Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Battling the Odds, Kirk Bjornsgaard

Kirk Bjornsgaard, an acquisitions editor for University of Oklahoma Press, approached 4RV Publishing with a manuscript nearly a year ago. I don't remember the working title, but the work had great potential. Janelle, our vice-president, and I liked the novel. We offered a contract, and Kirk signed with 4RV. Editors, including Jacque Graham and Harry Gilleland, began working with his manuscript and him immediately.

We had just begun the process when Kirk shared the news he had cancer. Everyone who knows him prayed that the disease wouldn't win the battle Kirk fought. After a while, he seemed to be winning, the cancer appeared to be in remission.

The time arrived for the final revisions to be completed, but no word from Kirk. Then he called -- from the hospital: The cancer had returned and had spread. He asked if there were any way the book could go as is. Revisions were needed, but we took care of them. He only had to read, make suggestions, and approve. We moved Confessions of a Former Rock Queen up on the printing schedule, and the novel was released in March.

Kirk Bjornsgaard is still fighting the cancer, and his courage is an encouragement to many people, including me.

Now, may I present Kirk Bjornsgaard, who graciously took some of his limited energy to answer questions.

Vivian: How did/does your history and home background affect your writing? How did your vocational life as an acquisitions editor affect your writing?

Kirk: In terms of my “history,” I’d long wanted to write a novel that had rock’n’roll as its back story, its narrative vehicle. Too often, rock music has been utilized in novels and in most every case the author knows too little about the mechanics of the music, the instruments, and the performers. As a drummer in innumerable bands over the years I wanted to get the details “right.”

In terms of home background, I’d have to go back to my parents, both of whom were well-educated “book people.” When I excelled at essay contests and spent my free time reading and writing instead of pursuing sports, there was never any quarrel from them! I always had their support in terms of pursuing writing and editing and journalism as my careers. I receive the same love and support from my wife and kids––my number one fans!

Working as an acquisitions editor keeps me abreast with what’s new “out there” in both fiction and non-fiction, as well as publishing trends.

Vivian: Tell us something about your educational background that has made you a better, or more caring, writer.

Kirk: After being graduated from an over-crowded suburban high school, I sought out a small, private college with low teacher-to-student ratios and a disciplined writing program. I found it in Bard College in upstate New York, where at the junior level there were several tutorials in which the professor and I discussed my work. This sharpened by abilities and certainly made me a better writer! Seek out mentors. Seek out writers’ workshops and neighborhood writers groups. Seek those situations in which you can both learn and contribute.

Vivian: Many of us know about your cancer and that it has returned, and we are encouraged by your courage. Will you give us a bit of an idea what that has done to your writing? To your life?

Kirk: Frankly, the cancer and its treatments and side effects have brought writing to a screeching halt. The extreme fatigue brought on by the disease and the side effects of chemo have made further work impossible. It’s even tough to promote the publication of Confessions as I only leave the house for doctor visits. To call this a major setback in my life––after 57 years of near-perfect health––is an understatement; but my family and I are dealing with it to the best of our abilities, thanks to many good friends and colleagues.

Vivian: Confessions of a Former Rock Queen is your recent book. What inspired you to write it? What led you to 4RV Publishing to produce it?

Kirk: The inspiration came in a fully-formed story. This wasn’t one of those “start writing and see where it goes” books. It’s never happened before or since but the narrative arc and the characters came to me, fully-formed, and I just set out to write it as I envisioned it. The first draft from a decade ago looks a lot like the final, published version in its basic form and characters. What led me to 4RV was simply the chance to work with a local, reputable publisher what was starting out. I love small businesses>

Vivian: We at 4RV appreciate your trust in us.

I know you influenced writers in your capacity with University of Oklahoma Press, and that your attendance at the OWFI (Oklahoma Writers Federation) as a representative of OU Press encouraged people to write more nonfiction and historical novels. Did any writing groups benefit you and your writing?

I was a member of the Tulsa Nightwriters fiction group for more than a decade, and it benefited me in many ways. The camaraderie, the advice and critique, the chance to critique and help other writers were both invaluable and personally rewarding. Since moving to Norman I have not been able to attend those regular Monday night sessions, and I miss ‘em still.

Vivian: Does writing help better you as a person? How?

Kirk: It provides an outlet for my emotions and creativity––performing music does much the same thing––that is made sweeter because I can share it with people.

Vivian: What advice would you have for a new author?

Kirk: 1. Read widely and constantly. Writers have to be readers as well.
2. Write every day, if possible; establishing the same time of day to do so can help to make the practice feel natural.
3. Observe people––all sorts of people––because from that comes the characters you need.
4. Be fearless. If you think it, write it.

Vivian: Any other comments or thoughts you’d like to share?

Kirk: Writers are the world’s best people.

Vivian: Thank you, Kirk, for taking time and some of your energy to share with us. I’m sure readers of Confessions will enjoy the novel as much as I did and do. Readers will be encouraged by your interview, too.

Confessions of a Former Rock Queen, Kirk's novel, can be found through any bookstore,, or the 4RV Bookstore.

Kirk's Web Page



Rena said...

Great interview. Thanks Kirk and Vivian. I can't wait to buy this book as soon as I'm able.

elysabeth said...

Great interview. Kirk, we have prayers for you and your family going out all the time. It's a tough road and I feel through Vivian you've been through a tough time and you are fighting a battle worth fighting; the minute you give up, the battle is over. Hang in there and hopefully the book will become a bestseller soon - E :)

Sarah Basore said...

What a wonderful interview, Kirk. Thank you for taking the time to impart your wisdom, and share your love of writing and reading with us. Your book sounds great. I look forward to reading it!

Harry Gilleland said...

Great interview, Vivian. It was nice to learn more about Kirk and his musical background. When I edited his manuscript, I could tell he really knew music and the band business. Kirk, best wishes in your battle against cancer and I hope your book becomes a bestseller.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Kirk! Are you taking anything to counterbalance the tiring effects of chemo? Or is there anything to do besides just toughing it out?

Well, you know how much I liked your book. My review is up on Amazon for all the world to see.

I'm going to mention it again on DorothyL, a mystery listserv where members occasionally post a snippet about a non-mystery they are reading. That list has more than 3200 members, so it's good PR.

Methinks if every member of OWFI buys a copy it will be a best seller. (-:

Sending hopeful thoughts and all best wishes your way,

Pat Browning

Vivian Zabel said...

Thanks, Pat, from all of us.

One thing, if anyone is attending the OWFI Conference and wants a signed copy of Kirk's book, it will be in the bookstore.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the interview, Kirk. You've always been an inspiration for me. Hang in there buddy.

Bob Avey

Deb Hockenberry said...

Vivian & Kirk,
Great interview! Kirk, you are such an inspiration! To go through chemo & still finish your book. I'm really inspired!
Deb :-)

Katie Hines said...

What an inspirational man. I wish you the best with your battle with cancer.

Jackie King said...

Inspiring and full of good info. I especially liked, "be fearless." Sometimes it's takes a lot of courage to write what you really think--even if it's through your protagonost's VP.

You're in my prayers, Kirk.