Welcome, Dan. Good to have you here today. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m the host and editor of the “Read With Me” book series on NPR station WNIJ (archive: http://northernpublicradio.org/term/wnijreadwithme-book-series). I’ve interviewed dozens of authors, two of whom inspired parts of Shepherd & the Professor. For me, each interview is a master class so I guess it made sense that I’d try to write my own stories.
What is your least favourite part of the writing process?
Starting. Staring at a blank Word .doc, trying to make order out of imaginary chaos. I consider it a victory if I write one sentence that first day. Some days I’ll settle for one word. But if it’s the right word, then I’m off to the races!
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Look up the word “exposition.” Now find a more interesting way to do that.
Have any books influenced you or your writing?
Two authors I interviewed influenced my novel. Robert Hellenga (Snakewoman of Little Egypt) often uses first-person female narrators, and he gave me the courage to write from a woman’s point of view. Poet Amy Newman’s book, “Dear Editor,” inspired the query letter aspect of my novel. Each poem in her book is a submission letter to an unknown editor. The letters start out similar, and then change the longer the protagonist waits for a reply.
What do you feel characterises your writing the most?
I love the first person, and I love the present tense. Even when writing about something in the past, I want the reader to experience it NOW. I like the intensity and immediacy it brings. Also, when Shepherd writes her memoir in first/present it reveals something about how she experiences the world.
Tell us about Susan Shepherd and the inspiration for her character.
I borrow a couple of traits from my wife, also named Susan. She was a cop in a small Illinois village back in the ‘80s. She’s also fiery and passionate, and sometimes words fly from her lips before she knows it. I find such blatant honesty a mark of trustworthiness, and I wanted to give my protagonist something similar – something to make you believe in her even when she’s stressed and not the most reliable narrator. I also gave Shepherd a military background, a daughter, and many more personal challenges to overcome.
What books do you like to read?
I grew up on spy novels and thrillers, and still enjoy those. I love poetry because poets pack so much meaning into one word. Many of my favorite writers are journalists who learn not to gunk up their sentences with modifiers. Hemingway is a good example of someone who writes lean and mean. I like someone who says what they mean, and moves on.
Have you any plans for future projects?
I have a short story called “The Caretaker” coming out in a few weeks in the journal Crack the Spine. It’s about a man who’s retiring after decades of working for a vampire. I’d like to expand this into a novel.
And just for a bit of fun, the best and worst gifts you ever received.
Every now and then some well-meaning person gives me a thesaurus. I throw it away when they’re not looking. As for good gifts…My wife took me to Italy for my 40th birthday. It doesn’t get better than that.
One thing you can’t live without.
If you won the lottery what would be the first thing on your list?
Buy a castle in Ireland or Scotland. If none is available I’ll settle for a stone cottage by the sea.
Are you superstitious?
(knocking wood) No.
Thanks so much, Dan. Fabulous best present, and I love your proposed lottery purchases!
Most people take comfort knowing their family and friends will remember them after they die. For Susan Shepherd, “remembering” is bullshit. She wants an eternal shrine to her sacrifice: a book that never goes out of print.
Shepherd served her country in the Gulf War, got shot while serving her community as a cop, raised an ungrateful daughter by herself — and for what? A diagnosis of terminal cancer and she isn’t even fifty. If you were in her shoes, you might agree that nothing short of national perpetual acknowledgement will do.
She’s glad you feel that way; she just wrote a memoir and sent a flurry of query letters, hoping a publisher will memorialize her with a best-seller. After hitting Send, she waits not-at-all patiently for an editor to decide if her story will sell enough copies — that is, if her life really mattered.
About Dan Klefstad
Book Series editor at NPR station WNIJ. Author of Shepherd & the Professor, a book that’s part fictional memoir/part query letter: https://youtu.be/10cnd_tkZlI
Dan lives and writes in DeKalb, Illinois, and Williams Bay, Wisconsin.