BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - If you bump into Berkeley Heights native P.F. Kluge, don’t bother asking if any of the characters in his Jersey-centric novel “Eddie and the Cruisers” were based on you. They weren’t.
Kluge, who is the author of several acclaimed novels and a Life magazine article which was turned into the movie “Dog Day Afternoon,” returned to Berkeley Heights on Thursday night to read excerpts from his new novel, “A Call From Jersey” and, of course, “Eddie and the Cruisers.”
In an appearance at the Berkeley Heights Public Library, Kluge discussed drawing inspiration for his writing from his childhood in New Jersey and how different locations and memories often make appearances in his books. He said people will often suspect they saw themselves in characters from “Eddie and the Cruisers, “which was made into a movie in 1983.
“People will ask me things like ‘Didn’t I meet you at the shore once?’ But it really is fiction,” Kluge said.
He said the novel – which is about a television reporter investigating the mysterious death of musician Eddie Wilson and the search for his band’s second album, which disappeared the day after Eddie’s death – is not based on any particular band. Instead, it’s based on what he calls his lifelong weakness for the music of his youth and the lingering question in his mind of what the bandmates of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens did after the plane crash that killed the stars.
“My classmates, our music was better than the music of kids today,” he said, addressing those who had gathered to hear him speak. His observation, like many he made throughout the evening, was met with applause and laughter.
He read an except from “Eddie and the Cruisers” that described New Jersey in the kind of detail only a native son could get away with, like driving over the Pulaski Skyway and smelling that infamous smell that most people roll up their windows to avoid breathing in, and ending with “No wonder the Statue of Liberty faces the other way.”
Kluge said when “Eddie and the Cruisers” was optioned for a movie, he was asked to write the screenplay, but he declined.
“When you’re a writer, you’re the boss when the pages are blank,” he said. “After that, it’s all by committee.”
He said he knew the movie would be changed from the book, and he was prepared for that.
“When I’d tell people my book was going to be made into a movie, they’d say ‘Are they going to change it?’ And I’d say, ‘When you sell a cow to a butcher, does he change it?’”
Overall, though, he said that although the movie did lose some of his prose, he liked the final product.
“It’s got heart,” he said.
He also read excepts from his most recent novel “A Call From Jersey,” which draws largely on his New Jersey upbringing in a German immigrant family, and includes some of his interest in boxing and in particular Max Schmeling, who trained at a camp in Chatham.
Kluge also discussed his work as a contributing writer for National Geographic Traveler, and his alma mater, Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he is the Writer in Residence.