I am thrilled to introduce fiction writer Jack Kline as the second artist in my new series, “Artist and Writer Interviews.” “Artist and Writer Interviews” spotlights working artists and writers – the spaces in which they work, where they find their inspiration, what makes them unique. I feature one artist or writer each month. (If you are a working artist or writer who would like to be considered for this series, or if you want to recommend an artist or writer to interview for this series, please contact me.)
I met Jack a year ago, when, new to the rural community of Louisburg, Kansas, I walked in on a writer’s group meeting at the local library. Jack was the group leader. After some fun sessions of swapping and critiquing work, I was asked to co-lead the community writing group for the 2013-2014 year.
It is a thrill and an honor to work not only with such a capable and accomplished writer, but also with such a compassionate person. I hope you are inspired by Jack’s experience as much as I am. Enjoy his words!
Where (what state) do you write?
I live in Kansas, about four miles from the Missouri border. My favorite locations to write are the Colorado mountains and at my sister-in-law’s wheat farm in the sticks (Anthony, KS). But I can write anywhere.
Do you find that place – your geographic surroundings – influence your writing?
Only to a small degree, except the mountains. I am woefully ADHD, and distractions slow me way down and I have trouble getting back on track. For the most part, geographic surroundings are more or less neutral to my writing.
But in the mountains I get all goosebumpy, and my writing becomes more verbose for better and worse. I get sappy and so does my writing. Yes, I love the mountains and lived there once a lifetime ago.
Describe your writing space. How did it come into being, and why is it significant?
I have no true writing space. Because I’m a restless writer I can’t sit still for long. So I move about and carry a little notebook computer with me. I’ve written on the kitchen counter, the fireplace hearth, even on the toilet and on a homemade desk top placed across the rim of our extra-deep bathtub.
I live in the country south of Kansas City, and there’s one room that has floor-to-ceiling windows facing our horse pasture and the woods. But the windows face south and east, and in the morning and early afternoon I must fight the sun. I write there a lot after the sun heads west a ways.
When do you do your writing? Do you adhere to any sort of schedule? Why or why not?
I write anytime I have the time, sometimes even if it’s only for a few minutes. I carry a little spiral notebook in my back pocket and when I see something that sparks me I write it down. Often it relates to what I’m working on, but not always.
I guess I write best in the early morning. My wife just retired, and she’s always been a night owl. My career required that I be an early riser, so I’m always up a couple of hours before she is. It’s just me and the dogs then, and I write productively and they lie around me and sleep productively.
Where do you find inspiration for what you write?
Most of the ideas for my fiction just show up unannounced. So the cheesy answer is “everywhere.” For my personal essays, or what a writer friend calls creative non-fiction, the ideas usually come from deep inside. The men in my family don’t show our emotions, we hide them, never angry, never sad—we certainly never cry. Writing about events, some recent, some long buried, allows me to express in writing what I couldn’t in other ways—love, anger, sadness. Sometimes when the feelings are particularly raw, I fictionalize it, putting my fictional character through the ringer and allowing him to handle things much better than I could or did.
I’ve gotten more inspiration that gets me out of a writer’s jam, or ideas for an entirely new piece while taking a shower. I don’t know why. It just happens. And I learned to be prepared, since pen and paper and laptop are not conducive to shower-taking. But there’s pen and paper waiting a few feet away for when the muse strikes.
Why do you write?
One of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, once asked his Iowa University writing class that question. No one gave him the answer he wanted. And the answer—his answer—was because I have to. And then he explained how writing was a critical part of him, a part he couldn’t live without. I won’t go that far. I don’t have to write to live. I didn’t begin writing until I was in my 50s. But I always loved to read—always. And I always wanted to write. I love to write.
I have a vain streak in me. And the vain Jack inside likes me to write things that other people will read and enjoy. I don’t do it for money. Money’s just whipped cream on the pumpkin pie. Few writers ever make enough to support themselves.
I could live just fine without writing. But my life wouldn’t be as rich or rewarding. And all of that stuff bottled up inside would never be uncorked.
What are you working on right now? How did the project come to you, and why is it important?
I just finished a novel, something I wasn’t sure I could do. That alone makes it important.
