Do you write every day, and at what time of day?
The best thing about a work ethic is to have one. Usually I write from about 8 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m., seldom less than five days a week, and often seven days a week. To paraphrase an old saying (attributed to Thomas Edison), writing a book is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.
What made you decide to become a writer?
A writer doesn’t decide to become one, as somebody else might decide to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or an investment banker because writing is not a profession. It is more a calling than anything else, a vocation if you will.
You write both fiction and nonfiction. Which form do you prefer?
I like nonfiction because it’s easier. My early training was in journalism. It comes naturally to me. Also, with nonfiction, the raw material is there—the “characters,” the story, and so forth—and all I have to do is shape it. With fiction, I have to create the raw material from scratch, and that is much harder. That said, I find fiction more satisfying, more exciting. It’s wonderful when a character sprung from the imagination takes on a life of his or her own and does something unexpected, or when a plot line makes an unanticipated turn. Writing a novel is like an expedition into the unknown; it brings forth both the thrill and the anxieties of exploration.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
Well, I’ve learned a little something from almost everyone I’ve read, but three major influences have been Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, and Ernest Hemingway.
Who are your favorite contemporary authors?
The list of “literary” writers would be long and eclectic, and include at least twenty names from Saul Bellow to William Styron (though they’ve recently joined the roster of deceased novelists). I love reading Alice Munro, in my opinion the finest practitioner of the short story in the English language today. I also enjoy first-rate “genre” writers like Michael Connelly, John LeCarré, Elmore Leonard, and John Katzenbach.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I read, of course, partly for pleasure, partly to learn from other writers. I get outdoors as much as possible, because writing is so sedentary and cloistered. I am an ardent hunter and fly-fisherman, and I also love hiking and backpacking. I live part of the year in a small town in southern Arizona, where the pristine skies awakened an interest in astronomy. There is nothing quite like looking at galaxy 40,000 light years away to prevent one from falling into solipsism and the sin of taking oneself too seriously.
Where do you get your ideas?
Do you write on a laptop/desktop or with a pen or pencil; and if with a pen, do you use blue or black ink?
The above are the two questions I’m most frequently asked, and I find them frequently annoying, and therefore will not answer them.