Category Archives: Tony Knighton

Guest Blog: Three Hours Past Midnight by Tony Knighton

3 hours past midnightPaul has graciously invited me to post an essay about my latest work Three Hours Past Midnight, a novel from Crime Wave Press, set in my hometown, Philadelphia, Pa.  In the first few pages the narrator and his partner burglarize the home of a wealthy, jailed Philadelphia politician.  It features the un-named protagonist from an earlier story of mine, “Mister Wonderful.”

I typically have a framework in mind before I start to put words on a page, a beginning, middle and end.  “Mister Wonderful” began for me as a scene, a dilemma – a man coming to, strapped in the driver’s seat of a car that has come to rest upside down in a shallow, icy streambed.  He’s got a broken collarbone and he hears a siren go by on the roadway above him.  I worked out who he was and why he was there as that story progressed.  Afterward, I found myself still curious about him.  For a long time, also, I’d had a vague story idea about the burglary of a certain private home in Philadelphia, a mansion near Center City, that many here mistakenly think 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 the fiction writer Eryk Pruitt says, some people in this world just need to be robbed.  I couldn’t get started until I had the right players.  After “Mister Wonderful” I knew I had just the guy.

If anything matters to this character, it is his rational approach to problems.  He prides himself on his professionalism.  So, in Three Hours Past Midnight, when things go bad – his partner murdered and the money gone – he has a choice: tackle the problem or give up and go home.  He decides that worse than losing the money, the resulting damage to his reputation among other professionals would be intolerable.

This character is fun for me to write.  I like him because he’s smart and resourceful, but also very human.  He makes mistakes.  He’s 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.

crime wave pressI 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 characters who know him probably consider him fair but dangerous.  Most others 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.

I get bored reading stories that feature a superman or know-it-all.  Worse is the hero’s best friend who is the toughest guy in the world.  It seems these poor guys only exist to get the hero out of trouble.

This novel is also a sort of echo of my novella Happy Hour, an earlier work about a young grifter who has unwittingly stolen forty thousand dollars from dangerous men.  It’s a story of a man on the run through the nighttime streets of Philadelphia, told from the point of view of the pursued.

Three Hours Past Midnight is the hunter’s story. What had appeared to be a simple, straightforward piece of work quickly turns complicated. Along the way, he runs into politics, corruption and organized crime, which in a way are all the same thing.  He leaves a lot of wreckage.  The end isn’t what he expected.tk-bw

I’m working on another piece featuring my nameless protagonist, sort of a follow-up to the first short story, and I’m still figuring out who this guy is.  He’ll be meeting new people and doing new things, and with a little luck it will be fresh.

Thanks, Paul.

 

 

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Guest Blog: Crime Fiction and Philadelphia by Tony Knighton

HappyHourcoversmPhiladelphia is a funny place.  It’s a huge international city, a major communication and transportation hub, home to first-rate colleges and universities, major league sports teams, and magnificent buildings – high-rise corporate headquarters, stadiums and arenas, fabulous entertainment venues, and museums.

It’s also Mayberry, small town America.  Many Philadelphians live and die in their neighborhood, never leaving town – except for weekends “down the shore,” and maybe a stint in the military.  Some old-school Philadelphia Catholics still refer to parts of the city by church parish.  Cops identify the neighborhood by police district; firemen by the engine company local.

We’re unique.  We’ve got food that you can’t get anywhere else: Tastykakes, cheesesteaks, hoagies (other guys imitate us, but the original’s still the greatest!); The Mummers Parade (don’t ask.  It would take too long to explain, and you wouldn’t believe it, anyway); and a local accent that must be heard to be fully appreciated (unlike our neighbors farther up the Northeast Corridor, Philadelphians can handle the letter “R”).

The city informs my writing.  I’ve lived here for most of my life, and worked for the city as a firefighter for thirty years.  I’ve worked every neighborhood, ridden the streets, run the alleys.

Firemen see people on the worst day of their lives.  Crucial to my fiction, I have seen the results of bad intentions.  I’m often struck by the pathetic nature of real crime.  Arson is the leading cause of fire deaths, but neither cold-blooded professionals nor depraved lunatics are responsible for most arson fires.  Most are set by someone angry with a neighbor, or jealous of their boyfriend, or they turn out to be set by people that want a little insurance money to remodel their kitchens with.  Theft is much the same.  Most burglars steal from people they know.  Most stick-up men rob convenience stores.

Like politics, all crime is small town crime, no matter how spectacular it may sound.  We have in Philadelphia a twenty-year Congressman who is currently under indictment.  The man is alleged to have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own campaign funds.   This is one of the most powerful men in the country, and he will probably go to prison.  He stole the money to buy a car, and to go on vacation, and other things like that.

tk-bwThese crimes might sound funny if they weren’t so sad.  Philadelphia’s most notorious murder is of a policeman, Officer Daniel Faulkner, in 1981.  More than thirty years later, his murder continues to make international news.  It started with a traffic stop.  Danny was twenty-five years old.

Life in Philadelphia inspires the theme that I most like to explore in my stories: how one small action – a fistfight, a losing bet, or a stolen overcoat – can touch so many lives.

 Tony Knighton, 8/13/15

Short, Sharp Interview: Tony Knighton

HappyHourcoversmPDB: What’s going on now? 

I’m still working, still fighting fire. This past January I got transferred to the firehouse in Chinatown here in Philadelphia. Still reading and writing fiction.

PDB: How did you research Happy Hour: And Other Philadelphia Cruelties?

Mostly by asking questions.  It’s really interesting that most people seem to have been waiting all their lives for someone to ask them about  what they do or what they know.  A lot of the detail about Philadelphia’s neighborhoods I’ve picked up over the years by living and working here.

PDB: Which of your publications are you most proud of?

My story “Sunrise,” published by Grey Matter Press in their anthology Equilibrium Overturned.

PDB: What’s your favourite film/ book/ song/ television programme?

Ronin/The Friends of Eddie Coyle/You’re Still A Young Man/Breaking Bad

PDB: Is location important to your writing?

Very important.  For me, Philadelphia is more than a location; it’s almost a character.  Even the stories in Happy Hour that aren’t set in  Philadelphia are informed by the city.  In “The Scavengers,” the protagonist’s hometown is never mentioned, but I always imagined that he’s a Philadelphia native.

PDB: How often do you check your Amazon rankings?

I haven’t done that yet.  I’m not too savvy.  How is it done?

PDB: What’s next?

tk-bwI’m working on a story that’s sort of a flip side of “Happy Hour.”  Instead of being hunted, the protagonist is the hunter.

Biography: Tony Knighton is both an author and a lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department, a thirty year veteran.  Born in western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, his family moved to Philadelphia when he was seven.  With the exceptions of a short stay in Toronto, Ontario, and the military, he’s been in Philadelphia ever since.

Tony published the novella and story collection Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia  Cruelties with Crime Wave Press.  His story “The Scavengers” is included in the anthology Shocklines: Fresh Voices in Terror, published by Cemetery Dance, and his story “Sunrise” is included in the anthology Equilibrium Overturned, published by Grey Matter Press.  He has also published short fiction in Static Movement Online and Dark Reveries.

In addition to his job as a fireman, he has also worked on the side as a roofer and played music semi-professionally for many years.  Knighton served in the United States Marine Corps, and attends classes sporadically at Community College of Philadelphia, where he met his wife Julie, an associate professor of English.