Friday, October 11, 2019

Dietrich Kalteis, Author of Call Down the Thunder

One of the blogging highlights of any year is the launch of Dietrich Kalteis’s new book, which means another chance to interview him. Dieter is someone more writers should aspire to: not only an award-winning author but a mensch, a person I have never seen the bad side of, nor do I know anyone who has. His new book, Call Down the Thunder, launches next Tuesday and is a bit of a departure for him. I could tell you about it, but it’s going to be a lot more entertaining and enlightening if he does it.

One Bite at a Time: Dietrich, welcome back. It’s always a pleasure to have you here on One Bite at a Time. Let’s get started with the quick, 100 words or less, description of your new book, Call Down the Thunder.

Dietrich Kalteis: First off, thanks very much for having me back, Dana.

Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on. The land’s gone dry, barren and worthless. And the bankers, greedy and hungry, make life even more impossible, squeezing farmers out of their homes. The couple can wither along with the land, or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the other farmers. But Sonny comes up with a way for them to stay on their land and prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery.

OBAAT: Ninety-four words; very good. You go back to the 1930s for this story. Any particular reason for that time period?

DK: I chose the period because the hardships of the time added so much to the story. And there’s this feeling of isolation as they’re in the middle of nowhere with little money, no phone, and no electricity. The couple struggles with their marriage, trying to keep the farm from the bankers, dealing with other challenges that come along, all the while trying to survive the drought and dust storms that had been happening for nearly the past decade.

OBAAT: Interesting that you mention no phone or electricity. I’m working on a Western—sporadically—and find that the absence or things we take for granted now provides both opportunities and challenges. Were there times where you had to work around something because of the lack of a modern convenience like a phone? Or the flip side, where the absence of something provided you an opportunity that would have been difficult in a more contemporary story?

DK: Well, I had to work out a few details that we take for granted nowadays. Like when Clara wants to make a phone call to her mother living across the state. She has to get to the general store ten miles away, borrow the phone there, get connected through an operator, which at the time was very expensive.

I think the absence of modern conveniences like plumbing and electricity worked to get across that feeling of isolation, and made the characters more vulnerable to everything they have to deal with. 

OBAAT: What challenges did you find in writing a period novel? Anything unexpected?

DK: There’s always a lot of research that needs to be done in an historical novel, and I found it quite interesting. I think the hardest part for me was distilling it all down. Going through archived newspapers, historical as well as personal accounts, I came up with so much that I wanted to include, but I had to leave out a great deal of it. I was afraid it would start to sound more like a history lesson than a novel.

OBAAT: Does this mean there might be another book coming that set in this period? Not a sequel necessarily, but another book that spends time with something that interested you in your research but didn’t make it into Call Down the Thunder.

DK: Interesting you should say that, Dana. When I was doing the digging for this one I came across a true story about a couple of bank robbers, lesser known than Bonnie and Clyde, but they did top the FBIs most wanted list after robbing just one bank. So, I found out everything I could about them and wrote the story. It’s now been signed with my publisher, and I can’t say too much more about it at this point other than it should be out sometime after the next one, likely in 2021.

OBAAT: Interesting you should say that, as honking about this book put me a little in mind of when Elmore Leonard stepped back into the 1930s for The Hot Kid. We’re both Leonard devotees and I see a lot of potential for that one.

As you dug into the research, did you find the period foreign to you, or did you see similarities to what you learned about the Depression to how we live today?

DK: When I researched the story I surrounded myself with newspaper articles of the time, personal as well as historical accounts, and hundreds of old black and white photos, so I became immersed in that time, and no, it didn’t feel foreign at all.

There are similarities between then and now, and I guess we all feel we struggle in our lives at times so we can relate to the story, although the hardships they faced back then hit ten on the dial.

OBAAT: I remember newspapers. Mostly I remember them as great ways to get news from places other than Washington or the state capital. Nowadays it seems that most “local” papers are virtually volunteer operations that tell about upcoming scout and PTA activities, or some club putting out flowers for Mother’s Day. Did you see a lot of differences between the papers of the period and the news as it’s covered today?

DK: I guess newspapers of today have become second tier. And while news is delivered much faster these days, it seems people had more trust in the printed word back then, as in “They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.”

There sure was a difference how news was received. In major centers, people read the morning paper over breakfast, or while sitting on a bus on the way to work. The radio was becoming a staple in many households and a source for what was going on in the world. And just imagine going to the movie theatre to watch the news. A long way from catching it on your smartphone and scrolling through your social media feed.

OBAAT: This has been great fun. I look forward to your new books almost as much for these interviews as I do reading the books. We know the bank robber story is on deck. What are you working on now?

DK: Before the story of the bank-robbing couple, I’ve got one coming out sometime next year that will take readers on a wild ride through northern British Columbia and into Alaska. It’s about the girlfriend of an aging gangster who wakes in the old guy’s bed, and above his rasping snores, she hears a burglar in the hall. Getting her handgun, she confronts him, recognizes him as the wrongly dismissed chauffeur looking for some payback, knowing the gangster stashes money in the house. She hesitates, considers a couple of ways she could go. And knowing where the money’s stashed, she says, “Take me with you.”

Right now, I’m working on a new one set in present-day Vancouver involving a retiree, a runaway, a couple of casino crooks, and one killer motor home.

And I’d like to say thanks, Dana, for taking the time to put together some great questions. It’s always fun to drop in.

1 comment:

Elgin Bleecker said...

Thanks for posting this, Dana. I look forward to reading his new book. And your talk about the past feeling foreign or familiar was a good one. I am working on a piece set in the 1990s, which now feels long ago and foreign and requires some research and reminders.