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From Judaism to atheism to Christ

Q&A | Crime writer Andrew Klavan takes a turn at writing for young adults—but without the puppies

Issue: "Tiananmen massacre," June 6, 2009

Andrew Klavan, 54, is a terrific writer of adult thrillers ("Too nice for vice," Feb. 10, 2007) who publicly declared his Christian beliefs several years ago. His latest novel, and his first aimed at "young adults" (grades 8–11) is The Last Thing I Remember (Thomas Nelson, 2009). Here are excerpts from our discussion.

You grew up Jewish, with a Bar Mitzvah at 13? I was given Jewish training but at the same time was very explicitly and implicitly instructed not to take any of it seriously. My mother was and is to this day a complete atheist, and my father hedged his bets a little bit but didn't know what he thought. I was being inculcated in something that I was told was essentially nonsense. The result was that I felt completely inauthentic. 

Inauthentic—and then you headed off to University of California, Berkeley, 3,000 miles away. If the country had continued another 3,000 miles, I would be there. If I could have spoken Japanese I would be there. Yes, I was trying very hard to get away from home and get away from that life that I had grown up in. 

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What was your experience in college? I wasted my college years. I drank as much as I possibly could and chased as many women as I could get close to (which wasn't very many). Because I could write well I was able to fake my way through classes. I barely read any of the books. In fact I once wrote an essay on William Blake, his "Visions of the Daughters of Albion" which is one of my favorite poems, but at the time I didn't know whether it was a poem or an engraving. I got an A- on it. But all the while, for reasons I didn't know at the time, I bought the books. When I got out of school and it came to me that I had thrown away this precious thing, my education, I read every one of them and gave myself an education. 

You met your wife there. At one point I was walking back to my car and I saw a beautiful hitchhiker. I went running to get my car. I had to go around a one-way grid and almost killed an old woman while cutting up the sidewalk trying to get to this hitchhiker. She was so beautiful I figured someone was going to pick her up right away. Then I pulled up and casually said, "Are you going my way?" I abducted her and haven't let her go for 30 years. 

Then you became a newspaper reporter. Yes. I loved being a reporter. The office leaked when it rained. We all smoked cigarettes and typed on these IBM Selectrics. 

Then a script reader? That was an act of desperation. While I was a reporter I published my first novel and I thought, I'm in. I've done it. So I quit my job as a reporter. The novel disappeared without a trace and I couldn't get into print again for five years. We were eating spaghetti every night. We had cardboard boxes because we couldn't afford shelves. It was just awful. 

What kept you going? I tell people who want to be writers, "Don't do it unless you have to." I love my work. I wake up Monday morning and I am thrilled to get back to work. I am compelled. It seems to be my calling. If it weren't, it would be so much easier. 

Did you develop a writing discipline? I wrote my first novel when I was 14. I was a big fan of Raymond Chandler, Hemingway, all those guys. I had read a wonderful book of Chandler's letters. In it he said something like you should spend four hours every day doing nothing else but writing. I took that very seriously. That became my discipline. 

I'll ask one of the dumb questions that people ask writers: Where do you get your ideas? I was a crime reporter so I saw a lot of interesting criminal stories. I still use them as inspiration. I've seen a lot of things since then and I use that, too. I once walked out of my apartment in college and sat on a Greyhound bus and went to Mardi Gras. I wanted broad experience. Over time thought has become a lot more important to me. 

Did a particular character or plot idea start you off on your early novels? All my skill and all my desire was always in crime and mystery. My daughter was still little and I would check on her. I remember walking across the room and thinking, What if I looked in there and she was gone? That was the kind of idea that I could work with forever. And I always reached a point with all my stories where I felt, What does this mean? 


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