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.
point in time did you realize that writing was the "thing for
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
advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a
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
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.
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
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
Is there anyone, in particular, who influenced
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
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.
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
do you believe is the highlight of your career so
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
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
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
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
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
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.