We recently connected with Ken Kuhlken and have shared our conversation below.
Ken, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Let’s jump right into how you came up with the idea?
I was twenty-something and had lately become the client of a quite successful literary agent. During a break from my job substitute teaching, I visited a friend who spent summers on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. One evening we got invited to a party in King’s Beach at a cabin only a couple hundred yards from the lake. The cabin was one large room. On one (smoky) end was a cluster of about a dozen people passing marijuana joints around. On the other end of the room was a group, most of whom looked high school and college age, sitting in a circle. Some were holding Bibles, and they were discussing the Old Testament book of Job. In the middle of the room, between these groups, stood a girl of about seventeen. I watched while she turned first toward the Bible group, then toward the smokers. She looked distressed and puzzled, as though wanting to join one of the groups but clueless about which to join. Then she turned and dashed past me and out the front door. Because I’m a curious fellow, I followed and watched her run straight down the road to the lake and plunge in without bothering to shed her jeans or t-shirt. I felt a powerful kinship to her and couldn’t get her out of my mind because I wanted to explore her life and her feelings. So she became Jodi McGee, the main character of my novel Midheaven and a main character in two later novels, The Very Least and The Answer to Everything. Midheaven got published by Viking Press and earned honors a finalist for the Hemingway Award for best first novel.
Ken, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
Some of my favorites are early mornings, the desert in spring, kind and honest people, baseball and other sports played by those who don’t take themselves too seriously, and films my Zoe and I can enjoy together. I read a lot and often post reviews on BookBub. I have written and published novels, shorter stories, magazine articles, and poems. Lots of honors have come my way, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship; the Ernest Hemingway Award; Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel and Shamus Best Novel; and several San Diego and Los Angeles Book Awards. People can learn plenty about my books and contact me at kenkuhlken.net
Is there mission driving your creative journey?
When I was sixteen and my mom got isolated in a hospital with spinal meningitis, my friend Eric moved in with me, since both of our fathers had passed on and his mom was crazy. Eric was as close to an angel as I have known. But not long after my mom came home and Eric went back to his mother, he became convinced he wouldn’t last long. And soon enough, he died in a car crash. Eric’s death and all is a much longer story, which you can find in Reading Brother Lawrence. But the mysteries surrounding his life and death have obsessed me and always prompted questions characters in my novels wrestle with. Like a tag team, my characters wrestle and I wrestle with the same questions.
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If we feel called to do something and don’t do it, we will always be miserable. Novelist John O’Hara expressed that opinion like this: “I have work to do, and I am afraid not to do it.”