Cultura Impopular

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Jueves 18 de agosto de 2011

Eight Million Ways to Write

2011 is turning to be a very busy year for Lawrence Block. He brought back Matthew Scudder last May in the brilliant A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Mulholland Books) and next month we’ll be able to put our grubby paws on yet another new book of his: Getting Off (Hard Case Crime). Also, he’s writing a consistently funny and really informative blog, he has released almost all of his backlist as unexpensive eBooks and even joined Twitter. As an avid fan of his fiction I had been looking for quite some time for an excuse to chat with him; now I had three. No more delays, then. I’d like to extend my gratefulness to Mr. Block for his availability and generosity.

Oscar Palmer: Your career sprang from the “Write-for-your-Life” school of the digests and paperbacks, so I’m curious as to how do you see this new era of college courses, literary academies and “How To” manuals (some of which you’ve even authored) as opposed to the world in which you started your career?

Lawrence Block: Well, I feel conflicted. On the one hand, I’ve only read two or three instruction books on writing in my life, and they were all well over fifty year ago. On the other hand, I wrote a monthly column on fiction writing for fourteen years, and have published six books on the subject. I have to believe they’re of some value, yet I certainly made do without them, or their equivalent. And my own background has made me suspicious of MFA graduate programs in writing; I don’t know that they do any harm, but neither am I convinced they do much good, and I think the real danger leads in young people’s belief that they’re necessary. They prepare you to teach writing, but I don’t know that they prepare you to do it. I think one prepares oneself. I came of age when low-level magazine and paperback markets provided a good apprenticeship for writers. I don’t know if there’s an equivalent nowadays, but there may be. I think the Internet and possibilities for self-publishing may constitute a real game-changer. It’s far too early to tell what it may all amount to.

OP: You wrote a great post on your blog about your experience reading John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months and how it led you to launch your blog and your twitter account. Also, your use of the Internet as a tool of promoting not just new work but giving a new life to your backlist in the form of eBooks is nothing short of exemplary. How many hours do you usually spend now on cultivating that direct relationship with readers, and in which ways have you altered your work routines to accommodate these new commitments?

LB: Well, I don’t time it. I sit for hours on end at my computer, and I switch from task to task, and lately I use the social media a lot, but I don’t think I’d do it if I didn’t enjoy it. This kind of dialogue with readers is just a different form of what I do in my books, you know. As is this interview. And I should add that I think all of this is counterproductive for those writers who don’t enjoy doing it. If I didn’t get a kick out of this, I’d be doing myself more harm than good.

OP: So, is it working? Have you perceived some renewed interest in your oldest work? Are you satisfied with how things are coming along since you entered the eBook market?

LB: Books of mine that were out of print forever have a new life as eBooks, and people are buying them and reading them and evidently getting some enjoyment out of them. How much that’s going to amount to financially is unknowable at this stage, and it may not really be the point. I’ve always believed that, if people read my books, I’ll make a living. Ultimately, you know, it’s the work that matters. I see writers who network and promote themselves like crazy, but they write books that nobody much wants to read, and while they may get people to try one, they’re not going to build anything lasting that way.

OP: A Drop of the Hard Stuff is your 17th Matthew Scudder novel. Seeing now how the character has evolved and gotten old and changed along the years, what would you say to a new reader of yours in terms of what to expect, not just of this particular novel, but of all the Scudder series?

LB: I probably wouldn’t say anything to the reader, preferring to let the books speak for themselves. As for Scudder’s aging and changing, I never expected that when I began writing about him. Fictional detectives generally stayed the same and never grew older. But the level of realism in the books was such that I felt I had no choice but to let Scudder grow and evolve and age, and I’ve never regretted this decision. The result has been that it may be close to time to stop writing about him, but if he hadn’t evolved I’m sure I’d have stopped long ago.

OP: The hiatus between your previous Scudder novel, All the Flowers Are Dying and A Drop of the Hard Stuff has been the longest between books since you started writing the character. Why it took you so long to get back to him?

LB: Hard to answer. Just as I rarely know what I’m going to write next, neither do I know why I write what I do. In this instance, I thought I was probably through writing the character. Then I thought of the particular premise of the new book, and its setting in an earlier and previously unexamined period of his life, and I was able to write it.

OP: A Drop of the Hard Stuff shares a title with a Dubliners album; When the Sacred Ginmill Closes was named after a line in a Dave Van Ronk song… How important is music to you?

LB: Actually, I don’t know how much of a role music plays. It may have played a larger one in the past than it does now. I don’t listen to anything while I’m working. The last thing I want is distraction.

OP: I’ve loved all of your Hard Case Crime reprints, particularly Grifter’s Game, The Girl With the Long Green Heart and Lucky at Cards, because in them you describe the mechanics of whatever the characters are doing in a way that puts to shame a lot of modern fiction authors, who tend to tell us how great their characters are instead of showing it with actions. Do you research a lot or it’s just that you’re damned convincing?

LB: I don’t do much research. I like to get things right, and the easiest way to do that is to use setting and milieus with which I already have some familiarity.

OP: Your new book, Getting Off: A Novel of Sex & Violence, makes it abundantly clear right up from the cover that this isn’t a Scudder or a light-hearted caper or whatever, and that’s because you received some backlash for some of the content in Small Town, which made me wonder: after more than 50 and very different books, there’s still people who have preconceived notions about how a Lawrence Block book should be, and they get mad about it?

LB: Good question. A lot of my readers seem willing to follow me whatever direction I take, but some have strong preferences. Some like the lighter books, others the darker ones. My feeling is that if I just write what I want to write, if I strive simply to please myself, it’ll work out all right.

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