According to Daniel Kraus (MSLIS '05), the most beneficial course he took at the University of Illinois was Adult Popular Literature (LIS 590), in which students read a book from every popular genre—romance, western, sci-fi, fantasy, and more.
"It pushed me to not only read the genres in which I wasn't very literate, but to actually fully appreciate them, too," said Kraus. "I came to love and respect every genre I encountered and still read all of them. That broadness of reading expanded my interests and has undoubtedly improved my writing."
Now a New York Times bestselling author, Kraus has just published his twenty-first book, Whalefall, the "100% scientifically accurate story" of a scuba diver who is swallowed by an 80-foot, 60-ton sperm whale and has one hour to escape before his oxygen runs out.
"Whalefall is the ideal book to talk about in terms of the Adult Popular Lit class. Librarians have tended to shelve it in different places because it touches upon so many different genres: survival thriller, horror, sci-fi, or even just straight literary fiction. It's this reach into so many different subgenres that I suspect has been key to its popularity," said Kraus. Two months after publication, the novel is in its fifth printing and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment has optioned the book for a feature film.
In addition to novels, Kraus also writes for TV and film. With Guillermo del Toro, he coauthored The Shape of Water, based on the same idea the two created for the Oscar-winning film. Also with del Toro, Kraus coauthored Trollhunters, which was adapted into the Emmy-winning Netflix series.
Writing has always been a passion for Kraus.
"I started writing in first grade and never stopped. The first novel I ever wrote, The Monster Variations, got lucky and got published. It came out from Random House in 2009," he said.
With characters such as aliens, monsters, sentient teddy bears, and an amphibious man, it's easy to wonder how Kraus comes up with ideas for his stories.
"I position my awareness of the world in a way that allows everyday life to run through a story filter," he said. "It’s like panning for gold: that filter will catch onto something—a premise, character, piece of dialogue—and alert me that I ought to take notice and write it down. Then I sit on the idea for a month or a year or a decade until something mysterious happens and it catches fire."
Kraus' writing accolades include the Bram Stoker Award, Scribe Award, and two Odyssey Awards. His work has been translated into over 20 languages and appeared multiple times as Library Guild selections, YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, and more.
Kraus spent almost a decade writing for magazines before entering the iSchool for his master's degree in library and information science.
"I knew a few people who were librarians and they all seemed to really enjoy the profession. The whole idea appealed to me. I had never entertained going back to school again, but once the idea got into my head, I couldn't shake it," he said.
After graduation, Kraus worked in a library for a while and then at the American Library Association. He credits his MSLIS degree with giving him the research skills he still uses in his work today. For example, Whalefall took about three dedicated months to research, Kraus said.
"It has definitely been a degree that has continued to work for me year after year. Plus, I often speak to groups of librarians, and always get a little cheer when I reveal that I'm one of them," he said.
"Whether or not you end up spending your career as a librarian, you will never regret gaining the knowledge you’ll get with an MSLIS. You'll use it for the rest of your life. I can't think of any other degree I could have earned that would have allowed me to say that."
Learn more about Kraus' work at danielkraus.com.