Daniel Klein talks to EIN about his Elvis Presley super-sleuth

series of novels

Daniel Klein is noted as the most prolific author of novels featuring the character Elvis Presley.

He 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.

Daniel 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.

Publishers Weekly was full of praise for his second Elvis novel: 'Blue Suede Clues: A Murder Mystery featuring Elvis Presley'. Its review included:

"What 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."

EIN: Daniel, thank you for taking time out to talk to EIN. Who is Daniel Klein?

DK: 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.

EIN: And you live in.?

DK: 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.

EIN: Daniel, How long have you been an Elvis fan?

DK: 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.

EIN: When did you start writing?

DK: I started writing when I was a kid, mostly short stories. But I didn't write my first novel until I was 40.

EIN: Are you a full time, professional writer, or are your literary works a part-time hobby?

DK: Full time. Sometimes I have to supplement my fiction with non-fiction and ghost-writing jobs to keep the groceries in the pantry.

EIN: It is really intriguing to think of Elvis as a singing, super-sleuth. How did you come up with the idea?

DK: 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.

EIN: This secret life of Elvis's is one that most fans hadn't realised. Why do you think Elvis as detective, works?

DK: 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.

EIN: Daniel, your third Elvis novel, 'Viva Las Vengeance: A Murder-Mystery featuring Elvis Presley', has just been published. What can readers expect?

DK: 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.

EIN: 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?

DK: Yes. Writing historical fiction about a real person is a tightrope walk between the Real and the Could-Be-Real-But-Isn't.

EIN: 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?

DK: 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.

From '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."

EIN: 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'?

DK: 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.

EIN: What other essential characteristics are important for the Elvis character in your books?

DK: 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.

EIN: Through your novels, are you trying to say anything about Elvis 'the real person', or is his character simply a major plot device?

DK: 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 get.

EIN: Your writings have been compared to another writer of cult crime novels, writer-singer-satirist, Kinky Friedman. How do you feel about this?

DK: 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.

EIN: 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?

DK: 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.

EIN: How do you come up with the ideas and plot for your Elvis mystery novels?

DK: I reread Elvis's biographies all the time. Then I daydream. A couple of stiff drinks never hurt.

From 'Kill Me Tender': The Colonel threw a party in the county jail, Elvis and his girlfriends, they began to wail,"

EIN: Humor is a obviously an important part of your Elvis series. How important is the use of humor to you as a writer?

DK: 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.

EIN: 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?

DK: 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...

EIN: 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?

DK: 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.

EIN: 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'.

DK: Now you're talking! Maybe this could be my excuse for finally voyaging there!

From '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."

EIN: 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 future releases?

DK: 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.

EIN: How many more Elvis Presley 'super-sleuth' novels can we expect?

DK: At least one more...After that, can't say. In part, it's up to my publisher.

EIN: Do you have another Elvis novel written or underway, and if so what can you tell us about it?

DK: 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.

EIN: (If yes to previous question) When can we expect it to be published?

DK: Probably in the autumn of 2004.

EIN: 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?

DK: 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.

EIN: Apart from your three Elvis novels you have had several other books published. Please tell us about them.

DK: "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.

EIN: Away from writing, what do you do in your spare time?

DK: 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.

EIN: 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.

Daniel 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:

Kill Me Tender: A Murder-Mystery featuring Singing Sleuth Elvis Presley (St. Martin's Press, 2000, ISBN: 0312981953

Blue Suede Clues: A Murder Mystery featuring Elvis Presley (St. Martin's Minotaur, 2002, ISBN: 0312262493), and

the recently published 'Viva Las Vengeance: A Murder Mystery featuring Elvis Presley', St. Martin's Minotaur, 2003, ISBN: 0312288069

Read EIN's review of 'Blue Suede Clues'

To order Daniel's novels, click here

EIN will publish a review of Viva Las Vengeance shortly.

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