Interviews & Reviews

Author Interview: Ken Stark 2.0

I’ve been harassing Ken Stark ever since I learned of Stage 3: Alpha, and it paid off. Ken is back to tell us all about Stage 3: Alpha, what’s in store for the series, and his other project, Arcadia Falls. I hope you enjoy Ken’s interview as much as I have.


Welcome back, Ken! I appreciate you taking the time to answer some questions for all of us fans, especially with the release of Alpha keeping you busy.

My pleasure, Donna! For the record, you were the first person to interview me after Stage 3, so I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather sit down with after the release of Stage 3: Alpha. My only hope is that you don’t get so rich and famous with your own books that you won’t want to keep the tradition going!

I’m hoping we both become rich and famous and do kooky interviews with each other just to make people wonder about our eccentric lives.

Haha…sounds good to me!

You know how excited I’ve been waiting for Stage 3: Alpha. I can just imagine how excited the rest of your fans are. What can you tell us about Alpha?

All I’ve said so far is that the story is told from a different point of view, but now that it’s out, I can finally say it out loud. Aunt Sarah is alive! And not only is she alive, she is the driving force behind Stage 3: Alpha. The story starts just after the collapse of the hospital, and we follow Sarah as she tries desperately to reunite with her niece, Mackenzie. She knows that she has to survive if she is to have any hope of saving Mack, but she learns pretty quickly that she will have to harden her heart to do so. It is pretty much the opposite trajectory that Mason took in Stage 3, so it should make for an interesting contrast.

I love the direction you took with Stage 3: Alpha. I worried it would be the easy answer, having Mason come and save the day, and I should have known better. The way you start Stage 3 and the way you handle the zombie outbreak is different than the tired storylines we see all too often. I was glad you gave Sarah the space to show why she’s a survivor.

Well, thank you. I figured most people would expect book 2 to be the Continuing Adventures of Mack and Mace, so I wanted to make it clear right from the start that this was Sarah’s story. We saw Mason’s learning curve in understanding this new reality, so it was only right to show Sarah’s as well, and whereas Mason’s education began with a bright spark of hope, Sarah’s is initiated by a personal loss. So though they may have ended up in pretty much the same place, Sarah’s path there was considerably more tragic, giving her an entirely different set of motivations.

I don’t know if I’ve told you this, Ken, but my first horror movie was Night of the Living Dead. I’ve loved zombies ever since. So as I read Stage 3: Alpha one question loomed above all others. How many books are planned for the series? And can your fans convince you to never stop writing them?

I planned the series as a trilogy, but I’m having too much fun to stop at three, so no convincing needed! I’ll keep them coming as long as there’s even one person who enjoys them, myself included. I’m also trying very hard to write each of them as its own story, so hopefully, a reader will be able to come in at book 3 or book 5 and have no less an entertaining story than if they were there from the beginning.

*happy dance* Stage 3: Alpha feels like it could stand alone so I’d say you nailed it, sir. I hope it continues to work for the books to come.

I hope so, too! I love the idea that someone might pick up one of my books and enjoy it, then find out later that there were two or three books preceding that one. It would mean that they enjoyed the characters and the story without knowing all of the background minutiae, so I will have done my job right.

We start the story with Sarah, whom we had heard only mentioned in Stage 3. (By the way, I love Sarah, and she’s a character I wish I could meet.) What can you tell us about Sarah? Where did the inspiration for Sarah come from?

Oh, Sarah…. I love Sarah, too. I desperately wanted to introduce her in Stage 3, but to do so would have required her to be rescued by the big strong hero, and that simply wouldn’t do. Sarah is no damsel in distress. She is as tough and resourceful and as utterly badass as Mason himself, so to truly do Sarah justice, she needed a book of her own.

The character isn’t based on anyone in particular, but she shares some of the best and worst traits with every woman I’ve ever known. She is proud and strong and resilient, and she is most definitely loving and caring, but just like everyone else on Earth, there are times when she is driven by pure, raw emotion. In those moments, we get to see Sarah at her very best and her very worst, so they provide a pretty good insight into what really makes her tick.

One of the things I love about your characters is how real they feel. Sarah doesn’t feel like a sudden superhero, which again, we see all too often. She feels like a character adapting to her surroundings, using what she’s always got by on…brains.

Well, I think the greatest asset anyone can have in any kind of dire situation is plain old common sense. You don’t have to be Einstein, you just have to observe, realize the dangers, and act accordingly. Sarah is smart, sure, but it was common sense that told her how to use what she knows to her best advantage.

I assume once people finish reading this interview they’ll be running off to buy your book. It’s the only logical choice. So where can Stage 3 and Stage 3: Alpha be purchased? Will it be available in ebook and paperback?

