Q & A with Kevin Klehr
I'm delighted to welcome to the blog a guest I've been wanting to bring on forever, fellow Aussie author Kevin Klehr! A denizen of one of my favourite cities, Sydney, Kevin lives with his husband, Warren, in their humble apartment (affectionately named Sabrina... story there, Kevin?). His tall tales explore unrequited love in the theatre district of the Afterlife, romance between a dreamer and a realist, and a dystopian city addicted to social media.
Welcome, Kevin! Congrats on your new release, Virtual Insanity. Can you give us the pitch for this novel and the TAYLeR series it’s part of?
Social Media Central is the first in the series, and both books are personal musings on how social media has changed society. At the time I was fascinated with the rise of social influencers while horrified by people who mistook their social feed as a legitimate news source. And although the book is set in 2064, the major plot twist actually happened before it was released.
So, for this sequel, there are robots! And AI. And a tale even more rooted in the future. This time our bi hero, Tayler, encounters augmented reality players who are hunting him within the game they are playing. And they shoot to kill.
Along the way, he encounters his arch nemesis, a wise-cracking robot, and a new boyfriend!
What is it about this side of technology—virtual realities and alternative digital personas—that draws you in and inspires fiction?
The early drafts of Virtual Insanity were written before Covid. Flat earthers were a thing. I met one at a party and it struck me he was living his ‘virtual reality’ in the real world.
Yet I doubted readers would accept the premise of algorithms controlling people. But once the storming of Capital Hill in the US happened, it was an easy sell. Covid deniers and the anti-vaccine movement followed. And of course, there’s QAnon.
Another example of someone divorced from reality was shared by a friend of mine. While conducting job interviews, a guy came in and claimed he had checked the company’s online presence and decided both his brand and their brand were a perfect match. My friend stayed poker-faced, then called in his manager to experience this interviewee’s approach to job seeking.
So, my augmented reality players are even more disconnected from the organic world. They are fed information by the all-knowing Social Media Central while screaming out ‘This would never happen in Sabastian’s lair,’ or ‘The hyena’s mirth can be drunk from a golden goblet,’ out in the open at no one in particular. The inhabitants of Beta City simply deal with this by ignoring these gamers or engaging with dialogue equally insane.
You don’t have to look far to find inspiration from people who have lost touch with what’s real.
You’ve written novels in quite a few different settings, including the afterlife, but I have to ask, what’s unique about writing Australia for you? What considerations do you have when you flesh out high-concept ideas in an Aussie setting?
An Australian friend of mine, Kara Ripley, just released a novel set in California called Nurturing Hope. That required a lot of research. She read up on the Black Lives Matter movement and tried to make sense of America’s fascination with guns.
Fortunately, I don’t have those hurdles writing about my own country. Even if part of a particular story takes place in the afterlife, or inside someone’s dreams, it’s not hard to use what you know.
But to answer your question directly, I think no matter what ‘high concept idea’ you write, showing rather than telling makes it easier. I just read a passage from one of my own books to come up with that answer. Thanks, Christian, you just made me work.
I aim to inspire.
Buenos Aires is referenced in Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, and while this surreal scene takes place in the afterlife, using text like – “My apartment disappeared to make way for an army of tango dancers. Their mass of frenzied feet drowned the music. Rat-a-tat-tat!” – or – “A historic building in a rosy hue shimmered behind him. Errant heels echoed down the streets.” – help paint a picture for the reader to imagine, even if they’ve never been to Argentina. The high concept is hinted at. The reader does the rest.
Without giving too much away, one of your upcoming releases is very much a celebration of 90s gay Sydney, when Oxford Street was so vibrant and the dance party scene was so alive. Can you describe your first memory of Oxford Street from its heyday, and what makes Sydney such a special LGBTQ+ city for you?
That particular novel is still in search of a publisher and is a passion project to celebrate me and my husband’s early courting days.
One thing evident about the early part of the 90s was also true about the late 80s. Events like the Mardi Gras party were more than a queer event. Many straight inner-city arty folk were part of the same scene. I remember being in a taxi the night before Mardi Gras and the hetero university student driving the cab was just as excited about the party as I was. That was the norm.
But the straights knew it was best to use the women’s toilet once the lights were off in the men’s, no matter which queer-centric rave party they were at. Unless they were feeling adventurous.
Most of our friends at the time were straight. They were part of our gang, often joining us on Oxford Street or one of the many rave parties we attended almost every weekend. Warren’s straight flatmate and his buddies decided to check out a straight club one night, so they could get laid. But within a couple of hours, they were back with us at a gay club because the vibe and the music were all wrong where they had been.
I arrived in Sydney in 1986. I studied acting so I was surrounded by fellow gay students. Plus, I began work at a TV station. Being homo wasn’t an issue. Being gay in inner-city Sydney has never been a problem for me. Being gay in Australia hasn’t been an issue for a very long time.
Sydney WorldPride 2023 is coming! What’s your pick for the one thing every visitor to Sydney must do?
Sydney WorldPride is going to be big! Kylie Minogue has just been announced as the headline act for the opening night concert, and there are so many official parties, it’s hard to know where to start. Every taste is catered for.
Their site has many pre-sale events to make planning your trip to our amazing city easy unless you want to do it all! And there is a fringe component too, called Pride Amplified. These more intimate events are perfect for when you need to rest before popping your cha-cha heels on again. The Pride Amplified guide will officially launch in November.
But I have heard on the grapevine about Authors At The Pub. Check it out at Universal, 85-91 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst (it’s the club that used to be The Midnight Shift) from 2pm till 5 on Saturday 18 February.
Maybe that was your digital persona?
Maybe! But the event is free, so come and hear us read. And buy yourself a page-turning novel while you’re there.
Thanks so much, Kevin for stopping by. Looking forward to catching up in February!
Thanks, Christian, for having me gasbag in your newsletter. Always a pleasure.