Howard Kaplan Interview

Howard Kaplan, a native of Los Angeles, has lived in Israel and traveled extensively through Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. At the age of 21, he was sent on a mission into the Soviet Union to smuggle a dissident's manuscript on microfilm to London. His first trip was a success. On his second trip, he transferred a manuscript to the Dutch Ambassador inside his Moscow embassy. A week later, he was arrested in Khartiv in the Ukraine and interrogated for two days there and and two days in Moscow, before being expelled from the USSR. The KGB had picked him up

What inspired you to write?
I was once arrested by the KGB in the Soviet Union for smuggling banned books to dissidents. As I left the country one said, "We better not see anything about this in print or next time we won't be so humanistic." It gave me the idea to write about it.

Did the inspiration to write come to you suddenly, or had you been thinking about it some time?
My friends tell me I was always tinkering with words. At college in Berkeley I wrote a play and turned it in to three classes in the same semester.

How did you tell your story? Did you use an outline, or just write your story from start to finish?
I always feel you have to know the end. Then you can take side trails to get there. The major twist of the plot only came to me 2/3's through it.

Did you receive any encouragement from family and friends, or did you work on your book alone?
The opposite, they wanted me to be a lawyer, still do.

What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
Believing in myself and that I could do it.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing your book?
I like writing and enjoy the time which passes quickly. Sometimes when I'm having a plot problem I pedal on my bike around the neighborhood.

Did you experience any personal transformation after the book was published?
No, other than total disbelief.

Have you received any awards for your book(s)?
I've won a few best book of the year internet awards in 2015.

Are you working on a new book and what is it about?
I don’t yet have a title for the new novel I just finished but it is a novel of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that moves through a lot of actual events of 2016 and early 2017. It shows the excesses of both sides - I find necessary to face those for the region to move forward.

Which book of yours was made into a movie? Tell me more about that experience...
The Damascus Cover was filmed. It was a chance thing, no agents, no lawyers. The director, Dan Berk, was looking for material to do a Middle East feature film. He mentioned it to a mutual friend who pulled my novel down from her shelf and magically the film materialized. Dan wrote the script himself but we often met and discussed the material and the direction of the film, which retains the spine of the novel but has some changes. I had no input into the casting of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sir John Hurt and Olivia Thirlby. It also stars Navid Negahban who played Abu Nazir in the early seasons of Homeland. The film was shot primarily in Casablanca and I was there for 10 days of the shoot and went out daily with the crew during the time I was there. I’ve seen the finished film, it’s now in post production and it’s great and a real rush to see it.

What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity?
Everything. Creating is a struggle. I like Dorothy Parker's line when asked if she liked writing. She said, "I like having written."

What strategies do you use to deal with criticism?
Sometimes they hurt, other times I can easily ignore them. I think it matters a lot how things are going elsewhere in my life.

Where did you grow up and what is your favorite/worst childhood memory?
Los Angeles. I was fat and wanted to be in the in crowd. I never made the latter but I did lose the weight.

Do you have a favorite quote?
Somerset Maugham, "Beware of sentences that sound great and don't mean anything."

What is your favorite show on TV?
Current shows: The Americans, The Leftovers, Better Call Saul, Homeland still grabs me. I like the Netflix show Fauda.

Favorite book?
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Who would you want to meet if you could? Dead or alive.
John Le Carre

Is there a talent you wish you had?
Piano

What’s something about you that would surprise us?
I've been alone most of my life. Not sure if that's surprising.

Describe yourself in 3 words!
Introspective, witty, fun