Andrew Klavan joins Paul Beston on a special summertime edition of 10 Blocks to discuss faith, depression, and redemption—the focus of his memoir, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ.
Klavan is an award-winning and bestselling author, Hollywood screenwriter, political commentator, and contributing editor for City Journal. But before his books became films starring Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas, severe depression took him to the brink of suicide.
Klavan credits reading Western literature as a crucial life-giving support; it eventually helped lead to his conversion to Christianity. His is a universal tale that all listeners can appreciate and enjoy.
Paul Beston: Hello, I’m Paul Beston, managing editor of City Journal, and I am joined today by Andrew Klavan, a contributing editor of the magazine and a bestselling and award-winning author of many books, as well as being a screenwriter, an essayist, and host of The Andrew Klavan Show, a podcast on The Daily Wire. Drew is here today to talk about an unusual book in his large canon, his recent spiritual memoir, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. And with a subtitle like that, Drew, I hope that Werewolf Cop is selling lots of copies. Thanks for joining us.
Andrew Klavan: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Paul Beston: But in all seriousness, wherever listeners may be on the religious continuum, this book is a great read. It’s deeply affecting. It is utterly unpretentious, written with the candor and grace of a man who spent a lifetime trying to figure out, for lack of a more original term, what it all means. And if a spiritual memoir can be a page-turner, I would say this is one. And it’s a page-turner because Drew, even when writing about a topic like this, never loses sight of his principle vocation, which is being a storyteller. The book is filled with stories, smaller stories that illuminate the larger story of your religious conversion. So, with that idea in mind, about story and narrative, I mean, a key theme of this narrative is narrative. And, you know, how important stories have been, how important stories are for all of us, obviously, in form and meaning, but particularly for you. I mean, it really goes back to the very beginning in your life. So, I thought maybe you could describe a little bit about how you were really quite young, how stories became such an integral part of the way you viewed the world and part of your imagination.
Andrew Klavan: I really think it began with the fact that I didn’t have a very good relationship with my father, as I detail in the book. And I think I was looking for a role model, you know, young boys need role models and I think I was looking for role models I couldn’t find in the world, models of manhood. I wasn’t, you know, one of those kids who was always in a book and always reading, but there came a point when I started to discover largely through following the tastes of my older brother, you know, who I looked up to. I found these people they describe as the tough guy writers, guys like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and I started to find models of manhood that, you know, I would kind of try on almost like a suit of clothes. And as that was happening, of course, I began to be caught up in the whole nature of storytelling and the whole way that they conveyed their models, you know, who these people were. At the same time, of course, there were movies and I was always a big Hitchcock fan and so that gave me, I think I stole my entire sense of structure from Hitchcock. And so I was getting it there too. But it really was this intense experience I was having of seeing ah, you know, that’s a guy I would like to be and then thinking well, you know, that doesn’t quite pan out for me. You know, the guys like Sam Spade. At first you thought like, wow, who could be tougher and cooler than Sam Spade? And then you start to think about it and think like well, really, he has no ideals.
Paul Beston: You have this great section where you start knocking them down, various, even Bogart, the Bogart character in Casablanca…
Andrew Klavan: You know, it did occur to me at one point that a lot of these tough guys weren’t that tough. You know, like Ernest Hemingway, all he would do is drink and complain. And Bogart, you know, his girl leaves him and so he doesn’t participate in World War II. It’s like, it’s World War II, you know! But the guy who always got me was Chandler because Chandler’s character is both tough but also noble and he is imbued with, you know, Chandler grew up and was schooled in England and he was imbued with this European, Anglo-European sense of honor and decency and he is always being compared to a knight in the stories and he was the guy who really captured my imagination and made me want to write.
Paul Beston: Yeah. And I think that’s something a lot of readers of, you know, the books you most often read in crime and mystery fiction, and obviously Raymond Chandler looms very large there, but you may not expect that he could be such a crucial aspect of, actually even the spiritual path you are going to take. Because you saw in his heroes this moral, this moral underpinning. I mean, what’s the phrase, you know, down these mean streets a man must go, or how the rest of that goes.
