Improvisation is a concept usually associated with the performing arts, like sketch comedy or music. But what if that approach was applied to a novel?
Mount Prospect resident Rick Kaempfer decided to find out. He and Brendan Sullivan, a longtime friend and former colleague, spent more than two years brainstorming and improvising the chapters of a novel.
The result is "The Living Wills," which recently came out via Kaempfer's publishing house, Eckhartz Press.
"We actually wrote random chapters, whatever came into our heads," Kaempfer said. "Then we'd send them to each other, and each of us would expand on what the other had written. It was pretty amazing because these characters and situations slowly started to take shape."
Kaempfer and Sullivan had the right experience for the project. Sullivan is a creative consultant who specializes in improvisation. Kaempfer, a 1981 graduate of Prospect High School, is an established writer.
After working for roughly 20 years as a producer and writer in Chicago radio -- he worked with such local radio legends as Steve Dahl & Garry Meier and John "Records" Landecker -- Kaempfer entered the publishing world.
He cowrote a behind-the-scenes book about the radio industry, then followed that up with his first novel, "Severance," which came out in 2007 from New Jersey-based publisher ENC Press.
Still, finishing "The Living Wills" was a challenge, Kaempfer said.
"It took us a while to get into a groove with it," he said.
The novel explores how a split-second decision can have ripple effects that last for decades. Chicago and its surrounding areas are integral to the overall effect of the novel.
"It's very much a 'Chicago book.' The city is almost another character," Kaempfer said.
With the finished manuscript in hand, Kaempfer and Sullivan considered going the traditional publishing route -- shopping it around to major publishing houses, hoping to get a bite. Given the turmoil engulfing today's publishing industry, they decided to take a more do-it-yourself approach.
Kaempfer launched Eckhartz Press with a business partner, David Stern. In addition to "The Living Wills," Eckhartz has published two other novels so far from Chicago-based writers. A nonfiction book from Stern is forthcoming.
The creation of Eckhartz, and the interest in it shown by local authors, is an example of the opportunities that lie behind today's chaotic media landscape, Kaempfer said.
"I look at what's happening now as a big comeuppance for the publishing industry, which had gotten so arrogant," he said. "Now, writers have other options."
In addition to his duties at Eckhartz and his own creative writing projects, Kaempfer blogs about local radio personalities and other media-related topics. He's also a husband and father of three boys.
"It gets busy," he said with a laugh. "But I'm lucky in that I have uninterrupted time between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the week. I make sure to cram as much work as possible into that time frame."
"The Living Wills" is available in e-book form at major online retailers. A paperback version is available only at the Eckhartz Press website, eckhartzpress.com.