BWW Interview: WRITER HERB KAUDERER
He is a talented writer with stage charismas.
MCL: Your website states you're a "retired Teamster (local 264), who somehow grew up to become an associate professor of English at Hilbert College. Along the way he's written an awful lot."
How did you go from Teamster to associate professor of English? What was the process?
HK: First let me explain how to become a Teamster. Growing up, the family business was a dairy, and when I was 14 years-old I taught myself how to move the big trucks with standard transmissions around the work compound and garages. To give my father credit, when he figured out I was doing it, and had not hit anything, he grumbled a little and decided not to comment on it further.
Step two was to flunk out of college. I did that particularly well. I did not know then that I had dyslexia and dysgraphia which made it pretty much impossible for me to be a competent accountant.
Step three was to get a job at an ice cream making plant where I joined the Teamsters and ate an incredible amount of ice cream.
Step four was to move through a few more Teamster factories where I occasionally drove trucks, sometimes fixed machinery, but more often drove indoor trucks (tow motors), and operated heavy machinery. Most of this was dairy work and I have a large store of outdated dairy knowledge left over from these years.
MCL: And becoming a professor?
HK: I liked the early years as a Teamster well enough, but it was clear that I wasn't cut out for forty years of that kind of work. I begged my way into Buffalo State College where I was accepted on probation in the double super-secret high humiliation program for former flunk outs. Surprisingly I graduated with a BA in English cum laude and with honors.
At that point I began writing and submitting a lot.
One day in 1993 an abusive administrator began to badger me at work. The next day I was registered for graduate school classes. Soon enough I was matriculated.
In 1998 I answered an ad in The Buffalo News looking for adjunct professors in English. I applied, eventually got hired, and in the fullness of time that turned into the full-time gig.
MCL: When did prose come into your life?
HK: I learned to read later than most, at the age of eight and a half. It was immediately very important to me, both in reading and writing. My parents had a loud emotional volume pretty much 24/7. Reading and writing allowed me to work with words away from their delivery. When I was a teenager I discovered mystery magazines and then science fiction magazines. I loved the form of the short story and started writing a lot and submitting them, mostly mysteries. I was awful, largely due to having no overview of the genres, and not having thought seriously about structure.
MCL: And poetry?
HK: Poetry was always a sideline in the early years, something I did within and outside of grade school and high school. But it was also a pleasure. At Buffalo State I took every poetry writing course they had. Upon graduation I started submitting.
MCL: What do you enjoy about each?
HK: Poetry fits into whatever time I have. Waiting in line, during breaks at work meetings, or daydreaming while taking a walk.
Prose has more required structure and can sometimes communicate more cleanly. The personal essay is my favorite form of writing because it allows me to clarify and focus my thoughts.
MCL: What is your writing process?
HK: I will write under pretty much any circumstances. One result of this is that I always have scraps of paper with notes of ideas, phrases, or interesting words.
Sometimes these migrate directly to poem or story. Other times they get entered into my massive computer Tickler File which gets mined for ideas periodically.
For longer stories, there are usually more stages. Starting scrap, idea, plot in 12-50 words, fragment, first draft, tinkering. On around the sixth draft or so, it needs to be submitted or put to rest for a few years.
MCL: How would you describe your style to someone who doesn't know you?
HK: Lucid. Most of the time I am focused on making sense. The defining characteristic of poetry is beautiful language which encourages poets to take magnificent flights away from lucidity, and I enjoy reading many of them. But most of my writing makes sense on the surface. I hope there are things to find below the surface as well.
MCL: Who are your writing influences?
HK: In poetry, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker. In speculative poetry, David Lunde, Geoffrey A. Landis, Mary A. Turzillo, David Clink. In fiction, John D. MacDonald. In non-fiction, Isaac Asimov. Coincidentally, my poem "After" just won the Asimov's Readers' Award for 2016. Exciting stuff!
MCL: You have done quite a bit of science fiction work. Why science fiction?
HK: I've worked in many genres and many forms including screenwriting. The sizable majority of my poetry is mainstream, yet I keep coming back to science (or speculative) poetry and fiction. I will speculate two sensible reasons for that.
First, generativity is strongly correlated with happiness. Generativity is an interest in what comes next, and especially what happens after the individual is gone. I like to be happy. A lot of my actions reflect that. When I see people taking actions to make themselves unhappy I respect their choice. But I know where I'd rather be. Bring on the generativity.
