The following is numero uno in a series of significant author interviews. It’s fitting that the first is with literary legend and icon, Lawrence Block. The man literally wrote the book(s) on writing, and Senor Block was gracious enough to take time out from his busy day to offer a few utterances for our titillation and enlightenment. 100% Lawrence Block, in his own words.
RB: Let’s start off with what you’re working on now. What’s your latest release? What excites you about it?
LB: Latest releases, actually. Hard Case Crime published Getting Off in late September, and I self-published The Night and the Music a week or two later. I have to say I’m excited about both of them. Getting Off is very intense, very erotic, and the POV is that of a sociopathic female serial killer, with whom I (and, it would appear, many readers) fell utterly in love. The book was a delight to write. The Night and the Music collects all the Matthew Scudder short fiction, eleven pieces written over 35 years, including two new stories; I couldn’t see it as a hot item in stores, so I decided to publish it myself, as an eBook and a POD trade paperback. The process was great fun, and the response has been remarkable. The thing’s flying off the virtual shelves.
But that’s not what I’m working on now, is it? Actually, I’m not working on anything now, because two weeks ago I wrapped HIT ME, the fifth book about Keller. Mulholland has it scheduled for February of 2013, which seems awfully far away, doesn’t it? But I suppose the time will fly. It so often does.
RB: What’s your process for creating characters? Do you do character outlines, or just start writing with a mental image? Any opinions on what process has the most merit?
LB: I wish I knew how to answer that. I start with whatever I start with, and sometimes it’s just an opening sentence. I find out who the characters are as I write. I’ve learned to trust the process, if one can even call it a process. I’ll tell you, I sometimes feel like the moron who found the lost horse when nobody else could. How did he do it? “I just said to myself, if I was a horse, where would I go?” That’s how I write.
RB: How many hours a week do you try to write?
LB: It’s always been too variable to quantify. Nowadays, when I’m most of the time NOT working on a book, I’m most of the time not writing. I thought I’d retired from novels a couple of years ago, but, like Bogart in Casablanca, I was misinformed.
RB: What’s your process like? Is it 10 hour days, 5 hour days, smaller chunks, or random? How has it changed over time?
LB: When I’m working on something, and can devote myself entirely to it, I’ll put in a long stretch of hours. But much of that time I don’t really seem to be doing anything. I check email, I surf some websites, I check my Kindle sales several times an hour, I play computer solitaire, I play non-computer solitaire, and somewhere in there a couple thousand words get written. God knows how. I think elves do it. You don’t like the new book, blame the fucking elves.
RB: You’ve been doing this a long time. What still excites you about writing? More succinctly, why do you do what it is you do?
LB: Well, money makes the mare go. Or at least I tell myself that’s it. But I write a monthly column for a stamp magazine—Linn’s—and I have a column in Mystery Scene, and while I get paid, the money’s hardly enough to serve as a motivator. So I guess I must like doing this, and it must fill an inner need.
RB: Do you work on multiple WIPs at the same time – as in several in different stages, or do you focus on one until it’s done?
LB: Like the Unitarians, who believe in one God at the most, I generally limit myself to one WIP at a time. At the most.
RB: Do you write your chapters sequentially, or no? I generally start at the beginning and keep plodding till the end, but I’m always curious about how others work.
LB: I write from the beginning and stop when I get to the end. Can’t imagine doing it differently.
RB: Is there a quintessential Lawrence Block book, that if readers could only read one, that’s the one that synthesizes your style and is the ultimate expression of your Blockness, or Blockticity, or whatnot?
LB: I’m all over the map, y’know? And I don’t know that a Scudder or Keller is any more moi than a Burglar or Tanner—or a Jill Emerson opus, or, well, anything. Write ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out, that’s my theory.
RB: What advice could you offer new writers, if you only had 60 seconds with them, and wanted to impart the most critical knowledge you could – other than don’t quit your day job?
LB: I would never tell anybody not to quit his/her day job. One piece of advice? Write to please yourself. Period.
RB: What do you dislike most about the writing/publishing process?
LB: The wait between completion of the work and seeing it on sale. HIT ME’s not out until Feb 2013? R@s!
RB: What book do you wish you’d written?
LB: Silly question. The DaVinci Code, obviously. No joy to read, but the perfect book to have written.
RB: Whose shirts do you wear?
LB: My own. My wife’s are too small for me.