February Focus: Kurt Clopton, author of SuperGuy

Kurt Clopton is the US science-fiction author of 'SuperGuy'. He works full time as a professional Olde Tyme photo model, specialising in wide brim hats and saloon backgrounds. Kurt grew up in the Midwest and attended Luther College where he earned his undergraduate degree in Art and English. In an attempt to accumulate a debilitating amount of debt, he also has a Master of Arts degree in English from Iowa State University. He spends most of his spare time perfecting his mediocrity at tennis and guitar, and the rest of it watching instructional YouTube videos on how to fix whatever he has most recently broken. Kurt lives in Wisconsin with his secret second family when he is not on the road “traveling for work”.

Kurt's favourite author is Douglas Adams, though he's currently reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. He prefers hot chocolate to tea or coffee, though only drinks water when he's writing.

Kurt realised he wanted to be a writer before his third year in college, which, coincidentally, he spent abroad in Nottingham. He enjoy doing it, and found it relatively easy to do. Kurt says, 'I suppose if I didn’t, I wouldn’t continue to do it.' Though he's not sure if inspiration plays a part in where his ideas come from, SuperGuy evolved out of a Halloween costume he created twenty years ago for a party!

SuperGuy (or the sequel he's been writing) didn't really require too much in the way of research; when they did it was something odd, like trying to decide how fast a superhero might fly. That required looking at the speed of jets, how fast something must travel to create a sonic boom, and then how fast can you get from point A to point B. Kurt says. 'And all of that research just translates into one joke, so was it really worth it?'

In his opinion, writers shouldn't really be labelled as introverts. He believes they are probably thought of as such because of the myth of the writer more than anything: alone in their room working on the next great novel. Kurt advises, 'I think, like most other things, that there’s a normal variety of types.'

But Kurt goes on to say he's a little weird as far as writers go. 'I don’t write every day and don’t try to. I only write if I’m working on something I need to complete.' When he;s working on a book, Kurt will write most days of the week and probably average 2000-3000 words. He's also never experienced writer's block, though he's had occasional hiccups with a difficult scene that wasn't quite working. 'In those cases I tend to just write through them, using whatever weak idea I come up with and move on, knowing that I will come back later to fix it,' he says. 'Then later I will often come up with a better idea for how the scene should progress.'

Kurt finds the moment to moment work of writing a scene or chapter pretty easy for the most part, and probably the hardest being trying to find a unique superhero name. 'There are a lot of superheroes out there. I love writing something that will make someone chuckle out loud and I hate the fact that it seems so few people read nowadays.'

He tells us not to overdo world-building and while we should understand out world and know how it works or affects the characters, we should let it enter the story organically. 'I know that’s not always possible, but if you can avoid pages and pages of world-building where the plot stops moving forward, you should.'

When it comes to editing and proofreading, Kurt thinks he writes in a rather odd manner. 'I do what I think of as a rolling writing and editing process. I often start my day by going back and reviewing the previous chapter and scene and editing that as I re-read it, which helps me get in the flow of continuing the story with a new section.' When he's done, he often feels his first draft is a little more polished because of this. He may then take a couple of days off before starting the real edit, but it depends on his schedule. 'If I want it done soon, I may go right back at it, or I may wait a couple of weeks if there’s no hurry. I do my own editing and haven’t ever hired anyone, although I do have a couple of readers that help catch mistakes or other issues,' says Kurt.

He also had a quick word to say on the dreaded topic of marketing, as he luckily isn't one to struggle in this area. 'It’s helpful to get a network of authors on your side, so you can spread the word about each others’ books,' he says.

Kurt thinks cover design also matters a great deal, and notices a lot of independent book covers are obviously based on templates, which he's not sure is a good look. 'There are a lot of artists out there who would gladly design a unique cover for little or no money and the author would be much happier with it,' Kurt advises. But his opinion varies with regards the negative image of independent books based on the quality of cover design and copy-editing. 'There are plenty of traditionally published books that I haven’t found to be great. They may not have editing issues, but they still have issues. What I have found in reading a lot more independently published books (not necessarily self-published) recently is that the editing and things like grammar are fine.'