Second, early on SF poetry noticed me. By 1991 I'd been nominated as Best New Poet, and many more (and various) nominations followed. Some wins, as well. In 1998 I won the WorldCon Poetry Slam. In 2008 I won the Ewaipanoma Sonnet Contest. I mentioned the Asimov's win above. All this is a lot of positive reinforcement helping me enjoy SF. This is not to say I haven't been nominated for other writing with a Pushcart Prize nomination, and a Sycamore Award, which are for non-genre work.
MCL: Please talk a little about some of the writers you've met and admired.
HK: The first time I met Isaac Asimov was fascinating. It was also the first time I met Charles Sheffield. I feel as if just standing within range of their brainwaves should have made me smarter. I miss David A. Kyle, Frederik Pohl, William Tenn, Hal Clement, Judy Merrill, and lots of other old-time SF folks. I enjoy being good friends with Robert J. Sawyer, Carolyn Clink, Mike Resnick, and Hayden Trenholm among others. I used to speak with Neil Gaiman regularly, and Joe Haldeman, Terry Pratchett, and George R. R. Martin irregularly. I could go on at great length. These writers are related to SF/F/H.
In the literary and academic worlds, I've spoken with Margaret Atwood, Billy Collins, Robert Creeley, Walter Moseley, Paul Levinson, John Robert Colombo, Carl Dennis, Manny [Emmanuel] Fried, Ralph Nader, and John Roche. I believe Lucille Clifton to be the most gracious human being I have ever met. And a brilliant writer. I am sorry she's gone.
Looking back at these lists I am reminded of what an amazing life I've had. Thirty years ago such a list of associates would have been inconceivable. Life changes, and if we're lucky, we change with it.
MCL: You have over 500 published poems! What are the subjects you touch upon?
HK: For some people there is a fascination in numbers such as baseball statistics, opinion polls, and prolific writing credits. So I will state for the record that I am writing this on May 25, 2017.
To the best of my knowledge 1086 different poems of mine have been published, and 51 more are in press. At least 500 have been reprinted. I blame it on dangerously obsessive behavior.
Recurring themes include: the ghosts of our personal pasts, broken hearts, love for the aged (post 30), expectations defied, personal disaster, societal delusions, flavors of loneliness, actions of craziness, the landscape of dreams and nightmares.
MCL: What's the hardest part of writing for you?
HK: Finding enough time for it.
MCL: Do have any project you've been working on that you just cannot seem to finish?
HK: I've been writing a novel (Working Title: The Right to Delusions) for at least a decade. I have another (Switches) which is a chunk of a novel from thirty years ago that I think I could finish if I ever freed up a week. I don't see either one getting finished anytime soon.
MCL: Finally ...What new projects do you have for 2017?
HK: 2017 has already been a banner year for me.
I was the featured poet in the February issue of Scifaikuest with 28 poems, and an interview that has virtually no overlap with this interview. 28 poems is more like a chapbook than a magazine feature.
March 26 the limited edition trade paperback of my poetry collection The Snowstorm of '14: Poems from the front lines (ebook 2016) was published by Written Image. It has sold well.
April 27th I was the visiting artist at Niagara County Community College. Also in April I was a featured poet in the Illumen Spring issue with four poems and a poetry note.
May 20 my new book, Flying Solo: The Lana Invasion, was published by Poet's Haven Press. This is 30 poems telling one story, and advertised as 'a novella in verse'. This is very much SF, and is published in a wallet-sized edition.
In June my flash fiction "A Long Cold Wait" is scheduled to appear in Speculative 66 issue #9.
In July the limited edition trade paperback of my special interest poetry collection Modern Poems of Pennsic (ebook 2015) is scheduled for release from Phil Martino.
Also in July I'll be a featured poet in Outposts of Beyond with four poems.
In August I'll be a guest at the Confluence SF convention near Pittsburgh. A craft article titled "The Scifaiku Suite" should appear in Scifaikuest print, while a personal essay "Lucidity Grows Around a Tree Trunk" is scheduled for the online version of Scifaikuest.
In October my short story "A Dwarf for Each" will appear in the Stinkwaves Halloween issue.
There are more poems and stories in editors' inboxes, another poetry collection in submission, several young adult books in submission, and several longer works to write more of in the fall. When it comes to writing, inertia is working in my favor right now. Now that's a change I embrace.
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