Daniel Klein talks to EIN about his Elvis Presley
series of novels
Daniel Klein is noted as the most prolific author of novels
featuring the character Elvis Presley.
is also the author of four previous novels, including the
thrillers, 'Embryo' and 'Beauty Sleep', and the co-author
of the popular humor books, 'Where's Elvis?' and 'Macho Meditations'.
Daniel is a graduate of Harvard.
Klein is a gifted writer whose three (to-date) Elvis novels
have spawned a cult following. They are strong murder-mysteries
in the classic tradition with colourful characters, involving
exciting prose, humor and exciting twists in the plot.
Weekly was full of praise for his second Elvis novel: 'Blue Suede
Clues: A Murder Mystery featuring Elvis Presley'. Its review included:
intrigues most about Klein's treatment of the rock-and-roll icon
in this appealing follow-up to Kill Me Tender (2000) is the King's
moral center. Belying his image as a jaded, drugged-out corrupter
of traditional American values, Klein's Elvis is a man drawn to
criminal investigation and the dark side of the human psyche by
his abiding purity of heart. This Elvis understands that the pursuit
of justice may require confronting perversity, brutality and the
gross abuse of power especially in Hollywood."
Daniel, thank you for taking time out to talk to EIN. Who is Daniel
I'm an old guy, just four years younger than Elvis would be if he
were still with us. I've been a writer most of my life, although
in my twenties and early thirties, I spent an inordinate amount
of time not doing much of anything except traveling, taking the
odd tv-writing job, and chasing tall women.
And you live in.?
Great Barrington, Massachusetts in the USA. It's a relatively small
town -- about 7,000 -- in the Berkshire Mountains. I happen to like
small town life a whole lot.
Daniel, How long have you been an Elvis fan?
Strangely, not that long. When Elvis was alive and a mighty force,
I was stuck in a fairly narrow world of academics (I majored in
philosophy at Harvard) and had the mistaken belief that there was
nothing for me in popular culture. How wrong I was! The Beatles
were my wake-up call (along with Timothy Leary). My interest in
Elvis began sort of backwards, when I read Peter Guralnik's double-volume
biography of The King, "Last Train from Memphis" and "Careless Love."
Fabulous books! And the Elvis I discovered there was a fascinating
man -- far deeper and more complex and wonderful than I would have
ever expected when I was so narrow-minded. That got me to listen
to his music and it was an incredible revelation for me. I've been
a fan ever since.
When did you start writing?
I started writing when I was a kid, mostly short stories. But I
didn't write my first novel until I was 40.
Are you a full time, professional writer, or are your literary works
a part-time hobby?
Full time. Sometimes I have to supplement my fiction with non-fiction
and ghost-writing jobs to keep the groceries in the pantry.
It is really intriguing to think of Elvis as a singing, super-sleuth.
How did you come up with the idea?
When I read about Elvis's fascination with law enforcement -- not
just in collecting deputy badges and such, but in the whole enterprise
of crime detection. (Elvis read voluminously on the subject.) That's
when it struck me that being an investigator was one of the things
that Elvis wished he could have done if he'd had another career.
And so I thought I could give him that wish in fiction.
This secret life of Elvis's is one that most fans hadn't realised.
Why do you think Elvis as detective, works?
Well, first because it was a genuine interest of his. But also because
of his personality -- he was a curious, inquisitive man who put
people at their ease in spite of his superstardom. I particularly
admire this in him -- that no matter how famous he became, he always
had the common touch, always respected almost everyone he met for
who they were. That is probably one of the best attributes a detective
can have; it gets people to talk.
Daniel, your third Elvis novel, 'Viva Las Vengeance: A Murder-Mystery
featuring Elvis Presley', has just been published. What can readers
It takes place in Las Vegas in the mid-60s, just when The Age of
Aquarius was coming to full bloom. It was the beginning of the Sexual
Revolution, psychedelic drugs, political activism, and spiritual
experimentation. In "Viva", I try to touch on all of these developments
and how they were experienced by Elvis. In particular, I tried to
get into Elvis's spiritual yearnings. In fact, Elvis was way ahead
of his time in studying Eastern religions -- he read "The Autobiography
of a Yoga" long before it became required reading for the hippies.
In terms of the plot, I tried to say a little something about how
vengeance can do us all in. It struck me as relevant at this particular
political moment. And I like to think that Elvis would be a voice
of reason in these troubled times.
