Both books were enjoyed earlier in the month and are highly recommended.
Is the book writing full time? If not, what's the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
I’m not a full-time writer. I’ve been a firefighter here in Philadelphia for the past thirty-six years. I worked on the side as a roofer for a lot of that time, as well. Before I got on the job, I did roofing and a lot of other things.
I’ve lived a few other places and was away for two years in the service. The rest of the time, I’ve been here in the hometown.
*I'm about to read your latest offering - A Few Days Away. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less? (*Bloody loved it, one of my top reads of 2021)
A failed bank heist in a remote city left a thief injured, his partner dead and the money missing. After a couple other things didn’t pan out, he determines to return and find the money.
You've written three books to my knowledge. This one, the fantastic Three Hours Past Midnight and a collection of short stories, Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties - do you have a
favourite of the bunch?
I’d have to say this last one. I’d like to think I’m getting better as I go along.
Which one are you most proud of?
Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?
I’m not sure. I’ve written my novels around a serial character, but I’ve taken pains to make them all stand alone. I started with the guy in a short story titled “Mister Wonderful,” that was published in my collection, Happy Hour.
Do you have a favourite format to work in? Novel, novella, short story?
I gravitate toward longer stuff.
Initially, I never set out to write a novel. I’d written some short things but realized the new piece I was working on was forty pages long and nowhere near finished. I thought to myself, “Oh, shit. I’m writing a book.”
Can you remember what your first published piece was and when?
A story titled “Falling.” Published by Static Movement Online in 2007.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
I did when I started to write seriously. I made a point of waking an hour early and using that time to write. I’m not on any schedule now but I was able to quit the side job a while ago and have more time.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
All the time, in varying degrees.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like?
Oh, yes, I need to picture the end, early in the project. Failing that, I let the story rest until I do. I don’t have to know how I’ll get there, but I need to know where I’m going.
Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
A bit of both, but I fall more into the plotter category.
Are there any subjects off limits?
I’ll neither write a rape nor a suicide scene. I’ve tried both and trashed them. Neither felt right. My stuff tends to be dark, anyway. I don’t mind something creepy, but it needs to be fun to read, and those weren’t
How long from conception to completion did A Few Days Away take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
That’s a difficult question. I thought about it as I was writing that first short story about the guy, and often since, but I knew he was too smart to go back and try to chase lost money. He recovered from his injury and took the job I wrote about in Three Hours Past Midnight. That also didn’t go the way he’d expected. I needed his frustration to overcome his better judgement before A Few Days Away felt right.
And yes, there was a big bump in the road and the story sat for a while.
Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?
It was fairly close to what I’d intended, at least the basic framework was. Making it work was the challenge. There were some integral scenes that I knew had to happen, but I couldn’t imagine what they would look like. I wrote around them until knew.
Was there one spark or germ of imagination which started the story off in your minds?
One that started the character, yes. As I mentioned earlier, I first wrote about him in my short story “Mister Wonderful.” It started with a visual—I saw the man alone in a car that had run off the road, tumbled down a hill and come to rest, upside down, in a shallow, icy stream. His collarbone is broken, and he hears a siren.
From that much, I wrote a story and two novels.
I've seen it marketed as a kind of second in series after Three Hours. What's the connection between the two books? Same protagonist or something else?
Same protagonist, two weeks later.
Your latest is published by Brash Books, who might also have republished your two earlier offerings.
(Brash is one of my favourite Indie publishers.) How did you hook up with those guys?
I found Brash when I started reading Ralph Dennis and his Hardman novels. I forget who told me about him, but I got the first in the series, Atlanta Deathwatch and loved it. I learned that Lee Goldberg had started Brash to republish the books. He did a really nice job with them. I heard other good things about Lee and Brash Books, so when A Few Days Away was ready, I wanted to try my luck.
Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
I have three unpublished novels. I wouldn’t call them gems. The first was pretty bad. The next two were better but I couldn’t get any play.
I look at them sometimes, but I’m not too interested in doing anything with them. I’m on to different stuff.
What's the current project in progress?
My narrator will try to steal something in a New Jersey shore town. He’s going to have trouble.
What's the best thing about writing?
The best moments are when a character surprises you—really, you surprise yourself, but you’ll be pecking away at the keyboard, and it seems like they do or say something you hadn’t expected. When that happens, it feels like you’re on to something.
Ultimately, I’m writing for myself, trying to write something that I would have fun reading. When other people enjoy reading it too, it’s a blast.
When you’ve been at a story so long that you can’t tell if you like it.
If you’re writing short stories, or poetry, I suppose, you can wait for inspiration. If you’re writing a novel, you have to get to it, pretty much every day, whether you’re feeling it or not. The worst times happen on those days. It feels like work.
What are the last five books you've read?
True Fiction by Lee Goldberg
The Charleston Knife is Back in Town by Ralph Dennis
Orphan Road by my friend Andrew Nette (I got an early look at this)
The Burglar by Thomas Perry
and I’m looking forward to starting Every Hidden Thing by my friend and fellow smoke-eater, Ted Flanagan
Who do you read and enjoy?
Tons and tons of people. The usuals—Hammett, Thompson, Stark, Ellroy, George V., Perry, Barclay, etc. Lots of newer people. Matt Coyle. I just found out about Lou Berney and I’m loving his stuff.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Too many. I’ll get jealous if I list them.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
Playing music. I’ve played out in bands for a few decades. I’m not very good but it’s great fun.
What's the last film you watched that rocked you?
I watched The Limey again. Twenty years old and still fresh.
TV addict or not? What's the must watch show in the Knighton household?
I hope Bob Odenkirk is okay. I have to see the last season of Better Call Saul.
What are the last three pieces of music you've listened to?
Tower of Power - Step Up
Pat Ramsey and the Blues Disciples - Live at the Grand
Ray Charles - one of his Atlantic albums, I forget the name
RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS
What's your favourite vegetable?
When did you last have a fist fight?
In the service. I’m pretty sure I lost.
Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?
Do you have any tattoos?
No. My mother always said, “Never get tattooed, son. It makes you too easily identified by the police.” Smart woman, my mother was.
What was your first pet's name?
I think it was a mutt named Reno.
In thirty-six years, there have been three firehouse meals I couldn’t eat. One was a stew cooked in a pot that hadn’t been rinsed after washing. We were all blowing Palmolive bubbles after the first bite. Another was some sort of seafood over rice, that was so salty it could have melted the polar icecap.
But the worst was a mysterious bowlful of something that I took one bite of. I put my money on the table, dumped the bowl in the trash and sat on the bench outside. I figured that way, if the ambulance had to come for me, I’d have a fighting chance.
Do you have any irrational fears?
No. All of my fears are rational.
What's your favourite vacation destination?
Wherever it is my wife wants to go.
When did you last tell a lie?