A.R. Kavli is an author, gamer, historical fencing student, and second-generation U.S. Navy veteran. His earliest published works were writing sci-fi and fantasy for gaming companies. He currently lives in middle Tennessee with his wife and four children.
Interview with A. R. Kavli
Can you tell us about what you're currently working on?
I’m releasing a new book in a couple of months, With Our Dying Breath. If it had actually sold a few copies the first time around, I guess I would call it a re-release. I published it initially in 2016, but in 2018 I decided to take my author career more seriously and try to do things right. I hired an editor and basically rewrote the whole thing. The beta read finished at the end of February and I’ll do the final revision and release soon.
I’ve also started getting into audio voice over narration and production. I’ve recorded some of my short stories with the idea being to practice and eventually produce my own audiobooks. There are some good online courses out there and I’m still learning, but I’m enjoying the process. I started just as a way to do some content marketing, but I’m really enjoying it! Or maybe I just like to hear myself speak. I’ll eventually be offering the short stories and audio shorts as content for a Patreon page, which is almost ready to launch.
And I’m working on the marketing things. I’m learning about email lists, updating my author webpage, and I still need to get a more professional author photo made. Just in case an interviewer needs one for her blog or something.
Ah. All the "fun" parts of being a writer. Welcome to the business, friend.
Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?
I now write as A.R. Kavli, which isn’t exactly a pen name I suppose, but I did have to update my titles and Amazon page to reflect the change. In the course of learning the marketing side of things, including search engine optimization, I realized how many people misspell “Aaron.” Even people who’ve known me a long time write Arron or Erin. That comedy skit with the teacher shouting “Ay-Ay-Ron” hasn’t helped as much as I’d hoped it would. Using initials has other benefits too when facing possible reader biases.
There are a couple of schools of thought about pen names and writing across genres. I’d like to write some historical fiction in connection to my study of Renaissance fencing and some would advise to use a pen name. If I decide to go that route, I do have a pretty cool name picked out, but I’m keeping it secret for now.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
Not really. I don’t avoid writing despicable characters, but I try to write most characters—even those that do despicable things—as also being relatable on some level. That doesn’t mean they get a pass though. A well-written character can touch the monster inside all of us and we can even relate to that sometimes.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I like believable, well-written characters. And to me, any genre can have them. Even the pulpy, action-adventure stories can afford to have good characters. Generally speaking, if the characters aren’t interesting, I’m not interested in reading it. This doesn’t mean info dumps of back-story, though. The novels I’ve been listening too lately have done pretty well in that regard, I’m happy to say.
On the flip-side of that, I dislike Superman / Mary Sue in all of his/her forms. Everyone likes an element of wish fulfillment in their stories, but characters that are basically walking deus ex-machina aren’t interesting to me and ruin a story. It’s an easy temptation to give in to though. Heroes are supposed to be bad-ass, cunning, and usually dead-sexy. Traditionally they stand out. Characters should of course be capable and have agency in the story, but in a world full of Bob’s and Lisa’s and the character is Ravenwing Silvermoon, or Silverwing Ravenmoon, with purple/yellow/silver eyes and commands limitless eldritch powers… well, as a reader, no thanks.
Admittedly, that’s just my preferred reading. I tend towards the more realistic side of fiction so characters like that tend to ruin my experience. Like any sauce, too much ruins the meal. That’s not a dig at anyone, just my preferences.
I also hate elves, which is probably related to my previous comments. I’m constantly in trouble with the Association of Elder Races and Fae People for my comments against them.
What is your biggest pet peeve in storytelling?
Villains who are evil for the sake of being evil. While I believe there are evil people in the world, interesting villains are those we can relate to. They should have an intelligent, internally consistent reasons to work cross-purposes to the heroes.
Touching back on the question concerning despicable characters, villains don’t need to be bad guys per se. Characters who are jerks just to be jerks aren’t that interesting in fiction or real life. But the mom who’s willing to cross a line to make sure her child gets the scholarship over someone else’s child, that’s interesting. Or the rival scientist trying to earn the grant for his team. Why is the orc general rampaging? Because his people are starving or his shaman told him about a holy vision that touches his core world-view. Something more interesting than, “Well, that’s what orcs do.”
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
My earliest artistic inclinations were towards drawing, but it was usually telling a story as most kid art does. I started playing D&D and loved the story aspect of it and eventually was only happy being the game master because I enjoyed telling the story and coming up with NPCs. I’ve always had a passion for the story, but I didn’t seriously pursue it until my early 30’s. So I would say on that scale, I was born to write.
