Today I am glad to bring you all an interview with the author of “Shepherd and the Professor” DAN KLEFSTAD!
First of all, can you let us know more about yourself?
I’m the morning newscaster for NPR station WNIJ. I’m also the “book beat” editor so I interview authors from the WNIJ area (northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin). Here’s my archive.
Each interview was a master class in storytelling, and the creative process, so I’m trying to write stories that are as good as I read.
At what age did you start reading? And what are your favorite genres?
I think I was nine when I went through a “horse phase” so I read all the Black Stallion novels. As a teenager I started playing Dungeons & Dragons so I read The Hobbit and the Lord of The Rings novels, plus other fantasy. Then it was spy thrillers. If I were a parent or a teacher trying to get kids to read, I’d say pay attention to what interests them in real life. Then give them books that match their interest.
I’m really interested to know what made you start writing novels?
Oddly, it was Television. I was 16 when I saw the British series “Reilly: Ace of Spies,” starring Sam Neill, and I was completely absorbed by this British agent operating in Russia just before the Bolshevik Revolution. So I wrote a novel with similar characters, set in the same period, and it was awful. But my mother encouraged me to keep writing, and I remain grateful for her encouragement.
I would like to thank you for sending me your book “Shepherd and the Professor”. I thought that Susan Shepherd had a unique and strong personality in the book. Can you let us know who inspired her character?
I borrow two things from my wife who’s also named Susan. She was a cop in the Village of Roscoe, Illinois, in the 1980s. Also, she’s fiery and passionate and sometimes words fly past her lips without her thinking about them. I like that she doesn’t have so many filters, which to me shows how nakedly honest she is. I hoped that lending this trait to Susan Shepherd would encourage the reader to trust her, even in those intense moments when she goes off the rails.
Now this story deals with a lot of issues including physical & sexual assault, gender inequality , violence in educational institutes, unemployment, drug use, and racism. Why did you want to write about all of these issues instead of focusing on one?
Well, life seems packed with all these experiences so I thought “Why shouldn’t a piece of fiction do the same?” I also wanted to show how Midwestern people face a range of issues and challenges – that there’s so much to grapple with in Rustbelt Country. Many people who aren’t from here assume we’re mild-mannered, polite, church-going, welcoming people. I guess I wanted to show how quickly that veneer melts away when you apply more and more pressure on each person.
I thought it was interesting that you had Muslim characters in your book. Why did you choose to write about Islam?
I’m interested in how people who are used to being in the majority face a rising minority. And in the Midwest, like other parts of the country, Islam is still rather exotic. So you have the potential for friction, for conflict, which is an easy place to begin any story. Then I decided to have a white Jewish character convert to Islam, which added a layer of rarity, of complexity, which takes the story to another level. This was my signal that a Muslim character has a prominent role in this story, but you probably don’t know how his faith will influence it.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book?
First let me state clearly that it’s not about the vampire (There are so many stories about vampires that people often immediately shut the door). Is the door still open? Okay, I have a short story coming out in the journal Crack the Spine on Feb. 1. It’s called “The Caretaker,” and the protagonist is a man who’s about to retire after decades of working for a vampire. The story is a fictional memoir that doubles as a letter to one person – in this case, the man who will succeed the protagonist. The story is a metaphor for having a career, and the sacrifices we make early in our lives in hopes that we’ll spend our “evening years” in peace and luxury. I’m trying to turn this into a novel.
Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?
First, focus on writing your story, one that speaks to you, without worrying what other people might think about it. Then get a good edit from someone you trust. This is the stage where you start thinking about the reader and how they’ll consume your words. Finally, prepare yourself for lots of rejection – from agents and publishers, from reviewers and everyday readers. Don’t ignore all the rejections; some may offer constructive criticism. But keep writing no matter what other people say about your stories. They exist for a reason. One day, you’ll look around and see people are finally taking you seriously, not only because your stories have merit but because you’re still standing after everyone took their shot at you. So that Edison quote about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration is missing something: fortitude. (Sorry I couldn’t make it rhyme).
Where can the readers buy your books?
Shepherd & the Professor is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers. Paperback, .mobi, .PDF. It’s in very few brick stores right now but they can order you a copy.