Andrew Klavan: Right. Who is not himself mean. Yeah.
Paul Beston: Who is not himself mean in a kind of fallen world and that seemed to really translate to you in a much deeper level the way you describe it in the book than just someone reading The Big Sleep, you know.
Andrew Klavan: Well, there was the passage in the very opening of The Big Sleep, there is a passage in which he goes into a mansion and he sees a stained glass window of a woman being rescued by a knight and he says, you know, I couldn’t have stood there. I would have had to go up and help him because he was frozen there on the pane, which is kind of a symbol of this kind of church that has gone out of business and has just become this frozen symbol. And also underneath this, because I’m a very dogged, plotting sort of person in a lot of ways, and so when I knew that I wanted to become a writer I wanted to know what books these guys had read. And almost all these books had to do with the Arthurian myths. I mean, The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway is based on the Holy Grail myth. And the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett has aspects of the Holy Grail in it. And, of course, the knight stories in Raymond Chandler, and so that took me to reading the King Arthur stories and that took me to understanding how central Christianity was to the myths of the West.
Paul Beston: Right. Which then requires us to back up because, of course, the subtitle The Secular Jew. So, let’s go back to your parents for a second and growing up. You grew up in Great Neck, right?
Andrew Klavan: In Great Neck, yes.
Paul Beston: In Long Island, in the 50s and 60s.
Andrew Klavan: Right.
Paul Beston: And your parents were non-religious Jews. Your father was a radio show host. And I think you say obsessed with the Holocaust, not unusual.
Andrew Klavan: Yeah.
Paul Beston: And your mom had kind of a sort of embarrassment about Judaism. But I’ll let you talk about the two of them.
Andrew Klavan: Well, yeah, I mean Great Neck was a kind of aspiring assimilationist Jewish community. It was a place where you could come and be a Jew but also you were living in a town, a suburb of New York that looked exactly like the suburbs you saw on Father Knows Best and Bewitched and all those, you know, family comedies that you watched on TV. And that was the point. It was a wave, kind of funneling us into the assimilated American life.
Paul Beston: And it worked. You said you felt completely American.
Andrew Klavan: I felt completely American. But at the same time it was deeply important to my father that we learn Judaism and he felt the debt to his father and possibly to those who died in the Holocaust and so we were sent to Hebrew school and it was a weird combination of going to Hebrew school, which I hated, I found it incredibly dull, it had no connection to my life, and the fact that my parents – there was no God in our family. You know, like my mother was a stone atheist. I mean she was the most convicted atheist I ever met to the day she died. She just thought the whole thing was absolute, the word she would use would be hooey, it was hooey, you know. And my father, I always felt was kind of playing this double game like he didn’t want to quite, you know, I think the joke I make in the book is that he didn’t want to insult somebody who could give you cancer just by thinking it – gigantic invisible Jew who could give you cancer just by thinking about it. And yet, you know, we never said grace. We never prayed. I mean, we had the High Holy Days, Yom Kippur and everything, but we never – it wasn’t a presence, God was not a presence in our house. You didn’t do something because it was what God wanted, you didn’t pray, say your prayers at night. And so it all became – began to seem to me completely irrelevant, like why was I learning this language, this weird ancient guttural language? Why was I sitting around with these old men with their funny hats and their you know, why was…
Paul Beston: It seemed so divorced from America, the rest of the America that you lived in.
Andrew Klavan: Yes. I mean, I have this, this memory of sitting in Hebrew school. They were talking about Moses and the World Series was on, and so I took an old transistor radio and I ran the earplug up my sweater and I leaned my head on my hands so I could listen to the World Series, you know. And by the time I got to be bar mitzvahed I just didn’t want to do it. And I didn’t have, you know, I was 12, I didn’t have the wherewithal to stand up to my father and say, like, I don’t want to do this. And, so, I ended up really feeling bad about it. I did it, and I got this thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts, you know, tie clips, golden pens and all kinds, you know, really, savings bonds, and I put them all in a box and for a while I was very proud. It was the first money I ever had.
