Kenneth Larsen gets cheeky with me in his reader interview…
Another Friday, and I have another great interview for you. I can’t really tell you just how much I enjoy doing these, getting to know things about people I’ve known for weeks, months, years, but never really talked to, because they are – after all – readers, and as an author you kind of want to keep your distance. If you don’t, you easily come across as pushy, “salesy”, and who wants that? Sell, yes, pushy? No. To paraphrase Olaf from Frozen, that would be like pairing yellow and snow, just not a good combination.
Anyway, meet Kenneth Larsen, a man I’ve known online for a while, a man I’ve come to appreciate for his wicked sense of humor, his sharp tongue (you’ll see..), and I’ve been curious to know more about the man behind the mask. Thankfully he was a good sport, and I was surprised at the candor in some of his answers. Meet Ken, have fun:
If we were to do this interview in the real world, where would we sit and talk?
Oh, well, in a perfect world, you fly me to Sweden, and we have this interview all over Blekinge while looking for my grandmother’s family’s descendants. I’m thrilled. My passport is ready.
Who is Ken(neth) in his own words?
Kenneth finds it pretentious to talk about himself in the third person, so he is going to use the word “I” from here on out.
I’m a writer. I’m widely published but you have never seen my name. My books are in many homes around the world but most people have never read them. I’m a technical writer for a multinational consumer electronics company. I tell people what to do and when. I can be very helpful, but, alas, I am routinely ignored. But I’m over it. I’m not bitter. Really.
I’ve gotten used to not being bitter. I’m the youngest of three children, or, as I like to say, my parents had one of each. Survival is the necessary antidote to bitterness when you have two older siblings.
Sometimes my tongue gets too quick and says whatever pops into my head. Sometimes I’m lucky and it’s humorous or even intelligent. Sometimes something gets stuck in my head and I have to say it or write it just to free myself. Sometimes I delete it, other times I click Send. Sometimes I apologize. Sometimes I think my colleagues who I edit are plotting against me.
This summer, my husband and I will have been together for 40 years and married for one-and-a-half years. I try telling people he met me when I was five, playing in a sandbox with my truck, but nobody seems to believe that. Bitches.
What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?
I know how I like to think of myself, but then, being the youngest child, I have a rich fantasy life. When it comes to what others think of me, I try not to be too concerned because it’s sure to negate the fantasy. And who are we if not who we believe ourselves to be?
Perhaps the most I can hope for is that people would acknowledge that I tried to be honest without being hurtful, that I could express a strong opinion without making someone else feel like an idiot (unless, of course, they were being an idiot in the first place, in which case they kind of deserved whatever they got), and that I was very respectful of others (except for idiots, of course).
(It’s not for nothing that one comment on a work-style evaluation read that I “don’t suffer fools lightly.”)
I hear you’re an avid reader. What got you into reading in the first place?
I thankfully grew up in a family where books were plentiful. I remember my sister, who is just a few years older than me, reading nursery rhymes to me as we sat together on the floor. I can remember sitting next to her and looking at the pictures that were drawn around lines of italicized text, which I can only presume she was reading to me.
A few years later, when I was starting to read on my own, I was enthralled by the Rupert Bear annuals we had from living in England. They’re ingenious books with brightly colored pictures, a short rhyme underneath each that tells a beginning reader the story, and the bottom third of the page has text for more advanced readers or for adults to read to their illiterate offspring while he stares at the pictures. I still have several today.
I had a bad experience in elementary school once with a teacher that almost made me give up reading. For two years, I was afraid to be seen with a book even in my own home. Happily, I got over it.
My brother is also an avid reader and we often share book recommendations. I think I tend to be a bit competitive, so when I discovered he had tried and failed to read a particular book, I became all the more interested in reading it first. I haven’t started it yet, though; it’s with about 20 other physical books on my shelf.
I understand you like to read gay fiction. Has the “genre” changed much since you began reading it?
As you can tell, I’m one of your older readers, so I have to say the biggest difference today is that there is so much more gay fiction available today than I had access to growing up.
