Interview with novelist Novelist S.K. Kalsi

Novelist S.K. Kalsi is
chatting with me about his new contemporary drama, The Stove-Junker.
by poets, musicians, and philosophers, S.K. Kalsi crafts sentences that
resonate with depth and power. 
holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of San Francisco, a BFA in
creative writing from Long Beach State, and a diploma in screenwriting from
UCLA. His short stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including
The Gettysburg Review, Glint Literary Journal, The Criterion, among others. His
work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in the Bay Area. 
Welcome, S.K.. Please tell us about your
current release.
In the winter of 2012,
79-year-old Somerset travels back to his ancestral home in idyllic Drums,
Pennsylvania, to renovate his dilapidated house. Burdened by the loss of his
beloved wife, the long- ago disappearance of his rebellious son, and angry at
God and at himself, Somerset hopes to reach a final understanding of the
meaning of his life.
While a blizzard barrels down
from the north and “Armageddon” draws near, Somerset discovers an unnamed boy
squatting on the property, a strange child who forces him to confront his past.
As he unearths objects in the house that had been lost or discarded in the
debris, Somerset remembers his father’s cruelty and the accident that cost him
his brother’s life; he revisits the itinerant wandering of his youth, tethered
to a troubled mother; he mourns the loss of his wife and ponders the
decades-long absence of his son—all of whom are caught in the grip of Luzerne
County’s ancient history of violence.
Part elegy, part history, part
existential ghost tale, The Stove-Junker is a harrowing,
lyrical meditation on loss, heartbreak, and the power of memory. In this
extraordinary debut novel, S.K. Kalsi has created a haunting tale of
unvarnished self-examination, as experienced through the story’s central
character, Somerset Garden, the stove-junker.
What inspired you to write this book?
My uncle and the loss of his daughter (my cousin) in a terrorist
attack/plane crash. But fictionalizing my own family history, delving into the
historical violence in the town where I lived for three years of my life, I
wanted he story to be an exploration of familial love, time, memory, identity
and grief.
Excerpt from The Stove-Junker:
Book I, Chapter 1
            A winter owl hoots. Hoo-hoo, it says. Now the boughs of the old
oak shriek across the roof like claws across a blackboard. Now something
clatters to the floor, like a board or a bone and still that dog barks in some
distant field. Short stabs. A suffering howl. Ancient. Atavistic. There’s a
rasp in its throat, the cold embedded in it. Embedded in the woods, nature
speaks through the voices of animals. It’s a sound that hurts my ears, such
sadness in it. Such sweet sadness in it. What have the wild animals inherited
but punishing weather, indifference to human life, insufferable appetites? What
is a howl but the inheritance of return?
            I am
Somerset. It is night again. It seems to me that the roots of the trees spill
their darkness into the winter sky gone black and starless. To secure a better
vantage, I lean against the wall of my old master bedroom. The window, frosted
in the corners, bears my warped reflection. What I see outside does not
astonish me. At my age, seventy-nine and counting, nothing much astonishes me.
A snow devil spins across the snow laden yard, a twig from the old oak falls
unceremoniously, and still that dog barks, or is it a crow? The Emerson
Bakelite radio softly susurrates (thank you, Armand, for the word) and I am
attuned to things, my internal antennae positioned to receive messages from the
dead. I am thinking, thinking back on my life… and what crossed my mind just
now was this: thirty years is a long time away from a place you’ve loved; but
here I am, back in the old, unfinished house, circumscribed by hills of
astonishing greenery now gone white, back in Drums.
What exciting story are you working on
I am working on a drama about an old patriarch and his
family. Having suffered a massive stroke he is being tended to by a caregiver,
an illegal immigrant. The old man’s wife is aloof, keeping to herself and
slowly dismantling the house by selling off one object at a time. His divorced
younger daughter is battling chronic depression, is taking drugs, and wants to
reconcile with her ex-husband. His older son, recovering from cancer, harbors
grudges against the family. As various family members arrive at the house to
pay their final respects and leave, issues (blame, regret, hurts, sins,
secrets, lies, etc.) rise to the surface. When the old man stops eating and
drinking, signaling the end of his life, the family must either come together
to let him pass away in peace, or keep to their grudges, petulance, and petty ways.
When did you first consider yourself a
Once I signed my publishing contract and later received
copies of my novel, which I stacked up in a pyramid on a table before my front
door, I thought of myself as a writer.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I don’t write full time as I have a family to support,
feed, clothe, shelter. So I find time whenever I can. I steal an hour or two early,
early in the morning, about 5–7 AM, before my routine of working starts. I will
write little notes to myself throughout the day. I will work on my stories in
between feeding time, diaper changes, trips to the park or grocery store.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
On my desk sits an old wooden cigar box. In it, lies a
dead dragonfly. The dead insect reminds me that impermanence sits at the center
of all life, so I should always keep exploring, discovering, finding new
experiences to enrich my life and writing.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
I wanted to be a musician.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
The best writing advice anyone gave me was my father. It
was life advice really: Find something you love to do and stick to it. Stick to
it even if you are failing, faltering, fading, eventually you will see the light,
and eventually you will succeed, but not in ways you originally thought.
for being here today, S.K.

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