Paul Beston: Sure.
Andrew Klavan: And then after about six months I started to feel like it was ill-gotten gains that I had been paid for being a hypocrite. And one night after everyone went to bed I crept out with this box full of, like I say, thousands of dollars in jewels and I threw it away. And I never talked about it again.
Paul Beston: Describe how you threw it away because you had to take some special effort for this.
Andrew Klavan: I creeped outside. My father was a morning man, so he went to bed very early and so the house really went to bed early.
Paul Beston: You had some kind of compactor out there or something.
Andrew Klavan: No, there was just a sunken trash can and it was where they came to get the – and I didn’t want anybody to find all this stuff, so I shoved it deep down under the coffee grounds and the eggs and all this. And every time I tell the story I can remember the feeling of the wet coffee grounds on my arm as I shoved it down there to make sure that the garbage guys wouldn’t discover it and would just throw it away. And what was really odd about it was I never told the story to anybody until I was about 30, and then I mentioned it offhandedly to a friend of mine who was an Episcopalian priest and he stopped and he said that’s an amazing story.
Paul Beston: Yes.
Andrew Klavan: And I thought you know – because I am a professional storyteller and I never, you know, and I like to tell antidotes and I thought you know it really is. And it was the first time it began to occur to me that it must have been very important to me, a very important subject to me for me to have felt that bad about it. I mean, I was a kid. I lied about a lot of things like all kids, you know, but that lie stuck with me, you know?
Paul Beston: I mean there are a lot of vivid stories in the book. I think I’m probably not the only reader who would say that that might be the one that surfaces at the very top. It’s an incredible scene and the way you describe is, you know, it’s a very powerful story of a kid, you just think of a kid trying that determinedly to hold onto, you know, his sense of self, or his integrity, or however it was that you viewed it. I mean, you were so, you had seen this sort of bar mitzvah and the gifts itself as you said, ill-gotten gains and a betrayal of yourself in some way.
Andrew Klavan: Yes. And it’s one of the reasons why when Jews read the book they don’t get that angry at me. You know Jews don’t like it when, obviously when people convert, but they understand that I never, I never had a toehold in the religion. Some people have yelled at me and said you should have learned more about your own religion, but it was never my religion.
Paul Beston: Right.
Andrew Klavan: And that’s, so I never was that connected to it.
Paul Beston: And so, after that, I mean, get into some of your early career and the struggles you were going through professionally but also emotionally. You know…
Andrew Klavan: Right.
Paul Beston: …depression and just also where you were spiritually at this time because you, you had these glimmerings as you were young, which obviously now you look back on retrospectively, and you can see that there was a very religious sense that you had from very early on. I mean, the whole motive to do what you just describe. But as you were younger that was not on your mind. You were pursuing, you were starting your writing career and you were going to school at Berkeley. But you were struggling in various ways.
Andrew Klavan: Well, you know, I was struggling in various ways, but you have to understand how powerful. I see this in everybody, I mean, from Thomas Jefferson on, you know, Thomas Jefferson can write you know, all men are created equal and hold slaves makes perfect sense to me because the atmosphere, the intellectual atmosphere in which you live, you just breathe it in. You don’t even know it’s happening. You don’t even know those are your values. They just become part of your skin. And, of course I was dealing with a very intellectual crowd. My career was always in New York, and Los Angeles, and London. And people – it was very outré to believe in God. You did not believe in God. If you did, you were an oddball. If you believed in Jesus you were some kind of loon, you know.
Paul Beston: Right.
Andrew Klavan: You must be some kind of right-wing loon.
Paul Beston: Sure.
