Leslie S. Klinger, Author-Editor-Annotator-Lawyer-Episode #277

Jan 9, 2024 | 0 comments

“I think what makes all of these books good is the sharpness of the mirror. That is, do we see reality in these stories? Do we see enough reality that, it’s recognizable, it’s engrossing, and it interests us. So to me, what makes a great book is a book that feels real.”
~Leslie S. Klinger

Leslie S. Klinger is the multi-award-winning New York Times best-selling editor of more than 75 books, focusing primarily on the history of crime and supernatural fiction.

In addition to heavily-annotated editions of classics like the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein, the work of H. P. Lovecraft, and most recently, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he’s edited numerous anthologies of classic and contemporary fiction.

Les served as co-editor of the 8-volume Haunted Library of Horror Classics series sponsored by the Horror Writers Association and published by Poisoned Pen Press. He’s also the current editor of the Library of Congress Crime Classics series (now spanning more than 15 titles), co-published by the Library of Congress and Poisoned Pen Press.

Les is currently Secretary of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and is actively involved in the Baker Street Irregulars, the international literary society. He also served as Treasurer of the Horror Writers Association for 10 years.

When not practicing law (which is his “day job”), Les is a frequent lecturer at colleges and libraries.




Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat:

Leslie S. Klinger: I think what makes all of these books good is the sharpness of the mirror. That is, do we see reality in these stories? Do we see enough reality that, it’s recognizable, it’s engrossing, and it interests us. That may sound like a crazy thing to say about Lovecraft, for example, who writes some of the most bizarre fiction you’ve ever read. But Lovecraft himself said, look, if you’re going to sell the story to the reader, you’ve got to make it 99% realistic and have that 1% thread of the supernatural, in his case, running through it. Otherwise, it’s unbelievable. Otherwise you can’t connect with the readers. So to me, what makes a great book is a book that feels real.

Announcer: This is Storybeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. Storybeat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on Storybeat. We’re coming to you from the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today, Leslie S. Klinger, the multi award winning New York Times bestselling editor of more than 75 books, focusing primarily on the history of crime and supernatural fiction, in addition to heavily annotated editions of classics like the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein, the work of H. P. Lovecraft, and most recently, Robert Lewis Stevenson’s the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a story about which I know a little bit. He’s edited numerous anthologies of classic and contemporary fiction. Les served as co editor of the eight volume haunted Library of Horror Classics series, sponsored by the Horror Writers association and published by Poison Pen Press. He’s also the current editor of the Library of Congress crime Classics series, now spanning more than 15 titles. Copublished by the Library of Congress and Poisoned Pen Press. Les is currently secretary of the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and is actively involved in the Baker street irregulars, the international literary society. He also served as treasurer of the Horror Writers association for ten years when not practicing law, which is his day job. Les is a frequent lecturer at colleges and libraries. So for all those reasons and many more, it’s a distinct privilege for me to welcome the editor and lawyer Leslie S. Klinger to Storybeat today. Les, welcome to the show.

Leslie S. Klinger: Thank you. It’s nice to be here, Steve.

Steve Cuden: Well, it’s a great privilege to have you here. Believe that. So. All right, let’s go back in time, just a tiny bit. How old were you when you first became interested in crime stories and supernatural fiction? Were you a kid?

Leslie S. Klinger: Oh, sure. I probably read a few Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a kid, but my main, passion was for science fiction. I read every science fiction book I could get my hands on. And by the time I got through high school, I had read hundreds, hundreds of science fiction novels and short stories and all that. I then went off to law school, where I tried to be a good citizen and work hard. And, college first I was an english major, and then law school. And in law school I had sworn to myself that I would not study all the time. So I had blocked out from 11:00 p.m. To midnight. That was my recreational reading. So my first year, I read the magazine of fantasy and science fiction. I found that the library had a complete run, so I just started reading through them. But then my second year, my girlfriend, later my first wife, bought me the Bering Gould. Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

Steve Cuden: Oh, sure.

Leslie S. Klinger: And that became my recreational reading for second, year of law school. And it was at that point that I realized that I really was very poorly read in the genre of crime fiction. I didn’t know Sherlock Holmes well at all, and I really had read very little else. So after I read all the Holmes stories, I started reading Sears, you know, Agatha Christie, Dashl Hammett, Raymond Chandler, et cetera. Sort of round out the education. so it’s been a mixture of both genre for a long time.

Steve Cuden: Why do you think you’re so fascinated with things that are bloody scary or deeply dark and mysterious?

Leslie S. Klinger: that’s a really good question that nobody’s ever asked me before. It isn’t limited to that. I’m fascinated by lots of stuff, but I guess the science fiction element, I can explain. I love the imaginative aspects, the mind game, the sort of constructing things in your head and seeing weird relationships and all that, which is partly, by the way, why I’m a tax lawyer. I mean, it’s really much the same kind of stuff. I mean, seriously, it’s not about numbers. It’s about concepts and shapes and moving them around in your brain.

Steve Cuden: I don’t think I’ve ever thought of tax law as being equivalent with crime stories.

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, somebody said to me, ah, aha, deductions. But that’s not really, but that’s a joke. no. Tax planning involves, very abstract concepts. It’s very much like nuclear physics or one of those kinds of things. And that’s the kind of stuff that fascinated me in school. And even though I was an english.

Steve Cuden: Major, the intricacies of it, the fact that you have to piece it together in some way.

Leslie S. Klinger: Yes. The puzzle aspect, the challenge of it, the challenge of making sense of what, you’re looking at. I tried this out once when I was having dinner. I was teaching a law school course, and I was having dinner with, the wife, and he was sitting at another table. The husband. The husband was an internationally famous tax professor. And I said to the wife, so is he interested in puzzles, games, mystery fiction and all that? expecting her to say, of course. And she said, not at all. 100% tax. That’s all he’s interested in. Okay, so much for that theory that that’s what makes tax lawyers. But anyway, so who then is your.

