’m writing this one very fast and thinking in terms of whole dramatic scenes which seem to take shape like a waking dream.

3) Have specific events ever flung you into an extended and productive period of creativity?

I’m involved in one right now, thank God! It’s like an illicit sexual affair. It was not one of my major ideas when I started—just a short story I thought—and one I figured I might get around to one day. Then for some reason I remembered a reflection in a puddle of a neon DeSoto Cab sign just off Geary Street in San Francisco—and a strangely disconcerting little moment mistakenly walking into a Women’s Restroom last year. And that—as they say—was that.

4) What are common sources of inspiration?

I think we carry a lot of interesting “fuel” around with us all time in our heads and in our notebooks—things that have happened to us, or that we’ve heard or read about. But it takes an inner crisis to provide heat, and a chance breath of wind to create ignition.

Near the end of my marriage I was with my wife’s family at a football game and I went to the restroom (the right one, I might add). We should’ve been having a good time together but we weren’t. While pissing, I noticed the pattern the backwater flow made on the splash panel of the urinal. It was these weird but beautiful elongated figures—like space aliens or the sacred beings you see in Aboriginal rock paintings. I realized how alienated I felt at that moment, and yet these images were fascinating to look at—hiding there in plain sight in the urinal. I didn’t want to rejoin the family group, I just wanted to stay and observe the Beings. That to me is where real inspiration comes from—not in big themes or obviously interesting conflicts and dramas—but in seemingly incidental moments when the Other World peeks through.

5) What does a book need to do to get you to read it from beginning to end?

It needs to demonstrate surprise, precision, ambiguity and a multi-levelness. I want to have that feeling you get when the anti-virus system on your computer warns you that some program is behaving in an unauthorized way, trying to access channels you might not even have been aware of. (Interesting words: “authorized” / “unauthorized”). At the same time, I want to be moved in some very specific ways too. Any work of fiction that is not at some point funny, erotic, intellectually intriguing or frightening bores me.

6) Who are some of the authors you most admire?

I’m a cannibal pirate crystal radio kind of reader, picking up stray signals where I can, scanning the frequencies and harvesting parts as I find them. There are a lot of writers that I admire for certain things. What I thrive on though, are people with fetishes, totems, obsessions, fixed ideas, theories, paranoid fantasies, recurring dreams, an eye for the ludicrous and an ear for the conflicts and conspiracies that lie just under the surface of human interaction. I like writers who build interesting machines, ask unexpected questions, have some secrets of their own and are excessively curious about other people’s—and who aren’t afraid to let their creatures out.

7) How familiar are you with the literary canon?

Very. A loaded canon still makes a good long range weapon but it has been known to backfire.

8) What's your take on politics and literary endeavor?

Cardinal Richelieu, one the richest and most powerful figures in the Europe of his day, exerted his enormous and frequently insidious influence while suffering severe anal ulceration and offensive suppurating sores. The most interesting part of “politics” always comes back to individual psychologies and pathologies, and if that’s not an important element of literature, I don’t know what is. The problem is that the focus tends to be on ideologies. Plus the long lead time for publication and the fear of becoming “dated” scares many writers away.

9) What are your feelings about formal vs. free verse?

The armadillo or the jellyfish. I say as long at it moves, can find its own food and has a sting in the tail, it’s OK.

10) Do you feel "flash" fiction (300 words or less) is a viable form, or nothing more than a writing exercise?

Debussy’s Études are exercises for the piano. Picasso’s immense and under appreciated print works were exercises for his technical skills and craftsmanship. Some people’s exercises are art (and most people’s art is an exercise).

I enjoy flash fiction very much. The works of some the most important writers in history (Heraclitus, Nietzsche, Novalis, Kafka, Borges) can be seen as flash fiction. So too, with Braughtigan, Bukowski and many others. Any problem with it is really one of packaging and the economics of publishing.

11) When not writing, what do you do for amusement?

Mainly I mull. I paint and make mistakes I call sculpture. I think about sex and try to have as much of it as I can. I hike with the dogs and the girlfriend. I think about getting my kayak out. I read. I think about sex. I try to remember my dreams.

12) What's one of the most annoying things you can think of?

Waiting. Random police checks. Loud obnoxious children eating plastic food. Strident feminists. Boorish men. Roadworks conducted on major routes at peak traffic times. Fundamentalists of all persuasions. And when the phone rings when I’m having my lunch.