Andrew Klavan: And so, I just kind of adopted that. I mean, it was all to me the questions of postmodernism. They were just kind of rising, filtering up into the educational system. The idea that you could never know what the truth was, the idea of moral relativism, and all these things seemed very bright and shiny and flattering to my analytical mind. You know, you could analyze things. To analyze literally means to take things apart. You know, an intellectual guy, a guy with a brain, can take things apart forever. And it makes you feel very, very smart. You know, you’re seeing really into the heart of things.
Paul Beston: Yeah.
Andrew Klavan: And so, at the same time, I was going into a kind of depression which today I think they would have drugged me for. I’m so grateful that I was born before antidepressants, because when I left and went to college I crashed like unbelieve, it was unbelievable. I was sleeping, you know, 12, 13, 15 hours a day. I was drinking when I was awake, I could barely form a sentence to go in and buy a pack of gum or a pack of cigarettes. I could barely speak, you know, whatever relations I had with women were quick and ugly and usually very disturbing in some sense. And cutoff from my family, which had surrounded me with the illusion that it was a happy family. We had this real illusion that we were the sitcom family and better than other people. And cutoff from that, I went to school very far away, 3,000 miles away, I was just adrift completely. And because, because they didn’t have antidepressants, I just realized I have to save myself. I have to do something. And I’m not much of a joiner. And I’m not, I was very shy, and I just somehow forced myself to join the campus radio station, and make sure I went to the weekly poker game and get out with my friends that, you know, the few friends that I had. And that brought me out of it. It brought me out of it. But once that happens to you, you know that you are walking on water. You know that, like, any time you can start to sink again. And I would sink. I would, you know, when things didn’t go right I would sink into these depressions. And on top of which I desperately, at this point, I mean I can’t even, I can’t even communicate how desperately I wanted to be a writer. And because I was so disconnected from reality because of the way I was raised and because of my father’s kind of kooky view of the world, I was slow, I was only slowly realizing it wasn’t real, it wasn’t true. I couldn’t communicate. I couldn’t write. And I worked very, very hard to become a good prose writer. I mean I taught myself night after night.
Paul Beston: Well, you took very much to heart Chandler’s…
Andrew Klavan: Oh yeah.
Paul Beston: …instruction to write four hours a day.
Andrew Klavan: Every day.
Paul Beston: That’s one way to get good.
Andrew Klavan: Yeah. And I was writing – I would spend a whole night on a sentence, on one sentence. I mean I really schooled myself. But I couldn’t communicate anything that anybody wanted to read about. Because I didn’t know anything. And I couldn’t learn anything because of just the – it is complex, but I was taught basically not to learn anything because that would take me out of my father’s universe, you know, and ultimately, I crashed. I mean, the one, the one thing that was a very important part of the story was I met the woman that I would marry and have been married to for forty years. And it has been a remarkable marriage. I mean, it has been one of the remarkable romances. The guy sitting across from you bizarrely enough has lived through one of those incredible romances that they make movies about. You know, and I wouldn’t ask my wife to confirm that, but on my side, it’s probably a bit more difficult for her.
Paul Beston: So, even when things were at their worst, that was something…
Andrew Klavan: So, even when things were at their worst, there was this life going on and this life beginning and shortly after she got pregnant with our first child I actually just collapsed. I mean, I just went into this period of insane hypochondria, of fantastic visions of fantastic – and I thought, I thought well this is just what intellectuals are like. Remember that song – it is hip to be miserable when you’re young and intellectual, you know? I thought well, you know we who see into reality more deeply than others are just unhappy.
Paul Beston: Sure.
Andrew Klavan: It’s just something – and…
Paul Beston: You are still in your 20s here? Whereabout…
Andrew Klavan: I’m in my 20s. I’m creeping into my later 20s and I’ve had, I published a book. I did manage to publish a novel that bombed without a trace.
Paul Beston: Right, and then it was a long period between…
Andrew Klavan: Like five years when I…
Paul Beston: Right, okay. Yeah.
