Tales and tails: Kevin Kling brings his gift of gab to print

Kevin Kling
Photo by Ann Marsden

Some time ago I was on my way to the grocery store when Kevin Kling came on the radio, telling a story about a bunch of drunk guys trying to save a beaver caught in traffic.

When I pulled into a parking space he wasn’t done telling it, so I turned off the car and sat there for a couple minutes, listening. I could not tear myself away, but I felt pretty self-conscious sitting there in the glass bubble of the car, especially when I saw a guy sitting in the car next to me. I caught his eye for a second then studiously looked down, as if I was reading an especially riveting grocery list.

Meanwhile, I could tell Kling was reaching the end of his story because he was talking faster and faster, and I could picture his hands wildly gesturing and the incredulous expressions on his face, as if he’d just experienced this crazy thing, and still couldn’t believe it. Then he reached the end, and I got out of my car — at the exact moment the guy next to me did. He looked over at me and said, “Good story, huh?”

The funny parts must have given me away — I must have smiled on cue. There are almost always funny parts in a Kevin Kling story. But it’s the sad parts that make them really hit home, as the Minnesotan tells tales straight from real life, and life is unfair more often than we would like.

In 2001, while riding his motorcycle in Minneapolis, Kling hit a vehicle that pulled out in front of him, and was so busted up he nearly didn’t live to tell the tale. You can listen to Kling’s account of his recovery here. The accident took months to recover from, and left one arm partially paralyzed. His riding days are over, for now. But his life is suddenly more fast-paced than ever, as he travels the country on a book tour. His collection of essays and stories, “The Dog Says How,” is out now. Yet, a cat was standing on his lap and meowing as I talked to Kling recently.

MinnPost: What took you so long to write a book?

Kevin Kling: Well, the material all came from an oral tradition. All these stories have been told and retold, and it took a long time to put them into a visual form. You can do so much more when you are performing a story and reading a story; you gain a lot from inflection, facial features. When you write a story, you need to find words that will put the audience in the same place. When you tell a story it’s a communal event, and when you read a story it’s a personal event. If you’ve ever heard “The Odyssey” told, it’s so much better than reading it. You see why Homer writes that story the way he does. It’s a wonderful story and the structure really holds, because it was probably told for hundreds of years before he wrote it down.

MP: Much of your creative life is spent onstage. Did you find it hard to sit down and do a book?

KK: No, I loved it! It was the greatest. I write a little every morning, when my mind is fresh, and most of the time it isn’t difficult, most of the time you’re just trying to keep up with your muse. It’s the greatest job in the world.

MP: Will you write another?

KK: Yeah! Oh yeah. I have one more short story collection I’d like to get out, and then I’d like to write a novel. I’ve always been interested in the Fourth Holy Crusade and I’d like to write about that.

MP: You’re teaching a storytelling class at the University of Minnesota next semester. How do you like working with undergrads?

KK: Well, they have some great stories. And their passions are different. That’s what I’m noticing when I get older. I wish I had written more when I was younger. When I’m performing material I wrote when I was younger, it’s like it was written by another person. It’s wild.

MP: Your partner Mary has just released a book, too. [Mary Ludington’s “The Nature of Dogs” is a stunning collection of animal portraits interspersed with essays by writers including Mary Gaitskill, Patricia Hampl and Temple Grandin. Kling’s weiner dogs are in the book, along with one of his essays.]

KK: Wait ’til you see it, you’re gonna flip. The whole thing is just amazing.

MP: Speaking of dogs, I heard you went dog-sledding last year.

KK: Man, that was a life-changer. I used to love riding motorcycles, and I didn’t know if I was ever going to have that feeling again. You’re just ahead of yourself when you’re on a motorcycle. You are kind of living just before yourself. And when I was dog-sledding it was the same feeling! I was afraid I’d lost that feeling, but I hadn’t. And dog-sledding is so silent, it’s just a magic experience, with the runners gliding over the snow. And it’s so Minnesotan.

Upcoming events for Kling

Kevin Kling will appear in the Open Eye Theatre‘s production of “The Holiday Pageant” on Dec. 17 at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis.

He also will read from “The Dog Says How” at various Twin Cities locations throughout December:

Dec. 5, 1 p.m.:, Barbara’s Books, 700 Nicollet Mall (lower level of Macy’s), barbarasbookstore.com
Dec. 6, 7 p.m.: Birchbark Books, 2115 W. 21st St., Minneapolis, birchbarkbooks.com
Dec. 15, 1 p.m.: Borders at Rosedale Center, 651-633-1344
Dec. 15, 3 p.m.: Barnes & Noble, 3001 White Bear Avenue, Maplewood, 651-777-3918
Dec. 16, 1 p.m.: Barnes & Noble, 3000 Eden Prairie Center, Eden Prairie, 952-944-5683
Dec. 20, 1 p.m.: Borders at “Block E” in Minneapolis, 612-339-4859

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