Steve Cuden: Would you say is your all time favorite author? Do you have one?

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, it’s hard to pick an author. my desert island book is the lord of the rings. There’s no question about that. I’ve read it seven times, I think, or something. It’s probably time to read it again. But it’s very much. I mean, not only is it a great story, it’s also exactly what we’re talking about. It’s this incredibly intricate structure, this whole universe that Tolkien created, with all new rules and all, new kinds of players. So that’s probably the top of my list of my all time favorite book. And so, okay, Tolkien’s my favorite author, but frankly, I’m not as excited by the rest of his writing. I’ve read a lot of it. I’ve read the film Aurelian and all those things, but those didn’t excite me as much as Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit, obviously. I’m very fond of Conan Doyle’s work. Lovecraft’s work is so strange. that it is, but it is, you know, it’s often sort of. Whoever I’m reading today is my favorite author.

Steve Cuden: Do you think that Poe is equivalent to Lovecraft in the strangeness?

Leslie S. Klinger: I mean, not. Not quite as intensely and not, as. I don’t want to say consistently, but Poe had other dimensions that Lovecraft didn’t. Lovecraft, was just fascinated by the idea of, the cosmicism, as he called it, the place of humans in the universe. Paul was interested in many more things than that. Interpersonal relationships that Lovecraft really never got. There’s no great women characters in any of Lovecraft’s stories. Because he understand them. And none of the relationships really ring true as genuine human relationships. They’re stories more about the exterior stuff. Whereas Poe, you know, I think he really did understand what scares us, what moves us. Hence reflected in some of the stories. I mean, brilliant writer, obviously.

Steve Cuden: I think Poe is a fascinating read because he’s so dense and the language is so unique. I think that he makes for a great read. So when then did you become interested in editing and annotating works of fiction?

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, so as I mentioned, I fell in love with the Bering Gould annotated Sherlock Holmes. And I was fascinated by the Cult of Sherlock Holmes. That was sort of on display in that book. that book has thousands, I don’t know how many thousands. 2100 2000 footnotes that reflect amateur scholarship by dozens and dozens of people over in that case. The book came out in 1968, probably close more than 65 years of that kind of scholarship. and it fascinated me and it made me interested, that you could do that, that you could dive into a book like that and ask so many questions and go down so many interesting byways. And I like to think that I said to myself at the time, someday when you’re old and retired less maybe you’ll be the guy who updates the Bering Gould edition way down the road. So that was in the late sixty s. I began collecting Sherlock Holmes stuff and I gave the occasional talk about Sherlock Holmes. But I wasn’t yet a scholar or a writer. it wasn’t until basically the mid ninety s that one too many times I asked my wife, what are we doing this weekend? And she said, you have all those darn books. You can see many of them here.

Steve Cuden: Yes.

Leslie S. Klinger: And she said why don’t you go write something? And I thought about it and I realized that I could. Amateurs had for at that point nearly a century, been writing. We call it amateur scholarship, but scholarship about the Sherlock Holmes stories. And why wasn’t I doing it? I knew how to write. lawyers write all the time.

Steve Cuden: Sure they do.

Leslie S. Klinger: I certainly wasn’t afraid to try and sit down and write something. And so I did, I wrote some essays. I actually decided foolishly to try my hand at reanimating one of the stories that Baron Gould had done. And I did it in a sort of very thoughtless way. I took all of his footnotes and put them in and then I added to them. But I sent it off to some friends. And the friends said, there’s some real potential here. You got to take out all the Berengulf footnotes, but you got some potential here. So I pursued it. And the first things that I published were a series of books called the Sherlock Holmes Reference Library. eventually, it was a ten volume set. somebody looked at one of my books and said, oh, I recognize that. Writing style, law review. Meaning, one line of text, the rest of the page is a footnote. very scholarly, not particularly reader friendly, but, very deep. Very deep.

Steve Cuden: So you have no formal training in doing that?

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, I was an english major and I was a lawyer. but no, I sort of shot that out there. And people liked it. a small press said, this is really good. Let’s publish it. I did. It won awards in the sherlockian community, which is a very tiny community. And then out of the blue in 2002, I got a call from, Bob wile, still the senior editor at WW Norton, who said to me, you know that old Berenguld book? We’re going to do a new edition of it, and we hear that you should edit it.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Leslie S. Klinger: Me, I’m a lawyer. I’m just writing little tiny books out here on the west coast. Anyway, yes. After I picked myself up off the floor, reassured me that they were going to pay me, it was going to really be published, et cetera. I thought to myself, oh, well, this is a piece of cake. I’ve already done this, so it’s just going to know. Reformatting the footnotes that I already wrote. Nope. Norton wanted me to rewrite every single note to be less law review, let’s put it that way, more user friendly, and to get more into the social history, the context of the stories and so on. So it did, the first two books, the first two volumes of what was eventually a three volume set came out in 2004, to my utter astonishment, it won the Edgar for best critical biographical book of the year. Nice. History writers of America. And I said to myself, being a modest sort of person, I guess I’m God’s gift to writers. I should have been doing this all along. and so I, kept going. After we finished that series, after I did the third book of the Sherlock Holmes set, I thought this was really fun, and I want to do it again. What can I do? My wife and I talked about it. She said, why don’t you do know you love Dracula, et cetera. And I thought about it, and it was exactly the right time period. Dracula is exactly contemporary with Sherlock Holmes. so I already had all the reference material, so I called up Bob Weil, and I said, great news, bob. I’ve decided my next book is going to be Dracula. And he said exactly what he should have said. He said, oh. And at that point, I said to, Maybe I’m not the kind of writer who calls up a major publisher and tells him what his next book is. So, anyway, Bob was very generous, and after some back and forth over a couple of weeks, Norton, did let me write the book. And, that was the beginning of branching out from just doing Sherlock Holmes.

Steve Cuden: What would you say is the difference between a law review piece of literature and user friendly, as you call it?

