Interview With K.P. Kollenborn (How the Water Falls, Thriller)




In your own words, please describe your book.

On the fringes of a civil war arise a kaleidoscope of stories of abuse, power, betrayal, sex, love, and absolution, all united by the failings of a dying government. Set in the backdrop during the last years of South Africa’s apartheid, How the Water Falls is a psychological thriller that unfolds the truth and deception of the system’s victims, perpetrators, and unlikely heroes. The two main characters, one white, Joanne– a reporter, the other black, Lena– a banned activist, have their lives continuously overlap through the people they know during a thirteen-year period and eventually become friends as a result of their interviews together. Joanne personifies the need to question and investigate apartheid’s corruption from a white person’s perspective. Although her intentions begin with idealism, no matter how naïve, as the years pass while the system is failing, she crosses the threshold of what it means to be caught up inside the belly of the beast, especially after crossing paths with the Borghost brothers. Lena, who is inspired by her predecessors, such as Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, is among the minority of black women to peacefully battle for equality, even if her struggle is indicative of sacrificing her health and safety. Hans Borghost is Johannesburg’s commissioner of police who, like all those before, had a military background before pursuing a law enforcement career. Violent, manipulative, and controlling, he incarnates the image of South Africa’s perpetrators. Jared Borghost is the younger brother of Hans and, like his brother, has a military background, but unlike Hans, he internally combats between his sense of duty and morality. His inconsistency indicates a conscience that leaves one to ponder whether Jared is either a perpetrator, victim, or both. As his surname suggests, Bor-GHOST represents the “ghosts” that haunt the family’s past. Many other characters play the roles of spies, freedom fighters, lovers, adversaries, and supporters. This novel is as complex as apartheid was itself, unlacing fabrics of each character’s life to merge into a catalyst downfall. The question of who will survive this downfall will suffice in the courts of truth and reconciliation and whether love is strong enough to preserve peace.


What genre/genres does your book fall under?

Although I have it marketed as a thriller, sub genre of psychological, historical, and political, despite of its backdrop, the story is about people and how they relate to one another.  It’s an intense journey that does have moments of humor and tenderness.  If the reader cannot connect to any other characters, then the author has failed to make that connection. My audience is intended for adults who love a hybrid of historical fiction and thriller. And this is a very adult book based on content and language. The writing pulls you into South African struggles while full of suspenseful action and mystery. This novel is certainly political and ethically explorative, but it doesn’t suffer from its big concepts making it too lofty and inaccessible – inarguably. How the Water Falls is about people. The human experience is the main character, and for the reader, an understanding of what this group of people had to endure is the best lesson to inherit.


Is this book part of a series?



What was the inspiration behind your book?

From real people and real events.  If a person is to become socially conscious as a means to understand the world around oneself, then exploring the past is a good way to start.  For me, it began with the movie Cry Freedom, which was based on the friendship between Donald Woods and Steve Bike.  The inhumanity shown in the movie left me horrified and emotionally displaced.  I was only fourteen. Then, years later, I came across a documentary, the name I don’t remember because I missed the beginning, about a white South African couple who had nothing in common. The wife was a liberal reporter, and the husband was a former army personnel and police officer who had been fired as a scapegoat for apartheid’s problems.  They struggled with understanding each other’s past.  The other inspirations came from the book Kaffir Boy and A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid. In dealing with how to come to terms with violence and poverty, these two books opened up a world history books didn’t touch.  I wish to have a symbolic connection with the titles to the meaning of my stories. How the Water Falls is meant to represent the ideology of power and corruption through the structure of waterfalls, and how a system can fall by the pressure of united power. One of my characters, Lena, explains it all at the ending of the book.


What led you into writing? Was it a lifelong ambition, or the result of some type of turning point in your life?

It was a gradual evolution.  Initially I wanted to be an artist – mainly focusing on drawing and painting, and I had a graphic arts degree.  Because I’m dyslexic, reading and writing came to me slowly as a child, and I somehow compensated by memorizing the structure of words.  I used to tell stories to my sisters as children, but later in school, when I felt forced to write stories as part of our English and grammar training, teachers would compliment my story lines.  I began to have awareness that I could create something in which people liked.  And I kinda liked it, too.  The biggest influence in school was my 8th grade English teacher who read four of my stories out loud to the class.  That was the same year I wanted to write about the Japanese-American experiences.  Up until I was a teenager, I didn’t believe I had any other talent.  After college, I was very lucky in finding a mentor, Leonard Bishop, who had taught writing at Columbia and Berkeley.  (I should be thankful he married a Kansas gal which was the reason he would even live in Kansas!)  It has taken me some time to find courage to pursue a writer’s career.


