MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: John Patrick Kavanagh is a writer, designer and fellow attorney. His current novel CAMDEN’S KNIFE is a rewrite of his previously published SIXERS that was a hardcover best seller (praised by Scott Turow as “Terrific”) and optioned for film by 20th Century Fox.
John, tell us about CAMDEN’S KNIFE!
JOHN PATRICK KAVANAGH: It’s a major renovation of my first novel, SIXERS, that my now-publisher, then-agent Lori Perkins, suggested I undertake. The story is set against the accidental unleashing of a pandemic affliction, Camden-Young’s Disease, which strikes 74% of Caucasians while the other 26% are somehow immune. The massive conglomerate Southern United Enterprises manufactures treatments for CYD which are also used recreationally by the sixers. Dr. Arthur Camden believes there might be a cure formula in a pair of notebooks confiscated from him upon his dismissal from SUE while Trisha Lane, the powerful overseer of the corporation’s Pharmaceutical and Media Divisions, thinks Camden purloined four ounces of a distillate she needs for the creation of an incredibly potent smart pill. Her new admin assistant, our protagonist David Stonetree, gets drafted to be the go-between for a possible swap and faces some difficult decisions.
One of my favorite aspects of the project was the creation of a pair of peripheral web sites that might be portrayed as bonus features. Pinkiefinger.com is a mockup of the home page of a dominant social media site while thecombatartzone.com is an extensive exploration of the assets of the estate of another conquest in Trisha’s trophy case. I can’t tell you how curious I am to see if readers will actually check for the existence of these domains after they’ve seen the names.
VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily or just jump right in?
KAVANAGH: I always start with an outline. I think that has something to do with my legal background, as in never ask a question that you don’t already know – or think you know – the answer to. For the book I’m currently working on, the blueprint is eighteen hundred words covering the Prologue, Epilogue and seventeen chapters in between. Two or three additional pages of notes devoted to each of those nineteen segments. A time-of-day flow chart. Numerous sketches of everything from a bird’s-eye view of the exterior of the megaresort down to floor plans of various guest suites to give me a better sense of where characters are situated and how they move. Same for the theater where the Concert is held and especially its stage to help keep track of the performers’ actions. A list of how A relates to B and then to C. Another of details I want to include and potential spots to tuck them in. Single page bios. Lots of cross-referencing.
VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself creating a plot first, a character first, or a setting first? What gets your story idea going?
KAVANAGH: Plot, setting then characters. Especially the antagonist. For me, that’s the compass which points to everything else.
VENTRELLA: What’s the best way to make the antagonist a believable character?
KAVANAGH: Load them up with avarice and the skills necessary to achieve their desired outcomes. Pick any great villain and you’ll most always find greed and cunning heavily in the mix.
VENTRELLA: Writers are told to “write what you know.” What does this mean to you?
KAVANAGH: That sense is certainly important, but it has to include the enjoyment of writing about it … as long as that doesn’t get out of hand.
VENTRELLA: How do you mean?
KAVANAGH: In the sequel to CK I’m currently working on, WEEKEND AT PRISM, there’s an entire chapter devoted to “the biggest rock concert ever held in the history of the Universe,” along with some cutaways to break up the action. It’s already clocking in at close to 24,000 words but it’s so much fun to work on that I keep returning to add more embellishments.
VENTRELLA: What was the most difficult part of the book to write?
KAVANAGH: Assuring that all of the near-future pop culture references are both plausible and believable. For instance, I have Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Stefani Germanotta all releasing their third greatest hits albums on the same day. That meets the test, I’d say. But a PGA golfer winning tournaments by reclining on greens and using the handle of his putter like a pool cue? Plausible but bordering on unbelievable, so I struggled with that inclusion until I checked the physics involved which indicated it’d probably pass muster if the shot was less than forty feet.
VENTRELLA: What criticism of your work do you disagree with the most?
KAVANAGH: That my protagonists aren’t strong enough. But I understand they sometimes come off that way because I surround them with characters who are more skilled, more successful and have much higher ball drives.
VENTRELLA: Ball drives?
KAVANAGH: When security people are auditioning pups for possible future employment in contraband discovery, one of the first tests they run is to find out how much the dogs want the ball and how intent they are on keeping it.
VENTRELLA: Who are your favorite authors?
KAVANAGH: Tops is David Wingrove. I’ve read his massive Chung Kuo series two and a half times and just finished the first installment of his Roads To Moscow trilogy, THE EMPIRE OF TIME. Not only another masterpiece, but narrated in … for me, anyway … the extremely difficult first person present tense voice. I read Bill Bryson’s IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY at least once a year, easily his best despite the anachronisms it’s now saddled with. I also love Jason Gay’s sports coverage in The Wall Street Journal. His mix of humor, insight and commentary is beyond compare.
VENTRELLA: What projects are you working on now? What can we expect next from you?
KAVANAGH: WEEKEND AT PRISM still needs its final five chapters and an Epilogue … I really have to get past that Concert stuff … which should provide the set-up for a third novel set two years later in which many of my characters – especially the High Ball Drivers – join forces, intent on combining their incredible wealth and appurtenant influence to … they’ve got really big plans.
VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?
KAVANAGH: Great question. Seeing the most famous dinner party in history was attended by thirteen guests, I’ll go with that number of seats. I’m thinking a breezy late afternoon on the deck of The Pier House in Key West, catering provided by Geno’s East of Chicago. My wife Susan is a tremendous hostess so I’d bring her along with my best friend Dave Lersch in the event a good cop – bad cop intervention is necessary. That’d leave ten and my dream pairings would be Pablo Picasso and Jasper Johns, Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, Bill Shakespeare and Paddy Chayefsky. Perhaps Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison? And finally, Wolfgang Mozart and Keith Richards. (laughs) I can hear Richards’ Cockney voice asking, “Wolfie? That middle bit in your Piano Concerto Number Twenty in D Minor? Me and my mate Mick cribbed that for our song Wild Horses.” To which the maestro responds, “No problem, man. I jacked that hook from one of Johnny Bach’s outtakes.”