Leslie S. Klinger: Yeah. Well, so, first of all, the writing style needs to be a little less dry. It doesn’t have to be funny. I’m not a comic. it does have to have some wit. it should be entertaining.

Steve Cuden: Am I correct to assume that it needs to be in a voice and not just plain jane stuff?

Leslie S. Klinger: I think that’s right. I always say, look, these books don’t need less clinger to make them great books. They’re already great books.

Steve Cuden: They are indeed.

Leslie S. Klinger: My object is to enhance the reader’s experience. kind of like the director’s track on a dvd, maybe. My wife suggests that. I started down this dark road, in movie theaters, where we’d sit together and I’d be talking to the screen, saying, oh, watch this scene. I’ve seen this before. It’s really good. It’s like this scene in this film and so on. It’s really annoying. So I try not to be annoying. but law review annotation is a little different in that it’s striving for meticulous research, careful sourcing of information. There’s some of that in the footnotes here. But, what I’m trying to add in my footnotes is really a little different. It’s really about, as I said, enriching the reader’s experience. What does that word actually mean? What does it mean when Lucy Westonra and her mother leave their visiting cards at somebody’s house? What is that? that’s a 19th century custom that most people are not familiar with. and so on. So this is about giving the reader some byways to pursue if they wish. I always tell people, look, if you’ve never read the book before, read the book without the notes. Read the book straight through, then go back and read the notes. And, as I say, I hope that they enhance your experience with, oh.

Steve Cuden: I think it’s really annoying if you try to read a book with footnotes and you’ve never read the book before. That’s just annoying. but yes, once you’ve read the book, then going back, it’s like watching a movie and having somebody sitting next to you, like you said, and just talking through the whole movie. No, stop talking. Let me watch the movie. And then later you can tell me what you think.

Leslie S. Klinger: Right. If you’re going to do a good job, you’re also going to definitely include certain spoilers. I mean, maybe not total spoilers, but lots of spoilers, because you’re trying to show the reader this is how the author set up that thing.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Leslie S. Klinger: and so you need to sort of be cross referring back and forth in the book.

Steve Cuden: You’re kind of like in the reader’s ear, or I guess their imaginative ear, telling them, this is what this actually is. This is why this is. This is how this got to be this way. And I think that that’s very helpful, especially when you’re reading a book that’s from 150 years ago and there are references to things you may not know.

Leslie S. Klinger: And this is stuff that I look up to figure out. I was talking to a friend this morning about, that I just finished doing a mystery that is set in the 19, fifty s. And it’s a cop story. It’s a book called v as in victim, which is one of the very first police procedurals by Lawrence treat. And the cop makes reference to a woman who he suspects has committed a crime and her boyfriend. And he says, well, she ain’t. I’m making up the names. Smith and Jones, or they ain’t Smith and Jones. Well, who are they? Well, I looked it up. So in the 1920s, there was a very famous trial of the century about a pair of lovers who had murdered the woman’s husband. And, that’s what the cop was talking about. In the 50s, people might have remembered that. Today, no one.

Steve Cuden: It’s like if I tell my writing students, you should really look at the screenwriting of Robert Town. They often don’t know who I’m talking about and they have to go look for it.

Leslie S. Klinger: Historical fiction. Now, is anything set prior to 1970? Maybe that’s even generous.

Steve Cuden: I think that is a little generous. yeah, anything before, I think 1990. And it feels like it’s in the past at this point. So I’m going to ask you a question, and I’m going to ask it for both crime stories and horror. And I’m curious. I asked this of lots of guests, and I’ll be fascinated by your answer. What makes a good crime story good?

Leslie S. Klinger: I think what makes all of these books good is the sharpness of the mirror. That is, do we see reality in these stories? Do we see enough reality that, it’s recognizable, it’s engrossing, and it interests us. That may sound like a crazy thing to say about Lovecraft, for example, who writes some of the most bizarre fiction you’ve ever read. But Lovecraft himself said, look, if you’re going to sell the story to the reader, you’ve got to make it 99% realistic and have that 1% thread of the supernatural, in his case, running through it. Otherwise, it’s unbelievable. Otherwise, you can’t connect with the readers. So, to me, what makes a great book is a book that feels real. These are real people in real problem situations, with real people grappling with the problems, and an interesting situation. I’m reading a lot of historical stuff. I mean, literally 19th century and early 20th century fiction. And those books, too, are very accurate mirrors of their own times. And so they interest me.

Steve Cuden: It’s important that they draw the characters very realistically, isn’t it?

Leslie S. Klinger: Yes. So let me say a word about the mysteries stuff that we’ve been doing for the Library of Congress, because it presents an interesting challenge. We’re reproducing books from the 1880s, 1890s, 19 hundreds and so on, where social attitudes were, to put it mildly, different from today, quite a bit. Many of these books are not. You would read them today and you would say, well, that’s not politically correct. You can’t refer to. We’ll give you an example of a woman who refers to her asian launderer with a derogatory name. That was a common, epiphany. Or she also doesn’t treat her servants very nicely. But we’re not going to take that stuff out. we’re not going to say this book is unacceptable because of that. At least library of Congress and I are not going to say that because it’s an accurate mirror of the time. One of the novels that I covered in classic, american crime fiction of the 1920s, a five novel volume that I did, is the first Charlie chan mystery, set in the 1920s in Hawaii in an era when, as we have seen, probably forgotten, America had immigration quotas, and the immigration quota for Asians was zero. We were highly intolerant of Asians at that time. And yet, Earl der biggers had the, guts to write a novel in which Charlie chan, a chinese American, was, the featured player. And he wrote accurately about the sort of the relationship between the rich white people in Honolulu, the japanese community, and the chinese community, who did not get along. and, I thought it was important to reflect back on that ugly part of our history.

Steve Cuden: And he was the smartest person in the room.

