Friday, October 7, 2011
Q & A with Lawrence Block
I'm delighted to present this interview with Lawrence Block!
Q: What makes Matt Scudder different from other (unofficial) PIs?
A: The PI is often labeled a man with a code. Bob Parker's Spenser, in what came perilously close to self-parody, would actually sit around discussing his code with Susan. If Scudder ever had a code, he's long since lost his Captain Midnight decoder ring. He has to work it out as he goes along. I find it more interesting that way.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: An agent suggested I develop a tough cop as a series character. I realized I'd be more comfortable writing from an outsider perspective, an ex-cop rather than a member of a bureaucracy. As much for convenience as anything else, I situated Scudder in the New York neighborhood where I was then living.
Q: What's next for you, Scudder and other characters like Keller?
A: I never know what's next. Many times over the years I thought the Scudder series had reached a natural stopping point, but I've learned otherwise so many times that I no longer predict anything. My next novel, coming sometime next year from Mulholland, will be about Keller, and a week ago I could have told you the title, but now that's uncertain again. And of course all of this continges upon my finishing the thing...
Q: How do you promote your work?
A: I used to tour a lot whenever a book came out. Travel's become so cumbersome and unpleasant over the past decade that I've pretty much cut that out. Lately I've become very active online—Twitter and Facebook and my own blog—and I think that's probably more effective than racing around the country. God knows it's simpler. I think, though, that it's only a good idea for writers who enjoy it. I like the online and email interaction, I get a kick out of it, but I know writers who don it doggedly, out of a sense of duty, and I think it then becomes counterproductive.
Q: Tell us why the PI novel isn't dead.
A: One reads its obituary from time to time, and it always turns out to be premature. The individual relying on his own resources to right wrongs or calm troubled waters is an archetype that seems to endure irrespective of shifts in the culture. It gets all the reinvention it needs.
Q: What are your thoughts on ebooks as a reader AND a writer?
A: I'm reading the second volume of Robert Caro's masterful biography of Lyndon Johnson, and I wish it were available as an eBook, because an hour with it leaves me with aching wrists. I love eBooks—as a reader and as a writer. My whole backlist is available now, and most of those boks have been out-of-print for years. That delights me. And I've published three eRiginal books for writers this year, The Liar's Bible, the Liar's Companion, and my early-days memoir, Afterthoughts; those wouldn't exist but for the eBook medium. And, of course, my new venture in self-publishing, The Night and the Music, is driven by the eBook; there's a print edition available, but I'd never have done this in an eBook-less world.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: I'm not sure I'd characterize either of those estimable gentlemen as psychotic—surely not to their faces! It's not hard to understand the appeal of a trusted friend who's more violent and less constrained by moral rules than the hero. I suppose Mick Ballou plays some of that role vis-a-vis Scudder, but only now and then; mostly he's a friend, and the evolving dynamics of that friendship keep me engaged.
Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
A: I have no idea.
Q: Gar Anthony Haywood came up with the following question: What other P.I. writer, alive or dead, would you want as a huge fan?
A: There's a conundrum here. If I idolize and/or idealize a particular writer enough to pick him for the role, I'd perforce regard him as too exalted to waste his time on my work. So, while Gar's question's a good one, I'm not going to answer it.
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
A: How do you keep the series from running out of steam? And now I have answer it, huh? Okay. By allowing Matt Scudder to age in real time, and to be changed in one book for having lived through the preceding one. And by only writing the next book when it's ready to be written. And by avoiding the trap of trying to give readers what they want.