Rockford’s Own: Michael Kleen (Author & Political Activist)

Where do you hail from, and what first brought you to live in Rockford, Illinois?

“I was born in Chicago in the neighborhood of Edison Park. When I was five years old, my family moved to the suburb of Des Plaines, where we lived until I graduated high school. I spent the next eight years in Charleston, Illinois, where I earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees. In the meantime, my parents had moved to Rockford to be closer to my sister (who lives in Freeport). They chose Rockford because my mom suffers from a serious and rare medical condition and they also wanted to be near to a major hospital. So, after grad school, since my entire family had moved to the area, I decided to come to Rockford as well. Besides, my dad needed someone to help care for my mom.”

With all of the negative press that Rockford has received of late, how do you feel about the city in which you now reside?

“It’s funny because I came to Rockford once while I was in college. Some friends from NIU and I went and saw a documentary at the theater that used to be in Colonial Village Shopping Center. I never expected to come back here. But as soon as I started living here, I loved it. Rockford has a lot of great independently owned shops and restaurants, plus everything you could ask for in a major city. As a bonus, traffic is never bad and there’s always plenty of parking available. If you’ve ever lived in the Chicago area you know what a relief that is. It’s true that Rockford has a lot of problems, but I’ve always believed that things can be fixed as long as there’s a desire to fix them. It just takes a collective will, and for the community to decide “enough is enough.” Then it takes common sense leadership to implement those reforms in a cost effective manner.”

What prompted your desire to be a writer?

“I’ve always loved writing and the idea of being a writer. When I was younger, I had a very romantic idea of what it would be like to have a published book. I thought that was an end in itself. Now that I’m older and I’ve published several books, I have to ask “what’s next?” A lot of authors are shocked when they see their first royalty check, and they are forced to redefine their notion of success. Around 200,000 new books are published each year in the U.S., and less than 1 percent achieve best seller status. Selling over 10,000 copies (nationally) can land you on The New York Times Best Seller list. In two years, my most successful book, Haunting Illinois, has sold around 1,300 copies. Of course, the subject matter has a very limited audience, but that is still a decent sales figure in the grand scheme of things. No one becomes a writer to get rich.”

What was your first big step after high school? College?

“I wish I could say I had a single-minded goal that I pursued in either high school or college, but my life has been a series of dead ends and new beginnings. I knew I wanted to forge my own path in life, and I’ve always pursued my passions. I make a commitment and I stick to it, as long as I have the ability. So I’ve written books, created my own publishing company, ran for public office, and I generally try to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. I always feel like even if I don’t succeed, at least I won’t ever wonder “what if?” I’ll know because I tried.”

What prompted you to enter the political field?

“I’ve been politically active for a very long time. In college, I helped out on campaigns and was a member of a couple of different political organizations. I always befriended people of different political persuasions because I love to discuss and debate local, state, and national issues. I guess you could say I’m a news and political junkie. I’ve written over 100 opinion columns since 2006, starting with a biweekly column in my college newspaper, The Daily Eastern News. I decided to run for public office because I was tired of just talking/writing about making changes. I wanted to take the lead and plant a banner for others to rally around.”

What are you most proud of in your career, to date?

“I am proud of the fact that I was able to incorporate my publishing company, grow its catalog, pay myself a salary every month, and pay out royalties to my authors. It may not be much, but I built my business up from nothing and for all those years I struggled, there were very few people who thought it would succeed. My writing has also landed me in a couple of documentaries and TV shows. I was on an episode of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures talking about the history of Ashmore Estates—a well-known (allegedly) haunted place in Coles County (where I went to college). In early 2012, a short story of mine was turned into an independent horror film called ‘Headline News.”

What is most satisfying to you, at the end of a typical day?

“I’m never satisfied. I’m like a shark that would die if it ever stopped swimming.”

What are some of your fondest memories?

“Most of my best memories come from travelling. In the summer of 2009, I took a train out to Arizona to visit some friends. It was the first time I’ve been out west and it was beautiful. We visited Tombstone and Tempe. That same year, I went out to Pennsylvania and got to participate in the Gettysburg reenactment. There was a lot of heartache that summer, but my trips were amazing. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In 2010, some friends and I also went out to Washington, DC and participated in the Daily Show’s Rally to Restore Sanity. There were several hundred thousand people on the National Mall. I probably never would have gone if not for my friend Greg, who is a little more adventurous than I am, but I’m glad I did. I’ll never forget it.”

If there were only one thing that you could change about Rockford, to make it better place, what would that be?

“This is a tough question. If there was only one thing I could change, it would be people’s attitude. There is a lot of cynicism and distrust out there. Some of it is deserved, but a lot of it seems to be bred into folks around here after years and years of disappointment. This makes people not even want to try to change things. That’s why voter turnout is so incredibly low—people have just thrown up their hands in disgust. I wish I could flip a switch and make them believe in their own ability to make their community a better place.”

Michael Kleen - Photo by Greg Inda - www.greginda.com

Follow Michael here:

www.michaelkleen.com

Some links to Michael’s published works:

Paranormal Illinois (2010)

Haunting Illinois (2011)

Home Of The Brave (2012)

Six Tales of Terror (2012)

Statism And Its Discontents (2012)

Tales of Coles County, Illinois (2012)

Cheers,

Heath D. Alberts – Co-Founder, Digital Ninjas Media, Inc. (heath@digitalninjasmedia.com)

Author of: “Terminal Beginning” (2010) | “Guerrilla Business” (2012)

Follow me on: www.heathnwanda.com/blog.htm | Riffle | Shelfari | Goodreads | Facebook | Pinterest

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