Kurt says that covers can be problematic because independent authors don’t have access to a design team and don’t have the experience or patience in that area. He sees the real problems tending to crop up more in terms of plot and character consistency and motivation. The authors have their idea or even an outline of what they want to happen, but don’t successfully translate that to the finished work. 'As a reader you’ll question why the character chose to do a particular thing when they clearly wouldn’t based on how they’ve been written up to that point,' says Kurt. 'If often comes down to it being because that’s what the author wants them to do and where the outline says the story is going, but the author failed to make that choice the right choice or the only choice for the character in that situation.' Kurt has previously read a scene where the main character was witnessing an exchange between two secondary characters along with the reader. The main character then told them how she viewed one of the characters based on the scene, but the reader got a completely different take on that character. 'The author essentially tells the reader how they should view that secondary character after failing to successfully show it in the scene,' Kurt explains.

When asked what advice he would give to primary school students with regards creative writing he said, 'Simply to have fun and write what you enjoy.' When asked about secondary school children, Kurt added, 'As you get more involved in writing, take notice of what you like to read and why. Look closely at how it succeeds and what you like most about it and try to let that inform your own writing.' Kurt thinks when it comes to teaching writing that anything’s possible, but maybe without having a natural talent or instinct for it, it might take a lot more practice. 'The grammar part can definitely be learned, and the basics of plot and character, but there might be a different step at that point that brings true uniqueness or creativity, or simply characters that are really compelling and not cliche,' Kurt says.

And on the topic of whether writing is beneficial to mental health, Kurt agrees, 'absolutely'. There have been several studies on the benefits of journaling for people with anxiety and depression issues, Kurt advises, and he feels that sometimes the act of writing things down can help a person get past the surface of problems and delve deeper. Kurt feels that it probably requires a lot more research and the ability to understand a different perspective when writing from a character's perspective, where the character does not share the author's morals and values. Though, Kurt tells us, 'I don’t think I mind risky themes if the writing is good enough to handle them.'

'I think I probably viewed success differently before I really looked closely at the publishing landscape as it is today,' Kurt tells us honestly. 'Knowing how hard it is to make money writing books kind of changes your expectations. It’s probably why I haven’t pursued things as hard as I could. So, no I don’t really feel successful, but I know that that is in a field where being successful just isn’t as common as we’d like it to be. It certainly doesn’t mean that I wrote a bad book, there are extremely popular bad books out there, it’s just not the way this profession works. Or probably any creative profession.' He adds that there is probably no secret to becoming a bestseller. He advises we should get the right attention and the right promotions behind us and we'll have a good shot. 'Anyone with knowledge of how Amazon bestselling status works would know how that can be meaningless, anyone without might be impressed.'

You have to expect criticism, Kurt agrees, because everyone likes different things when it comes to creative works. 'If someone doesn’t like my style of humor, they won’t like my book, but that doesn’t mean it’s poorly written. Doesn’t mean it’s well written either. It’s going to happen and you just have to move past it. Hopefully a majority view will emerge and that’s what you can trust more.'

Finally, Kurt tells us that he doesn's know if he's been asked enough questions yet to find the one he hates the most about writing. 'I don’t know if I look forward to that discovery. I do find it surprising how many people will say how they won’t read your book because it’s not the genre they read. And some of these are people you know, or know well. It’s just a weird world.'

Kurt's latest book Superguy is suitable for any audience, though he does advise there are a few adult words. Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

'Superheroes are common in Oliver’s world. He doesn’t pay them much attention since he’s just trying to survive his city government internship and the latest useless—but time-sensitive—project that’s been dropped on him. Then he mistakenly takes the super serum the Milwaukee mayor wrote into the budget to help his slumping re-election campaign. Now Oliver is dealing with an annoyed police chief, a surging crime wave, paparazzi, a super villain, a bit of romance, and the creepy ladies of the Milwaukee Flower and Garden Society. You expect the super villains to be trouble, but you never expect the bigger problem to be getting your city-issued car replaced after you’ve reduced it to a burning hunk of metal your first day on the job. If Oliver can survive the endless on-the-job training sessions, the awkwardness of the extremely generic but very tight suit, and getting thrown through the occasional wall or two, he might just have time to stop the bad guy from enslaving the world. No biggie.'

You can purchase it at Barnes & noble or on Amazon, and if you'd like to get in touch with Kurt, you can do so at : Facebook @kurtclopton or through his website www.kurtclopton.com where there is a blog and a contact form for your convenience. An audio version of SuperGuy is coming out on 14/02/2019 as a podcast. It's done with a full cast of characters by Faux Fiction Audio and will have a new chapter each week. If you are interested, it can be found on iTunes and other podcast hosts.

*Image courtesy of Kurt Clopton