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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Brian Klingborg: Small Town Murder, Big Time Thriller

This week's interview is with ITW debut author Brian Klingborg

THE AUTHOR

Brian Klingborg works in the educational publishing field. He’s written books on Kung Fu, and he wrote for the Winx Club television series. Kill Devil Falls is his first novel. He lives in New York City.

You can find Brian on Twitter 


THE INTERVIEW

You wrote non-fiction books before you turned your skills to your first novel. How did that process differ for you?

The main difference between writing non-fiction and fiction is, of course, you can’t just make stuff up for non-fiction! 

My first non-fiction book was on the Chinese martial arts.  I wrote it as an homage to my teacher, Lai Hung. In his youth, Lai Hung was a full-contact fighting champion, and famous throughout Asia, but he was relatively unknown in the West.  I felt it was an injustice that he toiled away with a handful of students in relative obscurity, while many lesser talents had huge schools and lucrative instructional video deals.

Presenting factual information about kung fu was a challenge, however.  There wasn’t much research material available in English, and even the Chinese sources were full of apocryphal tales and exaggerations.  Secret techniques obtained from mysterious mountain-dwelling hermits.  Abilities that bordered on the supernatural.  That sort of thing.  I did my best to separate the wheat from the chaff and in those cases where I included an anecdote that seemed too implausible to be true, I gave alternative interpretations. 

But even when I write fiction, I do a ton of research.  Cars, weapons, clothing, equipment, geography, architecture, flora and fauna, anything that features in the plot is looked up and verified.  I recently completed writing a dark thriller set in 1901.  I included 85 footnotes.  So, even though my stories and characters are products of my imagination, I construct them on a framework of facts.

Tell us about your road to publication:

I spent many years confident that I would one day be a successful author without actually putting a single word on paper.  When I finally got around to writing, I first tried my hand at screenplays.  I had no industry contacts, and the screenplays weren’t very good anyway, but I managed to get a couple of minor producers interested in one of two of them.  Of course, nothing came of it. 

After about ten years, I gave up on screenwriting and decided to write a novel.  It took two years to finish the first one.  I sent it to thirty agents.  Only one responded.  He suggested a number of revisions.  I dutifully made them.  And then the agent was like, naaah. 

So, I dusted off an old screenplay, one that was designed to be filmed on a low-budget.  I wanted something I could bang-out quickly.   It still took me a year.  I sent it out to another thirty agents, one of whom I had been referred to by a mutual friend.  Guess which agent finally agreed to represent me?  He sent the book to twelve or thirteen publishers.  One offered an advance of $300. Another offered a little bit more (but not much).  And thus, Kill Devil Falls was published by Midnight Ink last April.

You located your novel in a small, fictional town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You grew up in the San Joaquin Valley. You now live in New York City and have traveled extensively. How did your exposure to a variety of cultures and communities impact you as a writer?

I suppose wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider.  I grew up in a small agricultural community.  Most of my classmates knew from a young age what was waiting for them after school – the family farm or the military.  As for me, I had no clue.  I spent some time in Asia, where I stood out simply by virtue of being a Westerner.  But the culture shock of living in a foreign land was nothing compared to what I felt when I moved to the northeast.   People spoke with a strange accent and I couldn’t always understand what they were saying.  You couldn’t get a glass of iced tea in November because it was seasonal.  Restaurants served food like hoagies and grinders.   If you wanted cold cuts, you went to a deli, and if you wanted toilet paper, you went to a market.

But when you’re an outsider, you learn to observe.  You watch people.  What they’re wearing, how they talk, their interactions with one another.  You take a mental note of what you see and hear, and file it away.

And that’s what writers do.  They watch, they listen, they observe, and then they use that information to add color and authenticity to their work.   

What does "rural noir" mean to you?

The word noir conjures up images of urban landscapes rendered in black and white, trench coats, seedy bars, dirty alleyways. 

In contrast, we have the idealized small American town.  Quaint, bucolic, folksy.   Hard-working people making an honest living, attending church on Sundays, adhering to old-fashioned values.

Naturally, everyone expects to encounter bad behavior in a big city.  Muggers, rapists, con-artists and killers.  But small-town America is no stranger to sin.  There is an ever-present undercurrent of violence, racism, lust and greed lurking beneath those green pastures and among those church pews.

For me, setting a noir thriller in a rural setting was a way to subvert the myth of small-town American wholesomeness.  And to suggest that, in my cynical opinion, even in the most Mayberry, USA of towns, there’s a touch of Sodom and Gomorrah.

You wrote Kill Devil Falls in third person, multiple. What made you choose that POV?

I wrote Kill Devil Falls with multiple points of view in order to provide a window into each character’s motivations.  I want readers to not necessarily agree with what the characters do, but to at least understand why they are doing it.  To empathize with them on some level – even the villains.

What are you working on now?

Currently I’m working on a Neil Gaimanesque urban fantasy about a Taoist detective.  It’s got Satanists!  Black magic!  Cannibals!  Monster sex!  Kung fu fighting! 

