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David Klass An interview with David Klass, December 2005
Dark Angel
Young Adult
Seventeen-year-old Jeff thought he would never again have to deal with his older brother, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence. But after six years, Troy’s sentence has been overturned on a technicality and he is released from prison. He returns to a family deeply divided about having him back home. Jeff can’t forget how his life was disrupted by his brother, how his family had to move to another state and start over. Still, his parents believe things will be different now. But Troy’s return makes a mess of Jeff ’s life – at home, at school, and with his girlfriend. When Jeff ’s rival on the soccer field turns up missing, Jeff suspects Troy is involved, and he sets out to prove it. But nothing could prepare Jeff for what happens as he gets closer to the truth.

With unexpected flashes of humor, David Klass once again gives readers a gripping, multilayered novel about good and evil and the powerful bonds of family.
--Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2005
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You Don't Know Me
Young Adult

Fourteen-year-old John creates alternative realities in his mind as he tries to deal with his mother's abusive boyfriend, his crush on a beautiful, but shallow classmate and other problems at school.
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California Blue
Young Adult

When seventeen-year-old John Rodgers discovers a new sub-species of butterfly which may necessitate closing the mill where his dying father works, they find themselves on opposite sides of the environmental conflict.
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Additional books by David Klass

Wrestling With Honor
Home of the Braves
Danger Zone
The Atami Dragons

ETC: How did you get started writing YA books?

DAVID: David KlassI was twenty-three years old and teaching English in Atami, Japan. It was a wonderful and exotic experience. I wrote my first novel, The Atami Dragons, in the three months after I arrived, setting it in the town where I lived. I had my main character do many of the things that I did in real life, from playing on a Japanese baseball team to climbing Mt. Fuji. Then I sent the manuscript to Scribners with what I'm sure was a very strange cover letter, and went off on a Christmas vacation to Thailand. When I got back, there was a letter from Scribners. They'd bought the book.

ETC: Why did you choose to make it a YA novel?

DAVID: I was twenty-three. I still thought like a seventeen-year-old.

ETC: Why do you continue writing YA novels?

DAVID: I'm forty-five now and I still think that way. I don't write down to my audience. The way John thinks in You Don't Know Me is still the way my mind works a lot of the time.

ETC: Many of your books are about sports, and are clearly aimed at teenage boys. Was that a conscious decision?

DAVID: When The Atami Dragons was published, I was taken to lunch by an editor who knew far more than I did about YA books. She warned me that if I wrote books for boys I was committing professional suicide. "Boys don't read," she said. "We have them till they're twelve. And we get them back when they're eighteen. Between twelve and eighteen they don't read. So if you write books for them, no one will buy your work."

I remember feeling angry when I heard that. Boys do read. I was a bit of a reluctant reader, but I read. And those are absolutely crucial years, when a young man is figuring out who he is and establishing patterns that will last a lifetime. The real danger in what she said is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If writers don't write books for boys, and editors don't publish them, then boys won't read. So I consciously tried to write books for boys in that age group that I would have enjoyed reading when I was in junior high school and high school.

ETC: How did you get the idea for Dark Angel?

DAVID: Fifteen years ago I wrote a short story about two brothers who take a drive to Atlantic City. The younger brother was a good boy who followed the rules and did well in school. But the older one was constantly getting into trouble and had spent time in prison. They'd never spoken honestly to each other about the different paths their lives had taken. And then, coming home from a casino one night, all their anger bubbled up to the surface and exploded in a tense, almost violent confrontation. I loved the story and always felt it could be a novel, but I didn't have the underlying complexities necessary to deepen it and turn it from a story into a book.

Twelve years after I wrote the short story, I had dinner with a psychiatrist in Manhattan. We got into a discussion of how and why people act the way they do. He was an expert in the chemical causes of human behavior, and believed that much of human action can be explained on the molecular level. He pointed to drugs that can modify different human behaviors. He said that in the next fifteen to twenty years, thousands of new designer drugs will be coming out that will be used to change a variety of dangerous and criminal human behaviors.

Of course, this raised the deeper question of whether good and evil really exist. If you can give a thief a drug and he will stop stealing, or a rapist a drug and he will stop raping, or a murderer a drug and he will stop killing, then was that person really bad to start with, or was he just lacking some chemical component that the rest of us have?

We got into an argument. I said that while I understand that many of the mechanisms for human behavior are chemical, I still believe in free will. I believe that people choose to act well or badly, and that they are responsible for their choices. And if someone acts criminally, and especially if they harm someone else, than they should be held responsible and they should be punished.

I came home from the dinner and went to sleep, and when I woke up I knew I had found the deeper issue I needed to expand my short story about the two brothers into a novel. So after fifteen years I figured out how to write Dark Angel.

ETC: What's next?

DAVID: I'm working on a trilogy for my publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The first book, Firestorm, is finished and will be published in Fall of 2006. It's very fast moving and combines my two careers, YA coming of age stories and action screenplays for Hollywood.

ETC: Can you talk a little about your Hollywood side?

DAVID: In the last fifteen years I've written more than thirty screenplays for the different Hollywood studios. My produced movies include "Kiss the Girls," "Desperate Measures," and most recently "Walking Tall" starring The Rock. I love writing YA books, but I wanted to try to capture the pace and excitement of what I do for Hollywood in a coming of age novel. Firestorm moves like lightning. I think boys will enjoy reading it, and help me to continue to prove that editor wrong -- boys do read!

Photograph of David Klass (c) Giselle Benatar.