Leslie S. Klinger: He definitely was. and this is a surprise to some of the white folks. So I’m just going to say it. If somebody has said it much better. You can’t live a better present if you’re not aware of your past. So we have to understand what America has gone through and what the attitudes were, and maybe we’re better than that now. I’m not sure that we’re better than that all the time, but you got to look at that stuff squarely. You can’t cover it up or erase it.

Steve Cuden: Well, we’re in strange times. I think, right now we’re living through them, as you and I are speaking in lots of different ways, but particularly in the political correctness of things, where people want to remove the past because somehow is annoying to them. And I think you need to have that past in order to understand where you are now.

Leslie S. Klinger: Right. I’m not suggesting that we tear down or that we leave standing confederate general statues, but I’m saying, don’t forget those confederate generals.

Steve Cuden: What’s the old phrase of those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it? So I think that that’s right. I think you must study history and know what it is in order to know why we are where we are today.

Leslie S. Klinger: Right.

Steve Cuden: Otherwise people will forget.

Leslie S. Klinger: So the books that I love are accurate mirrors of their times. that’s the hallmark of a great book, is that you can see clearly what that world was like.

Steve Cuden: I think that’s one of the best answers I’ve ever heard, and so I appreciate that greatly. Do you think of yourself, in a way, as a storyteller, too, sometimes?

Leslie S. Klinger: Dracula was one of the, really interesting experiences for me because I decided to play the game, as Sherlockians like to put it, with the novel. So the Sherlockians have, for a century, pretended with our tongue in cheek that Dr. Watson wrote these stories. How do we know that? It says so. He said he wrote these stories, and they are biographies, not fiction. They are true stories. And our job as scholars is to sort of smooth them out, correct errors, but all from the perspective of a historianbiographer. so I decided to do the same with Dracula without altering the text or any of my analysis about, the realities involved. And I looked at a lot of the stuff that Stoker worked into the text and showed, things like, yes, the tide tables, exactly match the way that they travel from Transylvania to England, et cetera. That kind of sort of strange background, factual research, if you will. So, in the course of that, I ended up telling a story. In the notes, the story was that Dracula really lived. It says that at the beginning of the book, by the mean, the book starts out with, saying, you know, I’ve. I’ve pulled together all these papers that all of the players gave to me, and so I said, ok, what if that were true, and what does this tell us about the story? So I ended up concluding that, Dracula didn’t die at the end. This was a cover up. My version of it is Dracula came upon Bram Stoker, who heard he was writing this book for the harkers. Stoker was helping the harkers. He was friends with Jonathan Harker. And Dracula said, if you publish the truth, I’m going to kill you. So you’re going to rewrite the story slightly to, cover up the fact that I didn’t die at the end of the book anyway. So that was the closest I came to sort of storytelling in these. I don’t generally do that, but I’ve written a tiny bit of fiction. I’ve written a couple of short stories. It’s really hard, Steve.

Steve Cuden: Yes, it is. I’ve spent my whole life writing fiction. So, yes, I understand. It’s really hard.

Leslie S. Klinger: Really hard.

Steve Cuden: But you think of yourself then, also as a researcher?

Leslie S. Klinger: M. Yeah, I guess. I’ve been on panels with other writers who we all talk about the same research rapture, as somebody put it. the pleasure of doing the research. But the problem is that fiction writers are told by their editors, you have to throw out 95% or more of your research, because it’s boring to put it into the book. I throw away nothing. I just put it in another footnote. So I get to revel in all of the research. And, yes, I do think of myself as a researcher, as a finder of lost facts, interesting stuff. and pull it together into the context of the world of the book. As I said, I’m not. M trying to make the book better. I’m just trying to enhance the reader’s experience, to let them know more, some cases, things that readers would have known at the time the books were published, but sometimes even invisible to them, just sort of factual, historical, social commentary, et cetera.

Steve Cuden: Well, sure. Do you do most of your research today? Online, or do you go to libraries? Where do you do most of your research?

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, I have a vast library. I, have five, thousand books relating to Sherlock Holmes. Wow, I don’t know how many. Hundreds of books on vampire fiction, horror fiction, crime fiction, et cetera. So it’s pretty rare that I actually have to go to a library. occasionally I will do something with interlibrary loaning, where I’ll borrow a book that’s a rare book and it’s in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then it can be lent to me here. but I’m also a book collector, so I have this terrible habit of buying all the books that I need for research, which is why the collection is now probably 10,000 books or so.

Steve Cuden: I have a lot of books, too. And what I’m curious about, you can’t possibly know unless you have a really good memory where the answer to your question there’s.

Leslie S. Klinger: So one of my best stories on myself is I don’t remember what the subject was, but I was researching it on Google and found something in a book in Google books, where they reproduce various books, and it was a book that was sitting on my shelf about 5ft away. but that book didn’t have an index. So by using Google books, I was able to find something that if I really had been good, I just would have remembered it was in that book and found it anyway.

Steve Cuden: Well, you’ve read thousands of books. I don’t know how you’d remember all that unless you’ve got an amazing memory.

Leslie S. Klinger: I understand, but no, I do a tremendous amount of online research, and Google books has really helped in the sense of reproducing lots and lots of 19th century material.

Steve Cuden: When you’re reading a book to annotate it, how do you decide which thing you’re going to comment on? How do you make that decision?

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, there is a certain art to it. but I try to read the book multiple times, obviously, but also really slowly, so that I can puzzle over and not skip over words that a regular reader might just go zipping along and sort of not bother to slow down and say, what does that mean? what does that actually mean? I sort of understand it from the context, but I’m not really sure what it means. And then you think about it, and in most of these cases, many of my books are blatantly labeled the new annotated Sherlock Holmes, the new annotated Dracula. That’s because there are old annotated versions of some of these books trying to think what I’ve done that wasn’t previously annotated. A lot of Lovecraft had not been annotated before, but. So one of the things I will do is look at other annotated editions and see if they thought something was worth writing a note about. And then I think about it and decide whether I agree. and I may expand the note or throw it away and start over on the subject and so on. But no, there is a real art to it. I’m working on a book right now that has never been annotated. And on its surface it looks like it’s very simple language. so I’m trying to read it really carefully and slowly to sort of see what things do. I don’t want to add notes just for the sake of adding notes. Right.

