Krone is very much a blue collar writer. He is one of us (or the best of us) — a man who has sold fish, collected bounties, saved lives, and fought fires. He loves the outdoors and photography, and has maintained a deeper love for science fiction for much of his life. In this interview, he discusses his book The Low End Kid, propaganda, indoctrination, and many other relevant topics. What best catches my interest in this interview, is what Robert has to say about the internalization of pain. It makes me think about my own work. -Will B
You just released The Low End Kid in December. At a whopping 500+ pages, it’s obviously a labor of love. Tell us about the process.
At first glance, five hundred pages may sound like a chore to read, but once you get invested in the story, you will breeze through the book in no time.
As for the novel being a labor of love to write . . . uhh . . . it definitely was that, while also providing its share of headaches. Then again, what creative endeavor is not plagued with anxiety? I wish I could say I had a process when I started working on the first draft, but like all first-time novelists, I had to develop one as I went along, letting a few costly mistakes teach me invaluable lessons.
My writing process involves a metric ton of notes, followed by a barebones story outline, which eventually becomes a bloated synopsis (with dialogue included). It’s around this time the characters start taking on a life of their own. Because of this, I sometimes have to make plot alterations based on what I’ve come to discover about the players. For example, I changed the last quarter of The Low End Kid because the sequences I had in mind couldn’t jive with my main protagonist’s identity. To force him to act in opposition to his nature would devalue the story’s emotional integrity. For a while, I wanted the plot to travel to the climax I originally envisioned, but my characters convinced me to stay true to them and their reality. I’m glad my creations won out. I believe the overall novel is better because of it.
I would like to know more about the Collective’s social credit score. How does it get measured? How does a character run up a high score? Low score?
The social credit system shown in The Low End Kid is not like the credit score we have today. You have to think of the book’s concept of credit as a method used to reward valuable members of society. In this setting, there is no official government overseeing day-to-day affairs. The closest thing to a ruling body is the Collective, which is a cybernetic amalgamation of everyone mentally connected to what basically amounts to a futuristic iCloud.
Credit points are similar to getting likes on YouTube or Facebook, except the ability to thrive in the world of 2099 is dependent on how many points you can earn. The lowest class (the Lo-enders) receive a small allotment, which is not enough to live on. The Hi-risers are the upper class, comprised of business tycoons, entertainers, and people who inherit credit. The main character Max Zander is a Lo-ender. For someone like him, the only real way to earn points is to work as a bounty hunter enforcing the Collective’s will. A decent bounty can garner a thousand points. Of course, there are other ways for Lo-enders to earn credit, but those jobs generally don’t pay much. So, social credit is just another form of wealth. Instead of cash, you receive points. The silliness inherit in social credit is illustrated many times throughout the novel.
Thematically, you seem to have a lot to say about the frivolity of history. How accurate is history? Should we expand our understanding of what history is?
I wouldn’t necessarily use the word frivolity. I think The Low End Kid plainly illustrates the corruptibility of history. In the story, the Collective uses propaganda to convince society of all manner of absurdities. The Collective makes it seem that before it existed, the world was a violent, chaotic place. Only it brought peace and enlightenment to humanity, and only it has the power to maintain this utopia. Multiple times throughout the story, the characters engage in dialogues debating the truth regarding socially acceptable historical events. Somewhere mixed up in this intellectual exchange is the definite truth. History is only as reliable as the person (or people) who talk about it. In fact, modern times show how easily facts can be distorted and misrepresented to peddle political agendas. The only defense we have against this indoctrination is by studying cold history, separated from emotions and preconceptions.
Unfortunately, the truth is becoming hard to come by.
You’ve been a jack of all trades throughout your life and have worked many different jobs. How does all that experience factor into your writing?
Most of my experiences have involved keeping my boots on the ground, so to speak. For almost fifteen years, I worked in EMS (in addition to the fire service), bearing witness to perhaps some of the darkest elements of human nature. This one aspect of my life towers over everything else I’ve done or seen. In spite of my best efforts, I have internalized the pain and suffering of others, at times, allowing it to affect me in profound ways.
Thank God I have my writing to use as an outlet. In The Low End Kid, I was able to cast a little of that anguish onto several characters, most notably, Adi Nerees. Her history is a tragic one. With the pain I infused in her, her actions and motivations ring true to the reader, making her more than a standard femme fatale. In essence, she is a living woman . . . whole and true because of my life experiences.
What are some influences you’ve weaved into your work? Bonus, I’m a big fan of The Giver by Lois Lowry, and that feels a bit relevant here.
The Giver is one that I didn’t read until after I wrote the first draft of The Low End Kid. Although both stories deal with weighty issues surrounding human nature and a search for the truth of things, my novel draws its eclectic inspiration from other sources. One is the original pilot episode of Star Trek (The Cage), which deals with the concept of reality vs fantasy, a core theme of my book. Would you live a miserable existence if you could be anyone you want in a make-believe world? This is the very question facing one of my characters.
I would say the 1993 movie Demolition Man was also an inspiration. At first, I didn’t realize how much so until I recently watched the movie again. The dialogue in Taco Bell dinner scene somehow, unconsciously, influenced a similar scene in The Low End Kid, where lowly Max is confronted by the pretentiousness of a group of elitists he is forced to dine with.
To conclude, I would be remiss if I don’t acknowledge the cyberpunk genre as a whole and the key works of its authors. To be honest, my novel wouldn’t exist in its finished form if it wasn’t for Philip K. Dick’s The Adjustment Team, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, along with William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
To learn more about Robert Krone and his work, please visit www.robertkrone.com
Pick up Robert’s debut book, The Low End Kid