Both are on Amazon, and by the time this interview comes out, both should be available as ebooks and paperbacks. If Alpha isn’t in paperback yet, just give it a day or two. As well, Beacon Publishing recently released an audiobook version of Stage 3, which you can find either on Amazon or iTunes. (Inside tip: it’s a LOT cheaper on Amazon. You can combine it with the ebook or add it on later, and it’s still cheaper than iTunes. But you didn’t hear it from me…..Shhh…..)

Already bought my ebook. =) Don’t worry, people. The review is coming.

And I appreciate it! As they say, writers live or die by review, so thank you very much. But since I mentioned the audiobook, let me just give a shout-out to Gregory Peyton and all the fine folks at Beacon Publishing. I had no hand in any of it, but I honestly couldn’t imagine a better actor than Gregory Peyton to bring Hank Mason to life. He was so much like the Mason I heard in my head that I couldn’t quite believe it. He even swore like the voice in my head, so that’s pretty awesome!

When I finally release a novel, I’ll probably happy dance until I collapse. How will you be celebrating the release of Stage 3: Alpha?

Oh, the usual; a heady blend of excitement, pride, satisfaction, and a special kind of gut-wrenching dread. Honestly, I can’t celebrate a book’s release. Even though I know that I’ve done the best I can, once the book is out of my hands and committed, I immediately start to second-guess every aspect of it. Maybe I should have done this, maybe I should have done that…. Eventually, I just have to accept that it is what it is, and readers will either like it or not. But none of that translates into celebration. I guess what I really do to celebrate a book’s release is to jump right into the next thing, hoping to do a better job on the next one than the last.

Man, now I’m thinking I’ll happy dance until I realize the implications… What is this feeling in my guts?

I’m afraid you’d better get used to that feeling. That is the future you feel, unknown and unknowable.

If I promise not to harass you too much, will you tell me if the third Stage 3 novel is in development?

#3 is underway as we speak. I have no idea when it will be done, but it will be done! All I’m willing to say about it right now is that everyone left alive at the end of Alpha will be there, plus we’ll meet a few new friends, a few new enemies, and some that might just straddle the line.

*fist bump* I’m already looking forward to it. You’ve introduced some intriguing characters in Alpha. I can’t wait to see where you take them. There are so many possibilities for this “new” world.

Oh, there are endless possibilities. I’m already several books ahead, plotting all manner of mayhem. Will some old villains re-emerge? Does the virus have anything else up its proverbial sleeve? And just what caused the outbreak in the first place? Only time will tell.

The last time you stopped by and subjected yourself to my questioning, you mentioned another project in the works. What can you tell us about the Arcadia Falls project you’ve been working on?

I’m starting to feel like George R R Martin when I discuss Arcadia Falls. It’s coming, I swear! The book is actually done, but finding time for one final edit has been tough with everything else that’s been going on. In a nutshell, the book is about an unlikely group of friends coming together to battle a long-forgotten evil that’s been plaguing the town of Arcadia Falls. It was written with YA readers in mind, so I’d rate it as PG-13, but there should be plenty of nightmares to go around. No zombies this time, though. In fact, I can truthfully say that the evil in question is something no one’s ever seen before.

I’m excited to read Arcadia Falls. We need new monsters. I love the old ones (zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc.), but there’s nothing like a new monster to keep you peeking under beds and behind doors.

I couldn’t agree more. We can certainly breathe new life into old monsters, but there’s nothing like a brand new horror to really shake things up.

Not that you’re not already busy enough, but any other projects we should keep a lookout for?

After Arcadia Falls, I’ll pour myself back into the world of Stage 3 and see what kind of havoc I can wreak. But don’t be surprised if the odd short story pops up from time to time, either on my website or elsewhere.

Any chance for a short story compilation book?

Maybe one day, but I think I’ll just post them on my website for now. Or maybe throw the occasional one on Amazon and ask for a few pennies for charity.

Two books out, one crazy lady who stalks you for interviews *points to self*, do you feel like a famous author now? Do you feel like a success? Please use details so I can live vicariously through you until my time comes.

Lol! Tell you what, if I ever start to feel like a success, you’ll be the first to know! But maybe that’s the whole point, after all. If we think we’ve arrived at our destination, we stop moving, so maybe it’s better we keep our eyes on the horizon and keep plodding along,
one step at a time.

I like that a lot. Always looking upward and onward. I have trouble feeling like a “real” writer. At what point did you feel like, “I’m a real writer”?

I think it’s an incremental thing. The day my first book was accepted by a publisher, the day the book came out, the first review…. I’m not even sure if I feel like a ‘real’ writer yet, but at least I can start to imagine that I might one day.

With a second book under your belt, what advice do you have for writers trying to get words down on a page? Any advice for those trying to get a novel published?

Two excellent questions with very different answers.

Firstly, for anyone struggling to get words on a page, my advice is simple. Stop struggling. Put down whatever’s in your head and worry about making sense of it later. Most of the struggle comes from trying to write like someone or as good as someone, but you have to know that every voice is unique and every view of the world is unique and every writer’s imagination is unique, so why the hell are you setting limits on your own creativity? Maybe what you come up with will be an instant best seller, but even if it never sees the light of day, the work still wasn’t done in vain. You are now a better writer than you were yesterday, and you will be a better writer tomorrow than you are today. So just write! Put one word in front of the other and write!

