A few weeks ago, we put out a review of Derek Taylor Kent’s Kubrick’s Game, a puzzle-based adventure thriller that focuses on an elaborate mystery hidden within filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s greatest films. The book was highly entertaining, and will entertain everyone from die-hard Kubriphiles to veritable Kubrick laymen. We were fortunate enough to have a chat with Mr. Kent about his new novel, and a few other things.
4LN – To help our readers get better acquainted with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started as an author?
Derek Taylor Kent – My name is Derek Taylor Kent. I’ve been an author and filmmaker since I was 15 years old. I started out writing children’s picture books, later transitioned into writing middle-grade novels, and have now transitioned into writing grown-up novels. Won’t go into it all, but you can see all my books, scripts, web series, theater work at DerekTaylorKent.com
4LN – What writers/novels had the biggest impact on you as an author?
DTK – When I was 15 years old, I become obsessed with Dr. Seuss, and for the next ten years I was writing picture books in a very Seuss-ian style. I used his distinct meter, but was writing epic stories similar to Lord of the Rings and Wizard of Oz. In retrospect it was not a smart choice as picture books are only supposed to take about five minutes to read but mine were waaaay longer, so nothing ever happened with those. During college my next obsession arose, which was Harry Potter. I decided to put the picture books aside and focus world-building novels like those for which I wasn’t dependent on illustrations like with picture books. I don’t have any drawing talent so it might it quite difficult. My first foray into novel-writing didn’t land a book deal, but a spin-off of it led to the Scary School series, which got a three-book deal with HarperCollins. I was focused on writing those books from 2009-2015. Book 4 of that series just came out last year. In 2011, I read Ready Player One and it became my latest obsession. I made me want to write a puzzle-adventure based on my own passions, my biggest being director Stanley Kubrick since high school, which became Kubrick’s Game.
4LN – The puzzle found in Kubrick’s Game is incredibly complex. Not only do you weave clues throughout Kubrick’s movies, but you also include different fan theories, conspiracy theories, and cryptology. I can’t imagine what went into making this into a reality, and since I can’t imagine it I have to ask you: How much time and research went into making this enormous puzzle?
DTK – There was a bout a year and a half of solid full-time research, plus several months of dedicated puzzle-creation working with the puzzle mavens of Fantastic Race. I read every single book ever written about Kubrick and his films, read every single online essay/theory/analysis, and of course watched the movies frame by frame many times. It was the biggest creative undertaking of my life by far. When I do signings, I set up a display that shows how I compiled all of my research into a 1000-page tome so I had everything I needed in one place. Now, we’ve begun a whole new part of the process by creating a real life treasure hunt that accompanies the book. I once again worked with the puzzlers from Fantastic Race and created a very fun quest for everyone to play. It’s already underway, but there is still plenty of time to get into it. You can get started at DerekTaylorKent.com/the-game – you don’t have to read the book to play the first round, but you may find it helpful.
4LN – Your cast of characters is extremely diverse and each one uniquely versatile. Was it easy to craft such an eclectic cast, or did you struggle at all writing their personalities and attributes?
DTK – It wasn’t terribly difficult as most of characters were based on people that I’ve known. UCLA is a very diverse campus, so I felt like I was reflecting the reality of the environment rather than making any conscious choice to be diverse. For instance, the character of Wilson is based on an African-American former child star who closely resembles Jaleel White (Urkel), who also happened to attend UCLA film school while I was there. You’ve previously written several picture books and middle-grade books.
4LN – What inspired you to make the leap into writing books geared towards adults, and what is different about the process?
DTK – Making that transition was the most difficult part of the process. I had to adjust my style from being one that an 8-year-old would have no trouble reading, to one in which even the most sophisticated readers would feel challenged and in competent hands. I had trained my brain to write short sentences with a minimal vocabulary and had to retrain myself to write longer, more complex sentences and use vocabulary and metaphors that an adult would relate to. There was a lot of work in the editing process that took about another year after the book was written, but I think it ultimately came out as well as I could have hoped for a first effort.
4LN – What advice would you give to an aspiring author looking to break into the industry?
DTK – First and foremost is to read and write as much as possible. That’s the only proven way to become a better writer. If you’ve finished a novel, make sure you give it to unbiased readers and editors before submitting to any publishers and agents and spend many, many months working on it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but should be in much better shape than your first draft. The submission process is enough to teach 3-day seminars about, which I’ve done, but have fun with it, write an awesome query, and get it out to everyone who might be into it.
Lightning Round (short questions, gut answers)
Favorite Kubrick Film
2001: A Space Odyssey
Favorite non-Kubrick Film
Back to the Future
Last book you read
Cake in Bed by Sheri Fink.
Currently reading Infomacracy by Malka Older
Favorite book of all time (at the moment)
Maus: Parts I and II by Art Spiegelman, Breakfast of Champions by Vonnegut, HP: Deathly Hallows
Finally, You just started to realize you are in a Truman Show that’s centered on you. What do
you do now?
Take off all my clothes and never put them back on. Also put on the movie The Truman Show and play it on a loop to make my show very meta.
I want to send a huge THANK YOU to Derek for chatting with me! Make sure you check out his website, read the first chapter of Kubrick’s Game here, and pick up the whole book right now!