NEW BERLIN — Kevin Kluesner has found ways to stay artistically engaged during a career in healthcare, which admittedly isn’t the typical journey of a novelist.
The 63-year-old from New Berlin, author of ‘The Killer Sermon’, also readily admits that few authors start with their first novel at his age – let alone embark on a three-novel series – while still keeping their daytime administrative work.
Yet it’s no mystery why Kluesner went down this path. “This story has literally been trying to get out of my head for over 20 years,” he said.
His journey to find a publisher for this book he has always had in him is a story worth telling.
The artist inside
“The Killer Sermon,” released Jan. 1, tells a Milwaukee-based mystery thriller about a pro-life/pro-abortion communal schism that takes a deadly turn, requiring the efforts of two protagonists with opposing views to cooperate to catch the killer.
“I started writing a bit about it 20 years ago, and then every few months I would come back to it,” Kluesner said.
Of course, he had a good reason for never quite falling into a gorge. Although a journalism student at Marquette University more than 40 years ago, Kluesner’s professional life would be primarily defined by a master’s degree in business and his work in health care and business leadership positions. administration.
His career began in La Crosse, as director of public affairs for the Franciscan Skemp Health System, but quickly moved across the state to healthcare jobs at increasingly managerial levels. high, first in marketing, then in administrative jobs.
Most recently, he served as Administrative Director of Ascension St. Joseph’s Hospital for nearly five years before becoming Site Administrator of the Milwaukee Mental Health Emergency Center.
Kluesner worked as an outdoor writer for La Crosse Tribune, alongside his first job in health care, and later wrote a novel for young adults. But he always had something else in mind. Although this first novel was never published, it was a training ground that would serve him well later.
“I had no idea what to do and how to get published at the time,” he said. “I sent it to maybe six publishers and got encouragement, but no one picked it up, and it just went in the drawer and sat there.”
Even as he “lived his life” and raised three children while advancing in the medical field, his mind seemed to envision another chapter in his life. Midway through his professional career, this began to turn into something tangible, in what would become “The Killer Sermon”.
It wasn’t exactly a smooth, flowing process.
“Literally, after 20 years I had written 45,000 words, and maybe even worse than that, I might have a chapter here and a chapter there, but none of that related, really,” said Kluesner.
Credit Stephen King for helping unravel the mystery of what it takes for a writer to truly be a writer.
“I read Stephen King’s memoir on writing a few years ago, and for some reason things clicked for me,” Kluesner said. “He said things that weren’t necessarily original, like amateurs waiting to be inspired and professionals sitting down and writing. I basically had to block time.”
With his adult children and alone, he devoted his weekends to writing 1,000 words a day on his detective story. Four months later, his first draft was complete.
“So 45,000 words in 20 years and 45,000 words in four months. That sounds crazy,” Kluesner said.
A story with familiar places
We feel that the new novelist can’t help talking about his novel like an old reader, especially when it comes to the setting of his novel: Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
“There aren’t a lot of written thrillers in the Milwaukee market,” said Kluesner, who has worked in the area for decades. He thinks readers in the region will appreciate the local connections, more than his wider audience.
“For example, the Calderone Club – which is a place I love – I have a scene where the first time the two protagonists – a journalist and an FBI agent – meet, (and) it’s at the Calderone Club,” Kluesner said. , with a nod to the Old World Third Street location in the city of Milwaukee. “And the last chapter of the book ends at the Calderone Club.”
The FBI agent is also a beer lover, and a beer lover, which allowed Kluesner to incorporate other familiar locations into the story, including Milwaukee and Waukesha.
“My protagonist wouldn’t drink light beer for the world. He loves craft beer. So Good City and Raised Grain both have little cameos in the book,” he said. “I can tell you that a lot of people have told me that they like (that) there is something like a place or something that they know (locally), as opposed to Paris or New York. Sometimes , we like to have it far away, but it’s fun to imagine something happening in your own community.”
The other delight for readers is the story, a tense fictional play that centers on a deadly battle over “reproductive rights,” Kluesner said.
He begins the novel with a controversial sermon, a Christmas homily by an elderly rural Wisconsin priest who denounces abortion and urges his congregation to do what they can to stop it.
For one parishioner, that means targeting reproductive rights doctors for murder.
Enter Cole Huebsch, a pro-life FBI agent from Milwaukee, and Michele Fields, a pro-choice reporter, who are forced to put aside their differences and work together to prevent the extreme and violent response to the priest’s message.
Huebsch’s character will be the focus of a series of books that Kluesner has promised and publisher Level Best Books has preferred.
This is one of the lessons he learned from his first foray into literary works: publishers prefer stories that can continue to attract readers, rather than one-off novels. (Another was the role of literary agents in the process of connecting publishers with manuscripts.)
Kluesner does not say exactly what awaits the second novel, which is half finished. But there’s no suspense as to when readers can expect the second book. It should be out around January 1.
The third book will follow a similar schedule in 2024. (All books are available on Amazon, where approximately 50 reviews had already been posted by mid-February. They are also available from Barnes & Noble in paperback and digital formats.)
Under its contract with Level Best Books, it is heavily involved in marketing its own titles, works closely with a publisher, and receives a royalty for each copy sold.
“It’s not like signing with Penguin or Random House. I don’t have to pay anything, but I didn’t get a six-figure advance either,” he said.
And sure, that’s a lot of work for a full-time hospital administrator, who recognizes the challenge.
“I still have a very demanding day job, … but I can still be more focused now,” Kluesner said. “Obviously I have more energy to put into my writing now.”