Author Interview with Keith Knapp, Author of Moonlight

Keith Knapp has been doing one form of writing or another since he was a kid. He started with short stories then moved to screenplays when he discovered a love for movies during high school. During this time he also became heavily involved in music (playing drums), and still does to this day. After moving from Chicago (where he attended film school) to Los Angeles to pursue a screenwriting career, Keith eventually found himself turning a movie idea of his into his first novel, Moonlight. It wasn’t by choice; the story simply wasn’t working as a script. Since then he’s devoted himself full-time to writing novels. He currently lives in Van Nuys with his three cats.

What compelled you to write your first book?

Oddly enough nothing compelled me to do it – it just happened. I had an idea for a movie where one day nothing worked anymore: no power, no watches, no cars, no cell phones, nothing. You know, things went back to the very beginning for people. Very Twilight Zone-ish. I worked on the script for maybe a year, and it just wasn’t happening. Someone suggested I try it as a book. Since I really liked the idea, really wanted to see what the characters I had so far had would do in such a situation, I gave it a go. Two years later I had Moonlight.

Tell us a little bit about your book/s.

Moonlight starts off with my original concept: one day nothing works anymore. Cars, power, watches, anything and everything electrical. Then The Reason for all that shows up in the form of one man – you can call him the Devil, Pure Evil, whatever you like – and it turns very supernatural and George Romero-ish. There are zombies (although not technically “zombies,” but the term works) because, wouldn’t you know it, us humans have really made a mess of this place, our bad guy knows this, and all he’s really trying to do is start things over. I’m really bad at summing up my own work, as you can tell. A bunch of other stuff happens and maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t.

Are you currently working on any writing projects our readers should watch for release soon?

I’m currently in re-writes on my second novel, Coda, about what happens to a group of people right after they die. I’ve also completed my first short story in maybe 20 years, The Boy Next Door, which is currently making rounds for publication. I hope to have both out by the end of the year.

Have you ever won any writing awards? If so, what?

I won a screenwriting award my senior year in high school for a short script (which I later shot myself). The script was pretty good, the movie itself was terrible (if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that I’m not a filmmaker), and I think it’s that award that pushed me to follow writing as a dream. It’s the only award I’ve one, the only contest (or what-have-you) that something of mine’s been entered in, and I didn’t even enter it – one of my teachers did – so you have him to blame. You know, a group of people comes out one day and says, “Hey man, this thing you wrote ain’t bad, so here’s an award and some money, keep it up.” I think once I knew that people outside of my group of friends and family was liking what I was doing, that’s when things clicked with me.

How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?

It was very surreal. And shiny. That was the first thing I noticed: the cover was shiny. I’m easily impressed by shiny things. Then there was about ten minutes of me paging through it and trying to grasp that 100,000 words I had written were now in this book format that anyone could buy – and man, it looked like a book, you know? My name was on every page. After those ten minutes, even though that feeling of accomplishment stayed with me, I put the book down and went back to work on Coda, ’cause really it’s the writing that’s important.

What type of music, if any, do you listen to while you write?

I’m a huge Metallica fan, but I’ll go back and forth between having them on and having complete silence. Usually when I’m doing a first draft I need complete silence – I’m in that world, I’m those characters, and a lot of times there’s no music in that world, so I choose to have no music in my world, either. But during re-writes, when my brain is a little more open, I’ll toss on “The Black Album” or “Death Magnetic.”

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?

A little angry golumn-type thing that’s in my chest. If I don’t write every day, he gets very mad.

The main characters of your stories – do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?

All the characters start out as me – or a part of me, at least. Write what you know. But as the story evolves, so do the characters. By the end of the first draft, while parts of me are still in every character, they’ve also developed their own voices, their own motivations, sometimes very different from my own. They end up with their own way of talking and doing things, which wouldn’t be how I’d do things. So during re-writes, now that I know these people better, it’s very easy to see where they stray.

For each of my two novels, about halfway through the first draft is when the characters start to really speak to me and take over. It’s then that I no longer know where the story is going or how they’re gonna get out of this situation or that event – I don’t do outlines. For example, in Moonlight there is a very long section where the characters are trapped in a high school. I had no idea how to get them out of there. The Devil had them trapped in there, so how do you get out of that? It was figured out, and not by me, but by one of the characters – which I was of course very thankful for.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your own writing? Do you have a writing mentor?