Your first two Elvis novels incorporated actual incidents, elements
and characters from Elvis's life (eg. Army stint in Germany, Perugia
Way; Jesse Garon, Elvis's movies). I assume you did this to allow
fans greater identification with the storylines?
Yes. Writing historical fiction about a real person is a tightrope
walk between the Real and the Could-Be-Real-But-Isn't.
You also have taken various elements, giving them extra spice and
made them integral to the plot. For instance Colonel Parker becomes
the Machiavellian manager. (Obviously this is a view held by many,
although not all fans.) Do you think there is a point where you
can also alienate part of your audience by doing this?
I certainly hope not. Parker was a complex man and obviously Elvis
owed a lot to him. But there is little doubt in my mind that Parker
also played a role in keeping Elvis from fulfilling his best desires
and instincts, especially in his later years.
'Kill Me Tender: A Murder Mystery Featuring the Singing Sleuth Elvis
Presley': "But the boy was rolling now, propelled not so much by
anger as by the throb of hubris, standing up to a god..Elvis chopped
him on the collarbone. The sound of the bone breaking was no louder
than the snap of a wishbone, but in the sudden silence of the studio
it sounded like the crack of a rifle."
We mentioned in the introduction to this interview that Publishers
Weekly afforded high praise on 'Blue Suede Clues'. Part of its review
drew attention to the 'moral center' of Elvis Presley. How important
is it to you that your central character has this quality as against
portraying him with greater 'shades of grey'?
Well, I do think Elvis had a strong moral center, imparted to him
by his mother and by his church and society. This does not mean
that he was a man without faults, including moral faults, and I've
tried to portray those too, though maybe not as successfully.
What other essential characteristics are important for the Elvis
character in your books?
One is his consciousness of himself. He apparently was always aware
of the uniqueness of his life journey and wondered about it. Why
him? Why had he been given this gift and this opportunity? A less
conscious man never would have asked these questions. Another characteristic
is his capacity for love. Again, I think he came by this from his
mother, who loved him dearly and whom he loved unapologetically
in return. But I get the impression that as a man he never completely
found an outlet for his love, except in his music. We hear it; we
get that love.
Through your novels, are you trying to say anything about Elvis
'the real person', or is his character simply a major plot device?
I am certainly trying to say something about the real person. Of
course, I never knew Elvis and am dependent on people like Guralnik
and people who did know him for my grasp of who he really was. I
must say that now and then I get a letter from a reader who tells
me that I have made Elvis more "real" for them than anything else
they have read and that strikes me as the best compliment I could
Your writings have been compared to another writer of cult crime
novels, writer-singer-satirist, Kinky Friedman. How do you feel
Kinky's fun. I guess I like to think my stories are a bit more believable
than his, but nonetheless, I'm flattered to be compared to such
a popular writer.
Are there similarities between Elvis Presley, super sleuth and other
famous sleuths, for example, Maigret, Columbo, Miss Marple and Inspector
Morse, or do you see him as being made in his own, unique mold?
I never thought about it before, but maybe there is a touch of the
Columbo about Elvis in my books -- the wryness, the thoughtfulness,
the way of getting involved in other people's lives.
How do you come up with the ideas and plot for your Elvis mystery
I reread Elvis's biographies all the time. Then I daydream. A couple
of stiff drinks never hurt.
'Kill Me Tender': The Colonel threw a party in the county jail,
Elvis and his girlfriends, they began to wail,"
Humor is a obviously an important part of your Elvis series. How
important is the use of humor to you as a writer?
Very. And not just as a writer, but as a day-to-day person. Humor
-- seeing the comedy or irony in a situation -- is what keeps me
from going off the deep end.
I remember after first reading 'Kill Me Tender' thinking that a
great twist on the genre would be to cast Elvis with a dark side,
either something potentially sinister or directly sinister. Do you
feel this approach would be generally accepted by readers and would
you consider it for a future Elvis novel?
Fascinating question. I think about this all the time, especially
with regards to Elvis's addiction to prescription drugs and his
descent into depression in the later parts of his life. I still
don't know what to do with that in a book. Maybe in the next one...
A tangential question. Since his death in August 1977, the Elvis
world has seen the popularity of a number of plausible and some
fanciful conspiracy theories, ranging from Elvis is alive to Elvis
was murdered by a karate chop and Elvis was abducted by aliens.
The Elvis is alive/is Elvis alive? theories appear to offer considerable
material for a great novel. I'm thinking of elements such as powerful
(and violent) drug lords, the CIA and FBI, covert Government 'operations',
a cover-up, witness protection program etc. Does this appeal to
you as a future storyline for one of your novels?