Andrew Klavan: And finally, one of my brothers had an incident where he sort of cracked up a little bit. And the minute I heard that I realized that my view of my childhood was false. I was literally – I got the phone call, one of your brothers is having a problem and I hung up the phone and I turned to my wife and I said I need help, you know, I’ve got to get help. And…
Paul Beston: And that was what sent you into therapy.
Andrew Klavan: Yeah, yeah. And I found a psychiatrist who – he was a godsend. I mean, I talk about – there is a headline in The Onion, you know, the satirical newspaper, psychiatrist cures patient, I would say I’m that guy. I am the guy who was cured.
Paul Beston: Well, I think that that reminds me of, I mean one of the things that is also striking about your conversion that might be interesting to readers is that you pretty much articulate your coming to faith almost entirely through the language of reason. I mean…
Andrew Klavan: Yep.
Paul Beston: …there aren’t many, on your road to Damascus there aren’t many lightning bolts. I mean and so there is really two kind of roads I remember distinctly in the book is we just named one, the therapy part, which we can come back to, but the other one was, again, back to books and stories and what you were talking about earlier with postmodernism because you passed through that and you start to, you know, start to embrace the more, you know, The Great Conversation as it was called…
Andrew Klavan: Right.
Paul Beston: …and you begin to just devour the books that are in your room that you have stacked up in piles that you had bought for your college courses. I mean that’s an interesting story in itself. I mean there’s actually stories in this book about reading that are exciting stories to read. You had bought all the books for your classes through college. I can’t remember how it goes, but it would be worth sharing.
Andrew Klavan: Yeah. I was a complete intellectual fake for all of my childhood because I was…
Paul Beston: Bought them all but not read them…
Andrew Klavan: Yeah, because I was a natural writer. I could get through anything. I could fake my way through anything. I could fake – I wrote whole essays on books I had never even picked up, you know, and I would fake my way through. And I discovered this great trick, which I believe a lot of reviewers use today, which is if you attack a great book people take you seriously, whereas if you just sign on and say yeah, it actually is a great book, nobody cares. So, if you come in and say like, you know, ah, you know, Hamlet, fe – you know…
Paul Beston: Right.
Andrew Klavan: It’s like people think you must know something, you know? So, I used this trick to get through school, but I always had this weird habit of buying the books. And I wouldn’t throw them away. I would buy every book in the syllabus even though I would never touch them, almost literally never touch them. I read one or two. And so, I had them, and then when I got out of school I realized I had done a foolish thing and I just set about to read them. It took me 15 years. I read the entire, you know, one of my friends always says he has read all the books.
Paul Beston: Right. And how do you think that factored into the larger story? Because it seemed to have a big…
Andrew Klavan: It was huge because the only leap of faith – and it really is a footstep of faith – that I have ever taken in my life where I just said this is true is where I said some things are right and wrong. Some things are right and wrong. And I got this, basically, from Crime and Punishment. Reading Crime and Punishment changed my life because it was the moment – it is the most important novel in my life because reading it, great crime novel, great escapes, great killing and all that, but reading it was the moment I thought no, this is right. This is right. The moral relativism is wrong.
Paul Beston: Right.
Andrew Klavan: And there is, in fact, a starry sky above and a moral law within. And so then looking through stories and through philosophy and all the books that I was reading, I started to put that moral law together and once you acknowledge that if every human being on earth is a Nazi, Nazism is still wrong. You are a God, you just don’t know it yet.
Paul Beston: Now, back to the therapy part because, you know, again it kind of goes against the grain because a lot of religious conversion narratives people may think of is they are broken…
Andrew Klavan: Yes, yeah.
Paul Beston: …and they were then filled, you know, they discovered God and that lifted them up. And you very distinctly and overtly point out I needed to be put back together first by this process in order to then take the step religiously. So that…
Andrew Klavan: Because the narrative, the narrative was that religion was a crutch. And so, if you are unhappy and you reach out for religion, which is what most people do, wisely, then in fact you have lost the opportunity to test religion because you are just grabbing…
Paul Beston: You are not whole yourself.
