Monday, December 05, 2016

A Conversation with 'Unawqi, Hunter of the Sun' Kali Kucera



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.

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About the Book:

Title: Unawqi, Hunter of the Sun
Author: Kali Kucera
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 218
Genre: Mythical Realism

In a time when supernatural and industrial worlds are staged to collide, an Andean boy finds himself in the center of an epic struggle between the cosmos and the earth. Unawqi is born with both insurmountable power and a fate of certain death, both of which are challenged by his hunt of the emperor, Aakti, the Sun: the very force that desires to abandon the earth unless Unawqi can overcome him.

Premise: How easily we take the Sun for granted. We are conditioned to its rising and setting on time, and assume it enjoys doing so, or more likely is indifferent. Unawqi, Hunter of the Sun reveals a more perilous tale: the Sun, Aakti, is a being who is a reluctant player in providing light and warmth to our world, and even more has always desired to leave us to die if he didn’t have certain personal complications standing in his way. Aakti will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if that involves murder of his own kin or annihilation of an entire living planet. Ironically, what holds him back is the very life he is creating; the family from which he tries to but cannot wrest control, and among them a young intrepid boy emerges, a hunter who sets out on a journey, not to stop the Sun, but to overcome him with a force we also take for granted: our humanity.

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Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

Unawqi had two beginnings, like trails in two separate forests that merged together in an open plain, and there where they merged was more or less the a-ha moment.

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 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. Out of that pen came the questions about why an old man would have sunflowers in his arms, like 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 that he took his own life because its beauty so clashed with the suffering he lived with from his birth, and from which he could not separate himself. If a diamond could feel, how long could it suffer the blemish of a coal mine around it?  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 living 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.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Yes, parts of it just came out like an Amazonian waterfall, they just gushed; while others dripped out over several weeks.  But that’s okay; you just have to let the words come when they want to. I knew the plot from the beginning, I had the major themes or philosophical points jotted down.  It’s the sub-plots that had me staring at the clouds the longest; they are what tie things together and raise the eyebrow. Those are what you really have to wrestle with for the longest time, and to be honest, sometimes you have to scrap them and wait for another day.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I learned along the way of pursuing publishers how far they have gone into the gutter, in my opinion, and it’s basically impossible to get considered by anyone serious. In direct contrast, the self-publishing option has increased the quality and respectability of its own game over the past five years, so that’s the trail I followed.


Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

No, I knew it would be a huge effort to get through, and you have to just take it one step at a time.  But like I said to the previous question, I guess I was a little taken aback by how hollowed out I feel the publishing industry has become, and I guess that’s to be expected in the context of how technology has so radically changed the ability for people to express themselves. A book used to be a steak that could last you a long while; now books are like potato chips, you just go through them by the bag, and that has both good and bad implications.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I have a couple going on, but the most important is Witch Pricker, which is historical fiction based on the life (and afterlife) of Matthew Hopkins, the 17th century Puritan who, with local public support, took the lives of over three-hundred women in the course of three years he condemned as witches. But that’s just the backstory. The larger tale is where is where my imagination begins in what became of Hopkins; how his rage continued to manifest itself over the centuries in the form of human beings and institutions that lust for control over others, and the psychological trauma he (and we) cause in the guise of making evil look benign.  That should be out in full in another year, but I release chapters on my blog along the way.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

The character Ernest Heatheridge; that was not his original name. It was Charles Darwin. Knowing that, you will quickly pick up on the strands of Darwin’s history that I weave into the book, but I changed his name because I fiercely did not want to fix this to any historical time frame – I purposely wanted to leave that a bit blurry.

Q: Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?

Life is too big to be given up on. There are forces around us we have to take the time to get our arms around, and we may find in doing that the family we embrace are monsters, and the monsters we embrace are family.