Interview with Kagan Tumer, Author of Purged Souls
13 Oct 2020
What can you tell us about your new release, Purged Souls?
Purged Souls is set twenty years after a devastating pandemic swept through the world. (Yes, I know, odd timing, but I started writing this book seven years ago!) This said, Purged Souls is not about the pandemic. It’s about three people with different worldviews trying to make sense of the world.
Lori is a tough military leader who pushed everyone away. Her only goal is to make those around her “safe” but her methods are questionable. Mika is her only remaining friend, but he lives across the border. He is the only person who can make Lori see things she doesn’t want to see. But the events in this story push Lori too far. They exchange some harsh words, and part on bad terms. Amy is the positive force that keeps things together. She is thrust into leadership through the events in the story. Though Lori is the protagonist, Amy is the emotional center of the story, and her path to leadership is a counterpoint to Lori’s.
In the end the book is about the give and take between Lori’s certainty, Mika’s apathy, and Amy’s pragmatism. I’m still surprised when people ask me why I wrote about a pandemic because as far as I’m concerned, I wrote a book about friendship and redemption.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I’d say reading. I loved getting lost in a new world and “meeting” new people. We moved a lot when I was growing up, so it was easier for me to live in my books’ fictitious worlds than go out to meet new faces every year.
Then I started to modify the endings of the books I read, creating alternate stories. After that I moved to changing the characters, creating the ones I wanted to read and meet. Soon enough, I was drafting my own stories. It took a while to put it all together though!
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
I just typed nine books, so I’ll trim it down to five and keep the more recent ones. If you ask me in six months, I’d probably pick another subset! So, in no particular order:
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.
The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith. (This is the only non SFF on the list.)
Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
Turning simple, conceptual characters into believable three-dimensional “people.” I love the moment when the character becomes real, when I can expect them to surprise me. Obviously, I’m writing them, but there’s always a point where what I thought or planned doesn’t work or is too superficial and the character’s path changes based on small irrelevant seeming backstory that never made it to the book.
That surprise (because you’d forgotten you’d put those bits there) is what I love about writing.
What’s a typical writing session like for you?
I have two distinct writing session types. On most days, I aim to squeeze an hour (two if I’m lucky). Two days a weeks I aim to put in a long stretch, anywhere from four to six hours. One of those is usually a Saturday and the other is an evening/night late in the week.
The way I start a writing session is by reading the scene that comes right before what I’m about to write. Sometimes that’s what I wrote the day before and sometimes it’s what I wrote weeks ago because I jump around in the story. Then I take 5-10 minutes to write the key points in the scene I’m about to write. Any specific words in the dialogue? Anything in the action? Where will the characters end emotionally? I use a pen and a notebook and just let it flow. If anything doesn’t feel right, it’s easy to scratch and revise. This way, when I start to write, I have an idea of the scene’s structure and what I’m trying to achieve. Do I stick to it? Mostly, but when dialogue or action leads me in a different direction, I usually follow.
The way I balance all this is by playing games with myself. For the short days, I give myself a 500-word target. As long as I do that 6 days a week, I’m fine. But if I miss that target any day, my weekly target is 5000 words. And if I miss that target any week, my monthly target is 25,000 words. Those escalations keep me honest. Most weeks, I miss my daily goal at least one day, but I usually hit my weekly goal.
What scene from Purged Souls was your favorite to write?
Can I pick three?
Discovering another side to Lori when she shares a quiet evening with Mika (Chapter 3: Appointment) was one of my favorites to write. We find out so much about her and what makes her tick, that I hope the reader gives her a bit of leeway after that.
Another one of my favorites to write was the scene where Lori and Amy spend an evening in the hospital waiting room (Chapter 31: Truth). There’s some mistrust there initially, but also some respect and as they find a few things in common they grow more comfortable (the wine helps). I wrote this scene very early in the process and then I had to bring the characters to a place they could pull this scene off.
Finally, I’d say the last chapter (Chapter 38: Phoenix). There, we have the casual bond we’ve hinted at early on with Amy and Mika, but they’d never found the time and peace to get there. There was also the big “Lori” roadblock between them as Mika kept his childhood sealed away. With all that out now, they can be open with each other. Finally being able to showcase their affection was satisfying.
Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?
Not really, but if I were to pick one thing I’d say we should be anchored to the present. Yeah, I know, this sounds like a cliché but what I mean is we can’t live in past (good or bad) and we can’t live in the future (fearing or hoping). Sure, I’m all for having dreams, but unless they’re rooted in what you can do today, they don’t mean much.
This is one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of taking pictures. I don’t want to keep going over the past and I don’t want to do anything that’ll make me come back to this moment. Anyway, one of my characters (Amy) espouses this philosophy. She gets frustrated both with folks who keep comparing their world to how things used to be and with folks who keep talking about how things ought to be in the future.
Her point is “what we do now matters.” I guess I can adopt that as a motto.
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