JANUARY 25, 2003

From all the books you have written, do you have a favorite?

Whatever I'm working on at the moment is always my favorite, partly because I'm engaged and thinking about it, and partly because it hasn't yet disappointed me. It's a mistake to think that every writer sits down with a clear and realistic notion of what he's doing. Most of us sit down each morning in front of a blank sheet of paper and hope that what appears on it is going to be a page of Tolstoy or Joyce. So far in my case it hasn't been.

At what point in time did you realize that writing was the "thing for you"?

I always wrote, from childhood on. Just as I had grown comfortable with the idea that nobody else was likely to care enough for anything I might write to pay me for it, I wrote something that seemed to be more likely to engage readers. That was
The Butcher's Boy. I managed to get that accepted for publication in 1980, and continued to write novels until around 1991 or 1992 without quitting my other jobs.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a writer?

Probably the best advice is not to listen very closely to advice. Nobody's experience is repeatable, and your value as a writer is exactly proportionate to your uniqueness, your difference from other writers. Your only business is learning to be a better writer, so if advice encourages you, listen. If it doesn't, don't.

What is the name of your favorite mystery movie?

I don't know. I enjoy movies, but I don't take them very seriously. I suppose I like the old, carefully crafted ones like The Third Man, North by Northwest or Double Indemnity better than the newer ones that seem primarily designed to show off a star or set off explosions.

What other authors do you enjoy reading?

I try hard not to read novels of suspense, because people who write dialogue for a living are natural mimics, and I don't want to end up paroting someone else's style. But now and then I give in. I read and admire people like Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, or Joe Gores once in a while. Most of my reading is non-fiction, and has something to do with whatever I'm writing, whether I intend it to or not.

What other types of jobs have you had?

Like most writers, before making up lies for a living I had a large number of honest jobs. I've worked in a factory that made grinding wheels and another that cut sheet metal, delivered Pepsi Cola, was a laborer in a state park (cutting greens on a golf course, clearing brush, cleaning lavatories), a commercial fisherman (abalone off Santa Barbara), a university administrator, writer/producer of prime time network television series.

Is there anyone, in particular, who influenced you?

I was an English major and earned a PhD in English so that I could spend more years doing nothing but reading English and American literature. I would say that everything you read influences you, but I suppose that my biggest influences were probably William Faulkner (the subject of my doctoral dissertation), Joseph Conrad, and James Joyce. All of them would roll over in their graves if they knew.

What led you to write mysteries?

During the long period when I was writing only for my own amusement, I wrote all kinds of things: science fiction, adventure, historical fiction, etc. The first book I wrote that seemed likely to interest others happened to be a crime novel. It won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America, so I decided a mystery writer must be the name for what I was.

Do you read reviews of your books?

Yes, I read reviews. As I think I hinted above, I believe that a writer's major responsibility--to himself, his readers, his publisher--is to try as hard as he can to get better at it. Criticism can be very unpleasant, but you can sometimes learn what works and what doesn't by reading it.

How would you like to be remembered?

I'm not sure whether I care much about being remembered. When I'm gone, someone else will have that much more breathing space.

What do you believe is the highlight of your career so far?

Highlight of my career so far: Being able to write novels for a living is such an extraordinary privilege that every time I'm reminded of it, I feel good. I live very much in the present. Last night, the highlight of my career was going to an event at a bookstore and having people show up glad to see me and happy to have my signature in their books. Today, it's having you be interested enough in my work to ask me all of these questions.

Do you write on a fixed schedule?

I began by writing whenever I could, wherever I could--nights, weekends, before dawn, during lunch hour in some office. I would work as long as I could and stop when I was too tired to go on. Now I have a family, and I've gotten used to seeing writing as an occupation that I fit in around them. I begin when my kids have gone to school, and I stop when they come home from school. I don't work at night, unless I'm on some kind of deadline.

How did you get started in writing?

The wonderful thing about writing is that anyone can afford to do it, and they don't have to show their efforts to anyone until they're ready. For many years I wrote for fun, and had lots of fun. When I had at last written something that seemed promising, I went about trying to get it published.

How do you come up with plots?

Plots are easy. Once you have invented characters who are three-dimensional and have pasts, hopes, interests and talents in addition to physical characteristics, they will seem to be waiting to act. All you have to do is give them a situation that challenges them.

How do you spend your free time?

I spend all of my free time with my family and a very small number of close friends.

Do you have a message you would like to give to all your readers out there?

I guess I would most like to do what I've never been able to do, which is to thank all of them for seeking out my books and reading them. Their efforts have made my life a pleasure.

                                                 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas Perry was born in Tonawanda, New York, and received a B.A. from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester.  He has been a laborer, maintenance man, commercial fisherman, weapons mechanic, university administrator and teacher, and television writer and producer. His previous Jane Whitefield novels are Dance for the Dead and Vanishing Act. He is also the author of The Butcher's Boy, which was awarded an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and other novels. Thomas Perry lives in Southern California with his wife and two daughters.