Interview with Andrew Klavan

Welcome back to the Mysterion interviews feature, where we talk to other Christians doing interesting work in the field of speculative fiction! This month's interview is with Andrew Klavan, whose book, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, we reviewed last week.

How would you describe your spiritual and/or religious beliefs, and how would you say they influence your writing?

I'm a Christian — an Episcopalian — which means I believe in the Nicene Creed: the father, son and holy ghost, the salvific sacrifice of Christ and so on. I wrote about my conversion experience at length in my memoir, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. But whether you believe in God or not, the facts on the ground remain exactly the same. People cheat, steal, lie, murder, die. Life's unfair and sad. So I just try to tell the truth. I get a lot of letters that say: You call yourself a Christian and yet your characters do awful things. As if God were God of some magical make-believe kingdom in which only good things happen. No. God is God of the real world, so I write about the real world.

Why do you think you became a writer?

I write about this in my memoir too. I was an unhappy guy as a child and I escaped into daydreaming. But I've always had this strange quirk where I demand that things make sense. Like when people say, "Oh, there's no difference between men and women — that's just a cultural construct," or "Islam is the religion of peace," I just crack up. I can't take nonsense seriously. So I always worked very hard to make my daydreams make sense, and that turned them into stories. Of course that led me to reading other people's stories and that was a real path for me to a better worldview and a bigger idea of life. So writing was a natural next step.

From what you've said, it sounds like you've only recently begun to write speculative fiction. What did you write before, and why are you writing speculative fiction now?

I wrote almost exclusively hardboiled crime stories before, True CrimeDon't Say a WordEmpire of Lies, very down to earth crime stuff with a sort of Hitchcockian normal-guy-caught-up-in-strange-events vibe. But as my worldview expanded to take in the spiritual I was faced with the problem: how do you continue to represent the real world while putting forward a view that there is another level? I started experimenting with more speculative genres, and the combination of my very hardboiled down-to-earth worldview and some new ideas about other realms has created, I think, some of my most interesting work. Check out Werewolf Cop, a novel, and Another Kingdom, a podcast, and you'll see what I mean.

What themes do you feel like you keep coming back to in your writing?

All my early fiction was about truth. Is there such a thing? How do we know? What do we do with our doubts? I think right about the time I wrote True Crime I began to feel, no, we do know, but we can't always prove what we know. Like Jefferson said, some truths are self-evident. Axioms, the math guys call them. So now, I've moved to bigger subjects, what do we know about the moral world? How do we make sense of what we know? How hard is it to live by this knowledge? What are the challenges? I think it has vastly increased both the realism and the depth of my stuff.

Your book, The Great Good Thing, talks about your journey to Christian faith. Can you tell us a little about that, and about what led you to write this book? Is there any particular event in your life that started you on that journey?

Some Christians get annoyed with me because I never had a Road to Damascus moment. You know, a sudden revelation that changed everything. Instead, 35 years of thought just slowly led me to the realization that much of what people say — there's no such thing as truth, morality is relative, you can believe in morality without God — doesn't really add up. Step by step, I began to follow my reason rather than the popular ideas of the day. 

One thing you don't talk about in The Great Good Thing is your politics. You're well known for your conservative activism. Is that something you came to before your religious conversion, or afterwards? Do you feel that one led to the other, or that they're orthogonal?

Well, similar processes led to both changes, but they happened on parallel tracks. I came of age during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. In terms of the press, it was almost exactly like the Trump administration. According to the press, Reagan was an idiot, he was a warmonger, he was going to destroy the country and the world. I believed all that. Then, everything Reagan said would happen happened. Lower taxes spurred the economy. The Berlin Wall came down — something no one but Reagan believed would happen. The Soviet Union did, in fact, turn out to have been an evil empire. After that, the only thing stopping me from becoming a conservative was that, like every good liberal, I knew conservatives were evil! Then I found out that wasn't true either, and it was all over. I changed my religious view because of the facts too, but it was just an entirely separate process.

Are your faith and politics ever in tension? Do either make it difficult for you to write certain stories?

The world and the spirit are always in tension. In fact, that's what most good stories are actually about. The mistake that Christians make is thinking that Jesus solves the world's problems — he was very clear about this: he said "My kingdom is not of this world." The mistake atheists makes is thinking you can play by Christian rules without the underlying faith. They think, as T.S. Eliot said, they can construct a system so perfect that no one will need to be good. That's how you wind up killing and silencing people you disagree with. But yes, there are some stories I won't do. I had a couple of chances to write horror movies that I thought qualified as torture porn — stories that had no other purpose than to arouse young men with images of naked women being torn to pieces. I said to one executive: "When a man with a butcher knife is chasing a girl across the screen, I'm rooting for the girl." That was the end of that meeting!