In my humor book, "Where's Elvis?", I took a kind of comic pot-shot
at the idea that Elvis was still alive and his death faked. I don't
believe it for a minute, tempting as it is to believe that he is
alive and well. And tantalizing as a plot involving a faked Elvis
death would be, I think I'll stick to the years when Elvis was really
alive in this series.
And if you ever need other ideas for a future Elvis novel, we can
vouch for the colorful characters, beautiful locations and richly
textured life offered via a plot taking place 'downunder'.
Now you're talking! Maybe this could be my excuse for finally voyaging
'Blue Suede Clues: A Murder Mystery Featuring Elvis Presley': "Crouched
fetal-like on his side under the Corvair's hood, Elvis smiled. There
was something surprisingly tranquil about lying here in the semi-darkness,
bouncing along in this cramped enclosure. Outside, he was Missing
Elvis, Wanted-for-Murder Elvis, Phantom Elvis Eating Two-Bite Burgers
with Squirm, Drug-Crazed Elvis, Pornographic Elvis making love to
a Swedish starlet. But in the luggage compartment of Mike Murphy's
coupe, he was just himself, Elvis from Tupelo, Gladys Presley's
little boy with the soulful voice."
The title of your latest novel, 'Viva Las Vengeance', was the result
of an Internet campaign asking fans to nominate titles for the book.
Were there any other titles submitted that you are considering for
One of my favorites was, "Are You Loathsome Tonight?" I think it's
very funny, but my editor found it unsavory. Hard to argue with
the guy who is paying my bills.
How many more Elvis Presley 'super-sleuth' novels can we expect?
At least one more...After that, can't say. In part, it's up to my
Do you have another Elvis novel written or underway, and if so what
can you tell us about it?
I'm working on one now and having a ball. It takes place in Memphis
again. (I was down in Memphis for the 25th anniversary of Elvis's
death and did some research.) It involves a man masquerading as
Elvis who seduces young women. That's all Elvis will allow me to
reveal just now.
(If yes to previous question) When can we expect it to be published?
Probably in the autumn of 2004.
Kill Me Tender included 'singing sleuth' in the title. This was
dropped from the titles for your second and third novels. What was
the reason for this?
A couple of reasons. First, when I first saw it on the published
book, it struck me as trivializing Elvis and the book. Sort of cartoony.
And second, it struck me as too much like the title of Denis Potter's
wonderful British mini-series, "The Singing Detective" -- I didn't
want to seem like a rip-off artist.
Apart from your three Elvis novels you have had several other books
published. Please tell us about them.
"Embryo", "Wavelengths", and "Beauty Sleep" are all medical thrillers,
slightly fantastic takes on medicine used for evil purposes. "Magic
Time" is the only non-thriller, non-detective novel I have written.
It is a semi-autobiographical story about a group of Harvard students
who take LSD with Timothy Leary in the early '60s and how it effects
their lives afterwards. "Macho Meditations" is one of the humor
books I've written (like "Where's Elvis?") that are only meant to
get a laugh. This one is a parody of all those Thought-For-The-Day
uplift books, but it has salty daily thoughts and advice for guys
who like a couple of beers at the end of the day.
Away from writing, what do you do in your spare time?
Mostly stuff around the house: mow the lawn, cook dinner (my wife
is a terrible cook, so it's a defensive move), listen to music,
take long walks with my dog. I don't lead a very exciting life outside
of my imagination.
Daniel, once again thank you for taking the time to talk with we
wish you continued success in combating crime and the evils of our
world with Elvis Presley, singing, super-sleuth.
Klein is the most prolific author of novels based around the Elvis
Presley character. His three critically-acclaimed novels (with titles
cleverly based on lyrics from well-known Elvis songs) are:
Me Tender: A Murder-Mystery featuring Singing Sleuth Elvis Presley
(St. Martin's Press, 2000, ISBN: 0312981953
Suede Clues: A Murder Mystery featuring Elvis Presley (St. Martin's
Minotaur, 2002, ISBN: 0312262493), and
recently published 'Viva Las Vengeance: A Murder Mystery featuring
Elvis Presley', St. Martin's Minotaur, 2003, ISBN: 0312288069
EIN's review of 'Blue Suede Clues'
order Daniel's novels, click
will publish a review of Viva Las Vengeance shortly.
to comment on this interview