Q & A:
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I always made up stories. Even when I was really little, like seven or eight, I was the kind of kid who was quite happy sitting alone in his room making up stories. In those days they were usually about baseball players, heroic dogs or some small band of tough but determined commandos invading a previously unknown Pacific Island and killing all the bad guys.
It didn’t occur to me to actually start writing my stories down until much later, like when I was in college. That’s also when I decided I wanted to make a living as a writer.
Since “make a living” was the operative phrase, I looked for a paying job either as an advertising copywriter or a journalist. Advertising won. That was probably a good thing since I think I was much better at dreaming up TV commercials than I would have been at writing five column inches on the mayor’s latest civic achievement. Writing advertising was a lot more creative and a lot more fun. It also paid better.
It was only after I left the advertising business that I seriously thought about writing fiction and getting it published. The Cutting was my first try at a novel. Happily, it got published since I wasn’t getting any younger.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
There have been lots of inspirations. One was Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I read Crime and Punishment four times. The first two times it was an assignment, first in high school and then in college. The last time was a couple of years ago, after I decided to write a novel about a murder but hadn’t yet decided on the character, the plot or the setting.
Anybody who’s read The Cutting knows my story is nothing like Crime and Punishment. I’m no Dostoyevsky. Still it was an inspiration to me to know somebody could write a novel about a murder that was that good.
How do you create the characters in your books? Are they based on people you know?
All of my characters are based on people I know. However, very few of them are based on just one person.
Each of my characters has little of this person and a little of that person in them. It’s kind of like when parents make a baby. There’s a little of the mom, a little of the dad and a little that comes from the kid himself.
What is the one book you think everyone should read?
I don’t think there is one book everyone should read.
I think you should read broadly. When you find a book you can’t stop thinking about, that’s a special book for you.
There are lots of books in that category for me. Crime and Punishment was an early one. More recently, Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I also liked the book version of No Country For Old Men much better than the movie.
If you weren’t a writer, what be your profession?
I don’t know. Writing is the one thing I think I’m reasonably good at. I’m not a bad cook but I’d hate being a professional chef. Being a food critic might be fun. But, of course that’s being a writer again.
If you could trade places with anyone in the world, past or present, real or fiction, who would it be and why?
An interesting question. In a sense trading places is what writing fiction is all about. When you’re really into a scene you become the character you’re writing about. You trade places.
Right now, in the middle of finishing my second book, The Chill of Night, I’m spending a lot of time being my hero Mike McCabe. I’m also spending a fair amount of time being the bad guy whose name I won’t reveal since the book is a whodunit.
Who else would I enjoy “being”? It might be fun to be Barack Obama for a while. I don’t actually want to be President. But it might be interesting to “inhabit” Obama for a while and see what having that kind of power feels like.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have 3 things, what would they be?
A GPS, a satellite phone and an American Express Black Card.
What is your favorite movie of all time?
I have no one favorite. Probably dozens. Among them, in no particular order, are On the Waterfront, All About Eve, Casablanca, Psycho, Sunset Blvd, Jules and Jim, The Reader, Million Dollar Baby, Lawrence of Arabia, Cool Hand Luke, Shoot The Piano Player, Hombre, My Man Godfrey and North By Northwest. And those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.
What is the one thing that you want all your fans to know?
I never, ever intend to appear on Dancing With The Stars.
If you could invite 5 people to dinner, who would they be and why?
My wife, my son, my daughter and their significant others. Those are the people I like being with most.
Like McCabe, I’m a native New Yorker. He was born in the Bronx. I was born in Brooklyn. We both grew up in the city. He dropped out of NYU Film School and joined the NYPD, rising through the ranks to become the top homicide cop at the Midtown North Precinct. I graduated from Brown and joined a major New York ad agency, rising through the ranks to become creative director on accounts like the US Army, Procter & Gamble, and Lincoln/Mercury.
We both married beautiful brunettes. McCabe’s wife, Sandy dumped him to marry a rich investment banker who had “no interest in raising other people’s children.” My wife, Jeanne, though often given good reason to leave me in the lurch, has stuck it out through thick and thin and is still my wife. She is also my best friend, my most attentive reader and a perceptive critic.
Both McCabe and I eventually left New York for Portland, Maine. I arrived in August 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks, in search of the right place to begin a new career as a fiction writer. He came to town a year later, to escape a dark secret in his past and to find a safe place to raise his teenage daughter, Casey.
There are other similarities between us. We both love good Scotch whiskey, old movie trivia and the New York Giants. And we both live with and love women who are talented artists.
There are also quite a few differences. McCabe’s a lot braver than me. He’s a better shot. He likes boxing. He doesn’t throw up at autopsies. And he’s far more likely to take risks. McCabe’s favorite Portland bar, Tallulah’s, is, sadly, a figment of my imagination. My favorite Portland bars are all very real.
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