Steve Cuden: That’s why I wonder how you pick out what you want to comment on. Just your own guts, I guess.

Leslie S. Klinger: Yeah, my own gut. Sometimes it’ll be, I go talk to my wife. Did you know this? Sometimes it’s just I find a discovery and it’s like whoopi that’s going in. It’s just so cool.

Steve Cuden: So you’ve had Eureka moments doing this?

Leslie S. Klinger: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Steve Cuden: So the way that you do it then is you marinate yourself in the book. You do not read quickly, you do read multiple times, but you really marinate in it. So you’re seeking out those little nooks and crannies that most average readers would never spend the time to look at.

Leslie S. Klinger: Right. And then I read as much as I can find about the book. Critical essays, other sources that, may have spotted things along the way that are worthy of comment. They didn’t pull them into an annotated edition, but they may have had an offhand remark about something somewhere else. In the case of both Sandman and Watchmen, which I annotated, which you didn’t mention. Those are, Neil Gaiman’s sandman comics, all 78 issues, I think. And, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, watchmen. there were online annotations. Fans had posted websites, of their own, annotations and questions and comments. I shamelessly read all of those. And if somebody has a good idea, it’s a good idea, it’s not proprietary. That somebody had a question about something or maybe even found an answer to something.

Steve Cuden: What do you think it is that separates you from other, editors annotators? What is it that you do that’s better than or different than other folks that do what you do?

Leslie S. Klinger: Perspiration perspiration. I don’t credit myself with a unique talent or anything like that. It’s just I’ve done this before now. I’ve done it many times before. So, I mean, I know how to approach it. I love doing it.

Steve Cuden: that’s really clear. If you didn’t love doing it, you would not have done 75 books. I don’t care how much you got paid.

Leslie S. Klinger: That’s absolutely right. the pay, I’m sorry to disappoint all those would be writers out there. The pay is nothing compared to practicing law. So it’s not for the money. The law practice supports my addiction to writing books.

Steve Cuden: What would you say is the most difficult or most challenging book you’ve worked on?

Leslie S. Klinger: Oh, wow.

Steve Cuden: Was there something that befuddled you?

Leslie S. Klinger: No, it didn’t befuddle. It was just a lot of stuff to try and integrate. So Frankenstein was, terrific. I mean, I love the book and it was very exciting to do. But one of the things that I wanted to do is to compare the texts. I’ve become maybe unduly, interested in the way that books develop, how they change as the author continues to work on them. So in the case of Frankenstein, we have a lot of source material. There are the so called notebooks, which are handwritten manuscripts of the novel, many, of them containing Percy Shelley’s interlineated corrections, amendations, et cetera. And then we have the published 1818 text. Then we have the so called Thomas text, which was a copy of the 1818 version that Mary Shelley herself handwrote in a number of edits to. It was never published. She gave it away to a friend. but it’s out there for scholars to look at. Then, there’s the version published in 1822 by her father, where he made some edits without her permission. And then there’s the 1831 edition. So I wanted to show the reader in the notes and without getting too boring, the variations in the text and why. what was going on here, what was interesting about the changes that were made over the course of things? I was able to do the same with, Neil Gaiman’s, american gods, where Neil gave me his handwritten manuscript drafts to look at. I got to compare those to the first published edition. Then there was an expanded edition and so on. So I’m very interested in that kind of textual change and growth. Stevenson. there’s not as much as in Frankenstein, but there’s much of the same kind of things. There are three different texts. There’s the manuscript, there’s the galleys that Stevenson marked up, and there’s the published text.

Steve Cuden: And you did a very good job of pointing much out that are those changes.

Leslie S. Klinger: It’s interesting to me, it’s interesting to me to see how the writer changes his or her mind about the way to present things. I started this with Sherlock Holmes. The Sherlock Holmes manuscripts, there are 60 stories. There are only about 35 or so manuscripts left remaining or known of the Sherlock Holmes stories. And I’ve been able to look at a lot of them and see those changes which fascinate me.

Steve Cuden: I have to believe that most common readers. I don’t mean common as in they’re common people. I mean, they’re just the average reader. I have to believe that most readers like that have no idea that a book doesn’t just get produced exactly as you’re reading it, and it’s not. There was a whole lot of work that happened to get it to that point.

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, the most exciting experience along these lines was with Dracula. So early on, I learned that. We’ll call it the manuscript. I’ll explain in a minute. The manuscript of Dracula was going to be sold at auction. the opening reserve was a million dollars. I wasn’t going to be buying it, and it was sold in a private sale. So I wrote to the auction house and I said, look, I’m doing a book on Dracula. Can you introduce me to the, purchaser? And about six months later, I was on tour talking about Sherlock Holmes, and a woman came up to me and said, I’m here to talk to you about Dracula. It was like, what? Nobody knew I was working on this. And she said, yes, she represented, I can now disclose she was representing Paul Allen, as in Microsoft. Paul Allen.

Steve Cuden: Right.

Leslie S. Klinger: Bought the manuscript, who was happy to make arrangements for me to sit down with the manuscript.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Leslie S. Klinger: So it’s a typescript. It’s about 500 pages with extensive handwritten changes by Stoker himself. I’ll, get to the really exciting part in a minute. His brother, Thornycroft, who was a doctor, he had shared it with his brother to give him thoughts about some of the medical aspects of it. And the editor at the publisher also had marked it up. And there were parts of the manuscript where there had literally been material cut and pasted over the old material. You could hold the page up to the light and see what was underneath. and so it was amazing to do that. And I wrote at length in, my footnotes about the changes that were made. And they’re fascinating changes. I mean, some very important changes were made along the way, not least of which was, of course, that the character name was a late insertion. the character was originally going to be called the highly unimaginative count wampier, vampire in Romania. And, then he found the name Dracula and loved it and went back and changed it all. Similarly, Renfield was the fly man for a long time, and then he went back and changed that.

