Adam Smyer is the author of Knucklehead, which has been accurately described as “A fierce, intelligent, and often hilarious novel about a young African-Attorney who struggles to keep his cool in the personally and political turbulent ‘90’s”. The Literary Chick was lucky enough to interview him following his successful book tour in South Africa.
The narrative and dialogue in Knucklehead flow so smoothly. How much of the book is autobiographical, if any?
I would love to say “None,” because I think that the question distracts somewhat, but I couldn’t get away with that. Even though in a way it’s true. None of it is journalism. I could also make the argument that it is all autobiographical, in a way—every word I write is unavoidably the product of my thoughts and experiences. So instead I will just say that some of it is autobiographical.
The most egregious events did indeed happen pretty much the way I wrote them. To me, “the most egregious events” would be the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the videotaped murder of Latasha Harlins and her convicted killer’s release in 1991, the assassination of Yitzak Rabin in 1995—things like that. Totally happened.
How did you come to decide to write the novel?
I didn’t. I wrote a short story, and then another, and eventually I realized that I was in the early stages of a novel. That is consistent with my personal experience. I do what I do, and at some point I look around and figure out what it is that I am doing. My greatest accomplishments began with no particular goal in mind.
Knucklehead’s prologue is extremely powerful. How would you say it connects to the book thematically?
Really glad you asked this. For me, the prologue is an exercise to aid in the reading of the book. There’s the obvious interpretation. And then there is the opportunity to view the action in context. I could say a lot more, but I don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
I understand there is already an audio book out. Who is the narrator?
The audio book is read by L. Steven Taylor. Audio books are just his side hustle. By day he is Mufasa in The Lion King on Broadway. When I heard him read the first chapter, I started dancing around and pumping my fist in the air like I was watching sports. He is awesome.
Who were your literary inspirations?
Frank McCourt was my homeroom teacher in high school, and I took a number of English classes with him as well. This was decades before Angela’s Ashes, but Mr. McCourt was always an extraordinary and generous human being. He loved us. He expanded our minds.
Mat Johnson. I was at a VONA Voices faculty reading and this dude read a short story about a guy trying to start a career “henching” – working as a henchman for some low-level wannabe supervillain. It was hilarious and violent. I was like, “Word? This is a thing?” So I read a bunch of Mat and eventually met him and did a workshop with him. Mat took a lot of time reading Knucklehead and giving me feedback that was absolutely priceless. He helped me take the book to the next level.
In recent years I have come to avoid taking on other people’s trauma. I have enough of my own already. I also don’t like gratuitously flowery prose. Telling me something real in direct and beautiful way is what speaks to me personally.
I guess I don’t read romance novels, but in general I try not to get hung up on genre.
If Knucklehead is optioned for a movie, who would be in your dream cast?
If the entire cast and crew of Black Panther could reconvene and shoot Knucklehead, I would really appreciate it.
BIO: Adam Smyer is an attorney, martial artist, and mediocre bass player. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and cats. Knucklehead (Akashic Books) is his debut novel