The Good Know Nothing
by Ken Kuhlken
on Tour September 15 – October 31, 2014
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Number of Pages: 262
DURING THE SUMMER OF 1936, destitute farmers from the Dust Bowl swarm into California, and an old friend brings police detective Tom Hickey a manuscript, a clue to the mystery of his father Charlie’s longago disappearance. Tom chooses to risk losing his job and family to follow this lead. Even his oldest friend and mentor, retired cop Leo Weiss, opposes Tom’s decision. Why so passionately? Tom lures the novelist B. Traven to a meeting on Catalina and accuses him of manuscript theft and homicide. Traven replies that the Sundance Kid, having escaped from his reputed death in Bolivia, killed Charlie. Tom crosses the desert to Tucson, tracking the person or ghost of the legendary outlaw. He meets a young Dust Bowl refugee intent on avenging the enslavement of his sister by an L.A. cop on temporary border duty in Yuma. Tom frees the sister, delivers the boy’s revenge, and becomes a fugitive, wanted for felony assault by the L.A.P.D., his now-former employer. What he learns in Tucson sends Tom up against powerful newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. He hopes to enlist Leo, but instead Leo offers evidence that Tom’s father was a criminal. For Tom and his sister, both victims of Charlie’s wife, their crazy mother, what now? This is the final chapter in the Hickey saga that ranges across the 1900s.
Read an excerpt:
Ken Kuhlken’s stories have appeared in Esquire and dozens of other magazines and anthologies, been honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, and earned a National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship. His novels have been chosen as an Ernest Hemingway Best First Fiction Book, a Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel, and a Shamus Awards Best Novel. The novels are Midheaven and the Tom Hickey California Crime series.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
The west. I lived a couple years in Iowa City. Otherwise, born near San Diego, on a hill that overlooks Mexico, and lived and taught writing at colleges in San Diego, Chico, CA and Tucson, Arizona.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
The Tom Hickey series begins in 1926 and continues through most of the century, chronicling the lives and adventures of detective Tom and family and the transformation California from a frontier to a center of the worlds trends and culture.
I was reading The Death Ship, a novel by B. Traven, who tried to keep his identity secret but was apparently, at least for a couple of his novels, two people, a German and an American. And it came to me that the American was surely Tom Hickey’s missing father.
How do you create your characters?
Often they start with somebody I know or have seen and gotten intrigued with. Like the narrator of my first novel, Midheaven, began with a girl I watched rush out of a party on the shore of Lake Tahoe and dash across the beach and plunge fully clothed into the lake.
Once I pick somebody and let myself wonder, the whole character comes to me, either all of a sudden or gradually.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
My grandma was a wonderful storyteller and also a painter. As a boy, I hung out in her studio and watched her paint and listened to her tell stories at the same time.
So I grew up wanting to create something and soon enough learned I couldn’t draw very well and that the best way to make sense of my life and the rest of the world was to dream up stories.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I write wherever I am when I get the time to write. And I don’t know that I need anything, but coffee certainly helps, and a bit of wine if I find myself still writing as night approaches. And whenever I finish a draft, I can’t imagine not celebrating with a drink or three, preferably Dewar’s or single malt Scotch.
And music can help me get into the mood. The novel I’m working on now is set in and around Lake Tahoe. So when I go for a walk before sitting down to write, I usually listen to a Bob Dylan song called “My Heart’s in the Highlands.”
And when I’m writing about a period of history, to get myself into that world, I might listen to songs from that year. You can find some of those through You Tube links on my website.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Often with questions, like: what would happen if this character encountered this situation? The Tom Hickey series began with a fascination for Tijuana, Mexico and the World War II era, when San Diego was at the heart of the nation’s military and right across the border were lots of Germans and German sympathizers. And I thought about a girl from my high school girl who ran away and turned up as a dancer in a Tijuana strip club. So I wondered what would happen if a fellow went looking for a girl like her in Tijuana during the war. And the fellow turned out to be Tom Hickey, who resembled my dad.
What do you like to read?
Mostly books that reveal a lot about character, whether they are mysteries or thrillers or novels of manners like Pride and Prejudice. Some of my favorites are John LeCarre, Ross MacDonald, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, and noir writers like Jim Thompson and James M. Cain.
Right now I’m reading The Spirit and the Skull, a prehistoric mystery by J.M. Hayes, another Poisoned Pen author, and a strange biography called Unicorn about the poet W.B. Yeats and his belief in and practice of magic.
What would your be advice for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
First, think about why you are writing, because if the motives are selfish, like about money or fame, you’re probably just courting heartache.
Other than that, I’d humbly suggest that you subscribe to The Scoop, a newsletter I write once a month, which has links to plenty of good advice.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Listen to “God Bless John Wayne”, a song by Kinky Friedman. It features this excellent advice for writers: know your audience.