Final words of wisdom:


Every successful writer has received dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections.  Failure is just the universe’s way of separating real writers from people who think they want to be writers.  So, brew another pot of coffee and get back to work. 

David C Dawson: Journalist, Documentary Filmmaker, and Novelist from Across the Pond

I love having authors from around the world join me on my blog. Today, I have ITW author David C. Dawson coming all the way from London!

David is an award winning writer, journalist and video producer. The second book in his series The Dominic Delingpole Mysteries is published at the end of 2017. The first in the series, called The Necessary Deaths was released in November 2016. It's an award winner in the 2017 FAPA President’s Awards for Adult Suspense and Thrillers. His short story, Looking for George, is published in Love Wins, an anthology for the victims of the Orlando shootings.

THE INTERVIEW

Before writing your first novel, you worked as a journalist and made documentary films for television. How did those prepare you for writing a novel?

Working in a newsroom helped me in two ways. The first is deadlines! It’s a blessing and a curse in some ways, because I can work well to a deadline. But if I don’t have one, I tend to let things slide a bit… 

The second benefit I gained from working in news, is that I can work anywhere. When you’re in a newsroom, or on location, it can be real noisy. I’m able to block out what’s going on around me and simply concentrate on the writing.

In addition to writing a gay novel series, you sing with the London Gay Men's Chorus. Your lifetime has seen a tremendous shift in how society views/accepts the LGBTQ community. How has that journey impacted you as a writer?

That’s so true. I can tell you a story that perfectly illustrates that. In May of this year, I went on tour with the London Gay Men’s Chorus to New York and Chicago. In Chicago, we were invited to sing at an elementary school in the suburbs. First we sang to the lower school, then did a workshop with the school choir about music and empowerment. Then we sang to the upper school. A few years ago, to have a gay choir perform in a school would have been unheard of. I spoke to the school’s music teacher, and asked her whether any parents had asked that their children not take part in the event.

“No!” She said. “Not a problem at all. Not only are there several LGBT members of staff at the school, but also a couple of students have same sex parents.”

That’s how far we’ve come.

The books I write are old fashioned mysteries, where the main characters happen to be gay. A lot of gay literature I’ve come across, concentrate on gay issues. It’s understandable, but they can present gay issues in a negative light. And I feel good about myself, and I want others to do so too.

You grew up in London, but have traveled to other countries, including spending time on tour in the US. Do you have a sense of any differences in your audiences between the US and the UK?

That’s a really difficult question. I think probably not. There are the obvious cultural issues I have to watch, such as different spellings, different styles of speaking, and cultural references that are too country specific to be readily understood. My editor at Dreamspinner Press is fantastic in helping me get that right. But story telling is universal. 

I think European literature has benefited hugely from experimentation in the US. American writers seem to like to play with conventions, they try to break them, or distort them to create a specific literary effect. I love that. I’m still maybe overly cautious about breaking with convention, worried I’ll alienate readers.

Tell us about your path to publishing your first novel:

Long! Writing was therapy for me. I came out late in life, so when I did, writing was the obvious way to “let it all out”. I’ve been in a fabulous writing group for many years. Each month we write short stories for each other’s entertainment. 

A couple of people in the group were published and I thought, why not me? I don’t have a big novel burning inside me, and throughout my life I’ve written almost exclusively factual content, for news, documentaries, and magazine articles. But I’ve always loved detective stories. Which leads on to the next question…

What drew you to writing mysteries?

I love them! Well, detective stories mainly. When I was a child growing up in the UK, I used to devour the books of Enid Blyton. The Secret Seven and Famous Five series in particular. Then I moved on to Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell and Dorothy L. Sayers. (All women writers, I’ve just noticed that. Elena says: I love that!) Being a scientist by background, I’m a Math graduate, I took some of my favourite authors’ books, and deconstructed them. Then I tried to imitate what they had achieved. As I wrote, I started to discover my own style. Of course, I’m still working on that. It takes a lifetime.

What are you working on now?

The Deadly Lies is the second in the Dominic Delingpole series, and it’s out December 5. I’m just finishing off a romantic suspense for Dreamspinner Press which features two new lovers: an American living in London called Luke Diamond and a British journalist called Rupert Pendley-Evans. Meanwhile, I’m working on a script for a one-off drama about a woman raised by Christian fundamentalist parents, who escapes from an abusive environment to find happiness. It’s based on a true story I was told. (We were just talking about English/American expressions. I'd never heard "a one-off drama" before. David explained to me, it's a script for television written to be a stand alone, not a series.)

Final words of wisdom:


Write! The biggest problem for writers is self editing. That little voice inside which keeps saying, “that’s not right, “that’s not any good”. If you listen to it, you’ll always stare at a blank page. Get the first draft out. It will be too long, wrongly structured, with unrealistic dialog. But you’ll have written it. Now it’s on the page, start editing. Edit and re-edit. The brilliant British writer Mark Haddon says that the majority of successful writers are actually not very good writers. But they are excellent editors of their own work.

I couldn't agree more, David. Thank you for spending time with us this week!