Local author Rod Kulbach has come out with a collection of short stories and poems from a lifetime of travels. “Seventeen Stories… and more” includes stowing away on a ship, facing loss and love, and quiet life observations. The Journal sat down with Kulbach to ask him some questions about the book, his process and life through the lens of writing.
Journal: How long have you lived on the islands?
Rod Kulbach: Two of us sailed in the 1960s, came in and anchored the boat, came up Spring Street and stopped at Herb’s Tavern. There was a dog sleeping on the sidewalk and I thought, “I’m going to live here some day.” And that’s what happened. Barbara and I moved here together.
J: The ocean is very present throughout a lot of these stories. Are there any other themes that tie the stories together in any way?
RB: I wanted the stories to stand on their own, and I mention that, so you can pick the book up and read one or two stories, or just read a little poem and even if you don’t like poems you could get through three of four lines at least.
J: The poems are often faced with a story, and there’s a whole section devoted to poems. What is the difference for you in terms of inspiration when writing poems versus short stories?
RB: I think for me, a poem is a way to express something in almost haiku form, but it isn’t, it isn’t formal. And so I chose to almost go free form. For most of my grown up life I did write and sometimes my writing, I can’t say it just came on its own, but in traveling I would pull out a notebook and fill out a couple of pages that later on I would really treasure, whether it was in Mexico eating tacos, there’s a poem in there about the taco man, and that one was really fun.
J: Is there any time period in which these are written?
RB: No. It’s interesting how things have a different meaning 20 years down the road, you know. Sometimes you’ll write something and think “Well hey this is pretty neat” and then later on you’ll see it’s actually pretty foolish.
There were some things like the lengthier stories for example my mother’s dying, where I tried not to be maudlin, I just wanted it to be a straight arrow, “this is what is happening.” And I think it works. People seem to relate to them in some way. Even now I still have another box of writing, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to it. They’re actually kids stories. There’s one about a little girl and a snake and they get together to discuss what happened.
J: So many of the voices of the characters are unique. When you were writing for example in “A House in the Desert by the Sea” you speak from the perspective of the old woman, it’s very convincing. Where do you draw from to bring those voices out?
RB: I had a bit of a tough time with that particular story because I spent a lot of time where the house was, pretty much building a boat in her front yard. I got to spend a lot of time with her, but I was a little bit spooked writing from the perspective of a woman, I mean what do I know? I think it works, but the last couple pages I was flying on thin air.
J: I also really liked the “Island Dreams” story, the sentiment that some people keep searching even after they’ve found paradise.
RB: Well good, that was really the intent. I wanted it to be not so heavy duty thing. It could happen to all of us – you find a place, and I know I was like that when I first discovered Belize. I thought this is it! There’s a coral reef there and the storms won’t get me, water front property was just then starting to have value, so I probably could have bought a chunk of land but I didn’t. This thing of longing is in there, similar with the poem “Smaller Circles.” With “Island Dreams,” even in our relatively short time here we’ve met probably six people who just really nailed that story, and everything really was beautiful. You can’t refute that. It’s just that somehow it’s not quite enough. There are some people who, quite frankly, I think are dissatisfied no matter where they are.
J: Do you consign to that at all? That you go to a place and then you feel the need to keep going?
RB: That certainly was the case at one point, like in my 20s and 30s I think that would be a good way of putting it. It’s that thing of what’s around the next bend, and then you get around the next bend and there’s another point. I had to catch myself not falling into precisely that: this is best place I’ve ever been, “but,” and this is great, “but.” At some point you should probably just get rid of the “but.”
J: What sort of advice might you give to a beginning writer?
RB: I have some friends who are really, I feel, better writers then I am. They have a better command of the language. And we’ve had this conversation, or close to what you’ve asked me. I think it frustrates people because I don’t really have an answer. I like to think that I kind of shoot from the hip – I don’t have any advice for anyone else because I’ve never written in some organized fashion. People want to know do I wake up in the morning and sharpen my pencils, or do I have a special place to write, and I don’t. Sometimes I wish I did so I could write a novel, but my mind doesn’t work that way, it would go off in tangents.
And that’s why I like the short stories, because I can get through them. The one thing about writing about things about the past is then you start living in the past, and I don’t know if that does anyone any good.
Kulbach’s book “Seventeen Stories and more” is available for sale at Griffen Bay Bookstore.