OP: A Call from Jersey follows the life of Hans Greifinger, a German-American who immigrates to the United States and builds a life for himself and his family in New Jersey. You were born and raised in New Jersey. To what extent is this story based on your own experiences of growing up there?
PFK: New Jersey is my home state, from birth through college years and, though I don't live there now, the place is in me. A certain kind of humor, a certain attitude. I can't shake it. Wouldn't want to. A lot of my family history is in, and between, the lines of A Call From Jersey. The German-American experience. If you open presents on Christmas Eve, can sing a few lines of "Silent Night" in German, value wheat beer and pumpernickel bread, and your family includes some relatives who were on the wrong side of World War II, A Call from Jersey is for you.
OP: The book spans more than half a century, taking place between 1928 and 1984. Why did you choose to set your story in this particular period of time?
PFK: My parents had been in America for almost twenty years before I was born. I missed their green-horn years, their discovery of America. I've always wondered what those first years were like---what they were like---before they knew me. I've wondered about how the war felt. I heard the stories. I needed to use, and adapt, and add to them. And then to cover my years with them, their growing old, my growing up. Then, how they left, and how they left things, later on. Years later, I missed conversations we never quite got around to.
OP: Hans’ son George Griffin is a journalist and travel writer. Are you a world traveler as well? In your experience which cities are the best to visit?
PFK: I get nervous if I don't have at least two trips ahead of me, all the time. I like long stays. And here's a rule: for every hour of travel (airplane and airport) you need to spend at least 3/4ths of a day on the ground, at your destination. There are places I keep going back to. At one point my Peace Corps islands of Saipan and Palau, for instance, and Altaussee, in the lake country of Austria at another. The cities I return to are Singapore, Sydney, Vienna and Istanbul. I always need to see them again.
OP: In the novel George leaves New Jersey to pursue a new life, but is drawn back home to attend a class reunion. Have you ever attended one of your own high school reunions?
PFK: To me, attendance at a high school reunion is a moral imperative. That goes for the Jonathan Dayton Regional High School Class of 1960. I love these occasions. The memories, the reflections, the connections. The staring, which isn't rude, it's required. And the unanimous conviction that our music, back then...doo-wop, doo-wop, is far better than the stuff the kids are listening to now.
OP: Before he moves to New Jersey, Hans begins his journey in the United States working as a janitor in New York City. Today you are Writer in Residence at Kenyon College, but how did you pay the bills before you were a teacher and published author?
PFK: Before I was ready to write books, I worked as a journalist, on newspapers and magazines. A journalist is a good thing to be, while you're waiting for life to give you fictional material. You learn an unneurotic approach to writing, a respect for deadlines, a way of asking questions and following up on them. You learn to value conciseness and abhor bullshit, unless it's bullshit of a superior kind.
Praise for A CALL FROM JERSEY
"Absorbing ... as much about the 20th Century experience as it is about brothers, fathers, and sons." - Publishers Weekly
"[P. F. Kluge] sketches a difficult but ultimately loving father/son relationship with a rare sincerity and welcome humor. Heartfelt, funny and poignant." - Kirkus Reviews
"We're very fond of books set in New Jersey. And, since our grandparents were immigrants, we're very fond of books about those 'tempest tossed' souls." - Asbury Park Press
"This book's sense of place is authentic." - Newark Star Ledger