Corrections or additions?

This article by Fran Ianacone was prepared for the June 29,

2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Writing Teacher Takes on the ‘Tweens

Christopher Klim left a successful and lucrative career as a space

program physicist with top secret clearance to pursue a writing

career. The result: Firecracker Jones, a teenage detective who makes

his debut in “Firecracker Jones Is on the Case,” published by Hopewell

Publications. Klim will appear at B. Dalton’s Books in Quakerbridge

Mall on July 4, from noon to 3 p.m. to sign and read from his book,

designed for readers 8 to 13 years old.

Says Klim: “I created the Firecracker Jones series because of the

incredible lack of age-appropriate literature for kids. I’m appalled

at the stuff they are exposing kids to in middle school. The material

is way too mature, and I don’t think we have to expose them to that so

soon.”

Klim created Firecracker out of information he gathered from his

visits to area grade schools. “Firecracker is a ninth grade detective,

kind of cool and smart-alecky. The books contain little drawings that

I scribbled while writing, and the publisher decided to use them in

the space breaks.”

Klim is not shy about having Firecracker deal with some of the real

emotions of middle schoolers. In 2006, Firecracker Jones will get mad

and deal with his anger. And in 2007, he’ll have the blues over a

disconnect with his father.

Klim, a Hopewell resident, worked for the space program in the

civilian sector for NASA, on long and short-term observation

satellites, a possible foreshadowing of his writing career. “I worked

with engineers who were brilliant in their areas, but they couldn’t

write a report. That’s how I got started teaching. We would hold an

after-hours ‘writing group’ for engineers. They thought they were

being taught to be creative but they were really being taught how to

write concisely and coherently.”

Klim has also moonlighted as a bartender, freelance photographer, an

assistant to a master chef, even a tow truck operator. “I would get

beeped in the middle of the night. People were always glad to see me —

like Batman flying in.”

The image of being a hero runs through his patter. One August, while

he was managing a WaWa in Hightstown, the electricity went out. The

board of health came in and instructed him to throw all of the candy

away. So he threw it out the front door — soon there were loads of

children scrambling for the goodies. “I was a hero in that town for

one day,” says Klim.

In 1995, when his son, Zachary, now 9, was born, Klim and his wife,

Karen, who is in sales, decided they didn’t want to leave their baby

with a stranger, so Klim started working from his Hopewell home.

Daughter Hannah was born three years later. Klim grew up in the

Trenton/Hamilton area with three sisters, where his father, Eugene,

was in chemical sales. Margaret, his mother, taught English. He holds

a masters in science and physics from Rutgers, and in 1988, he earned

a masters in computer science from New Jersey Institute of Technology.

He now works as a freelance columnist, author, writing teacher,

manuscript editor, and senior editor of Writers Notes Magazine. In

addition to Firecracker Jones, Klim has published three books:

“Everything Burns,” “Jesus Lives in Trenton,” and a guide to fiction

and memoir writing, “Write to Publish.”

With regards to his publishing success, Klim says, “I gave myself five

years to get a contract, and I did it five days short of my goal.”

“The Winners Circle,” his next novel due out this fall, is a comedy

and drama about the highs and lows of millionaire lottery winners.

(Klim shares that within five years, nearly 60 to 70 percent of

lottery winners end up living on less money than before they won.)

Based on the title of an actual therapy group for lottery winners, the

protagonist gets laid off from a General Motors plant and can’t find a

job. He is shoveling manure for an organic farm to make a buck. He

lives on a farm in Hopewell with his wife, and though he doesn’t

really care about money he plays the lottery, trying to make the love

of his life happy and loses her in the process.

“I got part of that story from my father-in-law, who shoveled manure

during the Depression and hit a nest of rattlesnakes. My stories are

mysteries in a sense but I show you who did it up front. The motive of

the crime unravels as the story goes along.”

In “Everything Burns,” Klim exposes the world of a pyromaniac. What

his research turned up is truly eye-opening: juvenile arson is on the

rise. Arsonists act out of anger and usually start torturing animals

when they are young. If not caught early, they become unreachable.

Prescription drugs make a tremendous difference in their behavior, if

they take them. Pyromania is the height of compulsive disorder.

Pyromaniacs are often compulsive gamblers, and alcohol plays its part;

fires start after the bars close for the night. Detectives take

pictures of the crowds surrounding a fire because the arsonist tends

to stick around to watch his work. And, scariest of all, one-half of

all intentional arsons are set by children 15 years of age or younger.

“Everything Burns” is based on a true story that took place in

Brooklyn and features reporter reluctantly turned detective Boots

Mean, who tracks a kid who one time saved his family from a house

fire, but later sets one to regain his hero status, which ends in

fatalities.

With the arrival of these books, Klim has had to scale back his

teaching duties to one masters writing class at Mercer County College

night school. “Teaching writing is a constant reminder — even

elemental reminders — of what I should do. I teach the five tools of

writing: character, setting, plot, point of view, and structure. I

have so much respect for that class because the people at Mercer want

to be there; they’re trying really hard.”

Klim also does freelance editing for the big publishing houses. “What

I noticed is, when a author puts out a book every three months, they

are not writing them. They have a team of people who mimic the style.

It’s a dirty little secret of the business but those books are kind of

like commodities.”

He has plenty of advice to share with prospective writers. “I tell

them that they (the publishing industry) don’t nurture authors. They

are not there to help you. They want to sell books like hot dogs and

toothpaste. And I tell them that there are many authors but not too

many of them out there are living on their royalties. So I tell them

to keep your day job. So few of us make a full-time job out of this.”

He was thrilled at the opportunity last spring to meet John Irving,

when he spoke in Trenton. “It was like talking to the Pope, I was so

nervous,” Klim says. Irving is the critically acclaimed novelist who

wrote “The World According to Garp,” “Cider House Rules,” and “A Widow

for One Year,” all of which were optioned into major movies. “My first

novel outsold his first three novels,” says Klim. “Irving said he

didn’t think his first three books would have sold today. That shows

you the sad state of the industry.”

Klim uses a story Irving told him to teach his writing class basic

facts. Both Irving’s father and grandfather were OB/GYNs. And he grew

up on an apple orchard in Maine. Both these topics are major factors

in “Cider House Rules.” Irving says he leaned heavily on the elders

for the medical parts of the book, because he is not a doctor. After

revising it a few times, he passed it around to them and the news came

back that, while he had relayed the medical details accurately, he had

gotten the orchard facts all wrong. “This story teaches you,” says

Klim, “that memory is unreliable. You have to go back and reread your

notes and recheck your facts about things you think you know.”

Klim offers this sound advice for aspiring writers. “You either have

talent or you don’t. If you’re not an avid reader, go home, because

nobody is going to want to read what you write. Read what you’d like

to write, and write what you’d like to read. Tell a story, engage,

entertain, and inform.”

Oh, and one more bit of hard-won wisdom: don’t write for your family.

Everyone has an opinion and you’ll never get it right!

Christopher Klim, author of “Firecracker Jones Is on the

Case,” Monday, July 4, noon to 3 p.m., B. Dalton’s, Quakerbridge Mall,

Lawrenceville. 609-799-8198.


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