The first gay fiction I devoured, besides the random porn or erotica that was strewn about the apartments of friends, was the Gordon Merrick series, The Lord Won’t Mind. Merrick’s series was of the gay bodice-ripper romance genre set in a more modern age. While he told a story reasonably well, he couldn’t seem to write one believable line of dialog. Either that or I’ve just never experienced men cooing and purring into the hot, sweaty, heaving, bronzed chest of their lover. It’s also possible I’ve lived a very sheltered life.
The Persian Boy by Mary Renault gave me greater hope for having our stories told. The truly modern era of gay popular fiction seemed to arrive with Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner. That was such a hit; I think it showed that the market was definitely ready.
These days there are far more stories being told, and, thankfully, far better dialog being written. There’s much more truth being told today about our lives and experiences than ever before.
A few years ago, at our local Pride event, a publisher had set up a booth and authors were displaying their books. I spent a good amount of time reading the blurbs on the back cover of almost every book there. I was thrilled to discover the wide variety of storylines, even by the same author. I can see now why some authors don’t want to write sequels, even though, as a reader, I become emotionally invested in these characters. I bought two books that day and discovered a number of amazing authors. I’m so excited about all the new voices that are being heard daily.
That being said, I’m still very grateful for the authors who were there before and are still being rediscovered by new audiences.
Best of all, perhaps, is that the stories are easier to find these days. Our stories are told in mainstream bookstores; we’re there on the shelves. And then there are ebooks, which I love. They’ve made it easy to travel with a virtual library.
For some odd reason you end up on a remote island, a modern day Robinson Crusoe, with only three books to bring along as company. Which ones would you bring along as your literary Fridays?
Something makes me wish I would bring a survival guide. But I know I won’t.
First and foremost, The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll with notes by Martin Gardner. I bought my first copy of The Annotated Alice in college. A few years ago I noticed the paperback was falling apart. Lucky for me, the book was still in print and this time I bought the hardback version. I’m anxious to read Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, but unless Amazon delivers to the island it may take me a long time to get to that one. [It’s actually available now to download…]
Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories. These stories are the foundation of the musical, “Cabaret.” I have both The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin in one binding so this counts as one book.
Picking a last book is so hard. I’m tempted to say The Complete Sherlock Holmes, just because there are quite a few stories there. [Here, our dear Ken tried to trick me into picking a third book from an array of additional books and put the blame on me. I refuse, smile, and let his first three stand. Rules are rules, after all.]
Let’s get personal. What is the best thing you’ve ever done?
Way back in the early 1990s I had the opportunity to go and work in Barcelona for three months. It was November through January, so I would be gone for all the best American holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. My (now) husband didn’t like the idea but admitted that if he had the chance, he would go.
It was my first trip to Europe as an adult and I was doing it alone (even though I was living with my American manager and her husband). Everything was new to me; the architecture, the food, the languages (Catalan and Spanish), the social culture, and the art.
I walked across a 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct accurately called El Puente del Diablo just outside Tarragona. Given a slight fear of heights, I crossed it hunched over so I could steady myself against the sides, which came up only to my knees.
When I first arrived in Barcelona, I was afraid to even go into a restaurant because I knew they would ask me what I wanted. My first Spanish word was “esto” (this), which I would use as I pointed at the menu. By the end of three months, I was unafraid to look the fool and engage shop keepers in broken, present-tense Spanish. They were awesome!
What’s the first thing you think of when you wake up?
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Harder, faster, deeper, more? [me blushing at this point]
I’m going to say “carpe diem,” but I choose that simply to mention and honor my high school Latin teacher, Carol Milne. This woman was one of the biggest influences in my life. I credit the lessons I learned in her class with helping me be successful. She was brilliant, fair, and fun. She even threatened to kill me.
One day, she was berating us as we went to write our sentences on the board to discuss. All of us had used Arabic numerals. We got tired of hearing “do I see Arabic numerals” as we took our place at the board.
Later, she went to the board to give us Latin sentences to translate back to English. We were all furiously scribbling down the sentences as they appeared on the board when my friend Paul leaned over and said, “look, she’s using Arabic numerals.”
She was. I looked around and my classmates were busy scribbling down the sentences. Only Paul had noticed.
“Say something,” I whispered back to Paul. Paul was not the most confident of students and Latin was a struggle, so he shook his head. On the other hand, I was a very good student. I leaned back in my chair and in my best Magistra Milne inflection, I said, “do I see Arabic numerals?”
