Kelvin Christopher James is the critically acclaimed author of six novels: People and Peppers, a romance (Harvard Square Editions), Secrets (Villard & Vintage & KDP Indie), Fling with a Demon Lover (HarperCollins & KDP Indie), The Sorcerer’s Drum, Web of Freedom, Mooch, the Meek (KDP Indie), and short story collections Jumping Ship and other stories (Villard & KDP Indie), City Lives, Crazy Loves, and Backcountry Tales (KDP Indie). His upcoming Augments of Change (June 2016) is described by the publisher:
Kelvin Christopher James gives a glimpse of the deterioration of world affairs and climatic conditions through the lives of a few people: a diverse group of billionaires, a family of southern Rednecks, a Black lawyer, an attractive female manipulator, and a trio of teenagers. Their voices tell this rollicking, rambunctious tale of contemporary circumstances gone awry—of the consequence of rich peoples’ greed and selfishness; of a scrambling Missouri family forced from their homestead as a result of fracking that moves to New York where they have to adjust and acquire new ways of living; of the enormous influence of billionaire visions; and of the subtle workings of women’s soft power to make ‘things’ better. Then just when Change takes a positive stance, there comes an invasive force from deep space! Not the big-headed, odd-colored, funny-eyed creatures of our comic-booked expectations, but . . . Aha! Not so fast. Telling would be messing with well-deserved anticipation, wouldn’t it?
(Read an excerpt at Eco-fiction.com.)
We’re happy to talk with Kelvin about his writing and his newest novel Augments of Change.
Mary: You have been the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in Fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature. For which literature did you receive these fellowship awards?
Kelvin: I won the NYFA in 1989 for a short story titled “Ties.” In about five thousand words, from the point of view of a Black teenager in jail; it tells of the sins, the victories, the angst, the pride that moves a family. Every family lives through Ties that bind.
The NEA in Literature came in 1996. The story here, another short, titled “Villain,” tells of another teenager who sees himself as the ‘bad’ side of the team which is he and his younger-by-a-year brother. He enjoys this life of petty crime until he falls for his robbery victim; a storekeeper, a Korean young woman. This is a once read never forgotten tale that covers various complexities of our Human Condition.
Mary: I’ve noticed quite a few environmental novels coming out of Harvard Square Editions; the press’s goals seem wholly admirable. Your novel Augments of Change (forthcoming June 2016) explores the deterioration of the world via the eyes of a few individuals. How do you get inspired to use the backdrop of climate change as part of the storytelling process?
Kelvin: My system for creating varies from tale to tale. My first move is envisioning the characters. I imbue them with the traits I’m investigating in the story: how they’d portray what, etc. Once that’s accomplished, adding the meat, the subject matter, of the story to such a skeleton is not difficult mainly because the writer has complete control of the character’s relationship with the subject matter.
Mary: Climate change has been described as a hyper object–a concept that is so huge it is truly hard to grasp, comprehend, and write about. Your novel encapsulates related issues that are down or upstream: greed, fracking, world affairs on the slide. How did you successfully organize such large concepts into a single book?
Kelvin: First, I congratulate you on the framing of this question. I particularly like climate xhange as a ‘hyper concept’ so huge it’s hard to grasp, comprehend, etc. It inter-relates issues among which are human nature (greed), rich folks inhumanity (greed), deteriorating world affairs (selfishness.) The best phrase though is ‘successfully organize such large concepts into a single book.’ My answer is simply ‘It’s my talent.’
Mary: At the same time as wrangling with such huge concepts, your book is still humorous, diverse, and surprising. Hope does not fall through the cracks. What is your opinion about using fiction to warn people about wrongdoings in the world that lead to downfall?
Kelvin: Fiction is truer than fact nowadays. At least, from the way that movies and TV shows are accepted and quoted, that is the perception. Still, since reading became commonplace in Europe and eventually throughout the Western world, this has been the way. In other cultures—Egypt, China, Persia, several African nations—wisdom was passed along by various other systems. Significantly, the Bible, an all-time bestseller that does not mention climate change, is a thoroughly doomsday tome and might be fiction. So I say, if it works, do it!
Mary: I agree. And before the printed word came the lyrical song. So I want to mention Joni Mitchell’s “Back to the Garden,” which says “we are stardust, billion old carbon, we are golden”…and I couldn’t help think of that line while reading your novel. We–all of us, animal, human, all matter–from outer space. Despite this commonality among us, people sure do seem to put themselves above what they perceive as different in almost any sense: ideology, skin color, religion, politics. So what is our reaction when/if aliens do arrive? Will it be any different a reaction to aliens than how we react to each other already?
Kelvin: In the unlikely event that aliens should (again?) visit our planet, I feel certain they will be smart enough to do so in such a manner that Earthlings will not be aware of their presence. Remember also that ‘aliens’ may be like my ‘characters’ in ‘Augments of Change’ who turn out to be s&tRNA molecules!
Mary: I was not going to mention it in fear of spoiling, so thank you for doing so! Is there anything else you would like to tell people about Augments of Change?
Kelvin: Sure! I’d like to assure people that they are up for an entertaining read when they get Augments of Change. It’s a novel that seamlessly combines entertainment, pathos, knowledge, humor, and human positivity. It’s a story one will not, cannot forget as we watch hapless politicians mumble as we stumble on to a disastrous inevitability.
Mary: I will chime in on that sentiment, as I enjoyed reading your novel. What else are you working on now?
Kelvin: I’m plotting the continuation of Augments of Change, tentatively named Domes. Actually, I’m done with the plotting and am writing parts of the story. I’m also have going a young adult novel, Bastard and a short about Death plays Ball.
Mary: Looking forward to a sequel. Thanks so much, Kelvin, for the chat, and good luck with Augments and your other writing projects.