Author/Screenwriter Andrew Klavan

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Andrew Klavan is the author of many popular novels for both adults and youth, two of which have been adapted to film. He also works as a journalist and screenwriter.

I was recently given the opportunity to interview Mr. Klavan for Teen Ink.

Rachel- Tell us about yourself.

Andrew Klavan- Ah, well, {laughs} I'm not sure where to begin!

I'm a novelist, a screenwriter and a journalist. I have written a lot of novels for adults, but recently I started writing for young adults. I wrote The Homelanders, a series of thrillers for young adults. I also write a lot of essays and journals.

RH- How did you become interested in writing?

AK- I always wanted to be a storyteller. I remember writing stories when I was in elementary school. It didn't form into a desire for profession until later on. I mean, I was probably in 7th or 8th grade when I started to think that this is what I wanted to do.

I guess it was because I loved reading and certain books meant a lot to me. Especially some of the great American mystery novels, like books by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett... [Those] meant a lot to me and I wanted to write books that meant a lot to other people.

RH- What's the biggest difference between screenwriting and writing a novel?

AK- It's a huge difference!

When you are writing a novel, it's like being an architect: Every moment that occurs is created by you. If a person walks across the room, you have to create the room, the person, his thoughts; everything.

But if you're writing a screenplay, you really just write, “He walks across the room.” It's more like being a carpenter; you're building the framework for others to flesh out. The actors, directors and so on give it the other dimensions.

RH- Which do you prefer writing?

AK- {laughs} I love writing novels! Writing screenplays is very exciting and fun, especially because you get to work with other people; writing novels is lonely. But when it comes to the actual act of creation, nothing beats the thrill and delight of writing prose.

RH- How much say do the screenwriters have in the actual plot of a movie-script?

AK- Actually, very little! That's one of the reasons that people who only write screenplays end up very unhappy. You can be fired off your own screenplay, have it taken away and totally changed; and you're pretty low on the power list. If the director or the movie-star wants to change it, it's hard for you to fight that fight on the basis that you're the expert in storytelling and know what will come out better.

It can be pretty frustrating when people who don't know how to tell stories take something away from you and change it. So, it's something you have to live with as a screenwriter. The smartest thing I think you can do is always continue to write things that belong only to you so that you have an outlet for your own creativity, and a means to express your own ideas.

RH- What's been your favorite movie to work on?

AK- Oh, you know, I wrote a movie called The Shock to the System which I really enjoyed writing. I've written a lot of ghost stories, most of which haven't been made. You know, they've been sold, but so far they haven't made it onto the screen.

I love ghost stories! I'm just a ghost story fanatic! I don't get to write them as prose or short stories as often as I would like to, so I've always enjoyed writing them as screenplays.

RH- What's your favorite ghost story?

AK- {laughs} My favorite ghost story is probably The Monkey's Paw. I know that's a pretty classic one. I've read huge, huge amounts of ghost stories, but The Monkey's Paw is still the most perfectly shaped, shortest, most condensed and most frightening story I've ever read.

I've also loved the stories of M.R James, who wrote right on the turn of the last century. He was a master of the British ghost story, and I love his stories as well.

RH- What was the inspiration behind The Homelanders series?

AK- Thomas Nelson came to me and asked me if I would be interested in writing for young people and I jumped at the chance. I had done it once before as a screenwriter and I just loved it.

I'm very aware that there's a lot of entertainment competition for young people. I wanted to write a story that would be as exciting and as gripping as novels were to me when I was a kid. I play video games and I love [them]. I know how gripping [they can] be and I wanted to write a story that was like that.

So, I came up with a story that I thought would interest teens and preteens: It's about somebody who wakes up one morning and finds that his life has changed completely, and everything's different than it was before.

I think that's an experience I remember having as a young person that one minute you're kind of a child and the next minute you're a young adult. It happens very fast. You have to suddenly make a lot of decisions and choices that you didn't have to make before.

So I sort of put that into an adventure story context which I thought would be really exciting.

RH- What can fans expect in upcoming Homelanders stories?

AK- The Homelanders series is over. There's four of them. The last one, The Final Hour, wrapped up the series. The Homelanders was not an ongoing thing. The first book posed a single question, which was “How did Charlie West get into the terrible mess that he was in?” (He went to sleep in his own bed one night and woke up captured by terrorists. How did he get there?) That question was answered in The Final Hour.

So, I'm not going to continue the series after that.

RH- What's been your favorite book to write?

AK- Ah, you know, it's always the last one you write! You love the last one the best.

I have to say, I loved writing The Last Thing I Remember, the first book in The Homelanders series; I was just meeting Charlie; just getting to know him. I really loved putting together the story and what was gonna happen. I don't like series very often, so I really enjoyed building the story that could continue into the next three books. That was really fun!

But it's really hard to pick [a favorite]. It's like picking your favorite child. You know, you love them all.

RH- Who are some of your favorite authors?

AK- Well, I really grew up loving, what you would call, the American tough-guy writers. Guys like Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I grew up loving [them].

