Interview: Gordon Kirkland

Gordon Kirkland has a really rich background I think we can all learn from. Listen to his amazing story below.

You have a varied history in writing for newspapers, fiction, and even movie treatments. How did you make the transition to each?

I have spent the last 35 years writing in one form or another. I had performed comedy in the early 70’s while I was still in school, and wanted to write. Life tends to make some changes to your plans, and wanting to eat, I started taking jobs involving writing, just not the sort I had envisioned. All of it taught me something I could later use, however. I often joke that when I was in the job answering letters of complaint sent to then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, I learned a lot about writing fiction.

In 1990, I was doing a lot of corporate writing that included five very exciting books published by the Government of Canada. I’m sure everyone is familiar with my blockbuster title from those days, A Guide To Canadian Industries’ Potential in Malaysia. All that ended when I was involved in a car accident that left me partially paralyzed.

After three or four years of generally being ticked off at the world, my long-suffering wife suggested that I had always wanted to write what I wanted , not what other people wanted me to write for them, and that this might be an opportune time to give it a try.

In 1994, I started to write a number of short humorous essays about the fun and foibles of life. I met the editor of a daily newspaper in an online chat room, and he started to publish some of my stories. By 1996, the column was a weekly feature in newspapers in both Canada and the United States.

In 1999, my first book, Justice is Blind – and Her Dog Just Peed in My CornflakesSatire Books) was published. It received the 2000 Stephen Leacock Award of Merit for Humor. In the ensuing eight years, I had five more books published, and received two more Leacocks. All of these books were collections of short humorous essays, based on stories I had written for the newspaper column. In 2009, I released a collection of holiday essays to coincide with my comedy show, Holly Jolly Frivolity.

In 2007, the market for feature columns was becoming more and more challenging. Many people were offering columns to newspaper for free, or for very low fees, thinking it was a good way to make a name for themselves. The newspaper industry was also facing declining circulations and more competition for advertising dollars. When I started to feel more like a bill collector calling editors, I decided it was time to retire the column.

A few months earlier, I was cast for a Canadian television series in which 12 writers were locked in an Edmonton, Alberta big-box bookstore for three days with the task of each writing a short novel. Until that point, I had never really thought much about writing fiction. Mystery writer Ridley Pearson had tried to convince me to give it a try in 1999, after the success our mutual friend Dave Barry had with his novel, Big Trouble. I had always kept the idea on a back burner, and this was a chance to move it to the forefront.

During the taping of the show, I wrote approximately 30,000 words in 72 hours. We were provided with a sleeping area in a room at the back of the store, but the beds were children’s’ bunk beds and I am 6’4”. I didn’t bother making much use of my assigned bunk. Despite constant interruptions from the ever-present camera crew, the store’s customers, and the producers of the show, I managed to get the first draft of what would become Crossbow, written.

At the same time as I was working on the revisions to the Crossbow manuscript, I wrote a movie treatment for a story loosely based on the comedy that ensued around my home as a child during the holiday season. The treatment was taken to a number of producers, who liked the story, but were looking for romantic comedies. I decided to set the movie treatment aside, and write the story as a book, instead.


Tell us about the two books you have coming out this year.
Well, I have already told you a bit about them. Crossbow
was released on April 12, 2011. It is a mystery with comedic overtones. If I was to compare it to something people might recognize, I would have to say that they should think of Fargo, with two deputies and a dog.

In Crossbow, someone is killing the residents of a small Kansas town. Although the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, the killer has, in fact, decided that they must die for biblical transgressions he believes they have committed. Among the first to be slain is the County Sherriff, leaving two deputies to try to solve the case before the killer can achieve his ultimate goal of wiping what he sees as “Gomorrah on the high prairie” off the map, once and for all.

The deputies are far from seasoned police professionals. Dave Simmons, the senior of the two, is doing his best to improve by learning new police techniques. He’d like to bring geographic profiling to the department, but a serious impediment to that goal is his propensity to get lost whenever he gets behind the wheel of his police cruiser. Chuck Wilson the other deputy would like to be a police dog handler. Unfortunately, the County cannot afford a properly trained police dog, so he is trying to make do with Duke, his own Springer Spaniel, a dog with an intelligence quotient just slightly lower than the average head of cabbage.

Added to the mix is a missing romance author who arrived in town to interview the first murder victim just before his death, an ambitious small town newspaper reporter who gets her leads across the pillow from the junior deputy, and the grieving father of one of the victims. Just as it seems that the case has been solved, the deputies learn that the killer was not acting alone, and that other, seemingly upstanding citizens of the town, had set the whole process in motion. As the evidence unfolds it becomes obvious that the case is going to hit the deputies much closer to home than they could have imagined.

My second book for this year has the working title, The Most Joyous Season. It will be released sometime in September. It is the story I mentioned in the previous answer. The holiday season, always seemed to be filled with a variety of disasters in my childhood home. Looking back on them now, most of them were more comedic than distressing. I decided to make it a relationship story between a father and son, set among the various calamities that were befalling the family.

Please share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

I would still like to see Crossbow and The Most Joyous Season turned into movies. I was working in the business side of the movie business when I had the car accident, and that experience piqued my interest in being more directly involved in making movies.

I am currently starting to work on a sequel to Crossbow. I came to enjoy the primary characters of that book as I wrote about them. At one point, in a sleep deprived state during the taping of the TV series, I actually found myself having a conversation with one of them. It was a bit disconcerting to realize I was arguing with a fictional character about the direction for the story and he was winning. It took several cups of coffee to get past that.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

That is a really hard question for me to answer. So many books have taught me different aspects of the business. My friends Ridley Pearson and Jeffery Deaver taught me a lot about character development in their mysteries. Pearson also showed me the value of intense research before writing. Another friend, W. Bruce Cameron showed me a lot about intertwining the humorous with the serious in his book, A Dog’s Purpose.

Book you’re currently reading?

I know that I am a bit behind the times, but I am finally reading The Girl with the Dragon TattooMystery Books) by the late Stieg Larsson. I also have some catch-up to do with the latest books by Ridley Pearson and Jeffery Deaver.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

My wife and I took up underwater photography a few years ago. When I am in the water, my disability is not a real problem. I am able to swim pretty well, despite the loss of a lot of leg function. We recently returned from photographing sharks, stingrays and sea turtles in Belize. In a couple of months we are heading to a tiny island in the British Virgins to do more.

Where can we learn more about you?

My website is www.gordonkirkland.com. There is a fan page on Facebook that I try to update frequently at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gordon-Kirkland/56688189161?ref=share. We have also just created a page for Crossbow readers at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Crossbow-by-Gordon-Kirkland/218174108193076.

As I said before, I may be a bit behind the times. I have now gotten a Twitter account that I am learning to use. Anyone can follow me at @kirklandatlarge. I promise not to post what I had for lunch.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It is important for writers to give back. I have been an instructor and keynote speaker at approximately 40 writers’ conferences and festivals over the last few years, as a way of paying it forward to those writers who have befriended me and helped me along the way.

With Crossbow, I am trying something new in the way of giving back. I have joined the initiative started by J.A. Konrath. If the Kindle version of Crossbow hits the tome 500 in Amazon by June 12, 2011, I will donate $500.00 to First Book, a charity that gives books to children in need in the US and Canada.

Books from Gordon Kirkland:

 

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