Newfoundland writer makes mark on literary world


Newfoundland writer makes mark on literary world

By Ian Foster
Bishops College
St. John's, Newfoundland


He's published ten books so far, making him one of Newfoundland's most prolific and popular writers. But Kevin Major still gets up each morning and thinks about what he'll write about next.

SNN reporter Ian Foster visited Major at his home in St. John's recently to talk about the life of a writer. Here is his interview:

SNN: You've said before that you never planned to be a writer, even though you enjoyed reading a lot. Still, one of the reasons you became a writer was so that you could focus on Newfoundland Culture. Also, you toured different parts of the world. Did those varying cultural experiences influence your writing?

Kevin Major: I think writers are influenced by everything they do. Maybe not directly from their experiences, but I think that it stems from their attitude towards things, and their general view of the world. The fact that I traveled the world and that I was a teacher helped me to focus in on what I wanted to write about.

SNN: Many Newfoundland students who enjoy writing and plan on pursuing it as a career look up to you because you are a Newfoundlander who has succeeded in that field. What words or advice can you give to aspiring writers?

K.M: It's important to realize that a writer doesn't need to be near a publisher, and that it is almost an advantage to away from the major publishing centres, so that you can concentrate on writing. As a writer you may wish to communicate something that you understand about the world to other people. Having a certain facility with words is a prerequisite, of course, and you have to work with the talent that you have. Writing isn't a difficult process, but it isn't an simple one, and it's often only after a series of rejections that an author will finally get published. So don't expect things to happen too quickly. In my case, I wrote a whole novel which was never published before I came upon a little more success.

SNN: What authors do you read? Do you have a favorite? Are you influenced by other prose to some extent? Do you read what you write?

K.M: My favorite author has always been Hemingway. I like what he's able to say without actually saying it. There so much that you can read between the lines, so to speak. I like the simplicity of a lot of his writing, yet it does say a great deal, and I think that's something I aim for in my own writing.

I'm influenced by a number of writers, as well as Hemingway. Mark Twain is another one that comes to mind.

Fiction is something that I'm certainly attracted to, but I don't read solely in it. Lately, I've been reading a lot of non-fiction, partly because of the project I'm working on, which is a history piece, and I must say that I'm enjoying the movement away from fiction. Recently I've even gone back to reading a lot of poetry, which I haven't done for a long time.

SNN: Many young writers consider the idea of publishing an impossibility. Do you have a comment on that? What are your experiences with publishing, and where's the best place to start?

K.M: It's more difficult if you haven't been published before, because making that first step is always the hardest. But if you look around at the latest novels, you can see that there are a lot of new novelists coming out. I think it's more commitment than anything, and in the beginning it takes a lot of sacrifice to try and get something published. It's certainly not impossible, and often, some of the best selling works turn out to be beginning fiction.

You have to start writing about what you know. I don't think now that I would be able to write, or be particularly interested in writing, the books I wrote twenty years ago. I was keen on the themes of the time, but times change, themes change, and the direction in which your writing goes changes as well.

SNN: Is there any "Hot topic" that publishing companies look for?

K.M: If you look at the bestsellers list, you'll see a large variety of types of writing, and if you're writing to fit into that category, than that's fine, but over and above that, there's more literary fiction, which extends beyond those categories, into what I would say is more literature. That's what I'm more interested in. Still, you have to bear in mind that there are hundreds of categories to head into.

SNN: You've just completed a book with a junior high school student called "Free the Children." Can you tell us a little about that project?

K.M: That was a very interesting project, and I had never done anything like it before. I was approached to work with Craig Keilburger, who is a well-known activist, still only 15, and the project's purpose was to bring attention to the issue of child labor. In 1995, he went on a trip to various third-world countries to investigate the issues of child labor. After coming back to North America, he started an organization called Free the Children. At this point he was approached by a publisher to write his story, and being the age that he was, and having only a very limited amount of time to devout to it, he asked me to co-write it with him.

SNN: When you sit down to write a book, what do you focus on? Character? Complexity of plot? Research information? Plausibility?

K.M: What comes to me first is what I'm trying to accomplish in the book. I work with this for a while, and then I work with character development. After that, I concentrate on plot. If I have a weak area, it's probably plot, because I spend a lot of time finding out about the characters and what they're all about. I will try to flush out a plot to some extent, and I will have a general idea of where it's going and how it will end. After preparing, I'll write through a first draft. I'll usually rush through this fairly quickly, and go back to fill in more of the details later.

SNN: What inspires you as a writer? Is there any specific thing, such as music, or some particular events?

K.M: I think that in a general sense, I'm inspired by the environment I'm living in. I think I'm very fortunate to be living in Newfoundland, because it has a very long cultural history that hasn't been written about to any great extent. So in that sense, it's fresh territory, and publishers tend to pay a little more attention to books coming out here.

 Check out excerpt from the interview

SNN: You've been involved in the WIER (Writers in Electronic Residence) program. This program connects various professional writers with students who wish to advance their skills in the writing world. How have you found the quality of the student work?

K.M: It really depends on the type of student who gets involved in the program. I certainly don't think that it's something you must become part of to become a writer, but I think it can be helpful.

In terms of themes, I tend to get a lot of gory stories, which is probably a reflection of the movies the students see. Again, I try to get them to focus on something they know, or something they wish to communicate to the world, and not just write about what they think sells.

SNN: Do you think that your background in science has influenced your writing?

K.M: I was originally going to become a doctor, and was actually accepted for medical school. I turned it down, however, and there's not many people who've done that (laughs). I don't think it was wasted, though. I then went in the direction of teaching, and got my bachelor of science. However, it was often refreshing to be able to come to books and read them for enjoyment purposes and not because I was studying them in University.

SNN: Before we close the interview is there anything else you would like to add?

K.M: Writing, just like anything else, is something that involves hard work and a lot of commitment. In the beginning, more likely then not, there will be a lot of rejection. But if you have a genuine desire to be a writer, then I think it's something that you really have to do, and that it fulfills a specific need that you have.

 Check out excerpt from the interview