Andrew Klavan: Right, right. So, like I would literally have rather drowned than grab hold of the driftwood. I mean, that was really my intellectual position. It did, as I came to become a happy person, which I mean I have lived two lives, Paul. You know, I mean, the first part of my life was very dark and ever since it’s been like depressingly lively and joyful. I drive people crazy with it. But really at that turning point there entered spirituality into my life, you know, at that point I thought you know, I can’t quite say what I’m feeling without at least acknowledging that I have a consciousness of some sort, you know.
Paul Beston: Right. Now, since we are recording this in New York, tell the story about how the late great Mets catcher, Gary Carter…
Andrew Klavan: Oh yeah, yeah.
Paul Beston: …helped push you along the road a little bit.
Andrew Klavan: Huge moment in my life. In mean, you know, the darkest moment in my life actually came after I got into therapy. They always say that when you start to feel better that you’re really in danger of suicide.
Paul Beston: This was this the hypochondriacal part?
Andrew Klavan: No, that was what drove me into therapy and I was getting better about that.
Paul Beston: Okay.
Andrew Klavan: But, you know, you are in danger of suicide when you start to come out of depression because then you have enough energy to really hurt yourself. You know, because when you are depressed you almost can’t take the time, you know. And I had an experience where an editor who had once been an admirer of mine and had told me I was going to be a star, he cut me on the street because I was so washed up and so over…
Paul Beston: I remember that.
Andrew Klavan: …and I came back and I just plunged into depression, plunged into absolute – and I had this baby daughter that I loved, this wife I was absolutely crazy about, and they were asleep in the other room and I was sitting in what was like the bedroom in my office and I was sitting there thinking they would be better off if I were dead. And I started to plan to go up on the roof and throw myself off. And, now I don’t know how serious I was, but I was thinking about it, you know, I was sitting there thinking about it.
Paul Beston: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Klavan: And I’d like to go back and slap that guy because I was about two weeks from my life totally turning around. But I just thought I was in the darkest pit of hell. And there was a Mets game playing on the radio and I had kind of taken up the Mets because they were having these great seasons, ’85 and ’86. And I really was fascinated with both Keith Hernandez, I stole his name when I started to write mysteries under a pseudonym, and with Gary Carter. And they were kind of Frick and Frack, you know…
Paul Beston: They were.
Andrew Klavan: Keith Hernandez was a dark, cigarette-smoking intellectual type, and Carter was this happy-go-lucky Christian guy and he was always talking about Jesus and it would drive me nuts. You know. And they would interview him, you know, how did you get that hit? Well, thank Jesus…
Paul Beston: The Lord…
Andrew Klavan: …oh, please, you know, stop. And he got a hit that, as I recall it, he drove in the winning run and I don’t know what inning it was in, but he drove in the winning run, and afterwards the interviewer came up to him, and I’m listening on the radio, and said how did you beat that hit to first base when your knees are so bad? And I guess I’m half listening to this thing and I was expecting him to say oh Jesus, Jesus and instead he just said you know, sometimes you got to play in pain. And I just thought, well yeah, you know, I can do that, you know, I can play in pain. I’m in pain.
Paul Beston: Right.
Andrew Klavan: And that was the end of it. I never thought of suicide again. I mean, I never came close and I just thought, you know that’s really what it is about, you know, sometimes you just tough, you’ve just got to grit it out, you know, and it’s like you don’t have some right to not be in pain, you know, and it wasn’t even that deep to me, it was just…
Paul Beston: No, it was…
Andrew Klavan: …and when I look back on it, the thing that always moves me about the story is that if he had mentioned Jesus I wouldn’t have heard him. I would have thought yuck, you know? And I always think that God was reaching out to me. I can barely talk about this…
Paul Beston: Wow. I understand. You know if I remember the C.S. Lewis correctly, from his book, Surprised by Joy…
Andrew Klavan: Yeah, yes.
