novelist (who also published Jesus Lives in Trenton) takes time to discuss
his most recent novel, the current state of the publishing industry, what
it’s like to assume the POV of a sexually deviant pyromaniac, and his
mentor…ahem, Albert Einstein (yeah, I know, it’s a weird choice for a writer
of literary fiction, but Klim actually was a rocket scientist).
by Matt Ryan
Christopher Klim Brings out his Literary Boxing Gloves
….and if you just so happen to be an NYC publisher, you’re gonna be a lot
uglier by the end of the interview so watch out—unless, of course, you were
wanting matching black eyes to coordinate with your “black clad
pretentiousness” as Klim calls it.
Klim, author of the recently released Everything Burns and founder/managing
editor of Writers Notes Magazine, has been a busy man of late. He’s in touch
with his Sagitarius side, allowing him to take on multiple writing projects,
and he’s also in touch with his smart ass side, taking aim at…well, really, I
don’t think he cares. He just fires away the way he sees it, if it hits, or
sticks, or annoys, or offends, or disturbs, then you can just imagine him
saying that’s what a good book/writer is supposed to do..
This ambitious novelist (who also published Jesus Lives in Trenton) takes
time to discuss his most recent novel, the current state of the publishing
industry, what it’s like to assume the POV of a sexually deviant pyromaniac,
and his mentor…ahem, Albert Einstein (yeah, I know, it’s a weird choice for a
writer of literary fiction, but Klim actually was a rocket scientist).
You’ve now written two novels with the same protagonist, Boot Means. Both
have been well received with solid reviews, including Booklist. Is this the
end of Boot Means?
No, there are at least two more stories as yet unwritten, but for the moment,
I’m preoccupied with two non-Boot Means novels, The Winners Circle and Idiot!
For now, those Boot Means novels assemble in the back of my mind.
You seem to enjoy torturing your characters. Is this personal?
Lately, interviewers have been asking if I’m a violent person. I was born
under punches, and in the 80’s, I hit rough patches. Don’t we all have crap
to work out?
No one can say the forces of antagonism are missing from Everything Burns.
You have created the most twisted antagonist since Hannibal Lecter. Tell us
A two-dimensional antagonist is the hallmark of pulp fiction. No person is
all bad, as is no one all good. We are shades of gray. Even Hitler had a
Your first novel, Jesus Lives in Trenton, sold quite a few copies. It also
made some enemies along with way, particularly by invoking the “J” word in
the title. Has Everything Burns burrowed its way under anyone’s skin?
The mail I’ve received has been just as intense but in a different way. JLIT
served as a litmus test, evoking people’s sense of God and religion by the
title alone, and of course, much of it was focused on me as the author. On
the other hand, Burns has disturbed people, causing them to become reflective
and contemplative. I expected the reaction to be reverse for both novels, but
God is the hottest of all hot buttons.
In the world of Hemingway and Faulkner, you tilt toward Hemingway with
your quick, snappy prose and strong active verbs. Are you a Hemingway fan or
just tired of the MFA bullshit that serves as a substitute for a good story?
I read Faulkner as a kid and understood it. I thought Hemingway was too
sterile. I didn’t appreciate Hemingway’s compactness. My novels are about 60%
fatter in the draft. I trim them down, until one sentence says what three
once did without losing the storyline. I trust readers. They are the most
intelligent segment of society. I plant the seeds, recreating my notion of a
story in their minds. I hope that the three-dimensional image that I see is
close to what they see, but I respect the reader’s right to interpret. I
don’t insult them with too much detail.
Here, I’ll offer you a soapbox. Anyone or thing in the literary world
you’d like to take a swipe at or are you pleased with the current state of
the publishing industry?
It’s schizophrenic. The top end is excellent, seated beside art star literati
types with no value. Throughout history, there have always been posers mixed
with the very best. Time will make them obvious by their absence. After that,
you’ll find garbage—commodities passed off as literature and bestsellers.
Next, come the commercial publications—the diet books, cookbooks, and
exercise books. The latter books have much more value to the public than fast
fiction and trendy advice manuals.
writing full-time these days or do you have one of those dreaded day jobs?
At the moment, I hold the dreaded day job at bay, although I supplement my
writing life with adjunct work, mentoring, journalism, and editing. This is
the life of a modern writer. Publishers get rich. Writers die poor.
How are sales going for Everything Burns? For Jesus Lives in Trenton you
were always out in the trenches doing book signings and winning over the
literary world one reader at a time. Are you still hungry?
I’m hungrier than ever. Being with a small press keeps me lean. Libraries
have taken to Everything Burns, but the commercial market needs to be
exploited. In the spring, I was consumed with the launch of my new literary
publication, Writers Notes Magazine. Only now am I forming a plan to promote
Everything Burns, but that’s the beauty of a small press. The book stays new
for a long time.
Who would like Everything Burns? Is it for the When Harry met Sally Crowd?
The book has two main draws: first, mystery lovers like unraveling the
questions of why the arsonist burns. This is why I wrote the book. Imbedded
in that story is Boot Mean’s affair with an attractive married woman. Many
women readers gravitate to that theme.
The learning curve for writing is so steep. Are you yet to the point where
you like what you’ve written one year earlier?
