Name: Joe Klingler

Where are you from?

The Great Black Swamp in Ohio. (

A little about yourself and your education Family life etc.

Well Fiona, I grew up in a large family and walked back and forth to a nearby school. I turned to visiting the local public library on my bicycle after going through reams of my older brother’s superhero comic books. Learned to play guitar a bit, and decided to study electrical engineering because I wanted to know about amplifiers, but learned about computers instead. The digital world carried me on a long curvy ride through medical imaging, then special effects for film and video, until I became interested in writing techno-thrillers and mysteries about the human race’s win/lose interaction with the technology it creates.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

I just released my third novel, a mystery named Missing Mona, the first in a hopefully long line of Tommy Cuda Mysteries. It’s a big departure for me from the thriller genre, because it’s a straight mystery told in the first person about a guy who wakes up after his 29th birthday party and realizes his life is half over. He’s unhappy with living a virtual life based on social media interactions, so sets out to change it using a gift from his late grandfather: a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda.

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

In the 90s I had an idea for a book while commuting between San Francisco and Montreal on a too regular basis. The idea wouldn’t leave me alone, so I started filling notebooks by hand during the flights; the flight attendants never make you turn off a pencil. Instead of moving to my next nice, logical hi-tech job in a string of hi-tech jobs churning out software, I decided to write the book to see what would happen. I was drawn partially by the idea (dream, fantasy) that a writer could live anywhere in the world, and still go to work everyday. That was four books ago (that first book remains unpublished, but one of these days I’ll go back, it’s still calling me).

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Depends on your definition. A writer, to me, is someone who writes as regularly as other people show up at work, and cares about what they are producing. Making your novel available through sales channels and selling your first book will make you feel like you’ve arrived at something. As well it should, publishing is a big milestone. But it also scares you because now you realize, perhaps coldly and clearly for the very first time, someone is going to actually read what you wrote, and have an opinion about your work. Terrifying. You also then start to worry if anyone will buy what you wrote. This is a brand new worry that you didn’t have while writing your first book. But it’s those first reviews that show someone actually read your work, and perhaps didn’t care for it; those make you think, and make you feel like a writer because you’ve firmly closed the writer/reader loop with a stranger.

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

The uneasy feeling that if we remain on our current trajectory, a computer will eventually take everyone’s job, because computers can do most anything more cheaply than a human can do it. Machines doing work for us is wonderful. But it’ll take careful thought to figure out how the humans are going to fit in. However, I haven’t publish that book (yet).

What inspired RATS, my debut novel, was an article I read about a little boy in Vietnam who found a piece of left over war ordnance. He wanted to see it explode, so he tossed it repeatedly at a board leaning against the side of the building. He was successful. Surgeons managed to save his life. That story got me thinking about the companies who manufacture war machines, and the damage those machines do long after the war is over to people who weren’t even alive while it was being fought.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

It’s difficult for me to analyze my own style, because I’m inside of it. I like action that moves, is visceral, and that lights up inside the reader’s mind as if they were taking part in it. Not watching it on the silver screen, but actually being there smelling smoke, eyes watering, heat from the fire pressing against their backs. I also prefer paragraphs that have the rhythm of a great drummer; the underlying pulse itself carrying the reader forward through the story while loads of little details dance on the surface.

Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

A redhead tells Tommy her name is Mona. Then she goes missing. I look for a key element in the story, and then think about the structure of the title. One hard noun (RATS), or something that paints action (Missing Mona). I like ambiguity and depth in a title. What kind of RATS? Oh, Washington, DC. You mean two legs, double-dealing low-life sneaking conniving RATS. But there is yet another RAT that plays a key role in the book, but no spoilers here.

Also consider, has Mona disappeared, and is therefore missing? Or is someone missing her in her absence…or perhaps both? Or even, is Mona missing something or someone?

Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Beyond the action and plot, my novels are a meditation on some aspect of social intercourse. In Missing Mona Tommy’s life is evolving, and as part of that evolution he examines his relationship to technology, or as he puts it in the book, he enters a “technology reallocation phase.” I simply hope readers meditate on the issues along with me, drawing their own conclusions about what aspects of the story may or may not apply to their own lives.

Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?

I strive to write realism at all times, although I sometimes push what people might think technology can do, or an institution can do. I try to ensure the nerds (including myself) are comfortable that what I write is not only possible, but probably happening inside a startup or government lab already.

I also try to ensure that although a character’s reaction might initially surprise a reader, as the story evolves they become convinced that, yes, that is indeed how that character would have reacted under the circumstances. Of course, the more you learn about a character, the more they are capable of in your mind. You begin to understand their skills, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses.


Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Yes, all of the above. And extrapolations of anything I can imagine from people I’ve known, situations I’ve experienced, worlds I’ve imagined, adventures I’ve wished I could have. No character I write is a direct copy of a real person, never, not even close; though some of the character’s traits might have come from real people. I know many computer scientists, and musicians for example, and having known them I’m sure is blended into the characters I write.

It’s as if all of my life experience has been mixed into a huge huge pot. Then as a writer staring at a blank page I ask, okay, from this pot I need a guy who would get into his Grandfather’s car, alone, and point it west, on an impulse. Who is that guy, what motivates him, and what does he do when he meets Mona? Tommy Cuda is the result.

Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?

Early books that stand out: The God Machine by Martin Caidin created a future world that was both scary and exciting for a young boy in which computers were dangerous. Four Wheel Drift by Richard Hough (writing as Bruce Carter) featured a racer and an engineer that built the car. What could be better? Something awesome to do (race), and the blueprint on how to get there (learn).

On the writing front On Writing by Stephen King is amazing in its scope. And a book I had to locate used on Amazon, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell (the creator of Rambo), is brilliant in its guidance on craft.

I also received sound advice in a one-on one-meeting with Tim Maleeny at the Mystery Writers Conference, and learned a great deal from reading Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Don Winslow and a host of other great writers who took the time to speak at this conference.

At the end of the day, anything a writer sees, hears, smells, or reads can and will find its way into his or her writing. So be careful what you let into your head.

Fiona: What book are you reading now?

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley, written in 1978, is a masterclass in characterization, action, and the profound use of the surprising metaphor.

Fiona: What are your current projects?

I’m working on the Kandy and Qigiq novel that chronologically follows Mash Up—the interaction between these two detectives has captured my attention. The book is moving along, and I hope to release it in 2016. But my predictions have been wrong before. (Please ask your interested readers to join Joe’s Readers on my website ( It’s the one thing I always send out when a new book is released. Social networking is fine, but using it for communication is sketchy at best.)

Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

The Mystery Writers Conference at the Book Passage in Corte Madera; I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a small conference where attendees dine together at catered meals right at the bookstore, you can purchase a one-on-one consultation with a published author for a modest fee, and every last person loves mysteries and is incredibly supportive of all of us crazies who try to write them. If you’re writing mysteries, and you feel like no one understands you, please go to this conference. You’ll even hear from forensic specialists, former FBI agents, and even gun experts who will tell you how to get your gun handling right. It’s an amazing conference. I’m getting excited about going next year just telling you about it.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

I am in the fortunate position at the moment that I can write full time, so if that’s what you mean, then yes, writing is my second career (software engineering being the first). Since quite a bit of technology filters into my books, I feel I am building my second career on top of the first to a large extent (this is the write what you know advice that writers so often hear). But I write because I love the freedom (physical, emotional, intellectual) that crafting a novel provides. It can be a lonely existence some days, but it’s a wild ride.

Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

I publish paperback books POD (Print on Demand), and eBooks. Truly, if I wanted to change something, I would just change it and upload new files. Shazam! it would be changed for the next reader. Books are no longer cast in concrete as they were in the days of offset printing by the thousands. Books are now essentially software. By all means, use this to your advantage to fix typos, correct factual errors etc.

