This week’s interview is with ITW debut author Brian Klingborg.
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
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 thinkthey want to be writers. So, brew another pot of coffee and get back to work.