Arts and Culture

Westword Book Club: J.A. Kazimer on dyslexia, peeing in a bottle and writing what you know

Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature that celebrates the books that inspire Denver artists.

J.A. Kazimer is a Denver-based writer with a fascinating, wide-ranging set of skills and interests. The author of books with such disparate titles as SHANK, Holy Socks and Dirtier Demons and Froggy Style: A Fucked-Up Fairy Tale,, Kazimer has been uniquely influenced by the books she's read -- when she was finally able to read. This week, Westword sat down with Kazimer to discuss those books, dyslexia and her interesting work history.

See also: - Westword Book Club: donnie betts on reading from the bottom shelf of the library - Westword Book Club: Comedian Adrian Mesa on searching for spirituality - Noir @ the Bar celebrates red-meat fiction and remembers writer Cort McMeel

Westword: What do you typically like to read?

J.A. Kazimer: I read a lot, and I'll read almost everything. I really like genre fiction. I'm a big mystery buff. I'm currently revising and writing the first draft of a book, so I can't really read other people's stuff at the moment because I don't want to steal anyone's voice. The last book I read, though, was called Junkie Love, by Joe Clifford, which was pretty amazing crime fiction. It's pretty dark.

Can you describe some of the books you've written? I must be terrible at building my brand because I write anything from addiction or junkie fiction, to mystery, crime fiction, I have some urban fantasy, some satirical Jesus and God-related stuff, but the most popular books have been the Fucked Up Fairy Tales series. Which are just really wrong.

Fairy tales are already more fucked up than most people realize.

Totally. I love the Grimm's fairy tales, and I decided to just infuse them with my twelve-year-old boy humor. People really respond to fairy tale re-imaginings, on TV and movies now. You don't need to create a character organically anymore; you can just build variations on these archetypes, and comment on them through dirty jokes.

Have any books had a direct influence on what you do?

Books have had a ton of direct influence on my life and my decisions. I didn't read much growing up because I was dyslexic until I was eighteen. So the first series I picked up were like Sue Grafton novels, and reading those made me want to be a P.I So I became a P.I.

That's awesome. Please talk about being a private investigator.

I did it for four years. It is absolutely, positively not like it is in fiction.

No brassy dames with gams up to here?

No, none of that. I spent most my time following cheating husbands and tracking down missing persons. One time, do you remember that chick that knee-capped Nancy Kerrigan? Tonya Harding? I got to stalk her,which was kind of exciting. But there's no guns, no one shoots at you. It's mostly a lot of waiting, a lot of trying to figure out how to pee in a bottle when you're a girl. It's not pleasant.

Really? No bathroom breaks?

Nope. That would blow your cover. I worked alone, too. Believe, it was always a last resort. It really was unpleasant. The first guy who hired me as an investigator made such a huge deal out of me peeing in bottles that I suspect he might have hired me to avoid being sued for sexual harassment.

Keep reading for more on Kazimer's career as a P.I.

J.A. Kazimer
Did those experiences inform your writing at all?

Definitely. After those four years, I decided that I didn't want to be a P.I. anymore, but I want to do something in the criminal-justice field, so I went and got my degree in forensic psychology. That influences my books a lot, trying to understand why somebody would run over somebody else with a bus.

I think that's really interesting and it sets you apart as a writer, because anyone can read a lot of Raymond Chandler and try to write mysteries, but having those firsthand experiences and doing all that research probably helps. You've got knowledge that people can't make up.

I'd like to think so, but I also have my doubts. What do you think of the advice "write what you know?"

I think it can be helpful advice, but yeah, it's not like H.G. Wells had any first-hand experience with time travel. But you've had pretty interesting experiences, so that advice is more valid for someone like you, whereas some nineteen-year-old kid who's never done anything will follow that advice to the end of a really mundane story.

Exactly. I wonder if it's a hindrance, too, like if I'm missing something when I'm writing because character's behavior is dictated by what I've learned about mental illness. Questioning the authenticity of your voice ultimately makes you a better writer.

So, when did you decide that you wanted to be a writer, was it during your crime-fighting days?

No, it was afterwards. It was another book that made me want to be a writer. Have you heard of Christopher Moore?

Maybe? The book was called Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. It's the best book ever. It's one of the most hilarious books I ever read. I also just wanted to have a job that's fun.

Did your earlier struggles with dyslexia shape your future reading habits at all?

Yeah, I remember being in a remedial reading class where we would just sit and read the newspaper for four hours a day, which is pretty boring for a kid. I'm just glad someone finally gave me something to read that I liked. A pulp book. Who knows what would have happened if it had been a romance! I have gone back to read the classics, but sometimes I feel like I'm not smart enough to get into them. I recently taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at Naropa in Boulder, so I brushed up on Burroughs, Ginsberg and all the Beats. I think that during the twenty years that I've been a more regular reader, I've more than made up for the time I missed out on. I have at least 500 books at home. They're the only thing I pack and move with me when have to move. J.A. Kazimer is featured in the upcoming Special Evening of Writerly Madness readings at the Boulder Bookstore at 7:30 p.m. on June 13. Information on all of her books and upcoming appearances is available on her official website.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham

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