Name Tony Knighton
Where are you from
Philadelphia, Pa. I’m a lieutenant in the fire department, here. I’ve been on the job since 1985. I began writing in the early morning hours at home, and at work when I could. As I got serious about writing, I took some courses at Community College of Philadelphia.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My novel Three Hours Past Midnight will be published by Crime Wave Press and is due out this spring.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
A dozen or so years ago, I was going through a prolonged bout with insomnia and needed to do something in the nighttime hours that was quiet and felt productive. I’d always been a reader. Writing seemed to be what I needed.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I took a fiction class at Community College of Philadelphia. Toward the end of the semester, my teacher told me that I should send pieces out for consideration – that my work would get better but that it was good enough that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed by it later. I felt like a writer then.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I saw a well-dressed, sharp-looking young man with a bag full of obviously shoplifted jeans. He was selling them on the street, and he was high.
I imagined that this guy had recently lost his job, probably due to drug use, and had resorted to low-level crimes and scams. I also imagined that it wouldn’t occur to him that he had changed – that if asked, he would describe himself by his former employment, or if pressed, say that he was “between jobs.”
I wondered about what it would take and what it would feel like when he finally acknowledged that he was a criminal.
That was how I began to write Happy Hour.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I tend to write journalistically. I try to say a lot with a few words.
The writers I most admire produce work dense with information. They often write about a subject without naming it, if that makes sense?
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Three Hours Past Midnight comes from a Johnny “Guitar” Watson song. It evokes a loneliness that many of the story’s characters possess.
Happy Hour was a working title that grew on me.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
That would be giving away too much.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Most of the places in the story are real, and some of the characters are amalgams of people I know. The rest is fiction.
There’s a private home in Philadelphia – a mansion near Center City – that everyone mistakenly thinks belongs to a real-life, notorious, long-time state senator. I liked the idea of a crew breaking into the house and stealing something from him. As Eryk Pruitt says, some people in this world need to be robbed.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life? a mentor?
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. The minimalism of this book is a constant reminder to me to trust the reader.
Anything by Richard Stark, John O’Hara, John Cheever, Jim Thompson or Flannery O’Connonr. The Rabbit books by John Updike.
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. The man’s ability to keep all of those balls in the air was amazing.
I’ve never met him in person but the horror writer Norman Prentiss has supported and guided me via post (e-mail, really, but “via post” sounds so much cooler) for many years. He’s a fabulous writer and he’s been a great friend to me.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
There are lots of authors – a lot of them young – working in crime fiction, mostly from indie publishers, who really do it for me – Scott Adlerberg, Jed Ayres, Greg Barth, Andrew Nette, Jon McGoran, Nik Korpon, Alec Cizak, Angel Luis Colon, Ray Banks, Benedict Jones, Anthony Neil Smith, Sam Starnes, Benjamin Percy, Thomas Pluck, Shawn Cosby, Eryk Pruitt, Jen Connelly, Alex Segura, Rob Pierce, Megan Abbott. Of course, Norman Prentiss. A ton more who I am forgetting – a mind is a terrible thing.
I’d have to say that Richard Stark is my favorite. When Westlake wrote as Stark he made it all seem effortless.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The family at Crime Wave Press – Tom Vater, Hans Kemp, and C. Henry Roi. Great guys, all of them.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Writing is a pursuit, an avocation. My career has been firefighting
If writing fiction were my job, I’d have to be mostly interested in sales. I probably wouldn’t be writing what I like, and then what would I do for giggles?
My stuff is dark – not “broken tough guy” dark, but dark. Noir. I think that a lot of it is funny, too, but most people miss that. A while ago, I was invited to a Noir at The Bar, and read a passage that had some of the listeners – most of them writers – wondering who let me in. One guy was laughing. When I finished, he told me I was a riot. That’s how it goes.
I think that unless you’re a genius, if you want to sell a shit-ton of books, you have to go the cute and clever route, and that doesn’t seem like fun.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Every time I look at anything I’ve published, I see something I would change. It’s good that I can’t. It makes me move on to the next thing.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Whenever I’d read something poorly written I’d think that I could do better.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Three Hours Past Midnight features the protagonist of my story “Mister Wonderful,” from my collection Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties.
In Three Hours, it’s two or three months later, he’s recovered, and needs to make money. Another mechanic has a score – the home of a disgraced, jailed politician, where there is supposed to be half a million dollars locked away in a bedroom safe.
