This is the first post of my Real Characters series of interviews. The point of them is to act as a little piece of research when writing realistic characters. My inaugural interview is with the author David Klein. Klein has two published books available for sale on Amazon. Clean Break has a particularly good antagonist in my opinion as a psychologist. The character just can’t realize he’s the bad guy. That makes him a lot scarier.
JM: At what point in your life did you start calling yourself a writer, and was there ever a point at which you decided you might have been premature with that designation?
DK: This is an interesting question because it digs into debilitating insecurities that every writer faces. Am I real writer? What do I have to accomplish before I call myself a writer? As if there were a measurable threshold of output, publication or recognition that must be achieved before you are a “writer.” It’s an awful way to think. Whenever someone asks me what they need to do to become a writer, I have a one word answer: Write. Painters paint. Musicians compose. Dancers dance.
But I realize this answer is extremely unsatisfying to someone who wants to be a writer, because what they are really asking is how to get published. My answer still starts with: Write. You also need talent, patience, and work ethic. After that, myriad events must occur. You have to have written something that is deemed worthy of publication, meaning the publisher believes there is potential for sales. You likely need an agent to open the gates. You need your work to match a publisher’s vision at the exact right time. So you need luck—it’s essential.
I’ve been calling myself a writer longer than I’ve been calling myself a published writer. If I tied my identity as a writer to external validation (which I often do, as all writers do, but try not to), I would never be good enough.
JM: Is there anything you think people get wrong about the writer life, and is there anything you are surprised that they get right?
DK: I don’t think there is such a thing as a “writer’s life” that applies to all writers. There are likely work habits that apply to all working writers: showing up on a daily basis, putting words down whether the sailing is smooth or seas rough, reading heavily to learn from other writers.
Some people have a misconception that the writing life is synonymous with creativity, hours spent totally absorbed in work. There is some of that, of course, but mostly the writer’s life is working the craft.
JM: There are far fewer depictions of writers in movies and books than I expected there would be. Do you have a favorite depiction of a writer from either of those places.
DK: I’ll say Nathan Zuckerman, the alter-ego of Philip Roth. He appears in many of Roth’s books as either a protagonist or a “disappearing” narrator who is writing the novel. When will Roth be awarded the Nobel Prize?
JM: How much of David Klein gets into his characters? Is there ever a time when you’re concerned that people think that you’re secretly like some of your characters?
DK: Readers always want to know how much of a work of fiction is based on real events or real characters. For me, the answer is none of it and all of it. A real event or person might inspire, but the ultimate result is produced by imagination, research and thinking.
I see myself in all of my characters, just as parents can see themselves in their children. I’m as much Gwen, the stay-at-home mom in my novel STASH, as I am the violent gambling addict Adam in CLEAN BREAK. I have no concerns that people might think I’m secretly like some of my characters. I’m proud that I am.
JM: What kind of preparation do you do to make sure your characters don’t sound like the same person? In other words, how deep into development do you go before putting the first word down?
DK: My pre-writing phase varies. I tend to take a lot of notes about characters, plot, structure, etc. before summoning the will to actually begin the story and discover the voice. As for making sure characters don’t sound alike, that has always come organically for me. I know some writers like to fill out character worksheets that describe every attribute and habit of a character, but I’ve never done that. The voices of the characters come to fruition mostly as I write. If I see that several characters “sound the same” that gets taken care of in subsequent drafts and editing.
JM: Without spoiling anything if you can avoid it, was there ever a time when one of your characters did something to really surprise you?
DK: Yes. In my novel CLEAN BREAK, one of the major characters ended up committing a crime that I didn’t see coming, and when I did see it coming, thought that a different character would be the one committing it. This is the joy of discovery while writing.
JM: If you reached a level of success where novel writing was able to be your sole focus, how would you structure your day?
DK: I have no idea, but probably my day wouldn’t change that much. It’s almost always structured around writing.
JM: A lot of authors have “trunk novels,” works that never see the light of day. What percentage of your work do you estimate falls in this category, and how easy is it for you to let them drift away on the ice floe?
DK: A much higher percentage of my work than I care to admit ends up in the drawer. It’s the nature of the beast for most writers. I wouldn’t say I let any of my unpublished novels drift away, because I can always open that drawer again, there is always a potential light there, and as Charles Bukowski wrote, “it may not be much light / but it beats the darkness.”