How much can one change without changing the book? I don’t know. I’m not sure it’s even relevant. If you want to change your book, change it. It’s your book. If you change it a whole lot, maybe you should call it a second edition to reduce confusion in the marketplace.

In my latest book, Missing Mona, I’ve made all the changes I want. In the world of eBooks and POD, very little time passes between when I finish the last edit, and readers can buy the book on Amazon. Weeks at most. Certainly not the year long delay with the traditional printing process. That said, as readers read the book and I receive feedback, I might come up with a better idea and I’ll want to change something.  Then I have a decision to make: do I invest my time in my new book, or go back and tweak an existing one? So far, though occasionally tempted, I’ve chosen to focus on my next book and leave the current ones ride like a Las Vegas bet. They represent what I was thinking back then, and so are a snapshot of a certain view at a certain time. So I mostly leave them alone.

Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I read quite a lot, and realized one day that I enjoy books as much as computers. I really like writing software (it is such a blast because the computer gives objective, unrelenting, instant feedback as to how well you’re doing). So one day, with this idea for a book churning around in my head, I wondered what writing a novel would be like? Would it be like writing software (long hours in a chair are similar), or different (computers don’t get emotional and irrational on you, but characters do all the time). So I decided to try it. Cold. A novel. No short stories. No essays. No articles for magazines. That’s the book I haven’t published because it needs revising. But after finishing it I enjoyed the process so much that I immediately started on the next one, RATS, which has made finalist in a few indie awards, and motivated me to write Mash Up.

Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?

I make a point of not talking about a work in progress to anyone at anytime—not even the people who are closest to me. They can hear me typing (or pushing a fountain pen) but have no idea what I’m working on because if I talk about it, I start to get confused in trying to explain it to another person, and that somehow dilutes my creative energies. So I write first, talk later.

That said, let me share this. It’s Kandy and Qigiq. It’s a mystery/thriller a la Mash Up. There are musicians. There is a great deal of technology that is mostly hidden at first. A key social problem is meditated upon. At least one. It has absolutely nothing to do with Mash Up except it is their next case…the one that starts immediately after Mash Up ends in chronological time.

Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

The same thing as I find challenging in life: Balance.

How do I make the novel long enough, but not too long? How much setting, action, plot twists? Am I inside the character’s head too much. Have I dwelled too long on one scene? Not long enough to be clear? Too many characters? Too few? A good editor can help with this, and I’ve been fortunate to do my first three books with a fantastic and sensitive professional editor named Robyn Russell. She asked a lot of hard questions, and I find in properly answering them in the manuscript, I found a better balance.

Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

That’s worse than picking my favorite guitarist; I just can’t ever define a favorite. But here goes. I really like Isaac Asimov’s creative brilliance in seeing the future, Stephen King’s raw storytelling power, and guts to not reach closure with the Colorado Kid,  Michael Connelly’s deep knowledge of police procedures and character, Don Winslow’s nuclear grade screaming. I couldn’t ever pick just one, they all speak to me, in different ways at different times, in my own differing states of mind.

Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

I try to write about places that I’ve experienced on more than one occasion, because it lets me get deeper into the setting. So I travel to locations some, and when I do, I take lots of pictures. I like to motorcycle tour, and have used going to a location as a good excuse for a motorbike ride. However, traveling isn’t always an option. In that case, I try to immerse myself in media from the area: are there magazines and DVDs about the place? And Google maps with street view is your friend.

Fiona: Who designed the covers?

I managed engineering teams that developed software for special effects for film and video for years, so I know a few people in that industry. My buddy Ansel does the covers; I provide input about what I think is most important in the story.

Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

For me, the middle is the hardest, most delicate, part.

Dani Shapiro, in her book Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life talks about “the muddle of the middle.” And it can be a muddle for sure. The middle of the common three-act structure has to move from Setup to Confrontation. Of course you have to do the setup well. But in the middle, plots twist and turn, characters surprise you, new challenges emerge, and all must lead to the Resolution. A whole lot has to happen in the middle, but it must unfold like a roadmap, even while it feels fresh and exciting and not formulaic. The middle. It’s the middle where magic happens or things fall flat.

Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I learned that no matter how careful you are as a writer, fresh eyes will always provide new insight into your work. A fresh reader, or better yet professional editor, brings their unique perspective to a manuscript. When they read your work, their autobiography intersects with your vision. He or she will ask questions of things you thought were obvious, or point out things you never even noticed. This type of beta testing can really improve a manuscript. But it’s tough. You might think some of the feedback is foolish, or uniformed. That’s okay. Receive all of it with an open mind. Do not try immediately to explain why you are right and the reader is wrong. Just absorb everything. Sleep on it. Take a long walk, maybe a vacation. Soon, ideas will pop up. Oh yeah, I see now how to improve that scene, character, plot point. Then go do it.

Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?

I was at the Squaw Valley Writers Conference attending a public lecture. A writer whose name I wish I could remember said, “Whatever else you do, write every day.” Wallace Stegner, the great writer and teacher, in his book On Teaching and Writing Fiction said, “Write every day. Or at least six days a week. Not three or four.” He also talked about the need to live simultaneously in two worlds, the one where your body resides, and the one you’re creating in your novel. So…

At the risk of sounding foolish, I suggest you Write! How are you a writer if you’re in a coffee shop on your cellphone talking about writing, and posting to Facebook about it? Write. Measure what you write. How many words did you write today (your word processor will tell you)? Don Winslow says he does five pages a day. How about this week? This month? Last year? Learn to let words flow out of you because you’ve trained yourself (and constructed your life) to bring them out. If the blank page freaks you out—just start typing words. Any words. But keep at it. If you can produce one decent page a day, in a year you’ll have a novel.

That said, I’m a big fan of listening to successful writers. I’ve mentioned a few books on writing (Stephen King, Dani Shapiro, David Morrell, Wallace Stegner), there are dozens of others. If you get stuck writing, pick up a book and read about writing. These people have hacked through the forest before you and have much good advice about the journey you are on. Some of it might resonate with your soul and help you.

Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you. Thank you for taking a risk with my work, and thank you for telling everyone you can about it—because remaining obscure is the most likely outcome for any writer. And thank you for writing reviews, which help immensely with an author’s marketing efforts.

Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?

I remember reading Four Wheel Drift on the porch of the house where I grew up, while sitting in a folding lawn chair with my feet up on a black iron railing. I was enraptured with what the two young guys in the book were going through, and have loved engineering and racing ever since.

Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?

Someone who really deserves it getting his or her just desserts.

Gentle compassion helping lift the receiver from a place they may have never escaped on their own.

Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?

Beethoven. He left so many questions unanswered. Would love to hear him explain where he got his ideas, and what drove him to compose such intense music.

Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?

He showed up and gave it his best shot.

Because that’s the most I think you can ask of anyone. Asking them to be present, and try. Outcomes are ephemeral, and somewhat random. But effort comes from within.

Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?

Motorcycles (all kinds: racers, adventure bikes, cruisers, touring), electric guitars (love the blues), my grand piano (big fan of Philip Glass), and the practice of yoga as a deep and endless journey.

Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

I have cut the cable, and rarely watch TV. I occasionally watch movies (though I prefer to read the book first). I like big sci-fi action flicks because I find it interesting to see what predictions the writers make. I also like documentaries that get into the guts of how complex things are done, such as the building of the atomic bomb, or the development of irrigation systems that cover half a continent, or how the cholera epidemic in London was finally beaten.

Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music

Cheeseburgers. Bluish-green. Electric guitar blues.

Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?

A composer/musician. The world of sound somehow, magically, carries so much emotion, from the lightest tweet of a piccolo, to the explosive blast of a tutti orchestra.

Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it? .

Please visit. And please sign up for Joe’s Readers. Social networks make it clumsy and expensive to communicate, when we could be keeping in touch so simply with email. I still think email is the killer app of all time, extending as it does, the art of conversation over time and distance.

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