Kindle Author Interview: Kiana Davenport

Kiana Davenport, author of House of Skin: Prize-Winning Stories, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about House of Skin?

KIANA DAVENPORT: I'm half Native Hawaiian, and have traveled throughout the Pacific for years. The stories from House of Skin are set in Hawai'i and other islands I've lived in: Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Fiji, Vanuatu, and other places I'll include in my next collection. The stories shock readers because they're not about hula girls and moonlit beaches. These are tales of obsession, addiction, racism, erotica, vengeance, murder, and of course, love.

DAVID WISEHART: You've won several prestigious awards. Can you tell us about that experience?

KIANA DAVENPORT: For years I submitted these stories to "literary journals," but editors rejected them, saying the Pacific islands were "too remote," my stories "too regional." Tastes change. One of my stories was finally bought, then another, and so on. Some of the tales are barbaric and violent, set in mysterious places like Papua New Guinea, whose people have barely advanced out of the Stone Age into the 21st Century. Perhaps that's what caught the eye of the judges of The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, The Best American Short Stories of 2000. Most of the stories in House of Skin have been awarded one and even two of these prizes. After years of rejection, each award was a shock to me.

DAVID WISEHART: How does your personal heritage inform your stories?

KIANA DAVENPORT: Well, I'm a hapa, (mixed-blood), mother full-blooded Hawaiian, father a blue-eyed blonde from Alabama. I was born and raised in Hawai'i, a real local girl. But the white side of me has always been able to step back and observe, like an outsider. That objectivity helped me as a writer. On the other hand, when I write about the rich cultures across the Pacific, I write from my blood and my heart, because Pacific people feel we are all connected, that the Pacific Ocean is our "continent."

DAVID WISEHART: What most appeals to you about writing short fiction?

KIANA DAVENPORT: Unlike most writers, I started backwards. I published three novels first, and each one took 3-4 years. I began writing short fiction as a way to stay sane, and catch my breath between novels. Plus, short fiction is the best way to learn to write well! Novels are like baggy suits, they can get sloppy. Short fiction can't have any fat. A good short story should be as honed and sharp as a rapier. I've revised each story in this collection at least 15-20 times.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

KIANA DAVENPORT: Tension. A good character has to create tension between herself/himself and other characters, and between herself/himself and the reader! The author has to invent, then constantly embellish, the flaws or virtues that make the reader love or hate a character. Without tension your book, or story, is dead.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine as your ideal reader?

KIANA DAVENPORT: A man or woman who is deeply curious about the world, whose mind is open to strange, new concepts. Like most writers, I hope my stories will slightly change the reader's life. Enlarge it a little.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

KIANA DAVENPORT: I've been writing since I was ten, a weird obsession. After university, I supported my writing as a cannery worker, horse-walker, cane-cutter. Then I moved to New York City and worked as waitress, dog-groomer, free-lance writer for Cosmo, Glamour, The National Enquirer. At night I wrote novels. Thank God the early ones were rejected!

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

KIANA DAVENPORT: I try to write five days a week. I write all day with several breaks. Some days everything is garbage. Then I think of Norman Mailer's response when asked what it took to be a great writer. "Show up," he said. "Show up every day."

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

KIANA DAVENPORT: The Russians, Tolstoy, Gogol, etc. Emerging Eastern and Middle-European writers. I also love Toni Morrison, Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

KIANA DAVENPORT: Moby Dick. (Not only brilliant, but like the Bible, it still sells in the gazillions!)

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

KIANA DAVENPORT: On Twitter, blogging, Facebook. My website recently crashed, so while we build a new one I'm networking to exhaustion!

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

KIANA DAVENPORT: It's the first and the best marketer of ebooks. It would take one year to get my stories published in print as a collection. With a cover designer and converter, I uploaded House of Skin onto Amazon Kindle in one week! No middle man, no kowtow'ing to editors. And Kindle is excellent at helping writers promote their books. Affordable ebooks are attracting more readers. I priced House of Skin: Prize-Winning Stories at only $1.99.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

KIANA DAVENPORT: 1) SLOW...DOWN. Its too easy to self-publish. There's some bad writing out there, novels that lack depth or believable characters because the writer didn't think them through. 2) READ. Your writing will be influenced by great writers whom you admire. There's no such thing as a good writer who doesn't read. 3) REVISE REPEATEDLY. Good writing is about rewriting. That's what makes the story seamless. Readers are intelligent, don't insult them by publishing ungrammatical, one-dimensional characters. They won't buy your next book. Lately I've read some great, inventive ebooks. Its obvious the writers revised their books until they were polished to near-perfection.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.

"Hypnotic and amazing tales. Her writing is astonishing. Along the way we learn about important and  under-represented cultures. The story BONES OF THE INNER EAR still haunts me. I believe some of these stories will stand as long as there is written language."
—Tillie Olsen, author of Silences, Tell Me A Riddle 


Kiana Davenport is the author of the bestselling novels Shark Dialogues, Song of the Exile, House of Many Gods, available at Amazon in all formats. House of Skin: Prize-Winning Stories (Kindle) is her first indie ebook.

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