First author Kevin Kluesner jokes that the FBI character in his novel “The Killer Sermon” has some similarities to him – only “taller, prettier, and fitter”.
Kluesner, who lives in the Milwaukee area and is originally from Prairie du Chien, tackles the ever-controversial issue of reproductive rights in her novel, published Jan. 1. He will do a book signing for “The Killer Sermon” at East Towne Mall Barnes & Noble later this month.
Q: What is your writing and working background?
A: My undergraduate degree was in journalism. I thought I was going to be a writer… (however) it was really hard to get a job when I graduated in 1980. I managed to get a job in public relations and got then worked in public affairs at a hospital. (But during this time) I was also hired part-time as an outside writer for La Crosse Tribune.
Q: You are still working in the health sector, are you not?
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A: Yes. I served as administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee for nearly five years and recently became administrator of the mental health emergency center that is being built in the city. I feel blessed. It is incredibly rewarding work.
Q: How do you find the time to write?
A: It’s easier when you have a deadline. I’ve always done something else (besides a full-time job). I used to teach. Millennials didn’t invent secondary hustle. I think it’s great when people are more than one-dimensional. Someone like me, being a rookie author at 63 is a miracle.
Q: Did your writing of “The Killer Sermon” benefit from the time you spent as an outdoor writer?
A: There are a lot of things that I feel translated (into writing fiction). As an outdoor writer, one of the things you need to do well is set the scene. Sometimes you hunt or fish and get nothing. People want to feel there.
Q: How long have you wanted to write “The Killer Sermon?”
A: This story… it’s been eating at me for over 20 years. I took it out, started to write and something came up. A few years ago I realized that I had written 45,000 words. I had read Stephen King’s memoir on writing… he basically says: professionals sit down and write. Fans are waiting to be inspired. I just started every Saturday and Sunday morning, I would say I don’t get up until I’ve written 1,000 words. It took me four months to write the next 45,000 words. I pitched the show and signed a three-book deal. I have to return the second book by the end of June.
Q: The book is centered on the issue of reproductive rights. Why did you choose this subject?
A: (Reproductive rights) are still there somewhere in the American consciousness. Sometimes it simmers on the back burner. Sometimes something happens and it bubbles up. This is always a burning question. For me, this story was really about two protagonists – an FBI agent and a journalist – who are on very different sides of this divisive issue. They must put their troubles aside to catch a killer.
Q: Was there a message you wanted to convey with this book?
A: This novel will not change your perspective (on reproductive rights). If you are pro-choice, you will be pro-choice in the end. The underlying message is that even if we disagree on these divisive issues…we need to be able to respect each other. I feel like we kind of lost that as a society.
Q: You have a contract for two more books. Do you plan to bring back the same FBI agent and journalist?
A: Yes, both are recurring and they both play major roles. One of my secondary characters is an FBI analyst who will play a much larger role in the second book.
Q: Part of the novel takes place in Prairie du Chien. What made you want to add some mystery to it?
A: I grew up in Prairie du Chien. I am a born and raised Catholic cradle. St. Gabriel’s Church (in Prairie du Chien) is the oldest stone church in the state of Wisconsin. The city plays a significant role in the book (like the location) where this small-town priest delivers a fiery sermon on Christmas morning. What I want people to remember is that words matter. When you say something in a passionate and powerful way, it will sometimes take a direction and a philosophy that you never intended.
I was a little nervous that people in my hometown (think) “I can’t believe Prairie du Chien is portrayed like this.” (However), I did a signing at Prairie du Chien and there were 100 people there. I received nothing but love from the people there.
Q: What else did you draw on from your background while writing the book?
A: The main character has two degrees from Marquette, I have two degrees from Marquette. He was a wrestler, I was a wrestler. He grew up in Prairie du Chien (like me). People ask me, “Is the character based on you?” And I’m like, “Yeah, other than the fact that he’s taller and better looking and in better shape.”
Q: What kind of research did you do to be able to write an FBI agent?
A: You would be amazed at everything online. I had a guy I found, a retired federal agent, not FBI. He was kind enough to read the book and (identify) if something was amazing or wouldn’t happen (the way it was written). My FBI agent was going to drive an Acura (like me). Now he drives a Dodge Charger. I’m not as excited about it, but it was little things like that.
Q: What can you tell us about the next volume in the series?
A: I wrote the last chapter. The working title is “The Killer Speech”. (The book centers on) the Democratic National Convention which was canceled due to the pandemic. In the world of (FBI character) Cole Huebsch, it happens. A senator from the great state of Wisconsin gives a rousing speech at the convention and is shot the next morning while out for a run. He survives.
Q: Is there anything else you would like people to know about your book?
A: I think people could read the blurb on the back on reproductive rights and don’t want to get bogged down (by a serious topic). And while it may be about a divisive topic, it’s not meant to be a divisive book. If anything, I hope this brings people together a bit.