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Email Interview II With Daniel Klein

March 31, 2002 | People
We Interviewed Daniel Klein, author of "Kill Me Tender" in 2000 after his first Elvis murder mystery came out. With the presentation of the second Elvis murder mystery "Blue Suede Clues" we offered you the possibility to ask the author some questions. From the reactions we got we asked Daniel Klein to react. Here's what he wrote to you ... What originated your idea to make Elvis a sleuth? I came to my interest in Elvis in a roundabout way: through reading Peter Guralnick's fabulous 2-volume biography of him, "Last Train from Memphis" and "Careless Love." Sure, I was very aware of Elvis and his music before I read these bios and, of course, I had my favorite Elvis recordings, but it was Elvis Presley the complex and fascinating private man who captured my interest and imagination. I'd been making a living writing thrillers for years and always wanted to write a murder mystery, but it wasn't until I read about Elvis's life and particularly his interest in law enforcement that an idea "clicked" for me. It seemed made in heaven. What an astounding man! So many publications are on the market which bear Elvis's name, why did you decide to author humorous mysteries about him? Why humorous? First, it turns out that Mr. Presley had a fabulous sense of humor -- he was a wonderfully playful man (not to mention a clever practical joker.) But second, there was an inherently humorous element to Elvis's daily life: the comic tension between Elvis, the public figure, and Elvis, the private man. When those two aspects of his life collided with each other, something funny often happened. For example, publicly, Elvis was an incredible sex symbol. Women were instantly and helplessly turned on by him. (They still are.) But privately, Elvis was very much a product of his times and of his background -- a Southern Baptist and a well-behaved son. This made him somewhat shy with women and occasionally awkward with them. At times, he was even confused and troubled by women -- like his feelings of 'purity' toward young Priscilla versus his lusty feelings for Ann-Margret. Well, at some level, there is something humorous about this incredibly sexy and attractive man being so shy with women. And so there are times in both "Kill Me Tender" and "Blue Suede Clues" when I let that humor come through. I just bought the new book, and I'm just getting to chapter two. Elvisnews.com reviewed the book and said that the errors in the first book (such as the TCB in the 60's) were now corrected. However, they said that Joe, Priscilla, Parker etc all appear, but that Elvis' close friends are all made up characters. Why is that? I'd like to read about Lamar, Charlie, Marty, Red, Sonny and the gang versus people that didn't really exist. Can you explain why you have his close friends as made up characters? Two reasons: one legal, the other having to do with the artistic problems of writing "historical" fiction. On the legal front, the lawyers at my publisher, St. Martin's Press, tell me that historical figures who are as famous as Mr. Presley, Col. Parker, or Miss Priscilla, can be written about without any legal risk because they are clearly "Public Figures." But figures who are not that famous, like Lamar, Charlie, Red, etc., can sue a writer for libel if he feels that his name is slandered by the way he is portrayed -- even if that is not the author's intention. But there's a practical "writer's" reason too: I'm trying to put made-up events into a genuine historical context. I try to keep to the facts of Elvis's life: the important events in his life and his general state of mind at a particular time. So in these books I have to build a bridge between Fact and Fiction. And one way that I try to do that is by inventing characters; they are my bridge into the imaginary story. What kind of reactions do you get on this book and is there a difference between the reactions from Elvis fans and mystery fans? In that line, have you heard anything from people from the Elvis world who play a role in your books? I am happy to say that people who have a deep and abiding interest in Elvis Presley seem to like these two novels a lot. Of course, I may only get mail from the people who enjoy these books, but in that mail they tell me that I have captured the Elvis who they know and love very well. That sure is what I hope to do. I also hear from people who buy my books chiefly because they like mysteries and most (but not all) of them like these books too. But I've discovered something interesting about people and Elvis: I used to think that someone was either a deeply-committed Elvis person or he was not -- and there was nothing in between. But it turns out that it's more like a sliding scale and in the middle there are an awful lot of people for whom Elvis plays a significant role in their lives, though not necessarily an overwhelming role -- and many of these people are interested in knowing more about him. For example, even people who do not now play Elvis recordings at home can instantly tell you who they were dating when they first heard him sing, "Love Me Tender," and they can certainly tell you where they were when they heard the terrible news that he had died. In other words, even on the low end of that sliding scale, Elvis Presley definitely figures in their lives. I have met one man, Joby Baker, who had a supporting role in "Girls, Girls, Girls" and Joby has told me many personal stories about being on a set with Elvis -- stories about how polite he was when people (mostly women) gave him gifts and stories about how he could mimic voices of other people in the cast. Joby told me that Elvis radiated personal magnetism even when he was just sitting around in his trailer. I have also heard from many people who recall meeting Elvis after his performances, particular in the early days of his career. How do you decide on the suspect? In Blue Suede Clues..the suspect was hardly mentioned, then the surprise was at the end ... how do you reach that decision? When I was just starting out writing thrillers, I would plot out the entire book before I began writing chapter 1. But over the years, I've found that I write more exciting and unpredictable stories if I surprise myself while I'm writing them. Sometimes, I'll put my characters into one heck of a predicament and say to myself, "Okay, get him out of that one, Bozo!" I think that makes me come up with more imaginative plot lines. You see, if you plot out the predicament and the solution to it at the same time, you tend to give your characters easier predicaments. This applies to suspects too. Sometimes, I'll start writing a mystery without even knowing myself "whodunnit." What kind of books do you read yourself? I like biographies a lot. Just finished, "Positively Fourth Street," about Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Fascinating, although neither of those two were what I'd call lovable people from the way the author describes them. Otherwise, the books I read are all over the place. Currently, I'm reading, "Noonday Demon -- An Atlas of Depression" and the new Lawrence Block mystery. Also, because of my work, I read books connected to what I am writing. For instance, the 3rd Elvis mystery takes place in Las Vegas in the early-mid sixties, so I read a variety of books on that place and time. In addition, I am constantly rereading the Guralnick biographies of Elvis. Which other artist / person's life would you like to use for a lead character in a book and why? I don't think there will be another. Somebody sent me a letter suggesting that I write a mystery featuring Mick Jagger, but he just doesn't grab me the way Elvis does. Do you think you will continue the series for a while? Yes. I'll keep writing them as long as I ke

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