Interview with Steve Kluger

Award winning author and playwright Steve Kluger, who has written the wonderful best sellers Almost Like Being In Love and Last Days of Summer as well as Changing Pitches (his first book) and My Most Excellent Year, is our guest today on the site. Steve is also probably the biggest Boston Red Sox fan.
 
Thank you for accepting my invitation to be interviewed Steve, and welcome to the site.

 For those who don’t know you, why don’t you tell us something about Steve Kluger the person and the author.   

 
I’m from Baltimore, Maryland, and I grew up with only two heroes: Tom Seaver and Ethel Merman. (Few were able to grasp the concept.) Passions include American history, World War II, rock and roll, the Titanic, and baseball and the Boston Red Sox (which frequently have nothing to do with one another).
 
Probably because I’m a card-carrying Baby Boomer whose entire existence was shaped by the lyrics to “Abbey Road,” “Workingman’s Dead,” and “Annie Get Your Gun” (my first spoken words, in fact, were actually stolen from “The Pajama Game”), I’ve also pursued a somewhat weird path as a civil rights advocate, campaigning for a “Save Fenway Park” initiative (which qualifies as a civil right if you’re a Red Sox fan), counseling gay teenagers, and–on behalf of Japanese American internment redress–lobbying the Department of the Interior to restore the baseball diamond at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Meanwhile, I donate half my spare time to organizations such as Lambda Legal, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and Models of Pride, and give the rest of it to my nieces and nephews.  Being an uncle is my first priority.

    

When I wrote you several months ago to gush about Almost Like Being In Love you told me a bit of the backstory to this book. Can you share some of it with the fans?   

 
When I was a senior in high school, I somehow thought it was good idea to fall in love with my straight best friend Philip-which was definitely not on my agenda in October of 1969.  He was a 17-year-old godling from France who’d become the envy of the entire senior class, and I was a 17-year-old dork from Maryland who’d become the poster boy for Queer Bashing 101.  (I’m still not sure how they figured out I was gay before I knew it myself–but the Ethel Merman thing may have had something to do with it.)  Neither one of us remembers how we met; one minute he was asking me if he could borrow a dollar, and an instant later we were Phil-and-Steve (I always gave him top billing because he was way too cute not to have it).  This unexpected development threw the bashers for a loop-in order to score points with Philip, they suddenly had to go through me first. Which meant acquiring a hasty tolerance for “Gypsy,” “Mame” and “Funny Girl.”  Revenge is always sweet, but it takes a gay kid to make it musical.

I had no idea that Cupid had just shot me in the ass until Friday evening, November 14.  I was in the midst of plowing through a novel I’d recently discovered (“Valley of the Dolls,” in case it matters) when I realized I’d read the same paragraph nine times without registering a word.  Neely O’Hara didn’t stand a chance-because all that kept spinning through my head were images of Philip’s twinkly eyes whenever he’d glance at me across a classroom, and the thermonuclear one-dimple grin that could melt plutonium.
 
Welcome to Gay Adolescent Hell.  It also didn’t help that the boys’ school was working with the nearby Catholic girls’ school on a production of “Brigadoon,” so I had to listen to “Almost Like Being in Love” nightly while I was thinking about Philip and trying to convince myself that he was secretly gay.  (“Forget it.  Just because he’s heard of Barbra Streisand doesn’t mean he secretly wants to kiss you.  Fidel Castro’s heard of her too.”)  The upside was that I no longer had to worry about coming out; in fact, I had two choices:  I could either pretend I was straight and forget about Philip, or keep Philip and admit the obvious.  Talk about a no-brainer.
When I finally told him, he actually took it pretty well.  He also confessed that he’d begun to get the hint about an hour and a half after we’d met–but it didn’t make any difference because nobody had ever loved him so unconditionally before. “And I love you too,” he said. “It’s just in a different category.” Somehow I felt cheated out of my big scene. I’d been gunning for Susan Hayward in “I’ll Cry Tomorrow.”

Anyway, Almost Like Being in Love was my way of rewriting history the way I’d wanted it to play out in real life.
 
 Almost Like Being In Love is your best known and most popular book, but there’s another book that you wrote which I love just as much Last Days of Summer that was even more poignant. Why did you decide to write a story about a fresh mouth Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn? There seems to be many similarities between you and Joey Margolis who stars in this heartwarming, touching book about a kid and a baseball hero, slugger Charlie Banks. Did you write this book as sort of wish fulfillment?
 

