BookView Interview with Author Kenneth Linde

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Kenneth Linde about his writing and his latest novel, Let Go, an engrossing literary tale filled with politics of status, the sad side of institutionalized medicine and TV talent shows. The novel is the sixth installment in the acclaimed Waldwick Series, which entails, “Waldwick”, “War of My Brothers”, “Little Spirit”, “Driftless”, “Hayflick Limit” (Read the review here.)

After a career as an Executive Vice President for several international consumer durable companies, author Kenneth Linde’s writing career began as nothing more than memories of events and circumstances, feelings and beliefs, surrounding a near-death experience and his fight against cancer, where the thoughts and emotions fostered a passion that saw him begin a prolific trail of publishing eight books in less than six years.

Under the “Waldwick” moniker, Linde’s books are historical fiction set in Madison and Southern Wisconsin, where he takes actual events from 1826 to today and adds fictional characters and how they were affected by the events that happened.

Under the titles, “Waldwick”, “War of My Brothers”, “Little Spirit”, “Driftless”, “The Hayflick Limit” and now “Let Go” subjects such as oppression, racial prejudice, eminent domain, the rights of terminally ill, bullying, extreme wealth and bio-ethics are addressed.

Linde replied, “I proudly attended Washington Elementary school in Madison, Wisconsin and remember the building fondly and included it in “War of My Brothers”. Everything from the building’s exterior to the cork floor in the library and even the feel of running my hands down the walls of the hallway’s inlaid tile remain fond memories.”

“I matriculated to Madison Central High School and then attended the University of Wisconsin, earning a degree in communications with minors in business and economics. While Central’s facilities weren’t the greatest, the teachers certainly were, as they not only educated, but motivated many of us to become more than we ever dreamed possible with numerous doctors, lawyers, educators, researchers and business leaders evolving from our small class. Even with what so many achieved, the greatest lesson we learned was the acceptance of others in a class that was a tapestry of races, religions and socio-economic levels, who all got along simply because we were taught to judge each other by who we were instead of what we were.”

Giving Back:  Upon facing death in 2010, Linde made a vow to begin giving back. In so doing, he created Waldwick Partners that is involved in:  

  • Motivational Speaking: As a seasoned public speaker, Linde has melded thought and humor into a presentation on leadership that he offers for the sum of $1.00 to any school, church or social organization and also makes presentations at libraries and book clubs, free-of-charge
  • Make-A-Wish: While there is a retail cost for his six printed books, all net proceeds are donated to Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Having extensively travelled globally, when the question arises “where are you from”, Linde always elicits the same reply. “While we live in Illinois, I’m from Madison, Wisconsin, which will always be home.”

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I slept in a public hallway, under some stairs until I was 12 years old. With few resources, I had to create my own world and quickly learned I could escape reality simply by creating stories. From my earliest memories on, I’ve always loved to pretend and then write and communicate.

How often do you base your characters on real people?

Weaving truth and fiction has been fun. It’s neat to be able to take actual events and see how your character might have reacted. Because I write in the first person, I literally need to climb into their psyche and become them to the point that the reaction of my character is how I would have reacted.  

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have eight completed books. “Survivor, Death and How It Saved My Life”, “Never Say Never, Living with Prostate Cancer”, “Waldwick”, “War of My Brothers”, “Little Spirit”, “Driftless”, “Hayflick Limit” and “Let Go” and am currently writing “The King of Hearts” and have roughed in two more for the Waldwick Series – “V” and “Kevren” that are planned for the near future., 

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success doesn’t mean how many books you’ve sold, but how many lives you’ve touched. My goal is nothing more than to get people to think and feel. If I can pique any emotion – happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger surprise, while having the reader truly suspend their disbelief and become an emotional participant instead of a spectator then my book is a success. I have the luxury many don’t in that writing is my passion and not my profession.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Each book is different in terms of research. The book on men’s health took two years to study anatomy, physiology, neuro chemistry and molecular biology while “Let Go” required very little research simply because we have a home on St. Martin we visit and I’ve been to Dubai.

Do you find writing therapeutic?

We all need some way to open the door and escape. Mine is by allowing my creative juices to flow and “climbing” into my characters. When I’m “there”, the hours simply fly by. Professional writers normally have a goal of so many words per day. My range is from a very few to several thousand. My most creative day was sixteen hours long and resulted in over 11,000 words written, which represented nearly 10% of “War of My Brothers”.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

My most difficult thing is, believe it or not, my grammar and punctuation. The ideas fly. The grammatical parts…well, not so good! I also get upset with myself with redundancies and so I audit my stories to make certain I haven’t used the same words or terms too often. Thank God for my wife and Microsoft Word and the ability to seek out terms.

How many hours a day do you write?

That depends on two things, what I’m writing and the time of the year. I’m an outdoor person and so when the weather’s nice the productivity declines precipitously. 

