Tuesday May 21

KuntzLen Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online literary magazine Metazen. His work appears widely in print and online at such places as PANK, The Litertarian, Necessary Fiction and others. His story collection, The Dark Sunshine debuts from Connotation Press in February and his second collection, I'm Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You, will be released by Aqueous Books in January of 2015. You can find him here.
Len Kuntz interview with Meg Tuite

I’ve been a fan of your work since I read the first Kuntz story. Your depth of character and empathy, mixed with the pathos of humanity lend themselves to a mesmerizing and unforgettable tale. Here are a few quotes I pulled from the four stories we are publishing:

“She most enjoyed life’s ugly things: odd breeds of dogs, deformed babies, scar tissue and bowel movements.”

“He has the lovely nostrils,” she would say, “so wide and hairy. I could watch him breathe all day.”

“Dad takes swigs from the Southern Comfort bottle, swaying in front of the door like a woozy totem pole, his shadow a confused stage light on the linoleum floor.”

“I can feel my heartbeat through my eyelids.”

“Nowhere” is a story that delves into abandonment and the invisibility of children long before they actually vanish. What was your inspiration for this story?

When I worked in the corporate world, my whole life became about the company and actually a good friend who worked there used to always talk about being “present in the moment” which, if you really think about it, is very hard to do. Often I’d be home, eating dinner or doing something with my kids, but I wouldn’t really be there, not emotionally connected anyway; I’d still be at work in my head. The time you have with your kids is so fleeting. My youngest goes to college next year. So that was kind of the genesis for the story.

I love the grandmother and the narrator in this next story, “She Was a Mountain That Could Not Be Moved.” This portrays the beauty of being an outsider and finding acceptance because of it, not in spite of it. Do you have any people in your life, past or present, that have been that for you?

I wrote that story about my own grandmother, who did die in an accident like that, but I was only five at the time and never really knew her. I’m lucky to have a few people who love me unconditionally, despite my flaws and brokenness. I find that kind of acceptance astonishing, like Susan Sarandon’s role as the nun in “Dead Man Walking” who loves Sean Penn’s character regardless of the awful things he did.

I once heard someone say, “The people who deserve love the least are the ones who need it the most.” That statement is something that’s remarkably hard to act on, because human nature makes us want to repel those who—for whatever reason--are tarnished, and while I’m definitely not claiming to be anything like Susan Sarandon’s character, that idea of wholeheartedly accepting a blemished person is an appealing subject for me when it comes to fiction.

“The Island Where People Forget To Die,” depicts a place of refuge where no one can truly escape without being followed and destroyed by the masses. Can you tell me about this story and its inspiration?

A while back a friend passed along a news article about this island where sick people, even terminally sick people, would go and be miraculously cured. I found it fascinating, but then I wanted to toy with the idea of man’s quest for immortality, and how there’s a vanity in such a quest. Someone—I can’t recall who—once said that life only matters if we die. So I played around with those ideas while adding in a healthy dose of satire.

“Southern Comfort” throws us right into the middle of domestic horror and kids who find the only way to survive violence is through violence. This is the beauty of a ‘Kuntz’ story. Many of your protagonists are children who are forced to take action to stop the insanity. Can you elaborate on this?

Once you’ve been exposed to child abuse, it never leaves you, no matter what your age, and it’s a theme I keep coming back to in many of my pieces. Hurting a child is about the most awful thing I can think of, but it happens all the time, and when I write about it I try to do so in a positive way, meaning that there’s an escape plan, a way out for the wounded, sometimes by merely fleeing, and other times it gets a bit more grisly, with some form of retribution involved.

I’m very excited about your debut collection, “The Dark Sunshine,” coming out in the next month through Connotation Press. I’ve been lucky enough to read the brilliant collection. Tell us about it.

Thanks so much, Meg, and for all you and Ken and Adam have done on my behalf. I’ve wanted to be a writer since age nine, and having a book out helps to validate the idea that I’m, little by little, inching closer to that dream.

There are roughly 60 stories in the 120 page collection, so most are bite-sized and truncated. I’m not very good at stringing stories out. Most of the time my pieces move at a rapid pace, with lots of action or emotional pull put into them. Unfortunately (or not), I’m also not skilled enough to write a happy ending that doesn’t feel contrived, and so these pieces are pretty much all gritty, filled with broken people, broken promises, plans that have gone awry… I’m actually a happy person, but my writing most often tends to follow a somewhat dark trail.

How do music and film register in your work?