Yes and no–wish fulfillment, but not for me.  “Last Days” was biographical too, in that it’s my take on what my father’s life could have turned out to be like if he’d only had a hero to champion him when he was a kid instead of my malevolent paternal grandfather, who eventually destroyed him.  The family characters are all real:  Grandma Ida, Aunt Carrie, Nana Bert, etc.–except just at the point where my father’s life turned south, I brought in the character of Charlie Banks to put him back on course.

Are you going to tell the fans why there’s a “Craig” in almost every book you have written?  😀
  
 
In “Almost Like Being in Love,” Travis admits to faking a pain in an upper left molar so he can undergo a root canal he doesn’t need because his new Japanese American dentist is just too damned cute to have to wait six months to see again.  That actually happened when I was 39.  And the dentist who performed the root canal I didn’t need is named Craig.  Ever since then, there’s always a Craig SOMEwhere in every project.
 
 
You recently won the first Amelia Elizabeth Walden award for YA fiction for My Most Excellent Year, a story about three high-school freshmen. The characters are Augie who is obsessed with musical theatre and realizes that he is gay, Alejandra who reveals her theatrical talents to disapproving parents, and T. C. who tries to make a deaf child’s greatest wish come true. There is also romance as well as family interactions, to increase the complexity of the story. Where do you keep the award – is it near all of your Red Sox paraphernalia?


It’s on my tabletop directly underneath framed photos of the two bookjackets (hardcover and paper) and the framed copy of the dedication page that was autographed by Julie Andrews.
  

Only one of your books Almost Like Being In Love is currently available on the Kindle.  Are there plans to release your other stories on the Kindle or other electronic formats to take advantage of a wider readership audience and the new technology since so many younger people live online twittering, reading books on their cell phones etc?
 
Audiobooks and Kindle are strictly up to the individual publishers; I have no say in the matter.  I didn’t know that My Most Excellent Year was an audiobook until I clicked on a link and heard my dialogue being spoken by actors-and this is the first I’ve heard that ALBIL is available on Kindle!
 
You are a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox and I’m sure you were over the moon when they won the World Series in 2007 after 86 years in the doldrums. Were you at the game when they clinched? Can you give us the short version of your reactions if you were there, other than disbelief?
 
 
I was sitting in front of a television set in Santa Monica, California, utterly numb.  And I couldn’t figure out how I was going to adjust my frame of reference:  The only constant in this otherwise unpredictable world had just been eradicated, and I honestly found it a little terrifying.

Your most popular books (Almost Like Being In Love and Last Days of Summer) were written in epistolary style.  I had never read a book that used this writing format before, but thought it was really effective here. There are some elements of this style in Changing Pitches as well. How did you come up with the idea to tell your stories through letters, emails, and articles?


One of my three all-time favorite novels is Bel Kaufman’s “Up the Down Staircase,” which I discovered when I was 15.  What impressed me most about it was the author’s style in telling the story of a young schoolteacher caught up in the administrative red tape of New York’s inner-city school system.  One chapter would consist of her students’ contributions to the classroom suggestion box; another would be comprised of inter-school memoranda sent back and forth amongst the characters; a third would be the teacher’s long narrative letters to her best friend, etc.
  

It struck me as a high school sophomore that Ms. Kaufman had hit on the perfect way to tell a compelling story—and when I began writing professionally, I took the same concept and expanded it.  Changing Pitches was essentially a journal being kept by an aging major league pitcher, interspersed with news clippings, fan mail, mound conferences, and clubhouse bulletin board notes–and the three novels that followed continued to develop and deepen the style further.  It’s most certainly more freeing in the writing process and helps to establish an intimacy and an immediacy that you just can’t get with traditional narrative.  The only real challenge is coming up with the storytelling devices peculiar to that particular story and making sure that they cover all bases.  

One of the other characters in this book I really loved was Gordo. Was he based on a real person? If so, who was it? (If you can tell us)   

The kids in the book both idolize the same movie icon of the late ‘70s, Bobby Di Cicco.  So did I when I first saw “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”  Eventually–and improbably–Bobby became and remains my best friend.  So I wrote Gordo for him in case he ever decided to go back to acting, and the Gordo-Travis dynamic is beat-for-beat the Bobby-Steve one.