In 2006 I enrolled in night school at the University of Kansas after a 30+ year layoff. The degree program was called Literature, Language and Writing. Most of the students were young enough to be my children, and I wasn’t sure I could compete. I earned a scholarship and won a couple of English Department writing awards.
The very last class I took for graduation was Literature of Noir. Because I’d had the professor in a non-fiction writing class and he knew I could do the work, he told me I could write noir fiction for my grade instead of the usual class papers. So I started this noir story. Each time a paper was due I added to it. At the end of the semester I had about forty pages. When he asked me how long it would be, I told him about another forty pages. Professor Luce told me I might as well make it into a novel.
So I did. And I found it to be very difficult and very rewarding. And if I can do it once I can do it again.
Through a streak of good fortune a literary agent read the novel and liked it enough that she will represent me as she peddles it around the New York publishing houses. I’m hoping for the best, but prepared for letdown.
What is one of the most important lessons you have learned through the writing process?
I had very thin skin when I began writing. Criticism, even constructive, hurt a lot.
I’ve learned not to be negative—at all, period. And I’ve learned not to take literary criticism personally.
If I get stuck on a piece (some call it writer’s block) I know now I can work through it. If I send out a short story ten times and get six rejections and never hear from the other four, it doesn’t mean the story’s not good. I remember the first story I published. I read the letter saying they wanted to publish it if I would just make these suggested corrections and changes. I looked at the story and almost cried (But remember, Kline men don’t cry). The story was covered with red ink.
Through hard work and honing my skills I have become a confident writer and a more confident person. I can take criticism, weigh it, and use it if it makes my writing or the piece better and discard it if it doesn’t.
How do you balance time to write with other facets of life that demand attention?
It was difficult to write for pleasure when I worked full time and went to night school at KU and had kids at home. As a parks and recreation manager, I made a career of prioritizing. There never was enough staff or time to accomplish everything. Consequently, as a prioritizer, I do well juggling writing and life.
Who is your favorite author? Why? How were you first exposed to this writer?
I’ll say it at the risk of being stigmatized. My favorite writer is Stephen King. He is prolific (62 books at last count). At his best, he is a scintillating. At his worst—at least a half-dozen books—he is pedestrian. People pigeon-hole him as a horror writer. But he writes about people and how they struggle and persevere. And not just in a horror setting: he wrote Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and the novella on which the film, Stand by Me, is based.
I want to write about people, their strengths, and weaknesses and how they struggle to deal with the raw deal life so often hands us. I want to do it as well as Stephen King. And Stephen King wrote a damn fine book on the craft of writing (On Writing).
First exposure? I read The Shining when it first came out. It scared the shit out of me.
Also on the short list of writers I love are: Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Roddy Doyle, Jodi Picoult, Herman Wouk, Leon Uris, Alice Munro, Adrian McKinty, Karen Russell and Gillian Flynn
Do you find that seasons inform your work?
To some degree. I’ve been writing a Christmas story every November/December (8th year in 2013) that I give to family and friends for Christmas.
I live in an area where there are four distinct seasons. And I suppose I’ve written most of my winter-based fiction in winter. But most of the time for both fiction and non-fiction writing the season I write and the season of the story don’t necessarily jive, nor is there any conscious influence.
Who have been some of your biggest influences?
I wrote this dedication in my short story collection, Blowing Carbon: “To my parents, Jean and Phil, who instilled in me the desire to read even before I knew what an alphabet was.”
I love sharp, humorous wit. Mark Twain and Will Rogers.
In the academic world: Giselle Anatole and Mark Luce (the Lit of Noir guy)
My long-distance writer-friend-mentor-cheerleader, Priscilla Myers.
Martin Luther King
My wife, Nancy.
Jack Kline has been seriously writing since 2005. He has had numerous essays and short stories published in the U.S. and Great Britain. A collection of his short stories and essays, Blowing Carbon was published in 2010 and is available at a smattering of bookstores and on Amazon. His novel, But Not for Me ,currently winds its way through New York publishing houses. Jack lives with his family, dogs and horses near Louisburg, KS. http://jackkline.squarespace.com/