20 September, 2017

#Interview with Stephen Puiia, #Author of Lucky Duck Cola

About the Author:

Steve was born and raised in Prince Edward Island, Canada. He makes his living as a Yoga instructor and trainer and is presently based in Shanghai, China.

An Interview:

What inspires you to write?
I’m inspired to write by my insecurity. I have a low self esteem and need to be validated all the time. I look at writing like making a friend. Usually, when you’re making friends with someone you tell them a secret, then they tell you a secret, then you trust one another and become friends. When I tell someone a humiliating story and they  are ok with it then I feel reassured. 
Writing is similar but on a larger scale. I do it to give people the opportunity to reject me. I’ve been lucky and often when I’ve been weird or tried to alienate myself people have accepted me. This has shown me that it’s ok for me to accept myself and has given me many good feelings throughout my life.

Tell us about your writing process.
I’d graduated from University and was working as a high performance athletic trainer and a yoga instructor in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I’d always loved watching movies and making comedy/horror videos. Since entering school I’d wanted to write a novel and my profession allowed me the freedom to work on it. 
It took a few years of working on Lucky Duck Cola for me to realize how lonely writing it would be. It was a sad time. I started writing because I wanted to share myself with others but even when people read your work you can’t be there to watch them read it. Throughout the writing process I was starved for the emotional kick that you get while acting. I’d get someone to read the story, they’d have a really ambiguous reaction, and I’d become fixated on the cause. Did they think it sucked? Or was it because they were so removed from reading that they couldn’t recollect their feelings. Or were they withholding their feelings from me intentionally in order to hurt me?
After three years of working on Lucky Duck I became very suspicious no one was actually reading the story so I began paying people to read it. One of them told me that the story made no sense at all and that it made me look insane. I burst into tears. Afterward I became really obsessed with form. A hundred thousand word story was widdled down to thirty thousand. 
I thought things were finally on a good path and gave the story to a friend, (let’s call him…Ben Allain). He’d read it years earlier and I wanted to see how his perspective had changed. He said he’d liked it better before. Then proceeded to give me really true and harsh feedback which demolished my ego. He also insinuated that I was beneath writing a book. It’s very likely that that last part is a projection of mine. Either way I agreed agreed with him. I started over from scratch. 
Up to this point I’d been working on the story for about 8 years and was about to do a full reconstruction. My sense of failure was so overpowering I saw it reflected in all areas of my life. I found that the bad feelings I was having about the story were causing me to be a worse person in real life. The guilt of being a bad person compounded the shame. At this time I was dependant on many people, things and states of mind. I was haunted by suicidal thoughts. 
I ended a relationship I was in and moved to Taiwan. It was honestly a retreat on my part.  In Taiwan I worked a job I hadn’t done before, my coworkers didn’t respect me, and I hadn’t made enough money to relocate. I slept on the floor in a tiny windowless room that had a black mold infestation. I got mold poisoning. It was a truly low time for me. My neighbour (Luke Dailey) also got mold poisoning and, as fate would have it, was a novelist. He was at a similar stage in life and the writing process. 
The unbearable living situation provided me with the impetus to finish the story with or without a publisher just to move forward with my life. Luke’s objective but empathic perspective helped me to strike a balance between indulging wild ideas and using structured writing to make the story more reader friendly.
In the end I moved to China and shortly thereafter was fortunate enough to be published by Solstice Publishing.  This brings us to today. I feel relieved and like I can let my guard down a little bit but not the good feelings I’d anticipated. I often catch myself trying to contrive an emotionally cathartic moment but I haven’t managed to have one yet. Oh well, I’m sure it will happen when I stop wanting it to so bad.

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
I would have to say it’s either the scene of Proctor’s death or the frying pan genocide scene. I love these scenes mainly because I get excited by the supernatural gore. There are other scenes that maybe mean more to me or that get me more emotional. But the supernatural slime and blood and guts are and have always been the consistency of the story and what I got the biggest kick out of creating.

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
Although many characteristics were taken from people I’ve known, like my father or ex girlfriends, all of the characters trace back to various aspects of me. It was difficult in the early drafts to make distinct characters. They all sounded a little bit like me, the narrator, when they talked. In the end I had to go through the whole story and write down which words different characters tended to use. I’d give each character their own lexicon or at least a few phrases or words that they use and no one else does. My goal was to have it so that in the end I could read an isolated quote and tell who was speaking without any extra information. I don’t think I achieved this in all instances but had some good success. 

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
My friend and editor Luke once told me “This is a nice sentence but you haven’t earned it.” Objectively I don’t think it’s the best writing advice I’ve ever heard but as far as my writing is concerned it’s the most appropriate advice I could have received. I was very insecure at the time and I kept trying to fill the story with all the best sentences I had. I thought if I stacked up all the best sentences I could that eventually they’d add up to something meaningful.  This turned out not to be true. It made me invulnerable to the reader and made it hard for people to feel connected to the narrator. The whole story had to break around these groupings of words I liked and I was reworking plot lines and dialogue to preserve a certain sound or word combination. Needless to say this really hurt the plot.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
It’s important that the reader is able to see something of themselves in you. Write about things that mean something to you in a way you feel people will be able to identify with. Don’t focus too much on looking cool and being right. For a long time I thought about these things too much and it robbed me of the therapeutic benefits of writing. I didn’t see at the time the intimacy between the author and reader. If you can truly let them into your feelings it will deepen the experience for you as 

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
- I’ve had many different jobs. Within the last three years I’ve worked as: a Yoga instructor, an athletic trainer, a Thai massage therapist, a juice bar attendant, a life coach, a bouncer, a writer, ESL teacher and a delivery driver. Often while writing Lucky Duck Cola I’d be doing three or four of these at a time. My favourite of these jobs was the delivery driving job.
- I once rowed a boat on television with Prince William and Princess Kate. I don’t have strong feelings about the royals one way or another but he gave me one of the best handshakes I’ve ever received. You could tell it’s his job to shake hands and that his hands are built to be shook. His hands were soft, clean and elegant but strong—good eye contact, good smile. I was left wanting to like him.
- There is a picture taken of Princess Kate. In it you can see the back of my head. It looks like her and I are sharing a joke or a laugh. But as I remember the moment we weren’t looking at one another and her eyes didn’t settle on me at any point.

About the Book:
Vonnegut meets Philip K. Dick in this dark and surreal, dystopian satire. 
Humania is in danger. Cola mogul, Joe Tornado and General Lenis Meanest are in control and want to kick someone’s butt. Their target is the most disempowered, ugly and stinky group in Hover City—the Humaniacs. One Humaniac, Pooya, stands a chance to stop them. Locked away in the top floor of Tornado Tower he continually balks at action. His self-esteem is weak and he is crushed beneath the weight of his mission. When faced with his own failure Pooya spirals into an abyss of compulsive masturbation, self-pity and binge eating. Can he stop abusing himself in time to save the lives billions? Lucky Duck Cola is the story of falling into and out of love set across a backdrop of monsters, gore, sex, political corruption, death, betrayal, blood, genocide and slime.

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