Paul Beston: I think he is driving to the zoo, I think, when he decides…
Andrew Klavan: Right, he is in a motorcar, the sidecar, yeah.
Paul Beston: Yeah, he’s in a motorcar, that’s what – now I don’t think, I’m trying to remember here. It doesn’t seem like there is one single moment for you, I mean, there is certainly the birth of your first child that – you describe that as…
Andrew Klavan: That was a very spiritual moment…
Paul Beston: …a very deep spiritual moment, but not the same kind of thing.
Andrew Klavan: …but not among the conversion. And some Christians get angry at me about this. They think that conversion has to be like a Saint Paul road to Damascus, you get hit by lightning and you are blind and all this. And, no it wasn’t like that at all. There was this moment when I finally acknowledged that it was all right to believe, that it was logical to believe. And I said a little prayer before I went to bed. I was reading a book. One of my favorite writers at the time was Patrick O’Brian. He writes the sea stories and he had a character I admired, and he said he said a prayer and went to sleep. And I was about to go to sleep and I thought well if he can say a prayer, I can say a prayer. And I just said, you know, thank you God, because my life had turned around and all this, and that really just was – unlocked this flood of joy that had been building up in me, but I couldn’t quite connect with it, and I couldn’t connect with it because I wasn’t connected to God. You know, and once I connected to God I started to pray and praying changed my life. And it changed my life incrementally, over like five years. And when I realized, you know, just by – experientially, I mean it was a scientific test in a way, that I was connected to something other than myself, that I was getting information that I didn’t have myself and that my life was getting better and better because of it, not in what was happening because sometimes good and bad things happen. You know, five years is a long period. But just in how I was, what was happening to me. That was when I kind of went to God and I said well, he has changed my life. What do I do in response, because, who am I, you know?
Paul Beston: Right, right.
Andrew Klavan: And that was when I just got this kind of flash, this knowledge, you should be baptized. And I was absolutely stunned. When that came into my head I thought, I said out loud you’ve got to be kidding. You know, I was driving.
Paul Beston: Woah – lost our lights. We will keep talking.
Andrew Klavan: I see that Satan…
Paul Beston: Yes, it’s true.
Andrew Klavan: …he heard me.
Paul Beston: And you were baptized at age 50, I think you said?
Andrew Klavan: It was close to, it was either about two months away from 50 or 50, yeah. I think I was just 49, just about to turn 50. And, yeah, it was quite, you know, quite dramatic because I knew if I told my father I was going to do it, it would have ended our relationship, which was never good, but it had gotten peaceful, you know? And – but just as I was about to tell him he went into his final illness.
Paul Beston: Got sick. Right.
Andrew Klavan: And so, the whole thing was kind of this cut, you know split-screen life of going to visit my father and then my priest was in New York and I would go to visit him as well, and it was quite a dramatic thing. And shortly after his – I came back for his funeral, his memorial, and went downtown and got baptized. So, it was….
Paul Beston: It was an eventful week.
Andrew Klavan: Yeah. It was eventful.
Paul Beston: Well, finally, because I’ll have you read something in a second, but last question. So, it has been 12, 15, 13 years…
Andrew Klavan: I was just thinking, it’s 13, 13 years now.
Paul Beston: …13 years, and obviously you have been publishing all along since then, and you have probably been asked this before. I think I have this quote from you, I’m not sure if it is in this book or somewhere else, but you said, oh God, I prayed fervently more than once. Whatever happens, don’t let me become a Christian novelist.
Andrew Klavan: Yes.
Paul Beston: So, obviously you have become, at least you have become a Christian. Whether you are a Christian novelist or not is a different question, but how much has it changed – I think I have only read your novels actually that are posts. I haven’t read them before I read the Werewolf Cop and things like that, so…
Andrew Klavan: Well, Werewolf Cop is the one, yeah, I think…
Paul Beston: There is certainly a very moral dimension to that.