***********
  

Some of the bloggers who frequent my website decided to get into the game of asking you questions and here are a few of them –   

 Nichem, who is probably one of your greatest fans, has quite a few questions   

Were either Travis or Craig from Almost Like Being In Love modeled after yourself?  

Travis is a 100% autobiographical profile (I really do buy more paper towels when I get down to three rolls because I don’t like eating into the buffer), and Craig is me whenever I get passionate about one of my human rights causes.  

Your most recent books have been aimed towards the YA crowd.  Do you prefer writing for this group?  While I loved Last Days of Summer, I’d like to read another more adult-themed novel like Almost Like Being In Love too — any plans for one in the near future?  

Last Days of Summer and My Most Excellent Year were both written as adult novels–they both found YA audiences on their own.  I don’t think about demographics when I’m writing a book–whatever story needs to be told is the one I write–so I don’t actually see a difference between Almost Like Being in Love and Last Days of Summer.  

What were the circumstances that led to you meeting Lucille Ball when you were 12?  

I was at the New York World’s Fair when I was 12 on what happened to have been designated “Lucy Day” at the Fair.  She made appearances all over the fairgrounds throughout the day, and I got to shake her hand at the start of the parade that kicked off the entire event.  All I remember was being amazed that in real life she was in color and not in black and white.  

I recommended both Last Days of Summer and Almost Like Being In Love to my friends (and my son’s friends for the former), and every one of them who has read (your) books has loved them as well.  I don’t think I’ve laughed and cried so much during the same book as I did with Last Days of Summer.  I read that one to my kids (12 and 10), and at one point I was crying so much my daughter had to take over.  BTW, I read Last Days of Summer to them a year ago, and my 12 year old son still talks about funny incidents from the book– he’s a tough customer too, there aren’t many books he’ll actually admit to liking. In Almost Like Being In Love, Travis does a lot of crazy things on his quest to get Craig back.  What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for love?  

I think that killing a perfectly good tooth for an unnecessary root canal over a cute dentist who may not even be gay (he isn’t, BTW) is probably tough to top.  

 Kim W has three questions for you:   

At what time did you realize that writing gay fiction was okay?  

It never once occurred to me that it wasn’t.  Right from the start I never had any difficulty switching back and forth between gay and mainstream fiction.  

What’s your favorite baseball dream/memory?  

Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, when Carlton Fisk hit the 12th inning homer.  I can still see it in my sleep.

And the odd, but favorite question: If you were a taco, what kind of salsa would you like on you? ^_^ (Steve, I swear I have never asked nor will I ever ask that particular question)  😀   

I wouldn’t be a taco in the first place.  Cilantro is the worst punishment ever inflicted on the human race.  

Charles wants to know:  

Here’s something I’ve been wondering about for, oh, twenty years or so: what happens after Changing Pitches ends? I’ve never been able to decide whether Scotty acts on his therapeutic breakthrough that he loves JJ by marrying her, or if he pursues (even a little) Jason’s “I would” [like something to happen between us].  

I always thought that Scotty and Jason eventually got their act together–not at the expense of either of their relationships, but rather because the pitcher-catcher dynamic is so fundamentally intimate that physical intimacy is merely an extension of that.  

*********  

My last question – Outside of someone iconic like The Babe, who is your favourite baseball player today?   

I have no favorites who play the game today.  In fact, if I were just learning about baseball now, I wouldn’t be interested–it just isn’t the sport I fell in love with any more.  

Favorite players are Tom Seaver and Carlton Fisk.  They were both gifted athletes and are both honorable men.  If my nephew were to emulate either one of them, I’d be thrilled.  

 Thank you Steve.  

You bet.


STEVE KLUGER’S CONTACT INFORMAT
ION
  

 Website:  http://www.stevekluger.com/  

   

STEVE KLUGER’S PLAYS   

  

   

   

   

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

15 comments

  • Great interview! It really felt like Steve’s personality sparkled through the page – a difficult task in text! Thanks for a fun read this morning, and I’m also looking forward to reading my copy of ALBIL :).