Her hand froze mid sentence as the classroom erupted. Her hand dropped to her side. Without turning around, her bass alto silenced the room, “Ken, you die!” [At this point I’m laughing and fondly remembering my own Latin teacher…]
What student doesn’t live for that moment? Oh yes, she is my favorite. Thanks to Paul’s keen observation, we all got 100 points extra credit.
And the worst?
“Baby steps.” Life is too short to take baby steps.
What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been to?
I would have to call a tie between Lake Tahoe and Kauai. There is nothing like a beautiful clear day with the sun sprinkling diamonds on Lake Tahoe, and you can find every color of green on Kauai. I relax the most at both of those places.
Do you have any regrets in life?
Oh. You want me to…. Here goes.
I regret that I couldn’t keep my hair longer. Actually, I could have hair, if I wanted it, but I’ve got an unfortunate baldness pattern going on that shaving my head is the best option.
I regret that shaving my head encourages strangers to call me Jean Luc (even though the good Captain Picard had hair). I’ve also been compared to J. K. Simmons from the movie “Whiplash.”
I regret that I didn’t have more fun with my hair before I started shaving it. I did bleach it a number of times and give it a ginger tint once or twice, but I should have tried out teal or purple, too. Green would probably not have been a good look. A Mohawk would have been interesting.
I regret that I didn’t come out much sooner. After all, who was I kidding? But I came out at 20 and others have certainly struggled longer.
I regret that I didn’t listen more to my mother’s stories of growing up. I lost my mother as I was starting my last year of high school. It was sudden and unexpected and proves that each day listening to, being with, and loving the person who means so much in your life is far more important than anything else. Putting family history together would have been so much more fun with her help.
Quick fire five: Answer only with one word/name OR a number.
- On average, how many books do you read per week? 1 (I’m guessing because I usually have several books going at once.)
- Who’s your favorite author? Edward de Vere, the 17thEarl of Oxford (writing as William Shakespeare) [I could comment, but won’t, as this is still one of literary research’s most contested “conspiracy” theories]
- Your favorite drink? Wine (Marques de Caceres red)
- Your favorite color? White (it makes me look like I have a tan)
- Who’s your favorite musical artist? kdlangBillieHolidayJudyGarlandEttaJamesManhattanTransferBetteMidlerFrankSinatraQueenTheBeatles (that’s within the rules, right?) [Why can’t people follow rules? Why can’t people answer a simply question? LOL]
Okay, so far so good. great responses, and a couple really made me think twice, about my own life and my own experiences… Thank you Kenneth Larsen for doing this. As always, you get to ask me a question, and you certainly picked a difficult one: I understand from you have at least one tattoo, so what was it about your tattoo/tattoos that made you want/choose it/them?
I got my first tattoo, a maori tribal fish hook, to commemorate my first trip down under. I was on a business trip to New Zealand and finally wanted to get one. I remember piercing my ear and my mom’s comments (she was devastated!) and I knew that even at age 38 I’d still get comments. The Maori fish hook is a symbol of eternal friendship and safe travel over open water, which is useful when you live on an island… I didn’t have time to get it done while in New Zealand, but found a great artist upon my return home. The second one (you need balance, right?) was actually done on my second trip down under, this time to Australia, in 2007, and is a simple tribal pattern which I had done in Sydney’s gayborhood. Unfortunately, I had it done on my last day there, and the dry air on the plane ride home (looooooooooooong flight) dried out the wounds too quickly and I had to get it fixed when I got home. I also chose to make it larger.
I’ve always liked tattoos, not all, far from it, and I tend to prefer traditional black ones over the full color ones. It took me forever to get them done, but I like both of them. I need to balance them though, with a third one, either on my back or chest. Or maybe I should just go ahead and get that arrow done, pointing south, the one I’ve always been dreaming about? LOL They have a tendency to be addictive, but knowing that I don’t think full body tattoos are very attractive to me, I doubt I’d ever go that far. But it’s been nine years, so who knows. Maybe, if I find the right pattern? I needs to have meaning though. You are stuck with it for life! And yes, first time my mom saw it she asked: “Can you take it off?” (may she rest in peace…)
Thank you, Kenneth Larsen, for being such a good sport! I’ll send you the book or your choice!
Have a wonderful weekend!