Don't Say a Word Author Finds God
By Ann Vande Zande
CBN.com Andrew Klavan’s foray into young adult fiction, with his new book The Last Thing I Remember, might be a bit of a shocker to readers for a couple of reasons. First, Klavan is known for his crime thrillers, especially those which made it to the big screen, including Don’t Say a Word (starring Brittany Murphy and Michael Douglas) and True Crime (starring Clint Eastwood). That’s all fine and good, but what is he doing writing for the Christian market? Second, why write a novel about a high school boy’s adventure?
As it turns out, these changes are explainable. Klavan, who grew up Jewish, turned-Agnostic, recently converted to Christianity, and his new faith shows throughout The Last Thing I Remember's strong storyline. By the second chapter of this suspense novel, readers will be hooked by the high-impact writing, descriptive characterizations, and plot-twisting action. Not only will readers want to cheer Charlie West on, they will become so engrossed in the story that they’ll keep reading to find out what happens next in The Homelanders series.
To get a better understanding of his new-found faith and new book, I spoke with the author himself.
With The Homelanders series, you are debuting in the young adult fiction market, and write from a Christian viewpoint. What prompted these changes?
Well, all my life I’ve tried to write these high-octane thrillers that move like a bullet from page to page — but at the same time deal with certain themes about who we are and how we understand the world. And it occurred to me that those themes are very much on the minds of young adults so that my kind of fast-moving-thriller-of-ideas might be something they’d really like. Plus, I myself went through a big transformation a few years ago. I was born a Jew and lived much of my life as an atheist or agnostic. Coming to Christ was a revolution in my outlook and gave me an entirely new perspective. So I also know a little bit about going through changes and asking the big questions.
You mentioned coming to Christ. Could you share how that happened?
My own journey to God was long and very circuitous. There was no road to Damascus moment; it was more a question of going down a lot of intellectual dead ends. When you work in the arts, you’re surrounded by a lot of smart, hip, sophisticated people who pride themselves on their intellects and originality and independence. Going back to ancient Biblical answers is just not fashionable, you know? It’s cool to go to a psychiatrist but not to church. It’s cool to meditate but not to pray. And don’t get me wrong, therapy and meditation are wonderful things, I’ve tried them both and I recommend them, they serve their purposes. But in the end, I found that what’s ultimately broken in the human heart is something basic and existential. God promises to heal it and when I took him up on that offer, son of a gun, he made good. That experience taught me that Christ was the Truth. After that, hip, intellectual, fashionable, cool... they stopped mattering. If you’re an artist, the Truth has to come first and last.
The story’s main character, Charlie West, demonstrates strength, courage, and faith, but yet he’s not a superhero. What’s the message?
You know, sometimes when I watch mainstream television or movies, I see Christianity represented as this grim, unforgiving system of condemnation, a way of making people feel bad about their weaknesses and flaws. But for me, it’s just the opposite. I begin with a sense of our universal incompleteness and need and then move toward God as the source of healing. Charlie is a tough guy, as you say. I mean, I’m a black belt myself and I wouldn’t mess with him! But he has plenty of moments of weakness, despair, confusion, self-doubt like anyone. What brings him through is that he knows the ultimate source of his strength, and he tries to keep moving in that direction.
Throughout the story, you weave in a patriotism theme. Are you worried that won’t be popular? Why is the concept relevant for today’s young people?
Well, Charlie’s not a blind patriot, that’s important. Charlie believes in the things that make people free because everything Charlie has of value depends, in some sense, on freedom. Love of God, love of country, love of another person — you have to choose those things freely, it’s meaningless if you’re forced into them at gunpoint. And so freedom is what Charlie is fighting to preserve. Now, sure, to answer your question, I think there are people who recoil from patriotism — as there are people who recoil from faith — because it might entail responsibility and sacrifice. Even Charlie grows weary sometimes of the danger he’s in, and the need to do battle against the enemy. But it’s also what ultimately makes his life full and meaningful.
Charlie’s faith is tested when his friend challenges his faith, saying it is being built on fantasy. That seems to cause him to stumble a bit. Is that a good or necessary element to faith?
Well, I don’t know if it’s good or necessary to doubt and stumble — I simply think it’s unavoidable. We live in a hard world, a broken world, and anyone who keeps his eyes open will see and even sometimes experience terrible pain and stress and suffering. There are going to come moments of doubt. There are going to be people who whisper in your ear that your greatest hope is a delusion. It may be rough, but the thing is: if your faith is fragile, if your faith thrives only on happiness and tranquility, it’s not going to survive very long. Charlie goes through some genuinely tough challenges, physical and spiritual, but I think ultimately he can take it.
In Chapter 21“A Voice in the Crowd”, you focus on despair and the loss of hope. I felt like you were speaking directly to me – a middle class woman of faith.
One of the things that scene was trying to get to was the snaky deception of despair, the way it comes to you in different forms, disguised as apathy or passivity or just weariness. And sure, I’ve had those moments in my life — who hasn’t? You hear that whisper in your ear: “Oh well, that’s the way it goes. You can’t do any better. That’s as good as life gets.” And the thing is: it’s easier to give in; it takes so much less energy. Charlie is in so much danger in this story, so many people are against him, that it’s natural for him to sometimes feel, “What’s the point? I’m outnumbered and outgunned.” He has to gather his energy and courage, find ways to keep fighting.
Got an antidote for despair?
An antidote to despair? I have to be careful with a question like that because there’s no one single answer and I don’t want anyone to feel like, gee, I’m doing everything I’m supposed to but it’s not working, I still feel bad, I must be a rotten dude — or dudette — and God doesn’t care about me. What I can say, what I truly believe and have witnessed with my own eyes, is that each person is himself his own unique path to God’s promise of life in abundance. So at those times you find yourself thinking, man, I am really in the thicket here, there is no way out of this forest of misery and despair, you’ve got to know, you’ve got to trust that you’re wrong, there is a way. And it’s not some expert telling you what’s right, it’s not someone on television telling you what’s cool, it’s a unique path made of people and things you love that God has constructed specifically for you to follow to his door. Don’t let your heart be troubled, that path really is there, that’s all I can tell you.
What do you hope to accomplish with this series, beyond telling a good story?
Well, that’s the first thing — the story. I mean, I love video games, play them all the time, and I wanted to write a book that was exciting enough to compete with any video game out there. For me there’s nothing in this world like a great story in a book. It goes straight into your imagination, as if your whole mind had become a stage full of these characters living out this exciting adventure. But the thing is: if you tell a story honestly, if you create your characters realistically, certain themes and questions are going to naturally rise to the surface. In The Last Thing I Remember, I wanted to tell a story about a kid with faith who is tested and challenged right down to his soul, and let you live with him as he faces those challenges down.
Care to share a bit of what’s up for Charlie West in the future?
Yeah, the second one is already finished and in this one Charlie goes home to try to clear his name — only he can’t show his face in the open, so he has to live and move in secret as he searches for the truth. It was a very emotional story for me because Charlie is basically a very loving guy. He yearns like crazy to be back with the people he loves. But every time he shows himself — bang, the bad guys are after him again.
Purchase your copy of The Last Thing I Remember.
More book excerpts and author interviews
A former college professor, Ann Vande Zande writes to share God’s truth and mercy. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children. You can contact her at [email protected].
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