Friday, July 18, 2014

9mm interview with Ken Kuhlken

As 9mm progresses to its next stage of existence, following a rather tepid run of updates over the past couple of years (mea culpa), I thought I'd kickstart things with a terrific author who has yet to be mentioned in any way in Crime Watch's 1,300+ post history so far. So for the 73rd instalment in our ongoing series, let me introduce award-winning California crime writer Ken Kuhlken, who pens the Hickey family series of historic mystery novels, set in the 1920s-1970s.

Kuhlken is a San Diego native who played semi-pro baseball in Mexico, sang in a rock'n'roll band and taught high school before turning his attention to novels and other writing, after gaining an MFA at the famed University of Iowa writing programme (the same programme that last year's Man Booker Prize winner, New Zealander Eleanor Catton, attended earlier in her writing career). Kuhlken published his first novel, MIDHEAVEN, in 1980, a tale about a high school senior who turns from drugs to Jesus but soon falls for her English teacher, an atheist. It was a finalist for the Ernest Hemingway Award for Best First Novel.

It would be more than a decade before Kuhlken would publish another novel, however, as he juggled life as a teacher, article and short story writer, and solo father. His first Tom Hickey novel, THE LAST ADIOS, won the St Martins PWA Best First Novel Award, and was published in 1991. Set in Tijuana and San Diego in 1943: As an MP assigned to the Mexican border, Tom discovers a band of Nazis plotting to seize control of Baja California. The series has continued with several critically acclaimed historic crime novels since. The series is not published in chronological order, with Kuhlken jumping back and forth in time with each novel. You can read more about Kuhlken and his books at his website here.

You can also read a great, in-depth if old (2002) interview with Kuhlken by the San Diego Reader here.

But for now, Kuhlken stares down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: An interview with Ken Kuhlken

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective, and why?
The one I keep returning to is Ross McDonald's Lew Archer. Probably because he reminds me of my dad.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why? 
The first one I remember was Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
A couple dozen short stories, several novels, one of them, Midheaven, published with Viking Press and honored as a finalist for PEN's Ernest Hemingway Award for best first published fiction book by an American author.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love driving, road trips, hanging around in unfamiliar cities and towns, clobbering golf balls, coaching my daughter in softball.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Have a drink at the Whaling Bar, where Raymond Chandler used to hang out, at the Hotel Valencia in La Jolla.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Steve Martin.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
The Good Know Nothing, a Tom Hickey novel set in 1935, because with every book I get better.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
In both cases, I went to the Whaling Bar and drank a Dewar's on the rocks, or two.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I find it strange that whenever I'm called to give a talk, the person or people I follow are comedians. The worst of these times, I followed a woman, a professional stand up comic as well as a writer, who delivered a half hour riotous monologue about life with her pet pig.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with Crime Watch Ken. We appreciate it.


Have you read any of Ken Kuhlken's Tom Hickey series? Do you like crime fiction that delves deeply into an historic setting? Comments welcome.

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