Things don’t go well.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Every bit of it is challenging. Before we were married, my wife, the writer Julie Odell, said off-handedly that writing is hard. It’s one of the best things anyone ever told me about the craft. It keeps me from feeling discouraged when things aren’t working – when I just can’t seem to get something right. Elegance requires effort.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not too much. Most of my stuff takes place right here in the hometown – Philadelphia, Pa. I’ve worked as a firefighter here for more than thirty years, all over the city, so I have a pretty good idea of what the neighborhoods are like.
I’m currently working on a piece that is mostly set in Lancaster County, Pa., where my in-laws live, so I make use of my visits there to learn what I need.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Hans Kemp. The cover photo for Three Hours was shot by Peter Rozovsky.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Making certain that what seems clear and obvious to me is just as clear to the reader. I’m fortunate to be part of a good, dedicated writer’s group. The people in it are all sharp and all good readers. If they’re not getting it, I know that I have more work to do.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
By writing, you’re learning about writing all of the time.
There are always details that I have to research. I use the internet but mostly I like to talk to someone who knows about what I need to know. I’ve often found more than I needed – sometimes opening up new possibilities.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
Tough question. The protagonist in Three Hours Past Midnight is shadowy, even to me. I’ve never given him a name. I know what he’s like physically – average height, medium build – but facially, I haven’t a clue. I’m not sure how old he is. I can only see his silhouette, if that makes sense.
I do know a lot about him. He lives in the moment – he won’t celebrate a victory or agonize over a setback – he just keeps going. He’s smart and quick. He’s not a hard guy – he could probably hold his own if necessary, but he wouldn’t want to have to; there’s no money in it. He’d rather settle things with a conversation.
The people who know him probably consider him fair but dangerous. Most other people probably don’t notice him – he’s sort of forgettable. This is a guy who people underestimate. Every so often, a stranger – maybe a civilian, maybe a cop – somehow recognizes him for what he is.
The protagonist in Happy Hour is easier. Bobby is a tall, good-looking kid in his mid to late twenties. When they were kids, John Cusack or Ed Burns could have played him.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write a lot. Think about your writing. Revise.
Make a point of meeting and getting to know other writers. Most are friendly people. There is a scene, of sorts, and getting involved is rewarding.
If you live in the USA, get a job with healthcare benefits.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thanks for reading my stuff. I hope that it’s fun.
Anytime I’ve met someone who’s read my work, I immediately reveal that I’m a geek, with questions like, “What’s your favorite part?” or “”What part are you up to?”
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m in the middle of re-reading two: Jim Thompson’s After Dark My Sweet, and Greg Barth’s Diesel Therapy. Both great fun.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No. Between my family moving twice while I was in first grade and no one noticing that I was blind as a bat, I couldn’t read until well into the second grade. Maybe Fun With Dick and Jane?
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Donald Trump and his supporters.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
I used to think I wanted to meet James Thurber or John O’Hara because I love their writing but then I found out they were both pricks.
I guess Donald Westlake. He seemed like a fun-loving guy. I dig his work.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
I told them I was sick!
Really, I’ll be cremated, so there won’t be an epitaph.
Two things I’d really like: one of my kids could keep me in a coffee can in the trunk of their car. If they got stuck in snow or ice, they could shake me under the tires, and tell people, “Dad helped me out today.”
Or they could put the can on a shelf in their home. When someone new comes over they could point to it and say, “Have you met my father?”
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I’ve played music semi-professionally for most of my life. Great fun. It’s like getting paid to eat ice cream.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Tons of stuff. Anything funny and/or cool.
I’m digging Better Call Saul.
I watched the first four episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. It might be the most frightening show I’ve ever seen. I’ve gotten the book and want to read it so that I can stay ahead of the show, cause I can’t wait for the episodes to trickle in week by week.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Anything but beets.
Most colors. I’m a little bit color-blind, but I still like ‘em.
Most music. I’m partial to Jazz and Soul. I dig the Blues. I’m crazy for good Rock.
I get bored listening to some – but not all – bluegrass, metal or be-bop; those often seem to be about playing unending strings of gnat notes as fast as possible. Yawn. Some people play instruments. I like people who play music.
But I’m not a music nazi. I don’t hate any of it.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I don’t know. At this point I can’t imagine not writing.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Thank you for this opportunity, Fiona.
Tony Knighton’s novel Three Hours Past Midnight will be published this spring by Crime Wave Press. His novella and story collection Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties was published in 2015 by Crime Wave Press. His story “The Scavengers” is included in the anthologiesShocklines: Fresh Voices in Terror, published by Cemetery Dance, andYear’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume One, published by Comet Press. His story “Sunrise” is included in the anthology Equilibrium Overturned, published by Grey Matter Press. He hasalso published short fiction in Crime Factory, Static Movement Online and Dark Reveries.
Tony is a lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department.
Amazon Authors pages