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

TOTALLY ENERGIZING! Simply because I’m creating something. With zero and I mean absolutely zero skills when it comes to using tools or golf clubs, pushing keys is electrifying to me.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Realizing how difficult it is to get printed. You need to write the book, design the cover, purchase the ISBN and UPS numbers, have the books printed and then hit the road. If you think you’re going to find an agent or publisher, good luck. All you can do is keep writing and hoping someday, someone, somewhere will realize the value in what you’ve created. 

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Creativity is a subjective thing. If you’ve got a big ego it can keep you motivated. If you don’t have thick skin and can’t take criticism, rejection and indifference, forget it.

How often you read?

I read while we’re on vacation. In addition, during the summer, I take a one-hour outdoor sabbatical each day and read what the pros have written that allows me to escape from here and now and the tumultuous escapades that integrate our daily lives. 

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

You quickly learn that our society is one of instant gratification and the net result is you need to tailor your books to a certain market segment. When you do this and keep it in the back of your mind, then what you write or even how your present thing stylistically can be tempered that way. Being aware of who you’re writing for has a way of affecting certain subjects, themes or vernacular to make it more appealing to your perceived audience.   

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

It would depend upon what your subject matter, but passion is attractive in a dispassionate world.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Don’t give up your real job.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I was profoundly naïve before coming to market and thought people would be standing in line to buy my book. What you quickly learn is that the thresholds to distribution are extremely narrow at every single level, representation, publication and retail and so, you have to consider your time and financial outlays as expenditures and not investments.    

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Spell check and Google

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Anything and everything by John Grisham. He’s my literary hero who got rejected thirty-some times before finally clicking.

How do you select the names of your characters?

From our family history or from people I admire. As an example, I have always been a huge fan of Amelia Earhart initially because I love to fly and then, as I learned more about her and her “verve” and independence, the more I realized I want one of my characters to be like her. As the series has evolved, my heroines are all named Amelia or derivatives therein, simply because they reflect an aura of independence and flawed achievement.

Do you read your book reviews? Do they please you or annoy you? Do you think you can learn a lot from reading criticism about your work?

I’m still a rookie writer. I appreciate and respect what people write. I always try to do my best but never expect to be the best. In so doing, I’m always looking for way to get better, be better and create better material. Reviews of  “The Hayflick Limit” said it was “too technical” in parts and so my reaction was to write “Let Go” with virtually nothing technical in it at all. Others have reported that “Little Spirit” is too long. When the day comes that my stockpile of books is depleted, the revised edition with be shorted and I’ve already culled scenes that will shorten the book but not the message. 

Do you Google yourself?

Nope! Don’t have the need and usually find that people who are critics of others should look in the mirror at themselves. 

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

My singularity in the publishing world. Whether it was an agent or a publisher. I really would like to focus on writing on not on all the other stuff required to be commercially successful.

What are your favorite books?

Anything and everything written by John Grisham.

What is your favorite childhood book?

We couldn’t afford books and so I really didn’t have any.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

My typing skills. My mind works faster than my fingers.

Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?

In 2010 my body had 70 blood clots in it and I was given less than a 5% chance of surviving three hours. I was strapped to a bed for six days and totally immobilized. Having spent a business career that included extensive travel, I simply wanted to share my values with our children. 

How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?

While writing a book on men’s health, my sister sent me a letter written by my mother’s great aunt detailing what it was like living on the family farm in Waldwick, Wisconsin in the 1870’s. I was so moved by the detail and the purity of what she wrote, I took it and began writing “Waldwick” which has evolved into the series.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

 If it weren’t for my wife and her brilliance and patience, I would have stopped a long time ago. She has been my guiding light, my editor-in-chief and my number one fan for which I will always be profoundly grateful.

If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

Learned to type.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Depends on the subject and the amount of research. “Never Say Never” took two years. “Hayflick” took 18 months. “Let Go” took less than six weeks. 

Is writer’s block real?

So far, not for me. I’ll see an article in the paper or an episode on TV and correlate it with my stable of characters and “away we go”. When you write about social issues and have a world, country and society that’s totally screwed up, it’s not hard to find subject matter. There are times when I’ll turn down the wrong street and have to backtrack, but as long as we have issues, I have storylines.

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

Grisham, Grisham and Grisham.

After the writing’s finished, how do you judge the quality of your work?

By what people report after they’ve read it.

How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?

Better keep your first job and do it as a hobby. You have just about the same chance as winning the lottery. It’s a VERY tough business to crack into simply because all the doors are closed and all the avenues crowded with others who have the same dream. 

Were your parents interested in literature? Did they read a lot? What books did you have in the house?

No interest, no reading, no books.

What in particular attracted you to this genre?

The freedom to create characters and simply do what I want with them. I can adjust their dreams and emotions, have them succeed or fail, make them happy or sad. That’s the fun stuff as long as I’ve still got the ability to get my primary and secondary messages across. 

How do you begin a book?

