One very exciting thing about keeping a blog is living in a state of discovery. A few weeks ago, I didn’t know Kate Klein, but now after interviewing her and reading from her stories and reviews from around the web, I have found a new writer I’m excited to hear more from.
Kate and Hendrix, the parrot
She has shared with me from her experience as writer, fundraiser “virtual forklift driver” , and person living in the real world.
What do you write? How do you write it? If someone in a theater ever yells, “Is there a fiction writer in the house?” I would truthfully be able to come to the rescue—I hold an MFA in the discipline and I’ve had short stories appear in print. My great passion is writing novels. One, my MFA thesis titled The Fifth Voice, is resting before a full re-write and another, Eternal Girl, is just about ready to emerge into the “publish me!” world.
I started my career as a journalist, working as a daily newspaper reporter and editor. Lately, I’ve had a few magazine article assignments, which I’ve enjoyed a lot.
Every weekday morning, I get up early and write for two hours. Morning has always been my best creative time. At 8:15 or so, I pry myself away from my desk and walk to Cornell University, where I work for the alumni affairs and development team for Johnson, the university’s business school.
Tell us about your day job and how you got there. How does it challenge/influence/inspire your writing life? My title is “development assistant,” but that’s not very descriptive; at parties, I tell people I work as a ghost writer and spy, and they understand a lot faster.
My team’s job is to bring money in to fund the business school. My colleagues go out on the road to ask alumni for generous donations. They are awesome at what they do—my supervisor nabbed a $10 million gift this quarter. My particular job is to support the road warriors with my writing and research skills, and by manipulating an enormous database, a task akin to driving a virtual forklift through an online warehouse. After five years in positions similar to this one at Cornell, I’m getting very good at driving the virtual forklift. It brings out an analytical, problem-solving side I didn’t know I had when I chose English as a college major.
My day job started out supporting my writing life. The best benefit Cornell offers employees is free classes. Once hired, I took writing and literature classes that helped me get into an MFA program. After I finished grad school, however, I went back to work full time, partly for the money, but partly because I write best when I’m engaging with the world every day. Right now, for me, “engaging with the world” means going to work, even on the days (and there are many) when I would rather keep working on my novel all morning.
When I get grumpy about a full day in an office, I look around at the other human beings in there with me. They are by far the most beautiful, saddest, funniest things in the gray, windowless, fluorescent-lit office.
I certainly envy writers who can write full time, but the world needs fiction writers and poets with day jobs, too—especially day jobs that have nothing to do with writing or teaching writing. The world needs writers “embedded” in the medical field and Wall Street and insurance, I think. William Carlos Williams worked as a medical doctor. Anthony Trollope worked for the postal service. Charles Ives (a composer, not a writer) was an insurance executive who wrote amazing music, too.
What sources of inspiration do you return to? The people I know well inspire me—besides family and friends, this includes my work colleagues. Spend enough hours in a small space with someone and soon I start wondering, “why does he do that? What is she really thinking?” and often, a story is born.
Music and other art forms inspire my writing, as well, but not always directly, although my first novel is about a family of musicians. Rather, I seldom come away from a live concert or an art exhibit without scribbling lots of notes, and often those notes turn into stories or enhance a story I’m already writing.
I want to write from life in the way visual artists draw from live models. The more I observe, the better I know my species. And the better I get to know my species the funnier we call look. Life has a deep, rumbling laughter underneath it, which bubbles up in the work of Robertson Davies, Flannery O’Connor, Mozart, and Jennifer Egan, to name a few. If I capture a little of that laughter or even hear it, it’s been a good writing day.
Do you ever go to specific places with the purpose of human observation in mind?
I don’t go anywhere to specifically observe human behavior–I just see it everywhere! From the years-long tensions I observe playing out in my own family to random encounters in a shop or on the street, I see people operating in dissonance and harmony every day. For instance, last weekend I walked through the supermarket produce section and saw two big college boys holding a five pound bag of organic carrots between them, one saying: “So that’s twelve carrots a day.” I have no idea what they were talking about, but I scooted on to the frozen foods isle laughing to myself. Sometimes I have to keep to myself on purpose because my observation deck goes into overdrive and I have to seclude myself to actually write anything down, let alone shape a story out of any of it.
Follow up with Kate Klein on her blog, Zucchini Me.