Alas for all that time wasted! But I’m not sure I was really ready at that point to take being an author seriously. I didn’t have the drive or maturity back then and I viewed being a writer as being a starving artist. Things are very different for writers these days and the possibilities have reinvigorated me.
Where did the idea of your story come from?
With Our Dying Breath started kicking around in my head about 20 years ago as a Buck Rogers sort of pulp adventure with plasma pistols and high-adventure! I then imagined the story would work better if I explored its darker themes more seriously. My beta readers pointed out some aspects of that pulp leftovers, so there are few things to modify along those lines.
What did you edit out of your book?
Initially, I edited out the cussing because my young son made a comment about not being able to read the book. Having military aspects, I wrote it with the language I was familiar with in my time in the Navy. After my son’s comment, I tried inventing more benign curses. They never sounded right and my editor agreed, but my son sounded genuinely disappointed so I went with it.
Afterwards he heard me talking about the ending and said that’s a stupid ending and he refused to read it ever. So the salty talk went back in and it really read better with it. My mistake was not realizing my young son wasn’t my target audience. It was a frustrating but illustrative object lesson.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Get a job, hippie! Just kidding, sort of. Not every author can live on their writing earnings alone. Even well-known and successful authors today hold regular jobs. The good thing about writing as a sideline is that it is absolutely possible to find time to write during the week if you’re dedicated. And you probably already have the tools needed. What it takes is some good olde-tyme self-discipline and willingness to do the work. And part of that work is learning the craft. Read good books on writing. Take classes, on-line or live. Start off knowing that you’ll suck but that you’ll get better if you keep learning and practicing and producing. In general, writers tend to get overwhelmed by their “feelz” and it can be very discouraging. Go cry and cuss, blow your nose, realize every writer goes through the same, and get back at it.
That may sound discouraging, but that’s not the goal. We all have certain expectations when we start any project. And unrealistic expectations, usually born of ignorance, can be spirit-crushers. They make us think we aren’t cut out for it, that we’re hopeless. In reality it’s like any other skill set. You have to learn it and you have to put in that time and effort, just like 99.9% of all successful authors out there. You’re not alone in that.
I was sidelined for almost a decade because I had those rock-star expectations. The first novel I submitted to a publisher was accepted and I was riding high. And I’m still proud of that. But there was no crowd of fans and no giant check. It was a beginning and I was thinking of it as a meal-ticket. It was a small publishing house and my marketing packet was a one-page PDF with a few outdated ideas on it. I was going to have to do the work of selling my book and I had no idea what that even looked like. So I just checked “author” off my bucket list, I put my golden handcuffs back on, and writing went back to being just a hobby.
Of course, I’m no great success yet, so just keep that in mind when reading any of my advise.
If you could have one (real life) skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be? Why? How would you use it?
Piloting. I was given an intro flight lesson when I was a teenager and that was one of the coolest things ever. When I joined the Navy, I had dreams of being a pilot. Fixing the avionics was close, but technicians don’t get their own cool theme music in real life.
It’d be nice to be able to fly around and visit family, maybe start a business, and be the guy who safely lands the airliner when the pilot and copilot have the fish instead of the steak.
If you could have one magical ability/superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
I'd love to be able to heal people, especially children. I'm not generally an emotional person, but as father of four, I hate see children with incurable diseases. Every time a crying parent comes on talking about their child’s condition, my heart goes out to them and I’m grateful it isn’t me.
I would travel about and cure who I could. Of course, I still couldn't help everyone. I've actually thought about this enough that I have a story sketch of what it would really be like for such a person and what desperate people might do for their kids to get at the front of the line. I think it's probably best to not have that power, in reality.
Being able to fly through space and explore the galaxy would be cool too.
What is your Hogwarts House and why?
I'm a muggle through-and-through and my muggle wand is a 9mm. As a rule, I don’t trust wizards and even the good wizards seem shady to me. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, but my daughter has read all the tomes and I know it has deepened her love of books, and for that I’ll always be grateful for the series. She doesn’t like being told she’s a muggle.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Aliens. Dragons are as shady as wizards and zombies are single-minded and sometimes downright rude. The aliens that don’t eat, enslave, or disintegrate us might be very helpful. And, aliens can be sexy.
Each critter fulfills its role in our stories though. As I see it, the zombie is the personification of fear of disaster, death, and those things out of our control. Not to mention allowing a guilt-free opportunity to blow people away. Dragons, depending on the lore of course, are guardians of wisdom and powerful, mystical sages, whether good or evil. Aliens offer a hope of the future, of what humanity can become if we get it right. And they let us know we’re not alone, though we might prefer to ignored if they’re the “destroy the Earthlings” sort.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!