Bill Kieffer on Writing Furry Noir, Worldbuilding, Experiencing Death and Loss and his new work, COLD BLOOD: Fatal Fables

Bill Keiffer describes his genre as “Allegorical Crime/Furry Noir… if you liked Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crimes, but wanted something darker and serious, than welcome to Aesop’s World.

“Cold Blood” has six stories set mostly in New Amsterdam, an allegorical version of Manhattan where we have 100 species of upright and often uptight talking animals. The morals of Aesop take on new meanings here.”

  • Shepard is a pulpish story set in the Jazz Age. It involves the kidnapping of a hybrid wolf-dog child by a cult.
  • Brooklyn Blackie and the Dude-Less Dude Ranch is set in Post War America. It’s the first of four stories with my popular private detective, Brooklyn Blackie. He’s investigating a missing person that might be tied into an arson/murder.
  • Brooklyn Blackie and the Rainbow in the Dark is also set in the late 40’s. Brooklyn’s first client in days is shot on the steps on his way up to the dick’s office.
  • Brooklyn Blackie and the Unappetizing Menu takes place a few months later. His best friend is discovered dead. Brooklyn is prepared to burn the city down to find the murderer.
  • Brooklyn Blackie and the Reverse Badger Game is the final story set in the 40’s. Brooklyn is now an insurance investigator and back in a relationship with Rick and Blanche. He’s investigating robberies at multiple jewelry stores.
  • Unbalanced Scales is a sequel of sorts to the Rainbow in the Dark, taking place in the 1980’s and a rap tour. Frosty Pine is the smaller brother to a giant in the music biz, literally as St. George is a 9-foot-tall Dragon. Insanity runs in the family, as Frosty is about to discover.

 

Fun fact about Bill: “I’m a little gender fluid and my favorite outfit I wore in the Zombie Parade last year was a maternity outfit with stretch pants. It was sooooo freaking comfortable with my beer gut that I considered keeping it to wear around the house… but it had no pockets. I need pockets!!!

I’m not into my own appearance. Give me comfort any day!”

 

SR: You’ve released a short story collection. Tell give us a teaser for the oldest story in your collection.

releasecoverBK: The first of these stories I wrote and published was Brooklyn Blackie and The Unappetizing Menu. It appeared in Inhuman Acts from Fur Planet in 2015. Here’s a bit from that:

I can’t say the cops rushed out, not for one dead Turtle. Two cops got there an hour after my call. Then two more as they broke down a few doors and found more dead. Two more after that, and then my buddy Police Captain Phillip Waterbury showed up about the time I was missing lunch. The army taught me that missing a meal wasn’t going to kill me, but my stomach knew it was a civilian now.

A whole building of Repts. Dead. Five floors. 35 bodies.

For a few hours, I was held as a material witness until Waterbury got there. “Go to your appointment, Blackie. They’re all dead from exposure. We don’t need you as a witness.” The Pig was not unkind, but I shrugged him off.

“Repts don’t die from the cold. Not for weeks.” I growled at him. They’d backed the paddy-wagon up to the front door. Not even bothering with calling out the coroner’s wagon, which held four bodies at the most. “Oh come on, you’re not seriously going to just toss them in the back of the cage are you?” I yelled at the cops.

“Blackie! What are you trying to do? Start a riot?” The last riot in Harlem had been over a decade ago, but everyone worried about it. He dragged me off to the corner deli. I only went because I didn’t want to see my friend’s body manhandled and tossed unto a pile of Rept corpses. I’d seen too much of that during the war.

SR: Where did the title come from?

BK: I wrote this with Inhuman Acts in mind, and what’s the most inhuman thing you can do that people have historically done when society says it’s cool? Cannibalism. When you have talking animals who are herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores, then you have to wonder how a multispecies society sublimates such urges. So, I figured a religion that had strict rules to make it all civil and as nice as possible, would still be unappetizing to some people.

Plus, I had just read a post by a self-appointed expert that proclaimed that the best titles were one or two words. So, this was my response and it sold. His didn’t.

Does that make me spiteful? Maybe; my ego has spurs.

SR: Tell us about one of your favorite stories that’s included in your collection.

BK: Unbalanced Scales is probably my favorite. Getting into the head of a Rept (the cold blooded people in Aesop’s World) was a joy after writing so many stories from a Mammal’s (the privileged people) was a joy. It hurt to edit out some scenes and subplots, and it usually doesn’t as I will kill my darlings on demand. That’s how much I loved it.

If you heard me cursing aloud as I was typing Unbalanced Scales, you’d never believe me, but it’s true. My target for this story was Fragments of The Heart anthology and that’s all about the different flavors of love. When I sat down to write, I wanted to do a take on The Jazz Singer because I have daddy issues. Obviously, I needed to create my own plot and not just rewrite the stories with talking animals. So, I added a brother who was super successful at singing (St. George) and I made the lead less successful… and as I typed… people began to die. These characters had their own ideas about daddy’s approval and brotherly love and then mental health became an issue.