In many ways, Albert Einstein is my mentor. I’m driven by the question—the
desire to probe deeper. So if I die never achieving my ideal story but always
improving, I’ve lived a fruitful life. I’ve complete four novels for
publication, each improving upon the other. I try to teach my writing
students this: be patient with your current level of talent, strive to do
Writers are often asked who their influences are. I think it’s more
informative to find out who a writer doesn’t want to be like. Why don’t you
take a swat at a literary sacred cow, someone you think is profoundly
overrated and why you don’t to resemble them in any fashion.
To me, the literary sacred cows are the art star lit critics who narrowly
define literature in their black clad pretentiousness like some kind of Andy
Warhol/Lou Reed avant-garde deity, without the slightest understanding of
what those people were trying to do. By and large, these people work between
the Hudson and East Rivers in a place former known as New Amsterdam. Try to
put these people out of your mind. Write for yourself. Write what you’d like
to see on the shelf. Read what you’d like to write. Read voraciously.
Now that I’ve brought it up, I’ll let you answer the standard “Who are
William Faulkner. Charles Dickens. John Irving. Fred Astaire. — Emotion.
Story. Absurdity. Flare.
Back to Boot Means, he’s a photojournalist? Isn’t that a former vocation
While working in the space program, I moonlighted as a stringer in backwater
sections of the US. You can get more assignments as a journalist if you can
shoot pictures and write. I got a good glimpse of small daily newspapers and
pour much of this into Boot Means.
Now to Oscar Van Hise, the protagonist: He has his own idea of what’s,
shall we say, sexy. Is this character autobiographical? Does your wife sleep
with one eye open? Is society safe with you walking around as a free man?
I write without fear, not considering who or if it’ll ever be read. It’s the
only way to keep the characters and story real. Having said that, Oscar
disturbs just about everyone who meets him. I did the research. Pyromania is
the height of compulsive disorders, completely out of control.
One thing I liked about your protagonist is that he was a thinking man’s
villain. If you hadn’t given him a point of view, this wouldn’t have been the
case. Was it ever an option not giving him a point of view?
Oscar is screwed up—sexually dysfunctional, rage-oriented, a spoiled brat,
thinks the world belongs to him and him alone—but he’s an intelligent man
too. I’d innocently selected him for a point of view character, and after
submerging into the details, I considered backing out countless times, after
many sleepless nights, but obviously I stuck with him. I dared to be him.
You’ve lived in New Jersey for a good portion of your life and your first
novel takes place primarily in Trenton. For Everything Burns, you moved to
the southwest. Why Texas? Have you ever lived there or was the whole thing a
figment of your imagination?
I’d traveled I-10 for business, from the panhandle of Florida to the border
of New Mexico. I like the southwestern desert. I worked there. I camped there
too. Concho, Texas is modeled after San Angelo in many respects. I enjoyed
Faulkner used chide to Hemingway for his failure to take chances, calling
him a coward. Hemingway, the machismo that he was, misunderstood the insult
and retorted with anecdotal evidence from his wartime experience. So to
clarify, what chances, do you as a writer like to take that others might not?
In my latter work, especially Idiot!, I loosen up more, expanding the
narrative, but I must say that submerging into the utterly disturbing psyche
of a serial arsonist is as brave as it gets. Furthermore, Boot Means stories
are designed like old fashion detective stories, so the narrative must be
Dream with me a bit: Providing you survive the road rage of the New Jersey
turnpike, what will your body of work is in the next ten years, starting with
Spring 2005 will bring The Winners Circle, named for a lottery millionaire
therapy group; it’s the story of a man who wins millions but loses the love
of his life. In 2006 will come Idiot!, which asks if a perceived village
idiot can save a failing town. I’m also releasing the first two in a kid’s
detective series, Firecracker Jones is on the Case and Firecracker Jones Gets
Mad. The next books in the Boot Means series will be Bad Idea and The Devil’s
in New Jersey. During this time, I’ll be serving as senior editor of Writers
Notes Magazine and plotting ways to increase circulation. Finally, I’m
kicking around two more novels, Big Exit and Red Heaven. I have other ideas
too, but they are probably 7 years out. Let’s see if I’m still alive. Thanks
to Einstein, I’m not short of ideas.
You’ve studied for years with Robert Gover, author of bestseller and cult
classic One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding, is he your Gertrude Stein?
I don’t know the full depth of Stein’s relationship to his protégés, but for
certain, I’m a protégé of Gover. He kept the student-mentor relationship
pure, focusing on the essentials of storytelling. He’s a guidepost in a business
heavily dependent on results, trends, and corporate ignorance.
You now mentor other writers. May I call you Gertrude?
I’m a storyteller; have been since birth. I try to nurture the art form. There
are basic tools that every writer must learn, like a musician learns the
chords and scales. The rest depends upon the raw talent bestowed at birth.
Often, I find myself doing what Gover did for me, which amounts to offering
support and advice for navigating a life in letters. It takes years to reach
publication worthiness, and there are no guarantees at the end of the
journey. Many writers die young, poor, and at the foot of barstools. I pick
them up and dust them off. It was done for me. I’m blessed to return the