Monday, May 13, 2024

The 40 but 10 Interview Series: Jonathan Kravetz


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today we are joined by Jonathan Kravetz. Jonathan’s novel, How We Were Before, is forthcoming from Running Wild Press in 2024. His short story, “Conch,” was the Fiction Category winner for the Fall 2017 issue of Cardinal Sins. His stories and plays have appeared in a variety of journals, including The Iris Literary Journal, The Rappahannock Review, The Furious Gazelle, The Opiate Magazine, Narrative Northeast, and others. His short story, “The David,” was turned into a podcast by He has several other published short stories and has written a dozen science non-fiction books for children. Jonathan has edited and ghostwritten several essays and memoirs. He is the founder and former Editor-in-Chief of (1999–2019), a biannual literary webzine devoted to publishing engaging personal essays, memoirs, art, fiction, humor and more. Jonathan is also the founder of the monthly reading series, Trumpet Fiction, which is held the second Saturday of every month at KGB Bar in the East Village. Jonathan's plays have been produced in New York City, England, and Dallas. His play, Sing Sing, was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference. His play, Insomnia, was a finalist for the Summer Scribes Series, for 12 Peers Theater and was selected as a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference. Jonathan holds a Masters in Cinema Studies from NYU and an MFA from Queens College where he was a Louis Armstrong resident. He teaches fiction and dramatic writing in New York City and drama at FIT, State University of New York.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I teach theater at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York and take my dog to the beach almost daily. It’s more fun in the winter because sometimes we have the entire beach to ourselves. I play the trumpet and occasionally gig with a band out here in Rockaway, NY, where I live. I listen to podcasts and watch a ton of movies. I drive my girlfriend to her many markets (she makes jewelry out of seashells)! I wear baseball hats and think about characters in my books. I wish I was writing more, but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time promoting (and learning to promote) How We Were Before. I never fully appreciated how much work goes into publicity.

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

I guess it never occurred to me to celebrate the completion of a new book because they never feel completely done to me. I’m always working on them, even when I’m sending them out. But I like this idea and since I’m almost done with a new novel (a humorous mystery), I think I’ll go get myself a halva ice cream sundae at the local ice cream shop in Rockaway. Sugar in the form of anything frozen always feels like an important celebration.

If you could cast your characters in a movie, which actors would play them and why?

How We Were Before is a novel of connected stories, so there are too many characters to cast them all. But I’ll pick a handful because I can’t resist this question.

Pete and Tara Blythe, the town’s most glamorous couple, will be played by Katherine Hahn and Bill Hader. I can see them having some amazing blow-out fights and then making up.

The murderer, Billy Lawson, will be played by Barry Keoghan. He’s the kid in The Banshees of Inisherin, but he’d be much more demented in my movie.

Shelby Blythe, the oldest daughter of the murdered couple, will be played by Kristen Stewart. She can get the edge and sexual ambiguity just right.

Samantha Blythe, the youngest daughter of the murdered couple, will be played by Emma Stone. She can play caring and vulnerable.

The Vice-Principal of the high school will be played by James Spader (though we may de-age him fifteen years or so). There’s nothing more to say about a character being played by Spader.

What’s the one book someone else wrote that you wish you had written?

I’m tempted to say The Imperfectionists because it’s the novel that inspired How We Were Before, but I’ll pull one from left field instead: The City & The City by China Miéville. It’s a detective novel that takes place in two cities that exist side by side and whose citizens are forbidden to go into or acknowledge the other city. The people must, in fact, “unsee” the people in the other city. I’ve written one novel and a few plays that take place in imaginary worlds with specific rules like this, and I admire how Miéville is able to craft such a believable realm out of such a farfetched concept. The world he creates is realer than real, because the central metaphor examined in the book—the idea of unseeing others—is, alas, very much the way living in a city feels.

What’s the single best line you’ve ever read?

No one writes a first paragraph like Shirley Jackson. I apologize that the opening to We Have Always Lived in the Castle is more than one line: “My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

Do you read the reviews of your books or do you stay far far away from them, and why?

How We Were Before is my debut novel, so I’ve only seen one review of it so far (it was positive!). But I also write plays and have made the mistake of reading the reviews. Theater reviews tend to be snarky and are often written by people who would rather be writing plays than reviews and good ones can be hard to come by so I’m not sure why I read them—I’m a glutton for punishment? For the most part, though, I’ve been lucky, and I’ve gotten a great deal of positive feedback and encouragement from audiences and fellow writers. In the end, that means more to me than any review could, positive or negative.

What would you do if you could live forever?

As it happens, I have written a play about a society in which people live forever. The people in this world are bored and do nothing but watch a single reality TV show: The American Dream. One man learns he’s dying of insomnia and gets featured on the show with his wife. As he approaches death, he slowly awakens to the beauty of being alive. But in the real world, I don’t think I’d be bored. I’d do many of the things I’m already doing. And I’d also get into a business in which I could make a lot of money so that I could ultimately use it to start a huge arts organization. I picture a twenty-five-story glass building in the west village of New York with practice rooms, theaters, and art and writing studios, plus classes and all manner of shows. All for free for the artists.

What is under your bed?

The dog is under my bed when she’s not under my desk. Or under my feet. There are also several dog toys and an elk antler under there. During the day, while I work, she lounges on the bed waiting for me to get up and do something exciting. But when she decides she has to get working too, she crawls under the bed and gnaws at the antler.


What’s the weirdest thing you’ve given/received as a gift?

I worked at a weekly newspaper (much like the one described in the first story in my novel) when I graduated college. It was difficult making friends with the other staff while I was still trying to learn how to be a semi-competent journalist. When the holidays rolled around, we had an office Secret Santa and I my “victim” was the other reporter in the office. I gave him gag gifts every day for about a week. I remember one was a card that said, “Good Cheer and Tidings this holiday season!” with wrapped boxes of Tide and Cheers detergent—the single serving ones they have at laundromats. No one suspected I was the gag-gift giver. It was fun revealing myself on the last day and giving a real gift (which I don’t remember). After that, the other reporter and I became good friends.

Do you DNF books?

Unfortunately, yes. When I was younger, I forced myself to plow through to the end once I started a book. I made it through some fairly dense novels. But I didn’t necessarily get that much out of getting all the way to the end of something I wasn’t enjoying, so now if a book isn’t doing something magical in a hundred or so pages, I’ll put it down and start another. I used to feel bad about that, but I’ve come around to believing that there are too many great books out there to spend time reading ones that neither delight me nor teach me something new.


When a savage home invasion results in the death of a town's most glamorous couple, the surviving friends and relatives of the victims must navigate the emotional aftermath: Exasperated high school Vice-Principal Zachary Rivers makes a final effort to reach a troubled student. Town librarian, Shelby Blythe—the eldest daughter of the murder victims—begins a correspondence with Billy Lawson, her parents’ murderer. Evelyn Kavanaugh, a retired marketing manager and beloved family friend of the Blythes, embarks on a luxurious cruise as a prelude to suicide. Noam Russell, Billy Lawson’s best friend, returns to Benfield to claim a share of his deceased father’s estate. Samantha Blythe’s maternal attempt to help an employee evokes a renewed desire to connect with her own family.

The spaces between stories are haunted by echoes of the deceased couple's life—from the ignorant bliss of first impressions and great expectations to the tumultuous troubles of middle age, and, finally, an undying hope for reconciliation.

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