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Feathered Quill Interview with J. R. Klein - The Ostermann House
FQ: In The Ostermann House, Michael discovers what appears to be a nonagram in their basement and others randomly appear throughout the story. Can you explain to potential readers what is the significance of a nonagram?
KLEIN: The nonagrams are the connection between Herman Ostermann, who once owned the house, and the power source that is focused on the property. The number nine, which is part of the nonagram itself and is a number that reappears many times in the book, has historical connections to the occult, the paranormal, and the supernatural. As the reader will see, the significance of those to the nonagrams becomes apparent at the end of the book.
FQ: It is often said that science and the paranormal don’t mix. As a person who has a PhD in Immunology, do you believe in the paranormal?
KLEIN: As a scientist with a PhD, I think that there are many things in the universe about which we know little. Some of these even border on seemingly paranormal events that may be connected in perfectly ordinary ways, though we don’t know how or why this is as yet. When I am not in the laboratory, it is fun to let my mind go and create alternate universes that come out in books like The Ostermann House.
FQ: Over the years you’ve written for many scholarly journals and magazines. How has the writing process been different for you now that you’ve been writing novels?
KLEIN: It is really quite different. In writing about science for scholarly journals, it is important to stick to what we know, to stick to the facts. The beauty, and the fun, of writing fiction is that you can let your mind wander, particularly when it comes to fantasy, sci-fi, or the paranormal. You can create your own world-view that straight science doesn’t permit.
FQ: Are any of your characters based on anyone in your life?
KLEIN: Probably all of my characters are drawn to some degree from various people I have known, though not from just one person. Often, a character in a book is an amalgam of these people. But then, too, the beauty of writing fiction is that you can go beyond what you have known and add personal features and characteristics that make a character become completely unique. It is like painting a picture of a scene in the city or the countryside and then adding or subtracting from it in order to give the new image a special and different essence.
FQ: Why did you choose to write a thriller novel primarily based on the paranormal?
KLEIN: The idea for the story came while my wife and I were traveling in central Texas from Houston where we lived. We had gone down a dirt road out in the country and came upon an old farmhouse. On the property was a barn and a pond and a small graveyard out on the back of the pasture. For some reason, an old abandoned school bus was out there as well. I incorporated all of those into the story. The house was on the outskirts of a small town that in the book became Krivac.
When I got home, I kept thinking about how perfect this would be as a setting for a thriller – something spooky and weird – all connected to the house, the property, and the town. The paranormal part grew naturally into to the book as events transpired. Having just published a book of literary fiction (Frankie Jones), I was looking for a different kind of a challenge. I have always enjoyed thrillers of all kinds.
FQ: Who are some of your favorite authors?
KLEIN: I like a range of authors. For horror, thrillers, and suspense, Stephen King and Dean Koontz are on the top of the list, of course. But I also love good literary fiction. Probably one of my favorite authors is Patrick Modiano. His work is almost surrealistic. It floats back and forth between the past and the present in the most elegant sort of way.
FQ: I really appreciate the cover design on The Ostermann House. Though it is simply a picture of the farmhouse depicted in the story, it gives readers a great sense of foreboding and creepiness that you feel throughout the book. Is this cover based on a real-life house?
KLEIN: Yes, it is very similar to the house we came across while we were traveling through central Texas. It was weather-worn but inhabited, and fairly-well kept up for its age. It looked like it had a multitude of stories, good and bad, hidden somewhere inside – the perfect place to begin the journey into the book.
Feathered Quill Interview with J. R. Klein - 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 sure exactly 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…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 the 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.