I turn on the computer and go to Microsoft Word. I look at the white screen and think, Ok, what am I going to fill it with today? The basic premise will be there like a block of marble and like Michelangelo all I need to do is chip away what isn’t needed and hopefully end up with something that makes sense, makes people think and hopefully makes them feel. 

What’s more important: characters or plot?

Character development is much more important than the plot. If the reader doesn’t believe in the character, they’ll never believe in the plot.  There are some “famous” authors who are extremely good at plot development whose characters seem to be made of cardboard and therefore have no depth. Depth of character – both good and bad – is what makes them real. If a character doesn’t have both strengths and weaknesses they’re simply pretend as all real people do have both.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

Rejection. Rejection and Rejection where the saddest thing is the total lack of courtesy to even have the person say “no”.

SOME FUN QUESTIONS:

If asked, what would your friends and family say about you?

Outgoing, talks too much, is proud of his family and is somewhat bombastic

Would you rather read a book or watch television?

I’m hooked on Jeopardy.

If you could only change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Either by seven feet tall or weigh fifty pounds less so that I was proportionate.

Are you a feeler or a thinker?

This is where I’m “different” and leads to my creativity…I’m both. I’m quite sensitive and insecure that has reacted to an extroverted personality. However, beneath the façade lies a thinker who organizes and structures everything.

What is your greatest failure? What did you learn from that failure?

I once changed job from one where I was quite successful to one where I was not only incredibly miserable but away from my family. What I learned is that my family means more than anything else. More than fame and fortune! More the achievement and acquisition that I cannot, will not and do not ever risk again.

How different was your life one year ago?

 I was one year younger.

Is there anything you want to unlearn?

How insipient our world and society has become. They say that ignorance is bliss and I crave blissful ignorance instead of the politicized, polarized world in which we now live.

QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR BOOK/WRITING:

Tell us some more about your book.

Being poor the little kid everyone picked on, I experienced what it was like to be socially brutalized. The pain, the anger and frustration that comes from being on the outside looking in forces one to redirect their energies and objectives in different directions and “Let Go” simply examines one possible consequence of being the victim of bullying.  

What inspired the premise of your book?

Beyond my personal experiences, watching one of the nationally televised talent shows and then learning about how they really operate.

How many rewrites did you do for this book?

The key scenes were rewritten at least ten times. The establishing scenes, less than three.

Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

It started by watching one of the televised talent shows and knowing the backstory of one of the contestants.

How do you come up with names for your characters?

From some people who fit the characters persona.

Which character was most challenging to create? Why?

Annie simply because I didn’t know where to stop in terms of her level of liberation.

Are any of your characters based on real people you know?

Yup!

Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?

All of my chapters have names instead of numbers. Most people don’t read them and that’s too bad as they actually are one-or-two word summaries of what the chapter is all about. My favorite chapter is called “No-So-Happy Bay” and it represents both character bonding and that point in the story when everything changes.

Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?

The same scene as I didn’t know how to express what I wanted to without making it sexual.

Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?

Annie

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Newton’s Third Law of Motion is applicable to all aspects of life.

How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?

I am profoundly against oppression, racism, intolerance and arrogance. I look at those who have everything and then hear about their private lives and realize I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable simply because wealth is not what we have, its’ the lives we’ve touched and the smiles we’ve created that only comes from giving of oneself. 

What life experiences have shaped your writing most?

Being on the outside and always looking in.

What makes this book important right now?

We all need friends who are willing to do and give of themselves for us. Our society, world and species have become isolated, where the most pervading malady of mankind is loneliness.

Where do your ideas for this story come from?

I really don’t know. They just seem to appear.

What sort of a relationship exists between you and the characters you created in this book?

I write in the first person and therefore I am what I write.

Has this novel changed drastically as you created it?

Nope

How did you decide on this title?

I gave my wife a statue of two hands that are just touching and always pondered whether they are beginning to touch or are they letting go? We all need to let go of the trials and tribulations, frustrations and incursions that cause us pain and realize that beneath it all, what matters is that today we all tough those we love and make them sincerely feel wanted, needed and loved.   

How crucial is it to have a working title before you begin a project? (answer this if you decide on your title very early in the writing process)

Titles come and titles go. For me, the title evolves from where the concept began and where it ends. “War of My Brothers” is a classic example as it is a love story and yet, it follows the attitudes of American’s towards the government and how it changed from World War I to the Vietnam War. Is the title apropos, only if you read what happens in between. 

What’s next for you?

I’m currently writing “Waldwick…The King of Hearts” that traces the Terrill family from 65 BCE to 1800 and is a prequel to the first “Waldwick” in that it answers several of the questions that start the series. It been quite interesting to be able to trace our roots back before the birth of Christ and then develop a structure that allows the story to be told without becoming a history book. I hope to have it completed by year’s end.  

Beyond “The King of Hearts”, I’m in the formative stages of “V” which will examine the challenges of ethical politics in America today.

Beyond that, I’ve got the summary outline for a book called “Kevren” written that examines the consequence of global warming and human overpopulation in the 22nd century and how it affects American society, culture and politics.

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