I think if for nothing else than his prose, it’s Stephen King. He’s not what I call a Flowery Writer. He doesn’t try to impress you with big words or show off with word play and such. He’s just telling you a story, which is what I try to do. I prefer, when I’m reading, to not be aware that I’m reading at all. I like that feeling of just sitting there with the author, in their head, and he/she is showing you this movie. King is a master at this.

Do you have any pets? What are they? Tell us about them.

I have three cats – Jonsey, Ripley and Padme – and they’re my family. They pull me up when I’m down, make me laugh when I’m down, and sleep a lot, which is great when I need silence.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like?

I have this old desk, had it since I was 17, I think. I write on an old computer – it must be ten years old by now – in MSWord. I really don’t need anything more than a typewriter, but a computer of course makes it easier to fix your mistakes – which I make a lot of. A computer is also great for breaks; I usually take a break once an hour, jump on You Tube for some Metallica or Guns N’ Roses videos. I’ve tried writing by hand, but only when the ol’ computer’s broken and I have no choice. I really don’t like writing this way not because it’s time consuming but because from all my years of drumming I’ve developed carpel tunnel syndrome in my right hand which flares up if I use a pen too much.

Do you watch television? If so, what are your favorite shows? Does television influence of inspire your writing?

I watch way too much TV, and I think growing up in the “TV Generation” has affected how I write. I tend to go for very short, snappy scenes and chapters and end up with a lot of characters. I love 24 and am a huge Star Trek fan. I’m spending a lot of time now with the new BluRay set of the original Trek series that just came out. No one beats Shatner.

What about movies? Same as above.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you Star Wars. And yes, I even like the prequels. Now that I think about it, I believe that’s why I usually end up with so many characters; there are lots of different characters in Star Wars, and love ’em or hate ’em, each character serves a purpose and is vey unique.

How long does it take you to write a book? When you started writing, did you think it would take that long (or short)?

It took about two years to complete Moonlight, although I’d had the idea for a number of years. I envisioned it’d take about two years, and ended up being right. Coda has also taken me about two years to complete, so I think I’m good for a book every two years.

Is there anyone you’d like to specifically acknowledge who has inspired, motivated, encouraged or supported your writing?

My mother. Writing all those short stories as a kid, man, I made her read them all and she loved them all. Of course, she was my mom, so she was bound to love them. I think it’s a law. We move over to my father – I made him read them all, too – and he’d actually give me feedback to improve my writing. I think between the two of them they created a good balance for what I needed to move on. My mother has since passed away, but I still make my father read everything. And yes, he still gives me that all-important feedback.

Many authors have said that naming their characters is a difficult process, almost like choosing a name for their own child. How did you select the names of some of your lead characters in your book/s?

For me, a name is just a name. Pick one. I’ve had difficulty with last names, but now with the internet you can look up the meanings of various last names – there’s a huge online dictionary of just last names. It’s all organic. When I first start writing a novel, I’m meeting these people for the first time just like you when you go to read it – I don’t feel like I’m “creating” characters but more telling someone’s story. Those people tell me what their names are. It usually works out pretty well. I’ve been told a lot of the names in Moonlight have dual-meanings in the greater scene, but I never planned that.

Have you ever had a character take over a story and move it in a different direction than you had originally intended? How did you handle it?

As with the high school sequence in Moonlight, eventually the characters will dictate the story for me and bring it to a close, and I just let this happen. It really isn’t writing anymore at that point – it’s them telling me the story in my head and all I’m doing is typing it. I look at it kind of like sculpting. I start out with a lump of clay – that’s the idea. I eventually get it to look like a vase, let’s say. But only I can tell it’s a vase – it might look like an ashtray to you, or maybe still just a lump of clay. Then through re-writing, that’s when it gets scuplted by the characters, that’s when it begins to look more like a vase to everyone – what color it is, what kind of flowers are in it, how big it is – and it’s always the characters that do the sculpting. For this reason, this kind of “organic” writing, I tend to do five or six complete drafts per book.

Is there any lesson or moral you hope your story might reveal to those who read it?

I don’t like lessons and morals in stories, but they’re always there. I think whatever you pull out of a story, that’s that moral or lesson for you at that point in your life. All I’m striving for is to entertain some folks, help them kill some time, show them some fun stuff. If they get more out of it, great. If they get just a good read, great.

Now, anything you want your readers to know?

Moonlight can most easily be found on any of the popular websites: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. To learn more about Keith and keep up-to-date with what he’s working on, you can visit him on My Space at: myspace.com/keithknapp

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