I finished it, refined it, but it was a million times darker than I wanted, but I submitted it. Of course, it was rejected in the nicest way possible, with the editors from two different states inviting me into a chat room and letting me down softly. I’ll treasure that, although I thought it quite silly at the time. I’m from New Jersey. I can handle rejection.

It eventually found print in Roar 7, whose theme that year was LEGENDS. I submitted to Mary Lowd the editor and I think my submission letter read something like “I have a story that’s about 2K over the limit, can I submit it? As far as the Legend aspect, my MC is a Legend in his own mind. Does that count?” She said to send it in and she seemed to really like it, despite being as dark as her own work is light.

SR: What is it about writing short stories that appeals to you?

BK: I don’t know if I really have the attention span to write novels. My voice seems to require me to natter and ramble a bit. 10,000 words is usually my sweet spot.

SR: Do you have any recurring characters you feature in more than one short story? If so, what is it about the short story format that suits those characters?

BK: I am Bi and I made a commitment to myself to make sure at least one bi character is in each story. Brooklyn Blackie is a tough guy with depth and a need to punish bad people, but he’s also Bi with a submissive streak in the bedroom. In the Forties, they homosexuals would have labeled him as a Sissy and Brooklyn isn’t a coward or week. This conflict fuels Brooklyn’s need for justice. Brooklyn appears in the first five stories in Cold Blood.

In Unbalanced Scales, Mimic, the Beat Box Box Turtle is my Bi character. There’s a scene in there where he’s chewed out for acting gay by the MC who’d just teased him hours before hand with inappropriate touching in front of the talent and crew.

Both characters allowed me to voice and hint my feelings and thoughts about privilege of straight people.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

BK: Everyone has privilege… but obviously some have more than others. Sometimes, those privileges are situational and fleeting… and often society randomly withdraws those, too. My Repts have to deal with a lot of physical limits (doors and chairs not designed for them), misinformation/misrepresentation (bad biology facts thrown around as truth), and are believed to be something less than human just because it makes the Mammals and Avi (my human birds) feel better… plus, the Repts didn’t write the history books.

You know, the whole liberal agenda. I hope that, with these issues removed from race, the allegory of these talking animals will instill some sympathies for those with less privilege.

SR: When you looked at your stories as a collection did you notice anything about your writing or themes that hadn’t really stood out to you before?

BK: I really need to build a “series bible.” My head cannon was all over the place.

SR: What was the first short story that you had published? Tell us a little about it and how it got published. How did that experience impact you as a writer?

BK: My first short story to be published (not counting the porn I submitted as a young writer) was actually a comic book story for Todd Loren’s Revolutionary Comics. I wrote him for his guidelines with a SASE (that’s how long ago it was) and I said that I was certain that I could write better than what I’d seen so far. He replied back, “Show me.” No guidelines.

I typed out a horror story based on a childhood accident (I had a bike accident, which severed my tongue partially). I added a spirit of vengence who went after the doctor who used the wrong sutures on the boy, killing him. This was almost my own fate.

I got an acceptance letter that read, “You’re right, you’re good,” and a contract, and I loved him for that. I worked with him until the day he died. He thought me about promotion and helped me find a voice even though he was on the West Coast.

SR: What’s one of the first short stories that you really remember reading and how did it impact your approach to short stories or your writing style?

BK: James Blish wrote a series of Star Trek stories, adapting them from the episodes. I was in third or fourth grade and I was sort of aware that TV shows and movies were made from books and stories. But I never held the reverse in my hands before then! It just rocked me, seeing the show come alive again before my eyes. But instead of television cameras, I got the POV from inside the characters heads! I was inside Spock’s brain!!! What a mind blower!

I strive to invoke something close in my reader’s head.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

blackie_julycanthropy_2_by_viergachtBK: Brooklyn Blackie and I are both Bi and we have daddy issues. My father left us because he was a serial cheater while Brooklyn grew up knowing the man who was his mother’s husband wasn’t his father, knowing without understanding that he was a bastard child. Brooklyn grew up believing the Dog cop who saved him from a cult was his biological father while I grew up hoping that that satyr wasn’t mine… and we both ended up disappointed by the truth.

SR: If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For your protagonist?

BK: I know the movie, but not the name. It was one of those things they make you watch in school. It was advice to help the kids being bullied and excluded. As such a boy, I was excited to see it, but as I sat through it, I grew horrified. The bulk of it was hygiene advice and about being polite… to conform. None of that could apply to me, could it? I was just poor. I had to wear old clothes and t-shirts about movies I’d never seen because they were offered up as a Kmart blue light special… and I hated sports… and why should I, when I was the last one picked?

The feelings it evoked were terrible. I think it started my awareness of the ignorance of authority with a great big bonfire. Luckily, it was the ’70s and rebellion was a thing, and that gave me a cold comfort.

Brooklyn’s backstory includes a nervous breakdown during that world’s version of the Nuremberg trial that was filmed and shown on newsreels around the world. That loss of control shames him, although the Rept community loves it for beating a Nazi senseless.

SR: Cage match between you and your protagonist. It’s a fight to the death. Which one of you will be left standing, and why.