As I got older, I branched out and found other writers that I also loved; Tolstoy, Henry James, and of course, more than anyone else, I love William Shakespeare! I know [that's] kind of a corny answer. {laughs} (Everybody who understands him, loves William Shakespeare.) But I find myself, every couple of years, reading all his plays over again. There was nobody who understood drama and human nature better than he did. So he's a constant inspiration.

RH- Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

AK- You know, I don't really know the answer to that question! It's kind of what I started with. If I didn't have stories that I needed to tell, I wouldn't do this. You know?

People always ask me, “Where do your ideas come from?” And the answer is, “If they didn't come, I wouldn't be doing this.” They just appear all the time. The trick is knowing which one is going to work; which one is important; which one is going to grip people; which one is going to say something about life that's worth saying.

So, it's really not question of having ideas, it's a question of picking the idea that's going to make the best story.

RH- What has been a book or author that has helped shape your career?

AK- There's a novel called Crime and Punishment, by a Russian writer named Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Have you heard of that?

RH- Maybe. I'm not sure.

AK- Okay. It's one of the great, great novels of the world. I read it when I was 19 years old and it changed everything! It changed the way I look at life, what I thought about human nature and about speaking itself. It changed everything.

I read it again about two years ago, and realized that so much of what I've tried to put down on paper comes out of that book; so much of my own life and what I've thought about life comes out of that book.

So, I have to say, that's a book that has moved and changed me profoundly.

RH- What's the biggest difference in writing juvenile and adult fiction?

AK- You know? That's a really good question! It's not really different except for the character whose point of view you're writing from. And that, of course, changes everything.

I've written stories where the lead was a woman, a guy, a kid; all kinds of different races; all kinds of different things. It's the person who is experiencing the story who sets the terms of the story.

It's not different in any kind of basic way. It's just different because the person involved is a younger person and is seeing the world through younger eyes.

A certain amount of novel writing is like acting. You have to be able to get into various characters' heads and create them. (Fortunately you don't have to do it on stage, which would be terrifying!) {laughs} But you do have to do it in the privacy of your workshop.

RH- Would you please share with us your testimony of Salvation?

AK- Sure. {laughs} It's a long story, so I won't go into the whole thing. It wasn't a kind of Road to Damascus shock. It was a really long journey.

I was born and raised a Jew. So I had a long way to go. I was not born into that fold, as it were. I kind of lost my faith, very early on. I walked away from religion. I felt it was dishonest. I felt I was being dishonest by trying to participate in any religion at all.

I went through a period where I was an atheist. That wasn't very long. Mostly I was just an agnostic who just thought that there was no way you could know the answers, so there was no point in thinking about it.

But I do a lot of reading and thinking about these things, and over time I began to realize that the answer that you can't know is incomplete. What I was really saying was that you can't prove anything, which is different than not being able to know or believe.

Ultimately what happened was I experimented with a prayer. You know, I said a prayer of thanks for all the good things in my life: my wife, my children, my work. It was very short. It was just a thank you. I found that the response that came to me was so electric, so enlightening, so powerful that it woke me up. Suddenly I was not only experiencing the things that were happening; I was experiencing gratitude on a new level. I was experiencing life on a new level.

So, I continued to pray. As I prayed, my relationship with God developed and deepened, until finally, I realized (it was quite a shock, I have to tell you) that I wanted to be baptized. I realized that I had come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Really, it's funny, I know some people come to God through Christ, but I came to Christ really through God, by understanding that the God that I believed in was the God of Christ.

That was a very shocking revelation because it meant leaving the religion of my birth, possibly offending people in my family, my friends. But it was the only thing I could do to live an honest and authentic life.

It was one of the great experiences and one of the great turning points of my life.

RH- What new projects are you currently working on?

AK- I've written a new book for Thomas Nelson called Crazy Dangerous [which] come out in May, I think. And it's a stand-alone. It's a novel that starts and ends on its own. It's different, but it is an adventure novel.

It's about a kid who befriends a girl who is suffering from hallucinations, and begins to believe that her hallucinations are a prophecy of something terrible that's going to happen, and that he has to try and stop it.

It's a different kind of novel, but still, I hope, an exciting adventure.

I'm working on another young adult novel, and also I just handed in a novel for one of my adult thrillers, which I am very happy to have finished.

I've also been doing a lot of political writing.

RH- What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

AK- I have three pieces of advice:

First is read everything. Don't just read what was written now. Start by reading what you love, what's kind of like what you want to write. But don't forget to read all the great books: Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Tolstoy. You'll learn things from them that you just aren't going to get from writers today.

[Second is] write and rewrite. If you sit down as an experiment and write a paragraph and just rewrite it until it sparkles; until it sings. Teach yourself what it is that you can do, what your voice is, what comes naturally to you, what sounds right to you. If you ever hear yourself complain that you don't have the discipline, or you're not writing, use the time you would have spent complaining and write. {laughs} Write as much as you can.

And the final thing is don't worry so much about the career part of it. So many writers spend a lot of time trying to meet people and make contacts and shake hands with this one or e-mail that one. Worry about getting your writing to the point where you're so proud of it that you have to show it to people! If you do that, the career will take care of itself. If you're that good, if you work that hard, you'll find that your career will work and you'll get to the right people and the right people will find you.





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