But now, getting your book published is another thing altogether. If you’re looking to be published traditionally, there are certain protocols that you ignore only at your own peril. Yes, you might stand apart from the crowd by sending in a query letter on a cocktail napkin, but your chances will be much, much better if you follow the rules. A quick online search will show you dozens of publishers looking for unsolicited manuscripts, and each publisher’s website will tell you what they’re looking for and precisely how to submit your work. Any deviation might cause your hard work to be deleted with the stroke of a key, so follow those rules to the letter. The only other advice I can give is to have your book finished and polished before submitting anything, and spend more time than you ever imagined it would take on coming up with an awesome blurb. That blurb is meant to catch readers’ attention, but it might just be what catches the publisher’s attention too, so take your time with it. Seriously. If you have it in a week, take another five to make it better.

As a writer who struggles to put words on the page, I can attest you just have to do it. It’s much easier to fix the words you write than to continue staring at a blank page. I have to admit the publishing advice is solely for my own selfish needs.

I don’t believe you for a second, but sure….

This next question might make you grumble a little bit, but I’m going to ask it anyway. If Ken Stark were a character what three positive traits would he possess? What three negative traits?

A little bit? Sure, okay, a little bit…. But alright, my friend, and only because it’s you. The three positive traits would have to be honesty, integrity and a logical approach to all things. On the negative side, that entirely fictional character would probably be somewhat impatient, a bit of a know-it-all, and might possibly be prone to wanting to go it alone rather than put his life in the hands of others.

Good answer! A character I would read. I need to think of another uncomfortable question for the next interview. Buwhaha!

Have at it, sister. If it’s too uncomfortable, I’ll just lie. Oops! I mean, I’ll ’embellish the character’.

As I learned from my last interview with you, you dig soaking up the summer sun. Any plans for this summer?

As long as we have our usual fantastic Vancouver summer weather, I’ll stay put. I’ll sun myself on a rock like a lizard by day and spend my nights at the keyboard. Actually though, I have so many things going on right now, even the sun might have to take a back seat. But pale and pasty is the new sexy, am I right? Donna, am I right? Donna? Uhh….hello?…….

…Uhm… You’re asking the wrong person. I have two shades…pale and lobster red. I don’t think either rate new or old sexy. Live it up, Ken. Write or edit outside in your favorite little nook.

Yah, you’re right. It was a long winter and I’m not quite thawed out yet.

Anyone following you on Instagram knows you love animals. What critters own you?

Hey, no joke, I gave a granola bar to a sickly-looking rat just yesterday, so I think it’s safe to say that every critter owns me. But I do have one particularly spoiled cat who runs my life. She wandered in as a stray and laid claim to the place, then she spent the next 17 years bending me to her will. She even took over my comfy office chair, but she keeps me company no matter how long I spend at the keyboard, so I think we both consider it a fair trade.

The cartoon-like imagery that produces… =D Animals have a way of squirming their way into our hearts.

Oh, absolutely. It might take years for me to feel close to a human, but anything with four legs is an immediate friend.

One last question… I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the Syfy network or some other network snags up the rights to Stage 3. When they do, who should play Mason, Mackenzie, and Sarah?

Okay, now we’re entering Fantasyland. Honestly, seeing those characters come alive would be a dream come true, but I’ll bet there are thousands of actors I’ve never heard of who could do them more justice than any mainstream celeb I might suggest. I sometimes have an image of an actor in my head to help with the writing, but in this case I didn’t, so I’m wide open. But tell you what….. turn it into a series or a movie and pay me a gazillion dollars, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be alright with anyone they pick. Pee-wee Herman and Lindsay Lohan? Sure, sounds great!
That’s right, I said it. I’m not proud, but I said it…..

Unknown actors would probably work better. After all, these are just average people trying to survive a world gone mad. I think it would make the characters more believable. I wouldn’t say we’re in Fantasyland just yet. Throw out a few more books and Stage 3 might just be the next Walking Dead or True Blood.

Your lips to Spielberg’s ear, sister. I won’t hold my breath, but it’s nice to dream.

Thank you again for agreeing to another interview, Ken. As always, you’ve been a pleasure to interview.

No, thank you, Donna! It’s always an honour and privilege for me when we get to sit down and talk, and hopefully, you’ll return the favour when you hit the best-seller list. Maybe we’ll even meet on the red carpet one day. I’ll introduce you to Pee-wee. You’ll love him……

Aww, shucks. I better get to writing then. I’ve always been a Pee-wee fan. I’d be happy to meet him. Maybe not go to the movies with him, but meet him sure.

To find out more about Ken Stark:

Author’s Website

Stage 3 on Amazon

Stage 3: Alpha on Amazon

Ken Stark on Facebook

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