BK: I’m sure he would, but I might be able to talk him into sex first. Sort of a last request.

But, on the other hand… if Brooklyn was still alive, he’d be over 100. So, I’d have a chance.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

BK: Apathy.

Hear me out, because I know thousands of people, perhaps millions, are reading work they feel nothing about. Because they have to, or they believe it will get better, a decent reader will push thru until they despise what they are reading.

But to produce meh on demand with a particular purpose in mind? That’s not only counter intuitive to the writing process but it’s not something the reader is usually going to enjoy. To have an MC or villain just go still and not feel anything… to have the reader take away that the character just doesn’t care… well, as writers we are told to go big or go home. We want to make that stillness crushing despair, damn the subtlety.

But, it’s a legit human emotion and in a long enough work, with enough trials and tribulations, a character might find themselves uncaring. Not defeated, yet their heart is no longer in it.

Male writers especially like the big gestures, the big actions, the drama, at least that’s what I think.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

BK: Research. Aesop’s World is a giant allegory of our world and, in addition to researching animal biology and behaviors so I can adapt them to people, I have a number of made up religions. I appropriate things left and right from various religions. Tzitzits are an example: they are, in the real world, ritually knotted strings used in the vestments of the more orthodox Jewish communities. My Chromatics use ritually tied knotwork, too, so I use the same word, but I also make it clear that my tzitzits are tiny works of macramé pinned to the Chromatic’s chest.

SR: Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with any of these stories? What was it, and what was the reason?

BK: All of these stories were written for a Furry market, two were accepted and the remaining four were either rejected or not completed in time. Every open call for an anthology usually has a theme, so creating for that can be a challenge. Also, aiming for a word count can be a greater challenge. Who writes 3K stories? Not me…

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

BK: I was really lucky. Jaffa Books, a fine upstanding furry publisher out of Australia, announced that they were open to new novel submissions as I was putting these stories into the same folder. I asked them if they’d be interested in a short story collection from me and they said yes. I checked the submission pages of the other publishers I’d worked with… Fur Planet and Red Ferret weren’t open at that time. I submitted the stories hoping that I’d get feedback at the very least.

I was happily surprised that they said yes and agreed that they’d use my preferred cover artist, Viergacht. I’d admired his work for a long, long time. His style is so different from the average Furry cover artist, were even the most realistic style has a little cartoon esthetic about it.

I think the only real obstacle was when Viergacht needed an operation and couldn’t use his drawing arm for a period. That delayed things a bit, but eventually we got the cover that I’m quite fond of.

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

BK: I yearn to be popular, but I just concentrate on what I like and occasionally take up stretching exercises. Maybe someday I’ll worry about the size of my royalties but not today.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

BK: “Blurring the line between gifted and twisted, everyday.”

SR: Tell us something about you that isn’t common knowledge.

speedpaintGreyBK: Did I mention that I’m a Horse on the internet?

OK… you knew that.

The first question I get about why I’m a Horse… the first any Horse gets on the Internet, I suppose, is: Aren’t you over-compensating for something?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I’m a terrible dancer.

SR: Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

BK: I’ve had my father leave me. I’ve known death… my high school girlfriend died a year after we graduated… we never had sex, despite me promising to consummate our relationship if she were on her deathbed (she had CF her whole life). My best friend, who I never told that I was bi-curious (and how quaint that word seems now), secretly chased glory-holes to fight loneliness until he contracted AIDS… and maybe after that, because he had a history of suicide attempts… and I see love now forever caught up in risk and loss…

I know the same things have happened to other people and they just scream YOLO! And jump into life.

I just couldn’t, not for years.

SR: What movie world do you wish you could live in? Why?

BK: Does My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic count? It would be nice to live there, that’s all.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

BK: I think I’d help JBJ Soul Foundation to expand into other areas… maybe even into convalescent centers. I volunteer at Soul Kitchen from time to time.

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

BK: Stop talking and type. Fake it until you find your voice.

Follow the submission guidelines and when you cannot, write to the editor first to ask permission to send them stuff. Timing is 90% of getting published, and if you waste an editor or publisher’s time, you might get blacklisted. It’s rare, BUT with email filters it’s easier than ever to block time wasting emails… and those that mail them.

SR: Please include anything else you’d like to talk about.

BK: Oh my gosh, thank you for letting me carry on like this in your publication. I hope I’ve been able to entertain a few people. People can follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook if they like what they see here.

Artwork and covers by Lew Delport (@EvilViergacht on Twitter and Viergacht on Deviant Art).

terminatorBillBill Kieffer is actually a 6 foot tall gray anthropomorphic draft horse known as Greyflank. He is a member of the Furry Writers Guild and publishes about three short stories in various anthologies. Recent publications include half a dozen short stories in various anthologies and The Goat: Building the Perfect Victim, which was released in October 2016 and won the Cóyotl Award the same year for best novella.

Out May 7, 2018: Cold Blood: Fatal Fables from Jaffa Press.billwCATS

Check out what’s on Bill’s TBR pile or return to Issue Menu

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