I am a huge movie and music buff. In films I’m drawn to topics that rattle me, like “Requiem For A Dream” or “Reservoir Dogs.” I love all kinds of music, especially Dylan and Ryan Adams. As when I read great writing, while listening to a song or seeing a powerful film, it’ll sometimes trigger an idea, maybe just a spur of one. For instance, if I hear a great lyric, I’ll jot a note down for a story (I always have paper and pen on me, except when I’m in the shower, but even then, they’re close at hand.)

You are extremely prolific with over 700 publications in lit mags. What is your work day like?

It’s such a luxury to be able to do what you love, and to do it fulltime. Most writers I know, if not all of them, have a job and therefore they have to squeeze in writing when they can.

But I treat it like a real job. I take the craft very seriously and try to be at my desk no later than 9:00 am. Right now, I’m attached to a few story projects I’ve committed to, and I’m just finishing up a novel. So I write for about six or seven hours during the day, then sometimes at night. I’m also an editor at Metazen, so I read submissions a few times a week. I also try to read as much as possible as it helps me be a better writer. But since the novel has taken over, I really haven’t written very many short things, and I definitely haven’t been submitting anything at all of late.

Where did you grow up and does that work its way into your writing?

I grew up mainly in Eastern Washington, in a very rural area. We lived in a trailer and had cows and chickens. My father was a mechanic. There were ten kids in our family, some step-siblings, but we were all young together. It was like a dysfunctional Brady Bunch. Wynona Ryder once said that their family put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.” Mine put the “dys” in “dysfunctional.” And we were poor. Beginning at age nine, I worked the fields every summer, starting at dawn, picking fruit to earn money to buy school clothes. I was terribly shy and pretty different from my siblings. My brothers were great athletes and could fix anything. I was skinny, had long hair, and read poetry, plus I still can’t even tell you where the carburetor is inside a car, or even what it does for that matter.

There’s a lot I could say about my childhood, but there are usually quite of few slices of it littered into the stories I write. If I hadn’t had the experiences I had in my youth, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now. Maybe I’d be able to write happy endings.

Snohomish, Washington sounds like heaven. How did you find your haven?

My wife grew up on a lake across the street (there are three lakes clustered close by) and when I retired we built a house on this one. It’s very rural here. There are otters, beavers and eagles. It’s also a little redneck, the opposite of me, yet it’s beautiful. My office is like an upstairs gazebo that looks out over the water. It’s really stunning.

Prior to moving here, I found I was becoming extremely attached to material things and I didn’t like that part of me. Now I’m in the country. Most everyone drives a truck, and usually it’s a big ass truck, too. Life around here is pretty simple. There are no Prada handbags or Jimmy Choo shoes. You can be who you want to be.

What projects are you working on right now?

Well, the novel I’m finishing. I also have two others completed but haven’t had any luck finding an agent. My writing is so gritty, as I’ve said, that agents are a little fearful of taking me on, and I get that. Once this latest novel is finished, I’ll probably do a rewrite and start another. I’ve had this idea about a man whose son is in prison and while he’s away the father has fallen in love with his son’s young wife. So I may tackle that if I can come up with enough fodder for a full volume.

Will you give us a ‘Kuntz’ micro-flash using these five words?
forklift, transient, swollen, branches, birthmark

Okay, here’s a happy ditty:


My brother worked the forklift. In summer, by noon, the shed would already be sweltering and his face regularly turned ripe as the tomatoes he hauled, becoming a swollen paste, the birthmark on his forehead gleaming like an orange starfish.

Behind the shed is where he took lunch, as sullen as ever, sitting on a tree stump next to a heap of detritus—withered tree branches and moldering garbage sacks we couldn’t afford to have hauled away.

When the fire destroyed everything, my brother was nowhere to be found, but his plan for getting us a new life ended up a transient wish at best. Father whooped us until we bled, that day and many more afterward, and in the end we built a new building in the exact spot where the old one had turned to ash.  

Thank you, Len. That’s a beauty!
Do you have a quote that speaks to you that you can share?

I’m actually a quote junky. Here are a few from Anne Lamott that I love:

--“My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.”

--“I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world—present and in awe.”

--“There is ecstasy in paying attention.”

--“Try not to feel sorry for yourself. After all, you’re the one who decided to become a writer.”

I love those!
Thank you so much, Len, for all! We’ve been waiting for a collection of your stories and now the first one is finally here. Cannot wait to hold it in my hands. Congratulations and can’t wait for many, many more.

Thank you, Meg!


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