Author Interview: Dan Klefstad

What is the title of your book?

Shepherd & the Professor


Most people take comfort knowing their family and friends will remember them after they die. For Susan Shepherd, "remembering" is bullshit. She wants an eternal shrine to her sacrifice: a book that never goes out of print. Shepherd served her country in the Gulf War, got shot while serving her community as a cop, raised an ungrateful daughter by herself -- and for what? A diagnosis of terminal cancer and she isn't even fifty. If you were in her shoes, you might agree that nothing short of national perpetual acknowledgement will do. She's glad you feel that way; she just wrote a memoir and sent a flurry of query letters, hoping a publisher will memorialize her with a best-seller. After hitting Send, she waits not-at-all patiently for an editor to decide if her story will sell enough copies -- that is, if her life really mattered.

Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Describe your journey to becoming a published author.

I knew I wanted to be an author when I saw an intriguing TV show. I recognize the irony in that. I was 16 when I saw the British series "Reilly: Ace of Spies" starring Sam Neill in the title role. This was about a British spy working in Russia before the communist revolution. Anyway, I liked the concept so much I wrote a novel with a similar plot and characters. It was awful, but my mother encouraged me to keep writing, so I did.

I wrote in fits and starts through college and my early radio career. Then in February, 2006, I was sitting on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where I was getting married the next day. I scratched out a short story on a hotel pad and got the bug to write again. I never published that story. Also, I'm not sure my wife would've gone through with the wedding if she knew she was marrying a writer!
(Nota bene -- This is a question that should come up on the first date :)

What authors/people have been an inspiration to you?

Everyone I read is an inspiration for how to write (or how not to), but two in particular influenced Shepherd & the Professor. Novelist Robert Hellenga (Snakewoman of Little Egypt) usually features first-person female narrators, so he gave me the courage to write from a woman's point of view. The other is poet Amy Newman whose book, "Dear Editor" inspired the query letter aspect of my novel. So in Shepherd, my protagonist converts her memoir into a query letter to one person at a publishing house, hoping that editor or intern will send her manuscript up the chain.

What is the last book you read? The last really good one?

I read a bunch as editor/host of WNIJ's "Read With Me" book series which continues in February. I was very impressed with Christine Sneed's story collection The Virginity of Famous Men, so I'm including that in the series. Each story features a character trying to make peace with the choices she made. One that sticks with me from last summer is The Andrew Jackson Stories by Aaron Sitze. These are offbeat, sometimes hilarious stories about the 7th President, told by the White House gardener.

If you could choose any literary character to hang out with, who would it be?

Hmmm. Richard Straker from Stephen King's Salem's Lot. I'd ask him, "How did you and the vampire Barlow get together? Why did you decide to work for him? What's it like working for a vampire?"

If you weren’t an author what would you be doing?

I guess I'd still be doing my day job at NPR station WNIJ. Reporting the news, focusing on the oh-so-prosaic facts, wondering what to do with my imagination.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?


What chore do you despise?

Every household chore -- indoors and out. But I will wash the dishes without prompting if I notice the sink is full.

What is your favorite day of the year?

Halloween. I wish it were every day.

What are your thoughts on the Oxford comma?

I like it in radio copy because it's a sign post to pause. For fiction or other writing, I admit I'm bi-curious about the OC. I use it, I drop it, then I go back to it. In the end, I let the editor decide.

What music do you listen to when you write?

Nothing, which is strange because I love music so much. Jazz, classical, rock -- everything. I need silence when I write (maybe some white noise in the background like an air purifier) but even silencing the music in my head can be tough. I just close my eyes, take a deep breath, lean in, and focus on the screen.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list?

Renting a castle in Ireland or Scotland and writing a book there. If none are available, I'll occupy a ruin.

What are you looking forward to in the upcoming new year?

I have a short story coming out in the journal Crack the Spine (#208) called "The Caretaker." It's about a man who's about to retire after decades of working for a vampire. The story is a combination memoir/confessional and letter to the person who will succeed him. Once the story comes out, I'll try to build it into a novel.

Do extraterrestrials exist?

I'd be disappointed if they didn't.

Check out Dan's book Shepherd & the Professor
Keep your eyes posted for my upcoming review.

Thanks to Dan Klefstad for answering some questions and sending a copy of his book. I can't wait to dig in and read it.

SAM Munich

Milwaukee native trying to make sense of adult life with books and food.

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