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Interview with John Knoerle: ‘It was a hell of a lot more fun to be a guy in the 40s’




John KnoerleJohn Knoerle began his creative endeavors in the early 70s as a member of the DeLuxe Radio Theatre, a comedy troupe in Santa Barbara. He then moved to LA and did stand-up comedy, opening for the likes of Jay Leno and Robin Williams.

Knoerle wrote the screenplay Quiet Fire, which starred Karen Black, and the stage play The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, an LA Time’s Critic’s Choice. He also worked as a staff writer for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Knoerle moved to Chicago in 1996 with his wife Judie. His first novel, “Crystal Meth Cowboys,” was optioned by Fox TV. His second novel, “The Violin Player,” won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction.

John Knoerle’s novel, A Pure Double Cross, was the first volume of a late 40s spy trilogy featuring former OSS agent Hal Schroeder. The second volume, A Despicable Profession, was published in 2010. Knoerle’s latest book, The Proxy Assassin, Book Three of the American Spy Trilogy, has just been released.

Visit his website at

In that wonderful movie Moonstruck Olympia Dukakis has an ‘aha’ moment. She has been trying to understand why men like her husband commit adultery. She figures it’s about more than just sex. Then it comes to her: “Men cheat because they fear death!”

That’s why men write too, if you want my opinion. It’s a small shot at immortality.

In his memorial tribute to Yeats, W.H. Auden wrote,

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

The Proxy AssassinYour American Spy Trilogy is set in the late 40s. Do you have a particular fascination with that era?

I do. Two powerful cross currents were fighting each other in the U.S. during the immediate post-war period. A yearning to return to home and hearth and attempt to forget how the supposedly civilized part of the world had almost succeeded in committing suicide. A yearning that stood in direct conflict with the role that America now found thrust upon it – Defender of the Free World.

On a lighter note, let’s face it, it was a hell of a lot more fun to be a guy in the late 40s. You could have a steak for breakfast, two martinis at lunch, and about the only place you couldn’t smoke was church.

There’s an undercurrent of German pride in your Trilogy. What’s that about?

It’s German-American pride. My father’s family migrated from the Old Country in the 19th Century so they were fully assimilated Yanks by the 20th Century, yet still proud of their German heritage. Until World Wars I and II came along and made German ancestry vaguely shameful. Of course no German-Americans were interned, as happened to Japanese-Americans, but many German restaurants and beer halls shut down and even streets with German names were re-christened.

I still feel badly for my grandparents and great-grandparents. They couldn’t fully celebrate who they were through no fault of their own. So I thought I’d give the Kraut-American community a little overdue love.

“The Proxy Assassin” takes place in the context of the hotly-contested Truman-Dewey Presidential race of 1948. What are the potential dangers of mixing politics and fiction?

I consider myself a moderate conservative with libertarian leanings. But creating credible characters requires open-mindedness to every perspective, political or otherwise. Without that you’re writing a comic book. Or a propaganda pamphlet.

Making sense of the other guy’s P.O.V. can be difficult of course. Which is why, I suppose, that Americans are so hunkered down in their separate bunkers.

While it’s always tempting to launch into a bombastic screed that trashes your ideological opponents, ‘keeping an open mind’ is more or less the job description of a competent writer.

You have now spent most of your adult life writing fiction – stage plays, screenplays, novels – with only sporadic commercial success. Any regrets?

Yes. I deeply regret that my fellow citizens were too preoccupied with social media, smart phones, the Kardashians, Snooki and Honey Boo Boo to take time to recognize, and lavish extravagant sums of money upon, my authentic American genius.

Just kidding.

(Not really.)


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