Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with J.R. Klein, the author of A Distant Past, An Uncertain Future
FQ: How much of Blake is really you?
KLEIN: Quite a bit, probably. I haven’t experienced the tremendous success as an author that he did; however, in other ways we are a lot alike. I tend to be quiet, somewhat reserved, preferring to watch from off stage rather than as a lead actor. I think, in general, my intuitions are good, as his were, and I am a pretty good listener.
FQ: Have you ever experienced the kind or degree of “block” that Blake goes through?
KLEIN: Occasionally on a small scale, though not to the point of full-out writer’s block. Frequently, I will get to a point in a book where I am not exactly sure how to proceed, and like most writers, I have those tormenting days when nothing seems to be working. Yet, all in all, I have managed to get through it...so far.
FQ: In writing his book, Lenny seems to be operating intuitively based on happenings around him – is that the way any of your own books developed?
KLEIN: Essentially all of them. Years ago when I started out, I thought I should write from an outline. It was an utter disaster; I have never been able to work from an outline. It might be a tried-and-true approach for some writers of fiction, but once I learned to let the story take me where it wanted to go, everything worked out fine. Which is not to say the words always flow easily and effortlessly. It is quite common for me to encounter many mental hurdles along the way while attempting to put the words on the page, sometimes even to the point of having to wait days until the story begins to flow again.
FQ: You seem quite knowledgeable about surfing, also – is that part of your own past or present?
KLEIN: Some, but not a great deal, other than that I lived for a while in Del Mar, California, very close to where the book is set. I did, however, spend a lot of time watching and studying surfers and surfing. I remember talking to them and having them explain the peace and tranquility one experiences out on the water early in the morning. They often likened it to a kind of meditation.
FQ: A Distant Past, An Uncertain Future is essentially a hopeful story that shows how friends can help friends in times of need, directly and indirectly. Is that a theme that runs through your earlier books?
KLEIN: It is certainly a component of one of my earlier books, Frankie Jones, a book that, curiously, also takes place in Del Mar and in other parts of Southern California. I think it’s a theme I am likely to stick with in future books...it resonates with me.
FQ: Do you, like Blake, have plans for the next creative endeavor?
KLEIN: I have two completed manuscripts. One is in the suspense/thriller genre, more along the lines of my book, The Ostermann House. The other would probably fall into the category of literary fiction. I seem to move back and forth between literary and suspense. Each has its own form of satisfaction and challenge from a writing perspective.
FQ: Lenny wants to write but doesn't know how, has never done so. He gets ideas for a plot from the people he's meeting and the conversations they have. Has this ever happened to you as a writer?
KLEIN: Yes, many, many times. It’s always hard for me to construct a character out of whole cloth. Most are an amalgam of several people, and a multitude of situations and circumstances. If a memorable person or experience fits comfortably into a book, I am happy to incorporate parts. Yet, I never try to pull in too much from real life. It can become distracting because I start to feel as though I am writing non-fiction. The balance in this is important, I think.
FQ: Blake, by contrast knows how to write, and once he decides to start, he seems to know exactly what will come forth. Again, have you had that experience?
KLEIN: Yes, to the degree that I know where I want the book to go based on what has been written so far. Nonetheless, it is perhaps interesting that I never know how a book will end until I arrive at the end, literally. In all three of my books, I had no idea what would be in the last chapter until I wrote it. As a book begins to take shape during the early stages, however, I generally develop a pretty good sense of where it is heading...all but for the final denouement, that is.
FQ: Have you spent time in Mexican towns, in gringo bars like the one you vividly depict in your book?
KLEIN: Quite a lot. Pretty much from top to bottom and side to side. Years ago when I was in graduate school, and very broke, I took off and traveled for many months through Mexico and Central America, spending less than five dollars a day for food, travel, and housing. It was a rare and unique experience, and it left me with a deep sense of what life is like there. I wrote a memoir of that time that I am hoping will be out in 2020.
FQ: If there were a sequel, would Blake and Emelia get together?
KLEIN: I haven’t given the idea of a sequel too much thought, though it would certainly be feasible. As for Thomas and Emelia hooking up. I considered it in the present book, and a former agent of mine who read the manuscript thought it would be a good idea. For some reason, I felt more comfortable holding to the theme of friendship. Life, however, is an evolving process, and almost anything can happen, as we all know.