“Readers either absolutely love the book, or are completely horrified by the content and thus hate it. Either way, I’m proud my writing is having such a profound effect.” | Q&A with author J. Kent Messum

J. Kent Messum (JKM)  published his first novel “Bait” last year. (Link to my review on my old blog) He is a Toronto native and is active in the cultural life of the city on several fronts.
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1) “Bait” is your first novel. What inspired you to write it? How has “Bait” been received so far since it’s release last year?

JKM: The neighborhood I happen to live in is somewhat of a societal no-man’s land. It has more than its fair share of problems, and drug addiction is the most prominent. My time working in music and film cast a lot of light on the dark side  of those industries too, showing me the drugs and desperation involved day  to day. Over the years I’ve seen some pretty crazy shit, and I realized that addicts will do damn near anything to score their next hit. It all got me thinking, and I began to wonder what extremes an addict would go to in order feed their demons. Personally, I find the isolation and dependence of drug addiction terrifying. Equally terrifying for me is the idea of being attacked by a shark. Putting my two biggest fears together resulted in the novel BAIT.

As far as reception goes, I’ve found my novel has had a polarizing effect on the audience due to the subject matter. Readers either absolutely love the book, or are completely horrified by the content and thus hate it. Either way, I’m proud my writing is having such a profound effect.

2) Who are some other writers that you admire? What are you currently reading right now?

JKM: I’m a creature of habit, so I have a small group of writers that I’m always going back to, guys who set the bar high with lean, mean, raw writing. They include Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, and Chuck Palahniuk. I’m currently reading ‘The Stars At Noon’ by Denis Johnson, and ‘The Pugilist At Rest’ by Thom Jones, another couple of authors I admire.

I generally enjoy writers for either their style or their stories, but rarely both. When I discover ones that meet both criteria I’m in absolute heaven. 

3) Have you done any public readings? If yes, what was that experience like for you?

JKM: I’ve done a few public readings and thoroughly enjoyed them. What I’m most fond of is talking to an audience, sharing stories and answering questions. I consider myself a storyteller first, and a writer second, so I welcome any opportunity to be a bard for those who want to listen. Writers get a bit of a reputation as being withdrawn and introverted, but I’m completely in my element when standing in front of a crowd and holding a microphone.

4) Like many other writers that I have followed, you have had a series of occupations and interests. Did being involved in those activities help you at all in writing “Bait?”

JKM: I’d like to think so. If variety is the spice of life, then having many different jobs and experiences gives you plenty to season your stories with. I’ve been around the block more than once, had a colorful life so far. A lot of the depravity in Bait was based on the things I witnessed in my neighborhood and what I came into contact with while on various jobs. When you’re a writer, there can be value in everything you experience: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

5) Are you planning any new writing projects in the future?

JKM: I’m currently at work on my second novel HUSK, a piece of speculative fiction commissioned by Penguin UK that I’m very excited about. I’ve also started the groundwork for a third novel, and I write short stories from time to time that I add to a collection, one I hope will see the light of day down the road.

6) You seem to have an active role on the social-media scene. Does it help you with keeping in touch with your fan base at all?

JKM: It certainly does, especially since my fans span quite a few different countries now. For as distracting as it might be sometimes, all of the social media outlets allow me to not only interact with my fan base, but grow a larger one. This is something I’ve found to be very important if I plan on continuing down the path of being a successful author.

7) You have an Official Book Trailer on Youtube. Was this something you produced yourself?

JKM:  It was, but I can’t take all the credit. I had the help of a few talented individuals who brought a lot to the table. In a short span of time we had the project conceptualized, shot guerrilla style, edited, and released. It wasn’t until we saw the final cut that we realized just what we’d created, and we were very proud of it. 

8) “Bait” is being published by some overseas markets. How did that come about?

JKM: I’m incredibly fortunate to have Peters, Fraser, & Dunlop as my literary agency. They are fantastic people to work with and their commitment to their writers is unparalleled. When they were shopping my manuscript around, it caught a great buzz among different publishers worldwide. In addition to the US, UK, and Canada, Bait was also picked up in Greece, Brazil, Czech Republic, and Bulgaria. I couldn’t have imagined a better debut for a first-time author.

9) You are born, raised and live in Toronto. Does living there help or hinder your writing? Are you planning to stay in Toronto? Any major travel plans?

JKM: Toronto is currently my home, but where I might end up is an open question. It is a great location in many ways, but I tend not to write about the city where I live. It’s the places that I travel to that I find most inspiring: New York, London, Paris, Rome, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, etc. As of now there are no major travel plans on the horizon, but when you’re living life as a writer sometimes you’re inspired to just pick up and go.

Link to J. Kent Messum’s website

Link to Penguin Canada page for “Bait.”

2 thoughts on ““Readers either absolutely love the book, or are completely horrified by the content and thus hate it. Either way, I’m proud my writing is having such a profound effect.” | Q&A with author J. Kent Messum

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