13) Briefly describe what you consider to be one of your standout childhood pranks.

My sister had a special genius for covert operations. When the McMurtry’s, a prunish older couple down the street, stiffed us for payment in a peanut brittle fund raising drive, we vowed massive retaliation. The McMurtry’s hated Halloween and would do anything to be away from the house on that night, except they were stingy. So we, with some old stationery and my mother’s typewriter, agonizingly crafted a plausible enough letter informing the M’s that they had won a “Special Halloween Weekend” package at a motel down in Carmel Valley, with a FREE all-you-can-eat buffet and early check-in. We included a little map of the area that our mother had saved—and a branded complementary chocolate—and got the envelope sent to them Special Delivery to get around the postmark problem.

Then to my astonishment, my sister actually pulled off a confirmation phone call to them. She was a monster for detail. Halloween was on a Friday that year, and sure enough the McMurtry’s loaded up in the late morning to get down for “early check in.” We meanwhile, had skipped school, which was a sacrifice, as I was defending champion in the Costume Parade and a shoe-in to retain the title. But we had other things on our minds—like breaking in to the McMurtry’s and decorating for the huge Haunted House Halloween Party to which every kid we knew, even those we hated (especially those we hated) were invited. We’d made flyers and gotten them printed using our slush fund. Friends were passing them out school. We posted some in the library and the post office. If our victims hadn’t fallen for it, I don’t know what we would’ve done, but my sister had a cool head when it came to these types of things—and I had the smarts to take the phone off the hook. The McMurtry’s had a lot of parents fooled about their hatred of kids, so most people didn’t question it. Some did call though we found out later, and when they got a busy signal, they just thought, “Oh, well, there are probably a lot of people wondering about the party.”

But here’s the reason why, even at 12, my sister could’ve run the CIA. In case any parents physically stopped by the house to check things out, we’d coerced a friend of our dad’s and his girlfriend who we had some dirt on, to drift around the house with sheets over their heads, acting like ghosts. Everyone thought they were the McMurtry’s. (Access to the McMurtry’s liquor cabinet greatly assisted with this crucial element.). Late that afternoon, when some pressure was applied, and all through evening when the goblins and witches started showing up, if anyone asked “Where are the McMurtry’s?” my sister and I would just say, “Oh, they’re ghosts…haunting the house.”

“Isn’t that lovely,” our mother said. “They’re really getting into the spirit of things.”

Meanwhile, just as we’d predicted, once the McMurtry’s got all the way down to Carmel, they weren’t going to turn around and come home on Halloween. No, they stayed away while God’s own Haunted House Party raged—kids spewing in the bathroom, jack’o lantern cake smeared on the walls. We’d put down sheets to protect the furniture (and to add to the spooky ambience) but it was more or less total devastation.

Best of all, we’d made a whole group of parents, who were just glad the festivities weren’t happening at their house, accomplices in the crime. When the shit hit the fan, and it did, we had a lot of shoulders to offload responsibility on. I’m only sorry my sister later went straight. She was the real deal when it came to the Big Con and could’ve conducted a mean briefing in the Situation Room.

14) What are your upcoming projects/works in progress?

I’m focused on two novels as I said. One is part of the cycle my first book ZANESVILLE began, but which is set back in the 19th Century and is filled with odd gadgets, mass hysteria weapons and religious theories about tornadoes. The other, my mistress, is a psychological/supernatural detective story centering on a woman who knows things that shouldn’t be known and sometimes wears beautiful underwear, and other times nothing at all.

15) Care to conclude with a sweeping philosophical statement?

Oscillating systems of a given frequency can reduce other oscillating systems to the same frequency—and those people for whom the glass is always half full just don’t like what they’re drinking.


The ShatterColors Standard Interview -- Author Version
© 2006 by Robert Scott Leyse

Kris Saknussemm Responses
© 2006 by
Kris Saknussemm


About the Author

Kris Saknussemm's first novel Zanesville was published by Villard Books in late 2005. The Austin Chronicle called it "The most original novel of the year" and it received a Starred Review in Booklist, which praised it as "brilliantly inventive black comedy."

Kris is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area but for many years has lived in Australia and the Pacific Islands. A painter as well as writer, his work has appeared in such publications as The Boston Review, The Hudson Review, The Antioch Review, River Styx, ZYZZYVA, New Letters, Prairie Schooner and The Hawaii Review amongst many others. For more information see or


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