We talk to Ian Kappos about his story “In The Leper Colony”, which appeared in issue #32.
“In The Leper Colony” is quite a bizarre short story. Was there something in particular that inspired it?
A few things, I guess. Around the time I began writing “In The Leper Colony”, I was revisiting things like Naked Lunch, Harmony Korine’s films, the music of The Locust. That book, those movies and that band have a way of hijacking your subconscious and your better judgment. With “In The Leper Colony”, I wanted to attempt something as close to an homage as I could manage. I’d had an idea bouncing around in my head for a while about a colony of lepers in a dystopian setting, but I lacked a framework, a story, to suit it. At some point, I don’t remember when or how it came to me, I decided to warp this idea into a loose tribute to Kafka’s “In The Penal Colony”. I basically just took a few elements from it and ran with them. The end result bears little resemblance to the Kafka story, other than perhaps the ideological parallels between the Waxen Man and the “former Commandant” of the penal colony, the theme of old tradition vs new generations, etc.
The strange nature and stranger actions of the characters sometimes made it hard for me to feel sympathetic towards them. Was this a worry when writing the story? Do you think it’s necessary to have relatable (or at least sympathetic) protagonists in fiction?
That was definitely not a worry. While I think empathy for a main character can be beneficial for the author and reader of a work, I don’t think it’s necessary. Relatable protagonists are an oft-relied upon tool in fiction, and more often than not they’re a pretty fool-proof tool, but the key for me, as a reader, is entertainment. When I factor in entertainment value to the crafting of a character, things like empathy and sympathy become secondary variables. I like weird shit, so when it comes between a character that has a similar background to mine and a character that likes to have socially informed arguments with ex-revolutionaries made out of wax, it’s no contest.
Can you explain some of the subtitles used in the story? Why did you choose to split up the narrative like this?
Well, first off, I couldn’t imagine writing this story in a linear fashion. It had to be broken into a series of vignettes, as far as I was concerned. It wouldn’t have worked – for me, at least – if I’d written it chronologically. The issue, then, was how else to make the format interesting, because everyone’s read stories that were laid out episodically, or stories that used the “cut-up method”, etc. I knew I wasn’t doing anything new, and I also knew that tongue-in-cheek subtitles weren’t anything new, either, but at that point I just said fuck it. I wanted to have fun, and I’ve always been one for wordplay, or title-making just for the sake of it. I saw this story as an excuse to exhibit some of that. So the subtitles, as some readers may have noticed, are all pastiches of old post-punk and new wave song titles. Some are more apparent than others. I really had no intentions for “deep meaning” with them, other than abstract connections between the titles and the goings-on of their respective subchapters. If anything, what I wanted was more discordance. Anything I could do to bring another nonsensical dynamic to the story, I did. In the end, I felt it all worked out, despite the ridiculousness of all the converse elements I threw together. That’s essentially what I sought out to do: write a story with several vague impressions of meaning, with seemingly unrelated influences, and pit them all against each other.
You mention in your bio that you previously studied film and screenwriting. To what degree do you think this influences your writing now?
I haven’t really thought about that much. Literature was always my first love, so the attitude I had when going into film school was that this focus of study was going to expand my understanding of storytelling – which it did. Of course, I tend to be more visually inclined, but I try not to stay that one-dimensional when writing something that isn’t going to be interpreted for the screen, as I consider the vast menu of sensory manipulations of writing fiction to be one of its many strengths. I suppose I can see now that editing, film editing, has played a role in how I present a story. The fundamentals of storytelling – storyboarding, for instance – definitely helped me to develop a more firm grasp on story arc, character development, all the tenets of narrative. And I learned nearly all of these things in film school.
At the end of the day, though, it’s all stories, whether they’re seen, read, or heard, and most of them have been done, so it’s up to me to think of newish ways to present mine. I’d say that my experience in film studies gave me a more well-rounded education with regard to writing anything decent, regardless of medium. For what it’s worth, I didn’t finish my degree, because that shit’s expensive and, well, I’m easily sidetracked, to make a long story short.
Do you have any other work published online? Where can readers find out more about you?
Ha. Well, if anyone cares to, they can look my name up online and find a slew of embarrassing stuff. There’s a story that I wrote when I was fifteen, a zombie story, that’s still up for viewing on this zombie fan-site. And then there’s some story about wizards that I wrote at around the same time that could probably be tracked down. Needless to say, not very flattering stuff. I think it’s a lot harder now, for people of my generation, to be a writer of any merit, because with the internet and all, everything an aspiring writer posts is up there, and it’s up there forever. You have to live that shit down, one way or another. But I suppose it’s humbling, and I’ll take that. Everyone could use a little humility.
As far as writing that I am proud of goes, my first professionally published story came out this last July, although it’s not available online. For interested readers, the magazine is called Specious Species, and you can order copies (my story is in issue #5) from www.speciousspecies.net. I have another story forthcoming in the third issue of Crossed Out Magazine, an online publication, and that should be available this coming January. Those are the only other publishing credits I have thus far, barring some things that I’ve done for my school newspaper and school literary journal, of which I’m now editor-in-chief. I’m still submitting stories to magazines and anthologies like mad, so hopefully there’ll be some more things to add to my bibliography soon.
Ian Kappos was born and raised in Northern California. He studied film and screenwriting at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and presently attends community college in Sacramento, California, intending to eventually earn a degree in English Literature. His fiction has previously appeared in Specious Species.