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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview with Gordon C. Krantz

Krantz's historical fiction "autobiography"
of Samuel, the biblical seer. 

Today we welcome experienced and prolific author Gordon C. Krantz. 

JK: How long have you been writing? What have you done besides writing?

GCK: I grew up on a 40-acre farm in central Minnesota during the Depression.  It was a solidly Swedish immigrant community where no one over fifty spoke English. We didn’t know we were poor because everyone else was, too. Then we (a family of seven) moved to 160 acres in west central Wisconsin, just across the Mississippi from Red Wing, Minnesota, where I had been born and where I went to high school.

I entered college, the first in our family to do that, and after a semester I entered the Army (7/6/43 – 1/6/46) to serve in Europe. That was the subject of my most popular book, Ordinary GI. Then, after the rest of college (MA), I became a  vocational rehabilitation counselor and later district supervisor.  I was the first psychologist to work in the first sheltered workshop for the mentally retarded in US. I was imported into secondary special education (with two others) in Minneapolis to bring rehab technology into public education. More of that, merging with vocational education, and some private psych consulting, also participation in the systematization of special ed and vocational ed. I made significant contributions to development of the technologies of vocational evaluation and work adjustment. I went back to UM for my PhD in education administration. I then worked for the state in community service development, retired, and activated to structure a software program to enable elderly to live at home longer (not a successful business).  Retired, I now write and volunteer. My book, “What Did You do for a Living, Daddy?” is mostly of interest to family.  My professional papers are on file at the Minnesota History Center.

JK: And finally, you've been writing books. How did you get started with fiction?

GCK: Most of my previous writing was professional/technical. The first novel was Judges, Rulers and One Angry Levite, the fictional memoirs of the characters in the Book of Judges. Then Samuel, Seer.  Both extensively footnoted to set the historical/cultural context. Next a simple history book about Palestine 1250-1000 BC, The Times of the Judges. My latest, What Happened Between the Testaments, a history of Judea and its surroundings 430 BC – 1 AD, is history interspersed with fictional vignettes to give the feel of how people were affected. It has the best of my texts and the worst of my covers – I'm working on that. The audience for these four is Jewish and Christian people who may like to know how we got from the Persian Old Testament to the Greco-Roman New Testament. Most in the target audience who have read these books have read them for their entertainment value.

I have another four books: Ordinary GI, my most popular, my memoir that interests WW II buffs, the widows and grandchildren of my company comrades. Someone in Australia offered it second-hand on the Web for $35! “What Did You Do for a Living, Daddy?” already mentioned.  Greece Freewheeling and Dig that Street are more or less travelogues and readers seem to like them so well that copies stay in circulation. The first recounts my twenty days in Greece and the second is the volunteer excavation below the wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem plus the usual tours, including climbing Mt. Sinai at night.

I have not aggressively marketed any of my books, and should get to that. I'm now going for the e-book market – my printer has put up a couple of them, and I’m dipping a toe into Kindle.

JK: Which authors influence your work? What is your favorite book?

GCK: Many, including Mark Twain, of course.  One? Maybe Mary Renault’s The King Must Die. She helps me resonate with Greece of 3500 years ago.

JK: How does real life affect your fiction?

GCK: I have delved lifelong into history, anthropology, archaeology and, of course, literature. So when I write historical fiction, I’m confident that I have the facts and the feel down pretty well. I’ve also paid attention to dialect and translation, so that informs dialogue.  I let Samuel be pedantic, partly because he was (if, as I think, he wrote the first part of I Samuel) and partly because I am. The High Priest Eli fictionally remarks on Sam’s pedanticism. Other characters are more colloquial. In my historical fiction, I can’t have everyone using the same voice. When I find myself overusing a word, I try to catch it and change it.

JK: What inspired you to delve into the lives of biblical characters?

GCK: I was lying awake one night, thinking that the Judge Shamgar had only two lines of text: “After [the previous] judge ruled Shamgar, who slew 600 Philistines with an ox goad. He also judged Israel.” Not fair for such a doughty man, so I got up and wrote his memoir. Then the other judges clamored. That led to Samuel. The history was a fill-in. The Between the Testaments book bubbled for a couple of years before it forced itself upon me. There, the actual incidents called forth the vignettes – how could Alexander not write a testy note to the High Priest who refused to renounce his allegiance to Persia?

JK: It sounds as if your characters are in the driver's seat! Do you have a specific method for letting them "speak"?

GCK: How much time a day I devote to writing is highly variable. On a roll, I keep at it. I’m offline more than on – I’m retired, with sparse schedule.  My work area is cluttered, though I do clean it out occasionally (like yesterday).  I live alone and have a den with computer, files, stacks of paper, bookshelves. And I don’t really have any method to recommend, other than that, for me, I need to know the time and place and culture that I write about, and I think I do.

JK: Have you always been a writer?

GCK: I began writing early, with poetry in elementary years. Then I edited my high school newspaper, ditto college. My writing style owes more to journalism than to composition. Lots of technical and professional writing – bad habit of thirteen-page letters, a few of which were widely circulated. I think I’ve pruned my wordiness. Even so, professionally I sometimes wrote so compactly that it was hard to read.

JK: What kind of feedback do you get for your books?

GCK: All pretty positive. Mixed reviews on my use of footnotes – some think it’s distracting, others claim that it allows them to understand why people would say and do what I present. My sales are word-of-mouth, though I haven’t kept count. The audience tends to be older, probably because younger people don’t have time to read books that aren’t required. Family and friends are very supportive (hey! I used that overworked word "very"!), but you have to discount some of that. But strangers also seem to enjoy the books.

JK: Thank you very much for sharing your writing with us.

GCK: Thank you for the opportunity to set down these thoughts.  One never knows what one thinks until the words come out.

Gordon's diverse and amazing books are available on Amazon.