Bill Kennedy
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 

Bill is a native of Chicago and currently resides with his wife, Joy, in Evanston, IL next door to the city. He’s lived all over the U.S., attending seven grade schools in seven years as a kid. He graduated as an English major from Rice University in Houston and went to grad school at Penn and Buffalo. He is a life-long Chicago Cubs fan. The detective in his mystery series, Prof. Ben Barklee, is a college professor and former Cubs pitcher who moonlights as a private eye. Bill has been a college professor, but sadly never pitched for the Cubs. He began writing fiction when he left academia, though he’s not sure of the connection between these two events. Post-academia, he worked as a communications manager for several large Chicago companies, two of which went under not long after he left. (Either they either couldn’t do without me or hiring me was the kiss of death. LOL)

INTERVIEW

 

SP: What does your typical writing day look like? How do you work in your writing and promoting?

BK: I'm an early riser but usually ease into writing mid-morning and work into the afternoon. I don't follow a strict alarm-clock-type schedule. I often alternate between the computer and pen-in-hand, marking up printed copy and then editing in and expending upon these changes at the computer.  I am trying to become better at publicity and outreach, which is one reason that I was taken with this on-line interview format. I am beefing up my website and have developed an extensive contact list that I use to notify folks of upcoming publications and reviews.

 

SP: Tell me how and why you got into writing fiction? How long have you been doing it? And how do you go about creating a story? Elaborate here. 

BK: My fiction-writing career got off to the worst possible start. The first story I wrote — “Skeets,” the fictional autobiography of a 1930’s Chicago White Sox ballplayer — was published by a fairly prestigious local literary magazine and won a prize from the Illinois Arts Council.  My idiotic conclusion: this stuff is a snap. Despite the catastrophic start, I’ve managed to publish more short stories, plus A Necessary Hero (Black Opal Books) and the aforementioned mystery series.

I usually begin to write when a particular situation or character strikes me. (I began hearing that old-time baseball player in my head.) Generally, I like to start with something I’m familiar with and then make things up from there. Example: The main character of the novel I’m currently working on recognizes a guy on Main Street in Buffalo NY as a former student who supposedly died in Vietnam twenty years before. That never happened to me, but I lived in Buffalo and was a teacher, so the general setting and situation were already here. 

 

SP: Tell me about the protagonist and antagonist of your latest book. What are their goals in the story?

BK: I’m fascinated by ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances created by forces beyond their control. Mack Simmons—the protagonist of A Necessary Hero—sees himself as permanently damaged goods because he lost an eye in an auto accident and now requires an ocular prosthesis (aka a glass eye). As a result, he’s dropped out of his upper-class life to work as a janitor in a defense plant—it’s 1942, and wartime defense jobs are plentiful. Mack can’t hide, though, when his powerful father drags him into a plan to make Mack’s best friend, bomber pilot Thomas Kilkenny, into the first American hero of the failing war. Tommy—who was the driver in the accident that cost Mack his eye—has died a heroic death in the Philippines. The hero-creating efforts succeed, but they also uncover an international plot that can alter the course of the war.

Mack faces several antagonists, including FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. His main antagonist is the ominous Dominic O’Nore, an operative of the Irish Republican Army who has his hooks in a corrupt Irish-born alderman. Dominic is also damaged goods, losing a beloved brother in Ireland’s endless troubles.

 

SP: Which do you prefer, character driven stories or plot driven stories and why should readers care? Which do you write?

BK: I’m not crazy about this division. I call A Necessary Hero a “literary thriller,” by which I mean an exciting story where the main characters have inner lives and grow and change through the course of the novel.

 

SP: Tell me about your story point of view preferences, tense preferences, and any other thing of interest to you along these lines as we delve further into the mechanics of creating a story.

BK: I favor first-person narration or “close-third’ person, where the omniscient narrator can get inside the head of the main character(s). The narrative present tense seems artificial, so I prefer past-tense narration. I’m also convinced that readers are capable of dealing with flashbacks and characters’ memories.

 

SP: What are your all-time favorite books – top three? Why? Don’t skimp here. Explore it with us? Tell us what genre they are. Who is your favorite author, if different from your favorite book?

