Saturday, March 1, 2008

Q & A with Peter Spiegelman

Q: What makes John March different from other fictional private eyes?
March is the black-sheep son of a prominent New York banking family. He walked away from the family business to become a small-town cop in upstate New York, and eventually a private investigator back in NYC. March’s cases are set in the world of finance (or have that world as a backdrop in some way), and March’s background makes him a sort of outside insider to that world. He knows his way around Wall Street, but he’s got a healthy skepticism about what goes on there—a vital critical distance.

Another thing I’ve tried to create in March is a character who is in retreat from life. Rather than taking refuge in drink, drugs, etc., March has made his life very small, very spare. He’s stripped it down to things he can control. His life consists of his work and his running. It’s somewhat monk-like—simple, disciplined, and with little in the way of emotional entanglements. He’s much more comfortable examining other people’s lives than his own. Needless to say, his retreat from life is imperfect, and his control over things is mostly illusory.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
I have no particular problem with sidekicks per se, as long as they’re fully-realized characters—people I care about, and who are important to the story. The cartoonish, two-dimensional variety that exist only to do the heavy-lifting the PI is too squeamish for don’t thrill me.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
Not a huge amount—though hopefully enough. My stories tend to take place in milieus that are familiar to me. If I’m writing about something I don’t know a lot about, I try to do my homework, to get the facts and the atmosphere right.

Q: Has your writing changed a lot over time?
I think so. I’ve become a harsher editor, and as a result, I think my writing has become tighter and somewhat more spare.

Q: How do you promote your books?
In the usual ways—touring, interviews, website, conferences, etc. My publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, does a great job getting review and media coverage. There’s no magic promotions bullet that I know of, but little by little you eke out an awareness of your work amongst the reading public.

Q: What's next for you and John?
I’m working on March #4, which takes place mostly in L.A., and in the world of hedge funds.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Too many to name. Certainly Spade himself, as well as Marlowe, Lew Archer, Travis McGee, Spenser, Matt Scudder, Dave Robicheaux, Milo Milodragovitch, Easy Rawlins, Arkady Renko (I suppose technically he’s a cop)--though they’re the tip of the iceberg.

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 and in what way?
That’s a tough one. I actually think that world events will probably be a bigger influence on PI-writing than any particular contemporary author will. The PI archetypes that we know and love arose to a great degree in the wakes of the Depression and WWII. Between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the disruptions in the global economy, we seem to be in another period of great flux. I suspect we’ll see this turmoil manifest itself more and more in PI writing.

Q: David Fulmer came up with the following question: Why did you want to write in this genre?
Another good question. My PI jones dates from the time I first read the Maltese Falcon, when I was about 12 years old. I was hooked on Hammett’s narrative voice, the strong sense of place he created, and his characters—especially the character of Sam Spade. I went on to read the rest of Hammett’s work, and then Chandler, MacDonald, etc…, and I knew I wanted to try my hand at it. Which I finally did—about 30 years later.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Other than PI writers and PI novels, which authors and what sort of writing has had the greatest influence on your work?

For me, the answer is poetry. It was my first “serious” writing, and I still write and read it today. Some of my favorite poets are: William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Jorge Luis Borges, Rilke, Mark Strand, Charles Simic, John Allman, Jane Mead, and Stephen Dunn.

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