Ken Kuhlken and the Reader

From fiction to non-fiction

Ken Kuhlken, Faith Chapel. I’d enjoyed C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Soren Kierkegaard. I’d prayed my way out of danger.
  • Ken Kuhlken, Faith Chapel. I’d enjoyed C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Soren Kierkegaard. I’d prayed my way out of danger.
  • Image by Robert Burroughs

How Ken Kuhlken came to the Reader:

Not long after my second novel came out, Reader editor Judith Moore phoned me. I didn’t know Judith but was quite familiar with the Reader, because I found the stories often intriguing and always well-written. So, when she asked if I would contribute, I was delighted. But when I asked if fiction would be okay and she said they usually only ran non-fiction, my delight faded. “Besides school essays and book reviews ,” I said, “I’ve only written fiction.

She said, “We pay pretty well” and named a figure.

“I could write non-fiction,” I said.

We talked over ideas. She liked one about a pitcher I knew who had spent some difficult minor league years.

I spent many hours on the story and hated it until I remembered a book I had used when teaching a non-fiction class at the University of Arizona. The author, Jon Franklin, proposed that the best non-fiction was written in a fiction-like structure. I started over with Franklin’s theory in mind. Now my story worked.

And so began an era during which the Reader used dozens of my stories, even some fiction. And lots of ideas came from Judith or from Jim Holman. I believe it was Jim who asked me to spend time with Mother Teresa’s student priests in a Tijuana seminary. I learned plenty down there, and out of that experience and another of my Reader stories, about a mega-church and child abuse, my recent novel The Very Least grew.

Ten of Kuhlen's stories he especially likes:

  • You Don’t Do Anger

  • While researching and writing the Dale Akiki article, I became ever more furious. At defense attorneys for portraying the church as a haven for loonies. At therapists for allowing kids' fantasies, such as the ritual slaughtering of elephants, to get publicly aired. (Aug. 16, 2007)

There’s still the rift between the fraternities and sororities and the too-cool-for-all-that crowd.

There’s still the rift between the fraternities and sororities and the too-cool-for-all-that crowd.

  • Rats in the Ivory Tower

  • I would park, jump out, and rush over the bridge, commonly late for class, and get stalled by a parade of Hare Krishnas, Muslims selling incense, or business students lined up at the booths of prospective employers. The transition between USD and SDSU made me feel as though I'd been exiled from Eden and chased into Disneyland.(Dec. 14, 1995)
  • Metaphysical Okie

  • Sapped of his creativity after several years of WPA projects, and plagued by the difficulties of his family life, at age 35 Thompson felt like a has-been before he’d even gotten started with his real ambition, to become a novelist.(March 30, 1995)

New manager Bruce Bochy looks over the replacement recruits

New manager Bruce Bochy looks over the replacement recruits

  • No Fossils, No Fat Guys

  • “The game may suffer from the strike. I would love to see those great baseball players out there. But they’ve made choices, and I don’t think I’m involved with them. I’m involved with an opportunity given me by somebody who owns a baseball team.” (March 16, 1995)
  • Living On My Own at Sixteen

  • The vice principal of my high school called me into her office. She’d gotten a call from my aunt Leota, who reported that although I’d promised to stay with her and her husband Jimmy, my mom’s youngest brother, my whereabouts were unknown. (Sept. 15, 1994)
  • I Quit, Love Clifford

  • The army assigned Cliff to an infantry company. After basic training at Fort Ord, he visited home before his journey to Vietnam. One of those days, on the drive to Ocean Beach, we each swallowed a tab of LSD. (Feb. 27, 1997)

Rocks at La Jolla, 1930. "We could’ve bought lots in the center of La Jolla for $25."

Rocks at La Jolla, 1930. "We could’ve bought lots in the center of La Jolla for $25."

  • Hardship Didn’t Deter Painter Charles Fries

  • “I was out with him on several trips, to Campo, Jacumba, and vicinity, and we really did make one fine strike near Campo. We were both so hard up we neglected to work on it, and finally the San Diego and Arizona Railroad covered up the tunnel we had started." (Apr. 7, 1994)
  • Reporter Ken Kuhlken interviews novelist Ken Kuhlken

  • I used the old trick — when your one love fails you, run to another. I started a novel. A year later I had a big-time agent. He was going to make me rich. Laura — my ex-wife — and I went to Morocco and waited for the money. It never came. He couldn’t sell the novel, thank God. (May 27, 1993)

(And these last two that inspired The Very Least:)

  • Mother Teresa's Tijuana legacy

  • It’s not that I’m anti-Catholic or anti-Christ. But my paternal grandmother was a deranged, abusive Christian. Most of my life, I step into a church, it feels like I’ve been stuffed into a closet with a gang of molesters and pickpockets. (Jan. 7, 1993)
  • Inside Faith Chapel

  • In the late ’60s, at the beginning of the Jesus movement, fellowship involved meeting in living rooms or anywhere but a church building. Places like the Lord’s Fish House, a communal home on El Cajon Boulevard; and the One Way Inn. (Sept. 22, 1994)

Kuhlken's latest novels are: Newport Ave, The Very Least, and The Answer to Everything, the last two of which are Hickey Family Crime novels, of which there are ten books in all. His website is kenkuhlken.net

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