BK: All-time favorites: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Great Expectations (I wrote my dissertation on Dickens.). More contemporary works: Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kittredge. I also love Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, and the late Jim Bouton’s Ball Four.

 

SP: What do you find is the most difficult thing about writing fiction? The easiest thing? Elaborate.

BK: When you’re rolling, it’s easy and fun; when you’re not, it’s like tunneling through rock; and when you sit down to write, you can’t tell which it will be.

Being part of an honest, supportive workshop group can be a big help in moving ahead, especially during rock-tunnel periods. For the last several years, I’ve been a member of Fred Shafer’s novel workshop here in Evanston. It’s great for at least two reasons: the critiques, advice, etc. are tremendously helpful, and the pressure to have a presentable 30 pages ready for the group is a powerful incentive to keep writing and revising. I completed A Necessary Hero in Fred’s workshop. 

 

SP: Tell me about your travels. Where is an interesting place you’ve been? Do you travel to research your stories, or is research important to you for your stories?

BK: I don’t travel to do research but try to use places I’ve visited in my writing. Example: After a trip to Ireland, I pursued some research into the IRA during World War II that was very useful in writing A Necessary Hero. (Let’s just say that, thankfully, the Nazis and the IRA found it difficult to work together.) I do a fair amount of research to nail down the facts about a particular time period or location. (Chicagoans are especially persnickety about local descriptions.)

 

SP: What kind of stories do you refuse to read?

BK: I generally stay away from sword-and-sorcery fantasy, especially when the author has not locked down the rules for the alternate world he/she is creating. I am also allergic to romance novels.

 

SP: Finally, the most important question – DC or Marvel? Or does that even matter to you? What is your favorite comic book character ever? If none, just make something up!

BK: Sorry, as a rather old dude, I’m not very interested in the rivalry—I do enjoy Superman and the Amazing Spiderman.

 

SP: Dude, I bet you’re not as old as me. Anyway, this has been a super interview from a fellow thriller writer. Hope everyone enjoys...

Excerpt - A Necessary Hero

Chapter 1

February 1942

              “My father is a horse’s ass.”

              It was an insult. Mack thought, his father would appreciate if Mack ever actually called him that. It was a slur his father had used himself a thousand times. Some neighbor or legal client or fellow Yale Club member he’d run afoul of “is more than an insufferable ninny—he’s a horse’s ass!” They’re the fightin’ words of Winnetka, an all-purpose insult within the North Shore set.

               During one of Mack’s rare voluntary visits home to see how his mother was doing, father’s usage went: “Mack, no one could possibly think worse of you for being 4F. No one who counts anyway. Any man who would place you among those slackers who perforate their own eardrums or claim to be perverts to get out of the draft, why he’s just the scum of the earth. Nothing but a horse’s ass!”

              Mack wanted to buttonhole the {passers-by} secretly thinking, “Why the hell aren’t you in the army when they’ve got my son—my boyfriend—my husband, dad, or brother?”

              He wanted to tell them, “I’m not a shirker or a draft dodger. I am large and strong enough to have played football at the University of Chicago before the hyper-intellectuals took over and the Maroons still had a team.”

              There was, Mack thought, more to him, and less than met the eye of a man or woman on the street. The “more” was the scrollwork of scars forming a relief map of some fantastic island across his back and ass. As for the lesser component, he had just one of something, an item generally viewed as critical, instead of two. Not kidneys, kneecaps, earlobes, nostrils, buttocks, elbows, or balls, not even little-piggy-went-to-market toes. You had to look for a while into Mack’s unscarred face, then move your own head a little so that his eye would follow—the one he was born with, a singular noun—not the glass eye, officially his ocular prosthesis. Even those in the know had to look carefully because it was a masterpiece of ocular prosthetic art, the iris and pupil painstakingly sized and matched to the pale blue and clear white of the functioning peeper. Surprisingly, both Mack and his father agreed the prosthesis was far superior to a pirate’s eye-patch. Who knew what wound lurked underneath?

              So, in the country of the blind, Mack might be king, but he wasn’t welcome in the army of the two-eyed. Something about lacking the depth perception required to aim a rifle at the vital organs of his fellow man, not mention the tendency of the artificial orb to pop out of its socket under duress.