Steve Cuden: But did he actually, it was Vlad Dracul that he named Dracula for? Yes, yes, but Vlad the impaler.

Leslie S. Klinger: Yes, Vlad the impaler. He loved the name. He just thought it was really a cool name because it meant son of the dragon. And he just loved the name, and said, I’m going to use also.

Steve Cuden: You’Ve, ah, already alluded to Stoker and Walstone Craft, Shelley and Stevenson and so on, but you also talked, for a moment about Neil Gaiman. Most of the authors that I can tell from your bio are deceased. They’re no longer around. But you do have the Neil Gaiman’s of the world that you’ve worked on. Is there a distinction in when you’re working for a dead author, working on a dead author versus a living author?

Leslie S. Klinger: Yes. I don’t get to ask the dead authors, and at least I get to ask them, but they don’t answer generally. So, no, working with Neil on the two books that we did and working with Dave Gibbons, was a wonderful experience, because what happened, I mean, the way it worked was I wrote my notes. I wrote all of the notes for american gods and then spent probably 1214 hours going over those notes, note by note with Neil, during which he would say, this is wrong, this is really good. Occasionally he would say, I didn’t know that, and then he’d make suggestions about things that I’d missed or something that I should add a note about and so on. Dave Gibbons was much the same. So Alan Moore decided to burn his scripts of Watchmen. Really angry about the, Know that’s a long story, but he burned his scripts, at least that’s what he told me. Dave Gibbons said, I didn’t burn mine. he kept them all, and he lent them to Alan’s scripts. Gaiman learned to write scripts from alan Moore. Alan Moore’s scripts. I’m not sure. Have you ever seen a comic book script?

Steve Cuden: I have.

Leslie S. Klinger: Alan’s scripts for a 22 or 24 page issue were typically 100 to 120 single space type pages. he would go on and on about what you saw in the panel, what the backstory of the character was, and so on. So they were incredible treasure troves. so in a sense, I got to work with Alan in that respect. But then when I would write a note about it and Dave would correct it, dave would say, no, you missed this idea. That’s not what he meant. And so on. So it was a very different experience than working with living authors. Well, I’m sorry, working with dead authors? Yes.

Steve Cuden: Well, the dead authors, as we said, they don’t talk back and you can’t ask them any questions.

Leslie S. Klinger: They also don’t complain, and they get their stories in on time. I mean, I’ve done anthologies with live authors, and you’re always fighting the deadline, those dead people. The work is right on time, and.

Steve Cuden: They don’t mind if you’ve actually missed something.

Leslie S. Klinger: That’s right.

Steve Cuden: When you’re working with live authors, do you deal in copyrights issues in any way?

Leslie S. Klinger: Oh, sure. Absolutely. without naming names, I’ll tell you an example right now. So, a dear friend of mine who is a very well known bestseller author, it happens to be a big anniversary of her book. and we talked about, wouldn’t it be great to do an anniversary edition and have it be an annotated. It’s a very rich book, and really would benefit from annotations. And she wants to do it. I want to do it. The publisher has the rights to the book. They have the right to publish all editions of that book, because that’s the typical publishing contract. So the publisher has to decide that they’re willing to invest the money, and take the risk of putting out a new edition of a book that’s already doing just fine. So it’s not that simple for the licensed products to do an annotated work.

Steve Cuden: Briefly explain for the listeners what the difference is between a public domain work and one that’s under copyright.

Leslie S. Klinger: Okay, so, the easy way to explain it is it depends on how old the book is. In general, that’s not the rule, but it’s a dividing line. Right now, any book published prior to 1927 is not subject to copyright in the United States. That means you don’t need anybody’s permission to put out a whole new edition of it. The new rules are life of the author plus 70 years. So anything published in kind of the second half of the 20th century is likely to be subject to copyrights. But the copyrights aren’t the end of the story for this, Steve, because the copyright to the book, I’m talking about belongs to the author. But the author licensed the copyright for all print editions, as is typical to this particular publisher. So we have to convince the publisher that it’s a good idea to do a new edition of the book, even though the author owns the copyright. But imagine if. So, let’s say you’ve written a book and you, licensed it to Les Klinger Press, who said, steve, it’s your first book. I can’t give you a big advance. How about you sign the deal, I’ll put the book out. So we put the book out. It’s a huge success. The critics love it. It’s selling like hotcakes. So Steve says, well, wait a minute now. If I take that same book and I go to Random House, they’ll give me a million dollar advance and I’ll get a much better deal on the book. Well, Les Klinger book says, what do you mean? you licensed it to me. You can’t license it to somebody else. At the same time, if my deal expires, if I foolishly have a deal that says I only get to publish it for five years, which is very unusual, then you could do that. But the typical license agreement is a license for the life of the copyright. So for the next three generations, Les Clinger Books is going to have the right to publish that book of yours.

Steve Cuden: Well, I think that you are right, when you think about it, to focus on dead authors from more than 120 years ago.

Leslie S. Klinger: It’s just more of a challenge. I’m pursuing a couple of projects right now that do involve live authors. I know how much fun they’ll be. and I’m hopeful that the publishers will see that we can bring more sales in by doing new editions. It won’t cannibalize the old sales. It’ll simply bring in a bigger audience.

Steve Cuden: Do you think the publishing industry is in trouble today? Are there issues with the publishing industry that are big problems?

