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An addict finds life after drugs as author

Christopher Mark Kudela is fast becoming the William S. Burroughs of Niagara County.

Beat novelist and former junkie Burroughs, in his "Naked Lunch" masterpiece, described heroin as the perfect consumer product: "No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl though a sewer and beg to buy."

Kudela, 39, a Lewiston native who has lived in the community most of his life, offers a similar, updated, cautionary tale through the sewer and, like Burroughs, draws from his own experience in his new novel-as-memoir, "They Call Me Krud."

He'll be a featured author at Borders, 2015 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga, from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday and plans other speaking engagements at dates and times yet to be announced.

Los Angeles entertainment writer Anthony Jones notes that Kudela's work is "intoxicating in itself near-impossible to put down."

Now working on a new novel, Kudela said he is donating most of his profits, including funding an award named for his 9-year-old daughter -- "The Sydney Sweetness Award" -- for a "selfless act done in the community."

"This could be volunteering at nursing homes, retirement communities, Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara," he said.

He makes his living as a writer. His fourth book, "Boxcars," for young adults, is about to be published. Trying to live the good life, Kudela, who's single, says he's quit drinking, works out and is trying to clean up his salty language.

>Like the late Niagara Frontier rocker Rick James, whose drug use killed him, you feel that pot was a "gateway drug?"

I started out experimenting with drugs somewhere around the age of 12. Like most people, I was told that marijuana was bad. When I tried it, and liked it, that made me think I should give all others a try. Seeing all of my favorite musicians doing drugs, the rock 'n' roll image of drug use was a lure. Like I said in 'They Call Me Krud' -- 'heroin can't be all bad, look what it's done for my record collection.' I experimented with every drug I could get my hands on, always liking each one more than the last.

>Many of the addicts on A&E network's award-winning "Intervention" seem to note a divorce caused their spiral downward. Do you think you may have had a vulnerability to addiction coming from a broken home?

At 5 years old, I was left with a tremendous longing for love in my heart. It was in fact that emptiness in my heart that drove me to seek solace in narcotics.

>You left home at an early age, how did that affect your life?

Leaving home at a young age, and possessing a voracious appetite for drugs, I became a product of what circumstances forced me to be -- a drug dealer. With the clever tutelage of a street-wise professor, I was schooled on the art of the sale. Getting on it, like a fat kid on a cupcake, I was instantly hooked on the drug-dealing lifestyle.

>As ex-addict and former local rock-group manager Marty Angelo said, "The bill always comes." When did your "bill" come due?

While my addictions deepened, my love for the insanity of it all only grew. As more and more money filtered through my hands, my experiences became more and more depraved. Meeting bigger people in the criminal underworld, I found myself next to gangsters and drug dealers on a daily basis. My life was careening out of control due to my multiple addictions. After almost 20 years, my drug addiction culminated in multiple arrests, eventually landing me behind bars.

>You spent time in Niagara County Jail from 2006 to 2007. Tell us about that.

While jail is a terrible place, it's a conducive environment.

>Conducive to what?

Where people in regular society get away with disrespecting people on a daily basis, jail forces you to be responsible for your actions, like if you say the wrong thing, or even look at somebody in the wrong way.

Though I never want to go back, I'll say it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

>In what way?

It was within those walls of confinement that I found clarity of mind and had an epiphany. I realized if I didn't find a new hobby, I was going to be in jail for a long time. Certain that I was destined for hell, God offered me a chance for redemption: I'd write a story, written for the sinners, not the saints. It would show even the worst people on the planet that with the help of the Lord, anyone can change to good.

>What was that like?

You can only be truly free when you have nothing left to lose.

All of my thoughts effortlessly flowed from my heart onto the page. By lock-in that evening, after my epiphany, I'd completed my first chapter. The next morning when I woke, I got down on my knees and prayed to the Lord for wisdom and guidance on what to write next. I experienced emotional torment. Reluctantly, I told of tragedy befalling the protagonist through blinding tears in my eyes. There were parts that physically exhausted me.

>And when you finished?

I felt like God unhooked fish hooks out of my heart. Instantly, I felt calm. Since that day, I no longer have bad dreams, headaches. God unburdened my soul.

>You'll turn the big 4-O this spring. How does that feel?

I think turning 40 is amazing, considering where and what I've come from.

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Know a Niagara County resident who'd make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Louise Continelli, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail her at lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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