Interview With Mike Karpa
Hi Mike, Thanks for taking time out from your writing to chat with us today.
Q: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you run into doing so?
Mike Karpa: Sometimes I do, and it absolutely presents problems. First, I get anxious about how people will respond to a portrayal of themselves. I wrote one enormous book, which I hope to self-publish next year, that’s set in India in the 1960s and draws heavily on both my parents for the details of two particular characters. It’s a labor of love, but those characters do behave in ways that my parents would never, and would not approve of. And did not approve of. When my mother read the book, she blazed through all 650 pages (or something ridiculous), so she was definitely engaged. But she never actually said that she liked it. When I got up the nerve to ask her about the part that I worried about most – the character most like my dad has an affair – she had a grand mal seizure. (She had a seizure disorder.) So let’s just say that it was literally triggering. (My father died before I completed the book.) On the other hand, these characters also got to live out dreams that my parents had in real life, so that had to have been fun. These days, I prefer to make up absolutely everything (hence the appeal of science fiction). I still write about real people, but now I do it in the form of memoir. Foglifter magazine is currently running a memoir piece I did in their features section, if you’re interested.
Q: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so discuss them.
Mike: Red Dot consists almost exclusively of LGBTQ characters, including the first nonbinary character I’ve ever written. As a reader, I find LGBTQ folks definitely underrepresented. It’s easy to get used to the idea that “people like me don’t belong in fiction,” but it’s so wrong. Maybe that’s why my cast of characters is diverse in gender, appearance and ethnicity. The love interest/rival (spoiler: that’s two people) are fair skinned and redheaded, and the ex is a dark-skinned South Asian guy. They’re well described, because it matters for this particular world, but the others are less described. If you pay close attention, you can figure out one is of predominantly Japanese background. Another is probably African-American (but you don’t really know, which is again a plot point). But I left the main character murky as far as appearance and background. I wanted all sorts of gay male readers to be able to plug themselves into his slot and enjoy the story that way. And as I often do, I tucked a little Spanish-speaking behavior into the main character, because I’m part Mexican myself (although it doesn’t mean he is). So perhaps the underrepresented group I really want to spotlight is people of mixed backgrounds.
Q: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Mike: I did not know from an early age that I wanted to write. I wrote a story in seventh grade for a class, but I wasn’t plucked from obscurity with fabulous praise for the wonderfulness of my work. Then I basically didn’t write for years. Although, hang on, I did write the better part of a novel for my brother, who is eight years younger than me. (It was nothing earthshaking.)
In my late 20s, I finally started to come out. Part of that was taking a writing class. I wrote every week, but, again, nobody thought I was particularly good at it. The second semester I took the class, I loosened up a lot and then was able to entertain people a little. I let my personality out a bit. I didn’t really acknowledge, though, that writing was important to me until decades later when I realized that year in, year out, I kept writing. Looking back from this vantage point, I see that I’ve had some notable successes, like getting into competitive magazines and conferences and getting a starred Kirkus review for my debut novel (consider me blown away). So despite all the misfires and the mountains of writing that really was NOT very good at all, I must be, to some degree, good at it. Maybe now, right now, is when I discover that I’m good at writing.
Q: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
Mike: My first published work was “Epistemologically Speaking,” a short story that appeared in the DeAnza College literary magazine (then called Bottomfish). In it, a taxi driver gives a ride to a woman who says she is a character from a Raymond Chandler novel. (Was it The Big Sleep?) The story revolves around whether she’s real or not. And was there perhaps something about free will in there too? I think perhaps she was going to a party at a big house in the hills where, in The Big Sleep, she meets an unhappy end. So the taxi driver tries to convince her she doesn’t have to go. It was lucky enough to win first prize in their contest that year. That was an amazing feeling. I haven’t scored so much as an honorable mention since, but hey, whose counting.
Q: What’s the weirdest thing you ever done in the name of research?
Mike: I started writing about anal sex before I’d had it. I had a draft of a story written, and I thought it was a pretty good one, but it featured anal sex, specifically receptive anal sex. So if I was to be responsible writer, of course, I had to do my research. So off I went. It actually took me a while to find a research assistant (lab partner?), but I did, and found out everything I needed to know. In due course, the story was published (“The Tactical Uses of Melodrama,” which appeared in Faultline, UC Irvine’s literary magazine). So that worked out. In the end.
Mike, Thanks for chatting with us today.