Leslie S. Klinger: Yeah, the big problem, it’s not the publishing industry that’s having the problem. It’s the writer. The problem is that if your name isn’t Michael Connolly or Janet Ivanovich or Lee Child, good luck. Or Steve King or King, you know, if the publishers had their druthers, that’s all they’d publish, is authors that are going to sell millions of copies, and they can make lots of money. They don’t want to publish little books because they’re going to lose money, or they’re not going to make the kind of money they can, on those big books. So it is harder and harder and harder for a new writer to find a publisher, who is willing to pay in advance. There are small presses out there that will, take on your book without an advance. An advance means kind of what it sounds like. It’s some money up front that will be repaid out of royalties if your book earns royalties. If your book doesn’t earn royalties, you get to keep the advance anyway. So it’s a big risk for the publisher to write a check to you before they know whether the book is going to sell. That’s why small presses generally don’t pay advances. so it’s harder and harder to get your book out there. And the other reality is, for almost every writer except the ones I’ve mentioned, you’re doing your own marketing. You want people to find your book and read your book. You’re the one that’s going to have to figure out how to get it in front of readers eyes. the publishers are not going to take out print ads or put you on television commercials or put you on radio shows or television. You’re going to have to do all that yourself.

Steve Cuden: Well, that is the biggest problem today. And there are so many books published, self published, and so on.

Leslie S. Klinger: Something like a million and a half books published every year.

Steve Cuden: Every year. Yeah. It is staggering. And who’s reading all that stuff? Mostly m. They’re not being read.

Leslie S. Klinger: Mostly they’re not. I think I saw some statistic, I’m not sure I’m right, that the average book sells something like three copies. Wow.

Steve Cuden: that’s really depressing.

Leslie S. Klinger: Yeah, well, but that’s the whole hunt. Million and a half. Now, it gets better when you actually recognize the name of the Author, but, yes, it’s a tough market out there.

Steve Cuden: Are, most of your books. Someone has come to you, or you’re presenting it to someone.

Leslie S. Klinger: No. So, in the nonfiction world, I learned early on it works very mean. My situation with the Sherlock Holmes book is unique, that a publisher came to me and asked me to write that book. That was absolutely unique. In general, what happens is, unlike fiction for nonfiction, you or your agent contact the publisher and say, I’d like to write a book about the life of Steve Cooper. now, the publishers thinks about it, and you pitch them. You give them a proposal that says, here’s why it’s going to be a big seller. Here’s why I’m the right person to write it. Here’s, the potential market. Here’s what it’ll cover. And if the publisher likes the idea, they say, fine, here’s some money, go write it. Very different from fiction, where you write the book and then you try and sell it. So I have pitched many books over my career that I have not sold. some of the ones, I mean, you would say, really, if I tell you that I pitched, the idea of doing an annotated war of the worlds, an annotated 20,000 leagues under the sea. Wow.

Steve Cuden: not interested.

Leslie S. Klinger: Publishers have said, you know what? The book is a good book doesn’t really sell all that well. And the truth is that if you look at the books that I have done, they are generally books that are, in a way, sort of larger than life. They have passionate fan base, intense readers. Frankenstein, Lovecraft, all Dracula, obvious vampire, know Sherlock Holmes, not so much Jekyll and Hyde. But we took a chance. but those are readers who are waiting for a product about one of their favorite books. they’re passionate about it. And so that’s what the publishers are looking for. That’s certainly what Norton is looking for, is books that have, to some extent, a sort of built in audience, a ready audience.

Steve Cuden: Well, let’s talk about Jekyll and Hyde for just 1 second, because that’s a huge bit of karma in my life. I’ve been dealing with the story of the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for 43 years now, and I’m just wondering, what do you think is so great about it? I’ll tell you what I think, and then you tell me what you think. I think it’s because it is the first time in the history of literature that I’m aware of that that actual duality of man was described in a fictional setting.

Leslie S. Klinger: I think that’s a fair comment. first of all, you have to remember that the book was marketed as a mystery. it’s a mystery who murdered, I’ve forgotten the character’s name. The guy, who’s killed in the streets, by Mr. Hyde.

Steve Cuden: It’s sir Danvers Karoo.

Leslie S. Klinger: Sir Danvers Karoo. Who killed him? That’s the murder mystery. And the ending is a huge twist. Shock, surprise ending for the first time, reader. Now, today, we’re all used to the idea. We sort of get this whole idea. Everybody knows it’s like Dracula, everybody knows he’s a vampire. whereas the first time you read the book, and I’ve said this, when you read the book and you’re going through it and you want to be yelling at those people, you dummies, it’s a vampire. Well, we know these things, but the original readers didn’t. I think what makes the book timeless is, as you said, it’s about that old problem, as Stevenson put it, that problem of the duality of human nature and trying to reconcile our angel and devil selves, into a whole human being. and yes, it’s a brilliant exemplar of that. It’s a thrilling story. it’s a mysterious story for the first time, reader. And to me, the reason to do it was really simple, which was sort of. I’ve already picked off three of the great icons of the 19th century. This is the fourth one, the sort of the great mythic creations of the 19th century. Frankenstein’s creature, Sherlock Holmes, dracula, and Dr. Jeff.

Steve Cuden: And what’s fascinating to me is how flexible and malleable those underlying stories have been in so many different ways. Jekyll and Hyde in particular. Most people don’t realize that the hulk is a jekyll and Hyde story. And almost all the superhero stories are Jekyll and Hyde stories, where you’ve got.

Leslie S. Klinger: Good and evil face.

Steve Cuden: Exactly two face. And you just think of Batman. Batman is sort of a, Jekyll and Hyde story.

Leslie S. Klinger: Yes.

Steve Cuden: So I find that really compelling.

Leslie S. Klinger: You saw, I had a lot of comic book covers in my, edition.

Steve Cuden: Have you read most of those comics?

Leslie S. Klinger: Yes.

Steve Cuden: Then you really are deep into it.

Leslie S. Klinger: Oh, I’m a huge fan of all comics in general, but I have, like, 900 Sherlock Holmes comics. I have, I don’t know, 500 vampire comics.

Steve Cuden: Oh, my.

Leslie S. Klinger: There’s not that many Jekyll and Hyde sort of directly, but I have dozens. Frankenstein. there’s a lot of Frankenstein comics.

Steve Cuden: Do you also find yourself, then, watching the produced, motion pictures and tv.