Andrew Klavan: But I think that my fear was that, you know, Christians – I get this letter constantly from, sometimes from writers, sometimes from readers – you know, how can you call yourself a Christian when you let your characters do these terrible things and say these terrible things? It’s usually the language that people use that people get upset about and I really do feel my brief is to describe the world as it is, describe our world as it is. And you cannot describe young people, even conservative Christian young people, without having curse words in there, because that is the way people talk. And I write crime stories, so I am writing about very bad people. So, I was afraid, and I promised myself, if I became a Christian and lost my sense of realism, I would desert the phase. I had promised myself you know, and instead I found that I became far more realistic, I found my ability to predict events became better. My ability to understand human beings and what they were thinking became better. My writing, I thought, just became much better. I think Werewolf Cop, despite its crummy title, which is my fault, is one of the best books I ever wrote and I think it’s got a supernatural element, obviously, but it is a very realistic depiction of human life. And so, I think it made me twice the writer I was. And so, it’s been a gift all along. All the way around.
Paul Beston: And it has, I mean, probably the moral dimension of your novels was there before anyway, I mean, again, I haven’t read the older ones, so…
Andrew Klavan: All my older novels essentially are asking the question: How do you know what is real? They are all thrillers and they are all based on the idea that somebody is after me, something terrible is happening, but maybe it’s all in my mind. And, you know, maybe I didn’t see that guy, and maybe he’s not after me, and maybe, you know, and how people’s theories don’t contain life. That was my theme constantly. And it got me past that hump. I mean, it’s something to write about when you are young and it’s an interesting part of the time I was growing up in. But once I realized that really, when I look back, there’s this turning point in the novel True Crime where he says, you know, he was making a joke, he says the wise Chinaman says you don’t know whether you are a butterfly dreaming he’s a man or a man dreaming he’s a butterfly. And the next line is – as crap you know, you actually know. And that is – I think got me past that whole question of what is truth and what is reality, the Pontius Pilate question. And I think that Christianity gave me a path to much, much deeper understanding of what life is and what it’s about.
Paul Beston: Got it. Well, I think, I was going to ask you to read a brief passage from the book which I think we should set up quickly with – this is your, maybe you can contextualize it just for those – this is your meditation on reading great works of the past.
Andrew Klavan: On reading, yeah. I mean, I had left school. I went to college for a year and I dropped out. And I thought I wanted experience like Ernest Hemingway, you know, I wanted to see the things that I wrote about and live with things that I wrote about and I wondered around the country. I was always enamored of Jack Kerouac, and I lived on the road and I did all those things. And then it began to occur to me that I had made a mistake and that education actually did give you something of urgent, vital, importance and the people who dissed intellectualism in writing were actually attacking the very core of what writing can do. And so, this is my description of that revelation basically. It says: So, just as my years at university were ending, I was coming to understand what an education was. To escape from the little island of the living, to know what thinking men and women have felt and seen and imagined through all the ages of the world, to meet my natural companions among the mighty dead, to walk with them in conversation, to know myself in them, through them, because they are what we’ve become. Every blessing from soup bowls to salvation they discovered for us. Individuals just as real as you and me, they fought over each new idea and died to give life to the dreams we live in. Some of them, a lot of them, wasted their days following error down nowhere roads. Some hacked their way through jungles of suffering to collapse in view of some far off golden city of the imagination. But all the thoughts we think, all the high towers of the mind citadel were sculpted out of shapeless nothing through the watches of their uncertain nights. Every good thing we know would be lost to darkness, all unremembered, if each had not been preserved for us by some sinner with a pen.
Paul Beston: That was Andrew Klavan reading a passage from his memoir The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. Don’t forget to check out Drew’s work on our website, city-journal.org, and also at The Daily Wire. And you can follow Drew on Twitter, @AndrewKlavan. We would also like to hear your comments about today’s episode on Twitter, @CityJournal. Finally, if you liked the podcast and want to hear more, please leave ratings and reviews on iTunes. Thanks for listening to 10 Blocks, and thank you Drew for joining us.
Andrew Klavan: A pleasure.