1. Your bestselling book Bloomberg Discovers America is on Kindle right now. Tell us a little bit about it. What inspired you to write the story?
It’s kind of you to call it a “bestselling book.” Not at all, at least not yet. It’s a short novella or a long short story, and it’s based almost entirely on a tale that a man named Phil Salonic told me about himself 50 years ago when I was hitch-hiking around the USA. He gave me a lift; I can’t remember from where to where. And I have no idea if any of his story is true. I don’t care. It was memorable and inspiring, and it was set in a world – the Deep South during the Great American Depression – that I didn’t know. It was a fantasy. only the people were remarkably real, and they were lovely. I knew I had to write it. I just didn’t realize it would take me fifty years to get down to it!
Needless to say, I don’t know if what I finally wrote was what he told me or what I conjured up in my imagination over the years. And it doesn’t matter.
2. Jack Bloomberg is such a likable character who is after the American Dream. Did you base him off of a figure in history, someone you knew or was he pure imagination?
3. The Hoax is a very compelling story. How long did it take you to write it?
I wrote it more rapidly than anything I’d ever written before, which probably accounts for “the ring of truth” that many critics have noticed. I had to write it quickly because I was headed for prison and wanted to finish before that grim departure. I said to myself, “To hell with how it turns out. I’ll just wing it. I’ll tell what really happened and how I really felt about it. I won’t worry about how I look to the reader.” So it probably took all of four months to knock off a first draft, writing ten or twelve hours a day (or night) and I made very few changes later on. I had help, of course, in the person of Dick Suskind, my co-conspirator in the Hughes Hoax. We were always laughing at what idiots we had been, and laughter often keeps you focused and on the move.
4. In Fake, a struggling artist, De Hory, is forced to make forgeries when he is short of money. How many paintings did he do in his lifetime?
I don’t know and he didn’t know either. Thousands of works, including drawings.
5. What makes De Hory so fascinating is his commitment to perfection. Every time someone asked for a painting, he would paint it and have the authentication papers to boot. What fascinated you the most while writing about him?
I was fascinated by his skills at lying, both to me and to himself. I had to double- and triple-check almost everything he told me, and I’m still not sure that I got most of it right. Again, I don’t believe that matters, as it’s only a story, as all our lives (as we see them and relate them) are just stories. I tried to make it all coherent, to make it jell, and to isolate the themes that were irresistible to a storyteller and a reader who wants to be both entertained and enlightened.
6. What is your writing process like? Longhand or typewriter? Can you write anywhere?
I write now on a computer and often wonder if that makes the work better or not as good. Writing in longhand gives you a physical connection with words, with phrases, sentences. Your body works in tandem with your mind. I miss that. Decades ago I used a portable Royal typewriter and various big clunky office typewriters (mostly Smith-Coronas) that made a lot of noise when you hit the keys and slammed the carriage back for a new line, and that was exciting. You felt righteous to be working so hard. Computers rob you of that physical connection. But of course with a computer you edit as you roll along, so you always have your text up-to-date. My typewritten manuscripts were a fantastic jumble of sentences, inserts, arrows, balloons full of text, and cross-outs. Sometimes l lost control of the process. I would have to stop for a day or a week and type a new draft. It was fun.
No, I can’t write anywhere. I like a desk and a secretarial chair with a firm pillow stuffed against my spine so that my back doesn’t stiffen up. However, when I’m on a train or a bus or a restaurant, I scribble away with a pen in a notebook or any piece of paper that’s available. And, long ago, I wrote part of a novel at night in a noisy bar, in Spain, by hand, in various notebooks. That was because my little house by the Mediterranean had no electricity. Sometimes I lugged my portable typewriter to the bar and banged away while the Spanish fishermen at the other tables drank and smoked and yelled. I became immune to noise. In the morning, at home,I’d type up what I’d written by hand the night before in the bar.
7. Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m writing a seemingly endless novel about the French Impressionist painters. The working title is Les Amours. Actually, it’s two novels: one about the early, roguish, fly-by-night years of Claude Monet; and the other about the doomed love of the scholarly, scheming Edouard Manet and the beautiful genius Berthe Morisot. The two tales intersect and I need to be more disciplined and saw them apart.
I’m also writing a work of metaphysics called nine days to a newbetter life. It’s about everything I believe and don’t understand. It’s about purposelessness and indescribable reality, the minuscule unimportant place of human beings in the universe, the practical absurdity of almost everything we believe in. I will have to publish this myself because it will offend most people.
8. Why did you decide to self-publish in 2012?
I’m tired of battling with publishers and agents and the sales force they cater to; there are hardly any great editors left. Editors have become hustlers of books and publicity devils. I would love to find a great editor who believed in me, and was independent, and could get things done without prostitution, and I’m sure they exist, but it’s not worth the hunt. This way, I have control, and it’s a challenge. Something new. I like new things and get caught up in the illusion of progress.
Also, it was an opportunity to do a project with my oldest son, Josh, a kind of bonding experience. I couldn’t resist.
9. Some would say that the face of publishing is forever changing with ebooks and each new ereader that comes out. Traditional Publishing companies seem opposed to people publishing their works independently to the Kindle. What are your views on the matter seeing as how you've been on both sides of that fence? Where do you think the Publishing industry is headed?
I don’t have views that matter or that are carved in stone. I enjoy change. The publishing industry certain deserved a wake-up call as it’s grown more conservative and more Hollywood-like over the years. Human beings will always be driven to tell their stories, to define their lives based on their needs. From the campfire to ereaders, and perhaps one day to a telepathic method of communication through chips in our brains. The method doesn’t matter. Truth doesn’t matter because it’s so unattainable. What matters is that we make efforts and effort is what makes life interesting.
10. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Make sure you can earn a living doing something else and that the something-else doesn’t corrupt you as a writer. Alternately, be willing to sacrifice everything else for your writing. Don’t have children unless you know you can afford them. Find a lifemate who has money and/or a good job. Make sure your writing chair is comfortable and has a solid lower-back support. Recognize that everything you write, including so-called nonfiction, is just a story. Recognize that who you think you are is just a story you and others made up. Don’t take yourself or your work seriously. Nothing matters.
With Angel of Zin you've given us a dark and vivid picture of a concentration camp through the eyes of Paul Bach and Captain Dobrany. How difficult was it, writing about this subject knowing that you share the heritage?
Angel of Zin is the story of a decent man, a “good German” in a time when there were very few of them. I spent my 20s and 30s in Europe and knew many Germans. I found that I could only be friendly with those who had left Germany to live elsewhere. I could never understand how almost a whole people could act in such an antihuman way. That was naive of me. What happened in Germany could happen anywhere, including the USA.
Of course it was difficult to write about a death camp and the awful fate of so many Jews. But that wasn’t because I’m Jewish, it was because I’m human.
In Final Argument you redefine the lawyer thriller. Ted Jaffe is defending the very same person he put away. What inspired you to write such an intriguing story?
Ted Jaffe is a decent man, in the same sense that Warren Blackburn, the central character of my novel Trial, and Dennis Conway, the central character of my novel The Spring, are decent men. I often write about such a person who is confronted with his own weaknesses, temptations, past mistakes, and current conflicts, and the horror of events that seem beyond his control. (Paul Bach in The Angel of Zin is such a man; so is young Tom Mix in Tom Mix and Pancho Villa, which in my opinion is my best book.) I like to write about challenge and response. My characters plumb the depths of their possibilities and do what they can to overcome what’s so obviously wrong and bizarre in our world. I wish I could be as good a man as the men and women I write about.
And special thanks to both Josh Irving and Clifford Irving. Looking forward to more of your work in the future.
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