Leslie S. Klinger: Series that are about those mean if, when I’m writing a book, of course, I make myself watch it. But Jekyll and Hyde I watched amazingly, and I think it’s pretty well cited in the appendix of the book. There’s a lot on YouTube. There’s some really good old stuff on YouTube, of Jacqueline Hyde. there is, some very obscure silence are on YouTube and worth checking out. Similarly, Frankenstein. I mean, you have Edison’s Frankenstein on YouTube.

Steve Cuden: Well, I’m reading a book right now on William Selig, who’s the first person to actually develop Hollywood as a motion picture center. And one of their early silent movies was Jekyll and Hyde.

Leslie S. Klinger: Yes. And you look back, and when you can watch John Barrymore in all of his magnificence, doing the transformation on screen. It’s just astonishing.

Steve Cuden: Something like that, 1920, but, my touchstone was Spencer Tracy. That was later.

Leslie S. Klinger: but, the reason I mentioned Barrymore for your listeners is the Barrymore is astonishing because he did it without makeup.

Steve Cuden: Well, I rarely ever talk on this show about my bit with Jekyll and Hyde, but that was also achieved on stage in a musical, live in front of an audience with no makeup, no special effects, just acting.

Leslie S. Klinger: Yeah. And there’s been so many wonderful, weird sister Jekyll and, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Jekyll and Hyde together again, et cetera. There’s some really funny stuff out there. There’s some really dark things out there in the film world. I wasn’t inclusive in my appendix, but I probably listed 80 or 90 films.

Steve Cuden: Oh, it’s very deep. Your appendix is very thick. I have to ask you, how has your lawyerly life impacted your editor’s life? And how has your editor’s life then impacted your lawyer’s life?

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, in two different ways. I mean, first of all, I think that lawyers have necessarily, at least the kind of law I do, which is not trial law, the kind of skills that I need as an editor, namely the ability to juggle dozens of projects at any given time and move from subject to subject, ah, adeptly. When I’m annotating a book, footnote number 1 may be about subject number one, footnote number 2 may be about a completely different subject. And I have to switch gears, and I also can break it up into little pieces. I may write one night, maybe devoted to writing one or two footnotes, and then the next night I’m onto a new subject, new research, new footnote. That kind of juggling is something that lawyers learn to do early on in their career, or they fail. and so that’s been very helpful to this, turning it around. What the book world has done for me, to my great joy, is to end up with some clients who are writers friends. mostly writers don’t need my services.

Steve Cuden: Because they don’t make any money.

Leslie S. Klinger: That’s right. But I’ve been fortunate to end up representing a, ah, few successful writers who I met through the book world, the book trail. And, it’s a real pleasure for me to do that, try and help them.

Steve Cuden: I have been having absolutely one of my favorite conversations ever with Leslie S. Klinger, Les Klinger, about his work, both in the law and in annotating and editing all of these fantastic books. obviously, you’ve had many experiences with many different people in all kinds of different directions, but I’m wondering if you can share with us a story that’s either weird, quirky, offbeat, strange, or maybe just plain funny from all your experiences.

Leslie S. Klinger: Well, so I was asked to participate. This is after my annotated Dracula came out. three friends went down to the mysterious galaxy bookstore in San Diego to do a program to present our books. And to my kind of surprise, they said, ok, we’re going to have each of you do a reading from your books. And I thought, reading? Okay, let’s see. What am I going to read? I didn’t write this book, so I picked out, my favorite footnote and read that aloud. And the footnote was on a topic that I still find sort of jaw dropping. And it had to do with what I talked about before, about seeing the manuscript and learning stuff that wasn’t in the published text. So readers will remember that Dracula comes to Whitby in England on a ship. The ship crashes, and a large black dog jumps off the ship and runs off through the town of Whitby. Now, we know, as the readers, we pretty much get that that large black dog is Dracula, having changed shapes and now sort of taking off into the town. Well, in the manuscript, there’s a reference to a newspaper article about that they found, like, a homeless person in Whitby who’s had his throat ripped out by a large dog. No, I’m sorry. It’s a dog. They find some other dog that’s had its throat ripped out by a large dog. And it says in the article that the police are seeking the criminal by examining the eyeballs of the victim. And I thought, what the heck is that? Well, it turns out that there was a crackpot science of the day called something like optography. This scientist claimed that at the moment of death, the retina, retained the image of what it last saw, and he killed a bunch of rabbits trying to prove this. He never could prove it, but the idea was a popular idea, and Jules Verne actually wrote a mystery novel in which that’s how the crime gets solved. So that’s what this reference was to. And it was like, what the heck? But it just was so fascinating to me that that’s my all time favorite footnote.

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s really neat to know. all right, so, last question for you today, Les. Well, do, you have a solid piece of advice or a tip that you can lend to those that might be thinking about getting into annotating and editing like you do, or maybe someone who’s doing a little bit, and maybe it’s, a way that they can do it better.

Leslie S. Klinger: I think that the secret to doing it pleasurably and hopefully, well, is passion. You better make sure that the book is a book that you’re passionate about, because you’re going to spend a lot of time with it, and really immerse yourself in it. So you can’t approach this like a homework, assignment. You can’t approach it mechanically or as just a job. It better be a book that you love and that you think that readers love or ought to love, because you’re going to spend a lot of time with it. You’re going to dive very deeply. And that’s my tip.

Steve Cuden: I think that that’s a really wise tip, and I think that’s a good tip for almost anything anybody wants to do is you better be passionate about it, or you’re probably not going to stay focused on it for very long. Les Klinger. This has been such fun for me, and I’m so grateful for your time and your wisdom, and I can’t thank you enough for spending an hour with me today on Storybeat.

Leslie S. Klinger: My pleasure, Steve.

Steve Cuden: And so we’ve come to the end of today’s Storybeat. If you like this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to? Your support helps us bring more great storybeat episodes to you. Storybeat is available on all major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartradio, Tunein, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden, and may all your stories be unforgettable.

Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group


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