So far, what has been the greatest moment in your writing career?

Getting published and having people read what I wrote!


Are you self-published or published through a small-press? Can you tell our readers what led up to that and your publishing experience?

I am self-published.  After five years of writing my first novel, Eyes Behind Belligerence, and after five more years of being rejected by agents because they said my book was too long, I went the independent path.  When I had the opportunity to ask John Irving how confident he felt with the publishing world, he replied, “Not at all.” And then went on to explain a conversation he had with his agent, and questioned whether his stories would still be published by today’s standards.  When his agent answered with a reluctant yes, John replied, “Bullshit.” At that moment it solidified my decision to take the independent route. And it has been challenging, with spices of frustrations, as I’m struggling to figure out how to market my books, but I’ve gained so much experience so I don’t regret the decision.  I’m published and people are reading what I wrote, so that’s pretty cool.


What are you working on now?

I’m working on two projects:  One is is Pictorial Ballad which deals with the relationship between the American military and Lakota Sioux during the 1870’s.  I hope to have this project completed by fall of 2015.  My other Pictorial Ballad, Two Dairy Goats’ Journey, has already been published as a children’s book.  You can learn more about this here: My other project is a historical fiction about a female cross-dresser who ponders on themes such as identity, sexuality, and race during the Victorian era.  I have no idea when to complete this project! Perhaps in a couple of years.


In your own words, please tell us about yourself.

As a mother of two daughters, I understand the idiosyncrasies of balancing work, family, and creative endeavors.  If life weren’t a bit off kilter than what is the point of crossing that high wire in the sky?  In other words, without the strength of passion, creativity, and ambition than we all might as well become nothing more than couch potatoes by the end of the day.  It’s all about making our lives productive, interesting, and adding value for the next generation.  By the very nature of my existence, I am an artist.  And by the very nature of my husband’s insistence, I have adapted to become an entrepreneur.  As a couple, we have ventured a music store, a restaurant, real estate, several internet businesses, and two recording studios.  I also work as a graphic designer and in the publishing market since 1994.  Aside from having a graphic arts degree, I have a history degree to satisfy my other passion.  At first I imagined I would be an artist (drawing and painting), but when I realized there were people far more talented, I wrote stories to satisfy my need to be somewhere else.  And as I red more, I wanted to write more.  When teachers began to compliment the stories I was writing for class as a teenager, something clicked in my brain.  And I also love history.  By combining my two loves only increased my need to become more self aware of understanding the world.  The great things about imagination is taking all the facets of experiences and then reinventing them into stories.  The bottom line is that the more you write, the better you write.  I had a teacher, Leonard Bishop (who unfortunately passed away over a decade ago), who believed that ANYONE who has the passion to write can learn the skills to write well.  I have bore witness to this testament and am not a believer as well.


What are some of your likes and dislikes?

I love stories that deal with struggle for freedom, searching for identity and purpose, and have some sort of message that forces you to contemplate.  I dislike superiority complexes that many people flex around.  It not only diminishes their ability to be compassionate, it also diminishes their own loss of humanity.


How can readers connect with you?








Tell us one thing about yourself that we wouldn’t know?

I pushed a boy off a bridge when I was three going on four, and I thought I had killed him when he didn’t move.  To be fair, I did warn him that I would do something to him if he didn’t stop teasing me for being a girl. He only broke his arm and his mother almost ended her friendship with my mother.


If there was one thing you could tell your readers, what would it be?

If you have read and savored over The Power of One, Cry the Beloved Country, Waiting for the Barbarians, Bloodlines, then you’ll hunger for How the Water Falls. They all are about stories that take place in South Africa and combine a human story with the corruption, bigotry, injustice, and violence surrounding apartheid. But it’s more than just that. There are lessons to be learned. There are introspections to be evaluated. There are empathy, rage, and sorrow to embrace. Whether the message is hopeful, tragic, or both, regardless, it should be influential. There are two reasons that the subject of apartheid prevails: One, there is a strong correlation of what occurred in South Africa to what is happening now in Israel. Segregating a population, denying them citizenship, displacing that population into ghettos or refugee camps, and the violence that precipitates mirrors the two countries in hardships and failures. When laws can’t and don’t protect all people living on the same land, it opens up abuse and injustice. Two, it’s only been twenty years since the eradication of apartheid, and we’re continuing to understand what all of that meant. Although political emancipation has succeeded, but discrimination and corruption resumes. The aftermath of apartheid endures a legacy of unresolved issues. What we all should learn from history is that a true democracy, one that is not dysfunctional, is all inclusive, and that education is best method to make it so. Ignorance and greed is what makes war; education and uniting people for a common goal is what saves our future.


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