Author Michael Kun may be a bit of an acquired taste. But once readers sample Kun's hilariously off-kilter world view, they're frequently hooked for life.
And it doesn't hurt that chief among Kun's passions is the city of Baltimore, where he attended college at the Johns Hopkins University and where he spent eight years practicing law. Though he has since relocated to Los Angeles, Kun returns to his adopted hometown whenever he can — including this weekend, when he will read from his newest book, "Everybody Says Hello."
The novel is told in the form of a series of letters, many written on postcards and cheap hotel stationery. For good measure, Kun throws in some college humor columns written in the 1980s by his main character, an Everyschlub named Sid Straw.
The book is often laugh-out-loud funny. For instance, Kun includes the following on his list of things to do while waiting to see the doctor:
"Switch labels on the jars of oral and rectal thermometers."
What inspired you to revisit the character of Sid Straw in "Everybody Says Hello"?
I've liked Sid ever since he appeared in "The Locklear Letters." I want him to become a Rabbit Angstrom type of character that I can revisit every few years. [Rabbit is the famous title character of four novels and a novella by John Updike.] I'm working on the last Sid Straw book now, a stand-alone novel, with the title "We Got Old."
Everybody knows someone similar to Sid, a person who is his own worst enemy. Sid is always saying a little too much and trying a little too hard. But as much as he screws up over and over again, as much as he has terrible judgment and makes people downright uncomfortable, Sid is a good, decent person. So you still root for him and want things to work out.
Most of your other books are set in Baltimore. But even though this one contains a few references that will be familiar to locals, such as Sabatino's in Little Italy, most of the action takes place in Los Angeles.
For whatever reason, I think I've only written one novel that doesn't have a significant part in Baltimore. For "Everybody Says Hello," I kind of liked the fish-out-of-water aspect to a lot of the things that newcomers to Los Angeles deal with.
If you ask me where I'm from, I'd say that I'm from Baltimore. It's where I spent the largest chunk of my life, it's the city that means the most to me, and it's where my wife is throwing my 50th birthday party. I don't think it's giving too much away to say that in "We Got Old," Sid and his family move back to Baltimore.
How did the actress Heather Locklear become a character in the Sid Straw novels?
In "The Locklear Letters," I knew that Sid would have a celebrity who was a touchstone in his life, but I struggled for a while as to who the celebrity would be. It had to be someone readers would recognize and generally have positive feelings about because no one would want to read "The Mike Tyson Letters." The public perception also had to be that this was a celebrity who might actually write back to a college friend, or else the book wouldn't work. I threw out those three criteria to a number of friends, and almost everyone said immediately, "Heather Locklear."
Do you know if she has read the books?
One of my editors was a friend of a friend of Heather's, and we decided to share a copy of the book in advance, as a courtesy. She's a terrifically nice person, and within three days, we heard back that she enjoyed the books and was flattered by them. For a time we swapped emails, and she was part of a small group that was going to produce a movie version of "The Locklear Letters," though nothing ever came of it.
You might not have a huge fan base, but the fans that you do have are borderline rabid. One man describes your newest novel on amazon.com as, "the funniest letters since St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians."
I went out for drinks with a writer friend, Craig Clevenger, over the Labor Day weekend, and we were talking about whether we should be resigned or happy that people refer to us as cult writers.
I would not trade the smaller group of people who are so passionate about my books for a larger group of readers who were less engaged. I just wouldn't do it. I would love it if one of my books were to have the broader appeal of my friend Laura Lippman's books, but my writing style may not lead to that. On the plus side, I've had a much longer writing career than many people can hope for.
I hear you're not even the best-selling author in your own family.
My daughter, Paige, is 6, and my wife and I recently had her write her own book as a way to practice her letters. "It's called 'The Princess and the Unicorn,' it's 50 pages long, and on every other page, the characters stop for snacks.
When I had my book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica, they set up a separate table for Paige with her own glass of water and her own box of Sharpies, and we ran off some copies of her book to give away. As my wife frequently reminds me, the line for Paige's book was much longer than the line for mine.
If you go
Michael Kun will read from "Everybody Says Hello" and sign copies of the novel at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road, Mount Washington. Free. For details, call 410-377-2966 or go to theivybookshop.com.