According to The Great Good Thing, one of your greatest fears on your journey to faith was that you would become a "Christian novelist", "reduced to penning saccharine fluff". Is this something that you're still concerned about? Have your views on Christian fiction changed at all?

No. My views remain the same. There's some great Christian stories out there but they don't look "Christian" at all. The HBO show The Sopranos, for instance. A deeply moral story with strong Judaeo-Christian underpinnings. But most Christians can't see that through the sex, violence and cursing. They're missing out on how art works.

You also write a serial podcast called Another Kingdom; can you tell us more about that?

It's been such an exciting project. It's a fantasy-suspense story about an ordinary guy who finds himself a murder suspect in a bizarre fantasy world. Instead of publishing it as a novel, I got my actor pal Michael Knowles to voice it and we put it up as a serial podcast. It's had something like 300-thousand plus downloads. Over 1,700 five star ratings. Great reviews. I'm not sure whether I'll publish the novel myself or try to sell it, but I'd like to do two more seasons.

The protagonist in Another Kingdom, Austin Lively, is a Hollywood scriptwriter and reader. Do you see yourself in that character?

I started out many, many years ago doing that exact job. And while I've done very well in Hollywood, selling a lot of scripts until people found out about my politics, I've also taken my share of knocks and seen a lot of guys and girls who just didn't make it. So it's not my story, but I know some of Austin's pain.

What books or authors most influenced you when you first started writing? What are some of your favorites now?

It was the tough guys I loved. Raymond Chandler, Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett. Then I discovered Shakespeare and he really is my lodestar, even today: action, romance, profundity and beautiful writing. The playwright Tom Stoppard is probably my favorite living writer. I also love Patrick O'Brian's sea stories, Tom Wolfe, Stephen Sondheim the musical writer, and Donna Tartt. And I like Gillian Flynn — a satirist masquerading as a thriller writer: good stuff.

Do you have any stories you want to write someday, but aren't yet ready to?

Yes. And at my back I always hear time's winged chariot hurrying near, so I work very hard, hoping I'll have time for my pen to glean my teeming brain. That's two poetry quotations in one sentence. Not bad. 

What do you do besides writing? How do you think that influences your writing?

Well, I have a podcast. That's a lot of work, takes up a lot of time. And exercise and travel. A lot of my old hobbies — tennis, karate, flying planes — have fallen by the wayside. Now I just have this urge to make as many things as I can before the ref calls time. 

How much time would you estimate that you spend writing in an average week?

Probably about 20 hours just writing, doing nothing else. But more than that, if you count times when I'm working at the computer.

Do you tend to plot out your stories first, or just start writing and see where they go?

I am a huge outliner. I really believe in it. I want to know every scene before I start. Sometimes the story changes as it goes, but at least I have a plan. It means I can write without thinking about it, and just enjoy the process of creating.

What's the first thing you do after you finish the first draft of a story? Do you start revising right away, or wait?

The first thing? Probably pour myself a Scotch. Then, yeah, I wait a while before I go back to it, give myself some distance, get some reads.

Do you have a critique group or beta readers?

First and foremost, there's my wife. I know I sound like a fond husband, and I am, but she is one of the best editors I've ever met. My process is, she reads it, critiques it, I scream at her and tell her she doesn't know what she's talking about, then I do what she says. It works great.

What are you working on now?

I just now finished putting together the novel manuscript of Another Kingdom.

What advice would you give to authors who'd like to see their work published but aren't there yet?

Read. Read everything, not just stuff you like. Read classics, especially. Study how it's done. And learn grammar. If you've never taken a class in it, read a grammar workbook cover to cover and do the exercises. Otherwise, you're like a carpenter who doesn't know which end of the hammer to hold.

Andrew Klavan is the author of such internationally bestselling crime novels as True Crime, filmed by Clint Eastwood, Don't Say a Word, filmed starring Michael Douglas, and Empire of Lies. He has been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award five times and has won twice. He wrote the screenplays to “A Shock to The System,” which starred Michael Caine, and “One Missed Call,” which starred Edward Burns. His political satire videos have been viewed by tens of millions of people, and he currently does a popular podcast, The Andrew Klavan Show, at The Daily Wire. His most recent book is a memoir of his religious journey, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. His most recent fiction is the fantasy-suspense podcast Another Kingdom.

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