[Interview] Karl Stuart Kline, author of ‘Brain Stemmed Roses’
Poet and author, Karl Stuart Kline is a past president of Epilepsy Concern, a coalition of self-help groups; a past president of the Greater Miami Avicultural Society and a lifetime honorary member of the Florida Sheriff’s Association.
He made his debut as an author in 2004 with the publication of Poison Pearls, an 88-paged collection of poetry and prose which explores issues that include forced labor, modern-day slavery, human trafficking and prostitution.
He followed this up with Going Without Peggy (PublishAmerica, 2005), another collection of poetry and prose about his marriage of 17 years and the bond that existed between him and his first wife, Peggy; her struggle with breast cancer and the effect her death had on him.
His latest book, Brain Stemmed Roses (PublishAmerica, 2006) is also a collection of poetry and prose and includes some of his early work from the 60s and 70s as well as poetry about romance and friendship in Eastern Europe and a section dedicated to his wife of seven years, Marina.
In a recent interview, Karl Stuart Kline spoke about the work he is doing.
How would you describe your writing?
Impulsive… I seldom sit down knowing in advance just what it is that I am going to write or what form that it is going to take. I find a certain amount of freedom in that because each time that I sit down to write, I have a different story to tell and a different way to tell it.
I want my work to withstand the test of time and for it to be as popular and well-read in a hundred years as it would be now if I was writing to please modern stylists.
I don’t write to accommodate the style du jour and refer to myself as writing poetry that will appeal to people who think that they don’t like poetry.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t believe that it was ever a conscious decision any more than it is for a fish to swim. Writing has always been as natural as breathing for me and the instruments of my craft are always close to hand.
A school assignment prompted me to write my first poem in 1966. The medium just had a natural appeal for me and I continued to write poetry as a matter of preference whenever possible.
Ten years later that same poem motivated me again, when I entered it and a few others in a college level competition… The poem took first place.
Later I found out that I had caused some consternation amongst the judges when the three winning poems were matched to their authors and they found my name on all three entries. Contest rules did not allow any one person to be awarded more than one prize, so all my poems had to be removed from the competition and those that remained were judged again for the second and third place awards.
The three poems were “The Tear”, “Storm’s End” and “Patterns”. All three are included in my most recent book, Brain Stemmed Roses.
Who would you say has influenced you most?
I suppose I would have to say that it has been the women in my life. With few exceptions, they have been a source of encouragement and inspiration for my writing.
As for writers that might have influenced me, I might mention the story-telling abilities of Mark Twain and Robert Heinlein. Neither of them were noted as poets, but they both had that wry sense of humor that I like to bring to my own work.
What are your main concerns as a writer?
Now that I have three books to my credit, my priorities have shifted. Over the last year I have continued to write but not with the immediate goal of my next book in mind. Rather, I have been concentrating on my Internet presence, so that my name is starting to be recognized in an ever widening circle of people.
I’ve also kept my websites free of any advertising. I hate to be bushwhacked any time that I find a site that I want to visit and I refuse to do it to anyone else.
Do you write everyday?
Unfortunately, no… My day job can be very demanding and there are often days that I just come home and collapse.
When I do write, many times I start by sorting through notes that I have made to myself over the preceding weeks, months and even years… they can be newspaper clippings, journal entries or scraps of verse, jotted down on napkins or placemats and saved.
I follow my muse, separating or bringing together different notes etc., according to perceived discords or commonalities. When something or a combination of things starts to sing to me, it tightens my focus. Soon I have something new to share with my readers.
Where I start often has very little to do with where I wind up. For example, I wrote an epigraph for a page on my website and it later became a rhyming sestina, done consistently in iambic heptameter.
How, where and when does the process end?
I don’t think that it ever ends! I may complete a piece to my satisfaction, but it almost always leads to something else!
Your latest book, Brain Stemmed Roses is divided into six sections. How and why is this?
The first of them is “A Poet’s View of Poetry”… mostly verse, but also an essay titled “Poetic Form and the Community of Man.” The second, “Early Works”, is material that I wrote in the ‘60s and ‘70s, including my very first poem. The third, “Smart and Sexy” details some of my dealings with the fair sex, starting about a year after Peggy’s death.
The fourth section is “The Ukrainian Connection” and it tells of my friendship with two itinerant Ukrainian artists. Through them, my acquaintance with Anne McCaffrey became possible and their friendship encouraged me to consider taking a bride from the old USSR. The section finishes with my expedition to Kyrgyzstan.
The fifth section, “Finding Marina” was meant to be a book in its own right, but my lovely Russian wife is also shy and she discouraged me from completing the book. However, I’ve still managed to tell the story of our ‘round the world romance, “Love, Marriage & Immigration.”
The sixth and final section, “Passions of Poetry”, is comprised of several of my best and most recent works.
You mention Anne McCaffrey. Do you mean the Anne McCaffrey who wrote the Dragonriders of Pern series of books?
Yes, that’s Anne McCaffrey. We know each other through a common acquaintance, the sculptor Vlad Ivanov of Kiev, Ukraine — on his website you will see my name pop up as you run the cursor over some of the sculptures that are displayed in his gallery. (Except that he misspells my middle name as “Stewart.”) Those are pieces that I commissioned with him and he also did the dragons for the gates to Anne’s estate in Ireland (Dragonhold-Underhill).
Incidentally, my poetry that went into Going Without Peggy was inspiration for his Orpheus & Eurydice sculpture. I’m the reason Orpheus has a ponytail. Vlad surprised me as well when he revealed Orpheus & Eurydice to me. He’d been rather secretive about the project and I had no forewarning that he was doing Orpheus in my image.
How long did it take you to write Brain Stemmed Roses?
Counting my early works? Forty years!
When and where was it published?
April, 2006, by Publish America. This is my third book with this publisher.
Originally they were recommended to me as being friendly to first time authors. The writer who suggested them to me had his book turned down by them, so my first impression of them was also that they weren’t accepting just anybody who could submit a manuscript. They were also a relatively new company and at the time they were using new technology in an industry that had been relying on a business model that’s been around for decades, if not longer.
Better yet, they didn’t ask for any money and even offered a token advance that was at least symbolic of the fact that they expected you to be able to earn some income with them.
So I sent in my query letter and Poison Pearls was accepted for publication!
What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?
One advantage that I had was being able to retain a great deal of editorial control over the finished product. I know of one typo that slipped through in my first book and I have yet to find any in either of my other books.
Also important is that they have a very capable art department that pays close attention to the ideas that I present to them for the covers of my books. The cover art for all three of my books has been better than it had to be.
The most enjoyable part of having these books published is the sheer number of people who have come back to me and told me that not only did they enjoy reading my books cover to cover, but that they went back and read them two or three times over.
Which aspects of the work you put into the book was most difficult?
Blending and transitioning from one section to another. I didn’t really have a single unifying theme in this book, except that it presented several different periods in my creative life and wove together several interesting stories from my life.
All my books are quite different from what I have written in the past as a reporter, columnist or contributing editor.
Brain Stemmed Roses is a larger book than the other two and gives a broader overview of my art through the course of several decades while Going without Peggy could be read almost as a true life romance novel. Its story has brought tears to many eyes.
Poison Pearls, on the other hand, is a poetic voice for human rights and is meant to help in the fight against human trafficking. Nonetheless, it was quite a surprise for me when the booksellers classified it with Criminology, Social Issues and Women’s Studies instead of poetry! It’s also the beginning of what ultimately became scaredsafe.org, a website that unabashedly uses the power of poetry to combat the evils of human trafficking.