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
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
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
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?
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.
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
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.