Kali Kucera is an American lorist and short story writer living in Quito, Ecuador, where he also rides and writes about bus and train travel. Since he was 9 years old he has been composing plays, operas, short stories, and multi-disciplinary experiences. He has been both a teacher and performer as well as an arts mobilizer, and founded the Tacoma Poet Laureate competition in 2008.
His latest book is the mythical realism novel, Unawqi, Hunter of the Sun.
Would you call yourself a born writer?
Yes, I would, but the writing took different forms. I started writing songs at nine years old, then poetry, then songs with poetry, then somewhere in adolescence that spread out to short stories in verse, which became musicals and plays and operas by sixteen….you know, kind of like wisteria, you have to watch it or it will grow all over everything.
What was your inspiration for Unawqi?
The first inspiration came while sitting on the front porch of my good friend Thomas Merton Brightman at his retreat center near Hampstead, Maryland. It was a beautiful morning looking out over the rolling hills, but there was something odd standing right in front of me that I couldn’t look past: a dead tree in whose limbs were resting a bunch of freshly picked sunflowers. It was such a striking thing, I couldn’t help bring it up to Thomas. He responded in his usual soothing and philosophical manner. “Oh yes, old man with sunflowers in his arms.” That phrase was so beautifully packed with symbolic meaning, it unleashed a trove of instant and profound creativity deep within me that would stay with me and with my pen for a very long time, and out of that pen came the questions about why an old man would have sunflowers in his arms; what melancholy was his backstory (dead tree) and why did he cling to the contrast of something so bold and beautiful (sunflowers)?
The second strand of inspiration answered my first set of questions in an existential way. In 2011 my fiancé from Colombia, Julio Garcia, rather suddenly took his own life. Like everyone else, I was at first stunned and looked for empirical answers as to what was ‘the news’ that brought this about. I was looking for the forensic answers that would leave no doubt so we could all bury him in our minds and move on with life. That was until the very character of that search bothered me, and I realized any answers found would not be adequate, nor do any justice to his life. I came to believe he took his own life because its beauty so clashed with the suffering he lived with from his birth and could not separate himself from. I believed his story is what made him beautiful, and it was richly complex, adventurous, magical, and needed to be told in a way that suited the largeness of who he was. Julio was a different prism of both the dead tree and the alive sunflowers, but he had the trajectory of life events that filled in the backstory.
So the two inspirations merged over time, but as I base my writing in the recovery of ancient folklore and mythical realism, the way the story unfolded took a distinctive mythological form and drew upon equally magical places I have lived, in Tacoma, Washington, and in the Andes of South America.
What themes do you like to explore in your writing?
The intertwining of nature and humanity, and how there is danger and love between them at all times. This is the constant theme of mythology that I stay close to in my own writing.
How long did it take you to complete the novel?
Somewhere around five years, but because I’m a writer of lore, smaller stories within the bigger story were done and told along the way. The smaller stories tell me and teach me what the bigger story is going to be.
Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.
Well, disciplined is a judgment I’ll leave for others to decide, but I will say I have a routine. Sundays are writing days. I love to go to church in the morning just to hear the old stories and epic themes in such short powerful sentences. Then I do a lot of walking, thinking over past chapters I’ve written, talking them through in my mind, seeing what kind of emotion they invoke. Yes, sometimes I’ll be sobbing on the sidewalk for no apparent reason that others can perceive, but they are invigorating sobs, they springboard me into settling down in some café or on my back patio under the shadow of Cayambe. And there I sit with some coffee…maybe from which comes nothing, but then maybe comes a lot.
What did you find most challenging about writing this book?
It was the moment after I thought I was finished writing it. I read it through again, wanting to congratulate myself and move on, and instead ended up with a pit in my stomach feeling sadly that it was not done, but didn’t at that moment know what was missing. Eventually that passed, but it was a terrible feeling of being surprisingly stuck. At least in all the moments previous, it was much clearer I wasn’t finished.
What do you love most about being an author?
Making the unreal real, I guess. There’s also the aspect that words, once written, have immense lasting power. They outlast you, they come back to you when nothing else will.
Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?
I’ve done a full circle from self-publishing, to pursuing traditional publishing, and then coming back to self-publishing. I learned along the way of pursuing publishers how far they have gone into the gutter and it’s basically impossible to get considered by anyone serious, and in direct contrast, how the self-publishing option has increased the quality and respectability of its own game over the past five years.
Where can we find you on the web?