  • Wonderful interview, and thank you Steve for putting up with my odd taco question. You’re not the first to be asked it, nor shall you be the last. ^_^

  • I’m so glad you were able to do an interview with him!! I just recommended Last Days of Summer to my best friend, and wouldn’t shut up about how hilarious Almost like Being in Love is, so Steve Kluger is definitely on my favorite authors list. I wish I was able to see After Dark being performed, but sadly I just found out about his works recently 🙁

    I’m definitely going to checking “Up the Down Staircase” out of the library on my next visit.
    lmao @ the cilantro comment. His sense of humor is great.

    • Kris, my brothers and I endured such an abusive childhood that we’ve all become acutely sensitive to the needs of kids and the ways to support and nurture them. And Soraia, thanks so much for the kind words. You won’t regret “Up the Down Staircase.”

  • Terrific interview!
    .
    Like nichem/Richelle, I am a huge fan of ALBIL – actually I think she was one of the ones who recommended it to me last year. LOL.
    .
    I bought ALBIL in ebook form and, as soon as I’d finished my second or third reread, bought it in paperback. At the same time I also bought Last Days of Summer and My Most Excellent Year, both of which I also loved.
    .
    Steve, I’m wondering if I could ask you a question about what makes you write about adult/child relationships and so poignantly too? Is it mainly to explore the ‘wish fulfillment’ that you mentioned in your interview?

  • Re. ALBIL: not many books make me laugh out loud. Even fewer make me fondly remember Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, and — hand to heart — Hank Aaron. (Yeah, you can tell where I’m from.) Thanks, Steve. Can’t wait to take a trip through the rest of your list.
    *
    Wave, what a treat of an interview! I’ve never before read one here that contained quotable lines.

    • Hi K.Z
      Isn’t he a terrific interview? He probably agreed to do it to get me off his back because I was gushing so much about ALBIL. 🙂 Seriously, I was really pleased and the interview surpassed my expectations.
      *
      One of the other reasons I wanted to do the interview is because I’m an avid baseball fan as is he, and I rarely get to talk about baseball in my interviews. 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

  • Lucy in black and white reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that discussed this very thing…and because the Internet is a wonderful place, I can share it with everyone (you’ll have to imagine the pictures).

    Calvin: Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn’t they have color film back then?
    Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It’s just the world was black and white then.
    Calvin: Really?
    Dad: Yep. The world didn’t turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.
    Calvin: That’s really weird.
    Dad: Well, truth is stranger than fiction.
    Calvin: But then why are old paintings in color?! If their world was black and white, wouldn’t artists have painted it that way?
    Dad: Not necessarily. A lot of great artists were insane.
    Calvin: But… but how could they have painted in color anyway? Wouldn’t their paints have been shades of gray back then?
    Dad: Of course, but they turned colors like everything else did in the ’30s.
    Calvin: So why didn’t old black and white photos turn color too?
    Dad: Because they were color pictures of black and white, remember?

    Calvin: The world is a complicated place, Hobbes.
    Hobbes: Whenever it seem that way, I take a nap in a tree and wait for dinner.

  • Great interview Steve and Wave! I’ll try to refrain from too much gushing, but just wanted to say again that I’m a huge fan of your books, Steve. Like Leslie, I have both the paperback and the Kindle version of ALBIL, but I had the paperback first then subsequently got the Kindle version so that I could always have it with me when I travel. I’m hoping Kindle versions of your other books will eventually be available too.
    *
    Thanks so much for answering my questions, Steve. The Lucille Ball response about her not being in black and white made me LOL. And I’d have to agree that having an unnecessary root canal would be tough to top. That dentist must’ve been awfully cute. 😉
    *
    Thanks again!

  • Leslie, thanks so much. I don’t know if there are any Kindle plans for the other novels, but as long as ALBIL is available, I’m happy. It’s my hands-down favorite of all of them.

  • Hi Steve,

    Thanks for dropping by! Great interview. ALBIL was my absolute number 1 favorite book of 2009 (once again, Wave, thanks for the rec!). I read it on my Kindle and then went out and bought the paperback to have in my archive because I loved it so much. I hope hope hope your other books get kindleized because even though I buy the paper book for keeps, I read on my Kindle.

    Thanks again for a great interview. It’s wonderful to get to know you a little bit better.

    Leslie

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