Dr. Christian Kiefer and “The Infinite Tides”

A depressed astronaut.

If you ask anyone who knew what Dr. Christian Kiefer’s new book, "The Infinite Tides", was about, odds are you’d receive those exact words.

“The Infinite Tides” is the first published novel by American River College English professor, Dr. Christian Kiefer, it is set to be released on June 19 and despite what that simple summary above would suggest, it’s about more than just a depressed astronaut. "The Infinite Tides is about a [...] sort of type-A, forward-momentum, business-oriented guy," explained Kiefer, in regards to the main character of his book, Kieth Corcoran. "It’s [about] what happens when his life derails and he has no understanding of what to do if he’s not working; it’s sort of like the American Dream coming off the tracks."

More to the point, "The Infinite Tides" is about grief and the reclamation of a life poorly spent. According to the Amazon.com summary, "at the moment of [Corcoran's] greatness, finally aboard the International Space Station, hundreds of miles above the earth’s swirling blue surface, he receives word that his sixteen-year-old daughter has died in a car accident, and that his wife has left him." Corcoran begins a process of coping with the pain of his lost family and the realization that he has let his life slip away from him in pursuit of his career. 

Like his book, simply summarizing or labeling Kiefer would only scratch at the surface of who he appears to be. He is a man of a less than average height, wears glasses and has a bushy beard, not unlike a woodsman, and when he talks he has an almost careless aura about him which is frequently contradicted by flashes of his knowledge of literature and a distinct prowess regarding the English language. Even more surprising is the sheer amount of creative activities he involves himself in; he’s a poet; a song-writer who has worked on over eight albums; and now a published author.

 

Dr. Kiefer: from his Amazon.com biography page.

 

Even beyond his creative life, he is a busyman; he’s a full-time professor, husband and a father to five sons. How does he manage to balance out so many facets of his life? With relative ease, according to him. "It doesn’t seem that hard to me," said Kiefer when asked how he balances such a busy life. "You use the time you have sort of wisely." 

More shocking still is the fact that he seldom quits a project he starts. "[Dr. Kiefer] is an immensely creative person and he also has the rare ability to finish works," said Professor Michael Spurgeon, a peer and colleague of Kiefer’s who worked very closely with Kiefer to help him finish "The Infinite Tides". 

"I’m a closer; I very seldom […] start a project that I don’t finish," said Kiefer. "I usually have four or five projects going on at once. [I] just keep plugging away at it. Eventually it gets done and [I[ move onto the next thing." He tries to make his work sound easy, but even with all of those different elements that he's juggling, he still managed to write 41 drafts of "The Infinite Tides", which is 400 pages long. To put that into perspective, Stephen King brags about writing 22 drafts before releasing a novel.

 

Dr. Kiefer playing a show in Washington, DC.

 

Unlike his depressed astronaut, Kiefer isn’t simply a serious man bent on career perfection, he’s actually known to some of his peers as a sort of class clown in the English department. "He always puts a comic bend on everything," says Professor Denise Engler, another one of Kiefer’s peers. "When he wants to buckle down and talk about something seriously, he will, but that’s not all that often."

Despite his apparent candidness, Kiefer comes off as aloof and presents himself with a "devil may care" attitude. He seems like a closed off man who reserves his true nature only for those he trusts. This is further evidenced by his almost empty office space, which displays little more than an Asian paper lamp and a bookshelf with books he’s read or planning to read. Where others would clutter their workspace with personal items such as family pictures, favorite books and quotes from beloved authors, or magazine clippings and posters that show their personal views, Kiefer’s office is next to bare.

One of the few things that really gives away any of the good doctor’s nature is found in that simple summary of his book. “The Infinite Tides” is about a depressed astronaut: A simple concept with a wealth of hidden depth upon active investigation. "It’s pretty rich being able to literally talk about things being adrift, right?" said Kiefer in regards to his decision to make his main character an astronaut. "You know, it’s interesting: astronauts go into space, sort of, and they actually go not very far [sic] up and then go in a big circle over and over again and then come back down." This concept directly reflects symbolically on Corcoran as a man who spent his life working and never really living.

Kiefer appears to be a man who wrestles more with his own standards than those society would set on him. He comes off as a man who cares deeply about anything that interests him, but seems to merely tolerate the expectations of others. He is an enigma: A man who looks like the embodiment of so many different labels, but is not so easily defined.

Engler stated the most accurate label that could possibly fit Keifer, "If you think outside the box, that’s Kiefer in a nutshell. His whole personage is outside the box." 

Disclosure: I am is currently a journalism student at American River College. While I have never taken a class with Dr. Kiefer, I have had classes with both Professor Engler and Professor Spurgeon.

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February 18, 2013 | 1:39 PM

I am Dr. Kiefer’s EngWr classes. I think he is an awesome teacher. I will want him for my AS EngWR requirement.

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