Stephanie Barko interviews Karen Lynne Klink, author of “At What Cost, Silence?”

Karen Klink’s debut novel, At What Cost, Silence? is set in antebellum East Texas just prior to the Civil War. Karen’s main character, young Adrien Villere, while fearing “unnatural” proclivities, yearns for the love and acceptance of his father. When I spoke with Karen, she was open and willing to answer any questions concerning connections with herself, the story, and its characters.

SB: What drove you to write a story about a young bisexual man who lived in 1849?

 KK: Because of my father, I grew up in a dysfunctional family and know what it’s like not to feel accepted at home and beyond. I believe there are many others in the same boat, and wanted to represent them, particularly in the wake of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at the time I began writing this book.

SB: You chose to have a cast of many characters, in particular an unconventional sister and a young enslaved black man. Why was that?

 KK: I wanted to represent the many different viewpoints that fit the context of the story. Each character has their own way of seeing and understanding, and I think it’s only fair to give each their say. I believe it helps us all to see how others see us. I’m a firm believer in “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” Once a person has done that, it’s difficult to hate them.

Karen Klink

SB: You chose to start the story when the characters were children rather than beginning with Part 2 when they were young adults. Why is that?

KK: We form the majority of our belief system in childhood. I wanted to show why these characters behaved the way they did once they were young adults. Particularly, why Adrien continually sought and failed at loving relationships.

SB: Adrien’s relationship with his sister is particularly close. Did you plan that from the beginning and if so, why?

KK: I needed to give him someone he could speak most of his truth to, yet withhold the most important part of himself. I also wanted the character that Adrien confided in to be a strong young woman. This is who I wanted to be when I was young. I had a younger brother who died at birth. There is so much psychology tied up when we write. How much of our characters are a part of ourselves? How much of me is the sister, Bernadette? How much is Adrien? We begin with our characters, but they grow into their own as we write. I say “we” because other writers have said the same. Our characters take over.

SB: In that vein, what can you tell us about the enslaved young man who Adrien considers his brother?

KK: Truly interesting you should ask about him, as he took over more toward the end of the story. Very strong-minded that one. We don’t hear much from him in the second book, but he has demanded time in the third as a major character. If no one has noticed by the final chapter, Isaac is quite special, as we shall see.

SB:  There is one scene where young Jacob Hartwood disciplines a slave. Are you concerned some will find that scene too disturbing?

KK:  That has occurred to me, but I find it necessary to write the historical truth. We cannot look away or deny the facts of slavery any more than we can deny the Holocaust. This kind of thinking leads to repeating past mistakes. A reader cringes reading this and thinks, “We must never let this happen again!” I show at a later point how even Jacob feels about his own actions. Jacob is, I hope, an increasingly complex character.

Stephanie Barko

SB: Did you do additional research to be able to write from points of view that were different from your own?

 KK: Absolutely. I spent over ten years reading and studying books written by gay and black men. My most recent discovery is Colson Whitehead’s Nickel Boys. I’ve also read a lot of Alan Hollinghurst and Andrew Holleran who are well-respected gay authors.

Then, of course, I had to research what it was like to run a plantation or farm in Texas. For example, I never realized before writing this book how toxic that growing, cutting, and drying tobacco could be. You don’t want the stuff on your skin!

SB: Why place your story in this particular time period?

 KK: I began studying the Civil War before high school, and therefore know more about it than any other period. There is so much about this period that is ripe for drama, especially here in the U.S. Strong feelings remain in the South to this day, and once one learns more about what occurred before and during reconstruction, understandably so. I attempt to tell both sides of the story, good and bad.

SB: Is there anything in particular you would like a reader to remember about At What Cost, Silence?

KK: Going back to “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” I hope a strong connection with my characters creates an impression that resonates long after the final chapter.

SB: Thank you for speaking with me. I wish you success with this book and the series.



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