Friday, July 27, 2012

A Short Q&A in Which Lawrence Block Hands Me My Ass

Like I mentioned in my review of Not Coming Home to You, when I first learned that I’d have the opportunity to interview Lawrence Block, I went a bit soft in the head there for a minute.  But once I recovered from my googley-eyed freakout, I was seized with dread.  No really, this cold fist of dreadful angst grabbed me by the nards and yanked them up into my abdominal cavity.  My balls un-dropped themselves. 

O.K., so maybe it wasn’t exactly that bad.  It was close, though.  Because it was at that point I realized that I had no freaking questions to ask him.  Plenty of questions occurred to me as I read the book, but they were shot all to hell by the new afterward Mr. Block penned for the Open Road edition of the novel.  It was a great piece, filled with all sorts of historical detail and authorly trivia that is almost as interesting as the novel itself.  If you read the book, I highly recommend you read the afterward as well. 

But none of that was helping me miracle up any interview questions.  So I put my thinking cap on, slipped into my big boy britches, and got to work.  What I came up with smacked of pretentious literary book snobbery, of over-analytical ass-hattery, but what the hell else are you going to ask Lawrence Block?  The guy’s been interviewed so many times he’s probably lost count.  So eff it, says I.  This is what I got, let’s go with it.

Off they go in an e-mail (complete with the obligatory self-effacing schmoozing).  What came back was steeped in more awesome-sauce than I could ever have hoped for—proof that a brilliant author can take even crap-tastic questions and give some damn-fine answers (sometimes by not answering the questions at all). 

Here’s how it went down:

Me:  (Question 1) Most of your works feature death, murder, and mayhem—Not Comin’ Home to You being no exception—and you’ve been quite successful in writing in this genre.  Obviously, there’s a market for death and crime in fiction, but why do you think that is?  Why are we, as a culture, so fascinated with crime and, in particular, murder?

LBI can't accept your implied premise that it is our culture that is interested in crime and murder. I think it's a universal, constant throughout human history, and that the causes are not terribly difficult to spot. Matters of life and death are rather more urgent than other less dramatic and less consequential concerns. One sees as much evidence of this in the newspapers as on the bookstore shelves. Fiction, certainly, relies for its appeal on the reader's desire to know what happens next; when the stakes for the character are high, that desire is keener.

True in Shakespeare, true for the Greeks. Why should it be otherwise?

Me:  (Question 2)   The protagonists in Not Comin’ Home to You (Jimmie John, at least) are vicious killers, but you go to great lengths to depict a human side to them as well.  For instance, Jimmie John hates harming animals, and then there’s the farmhouse interlude where he and Betty manage to play at a type of domestic normalcy for a few hours.  Given all of this, why do you think it’s important to humanize our society’s boogie-men in this fashion?  To make them somehow relatable through fiction, if not in reality?

LBAs a writer—and to a large extent as a reader as well—I'm most interested in characters. And it is the humanity of characters that makes them interesting. This means, essentially, that they need to be real. Whether they're heroes or villains, good guys or bad guys, whether you want them to succeed or fail, you can only care in proportion to their humanity. 

Heroes are frequently described as flawed, a word I regard as moronic. I much prefer the vocabulary of gemologists, who will describe a stone as having inclusions. My heroes, surely, have inclusions. I've never known a human being who lacked them.

And the bad guys aren't that different. They're human, too, in books as in life. 

Me:  (Question 3) This last question contains spoilers, so please feel free not to answer it, but I’m curious so I’d like to ask it anyway.  The ending of Not Comin’ Home to You is somewhat unexpected.  Despite all indications to the contrary [spoiler content removed for the reader’s protection].  What factors played into your decision not to go with the more predictable and theatrical choice?  Did you want your readers to take away anything in particular from the conclusion?

LBNope, I don't want to respond to this one. For a few reasons. I wrote the book forty years ago, and if I had a reason for a particular choice I made, I couldn't possibly recall it. More to the point, I don't like to discuss those choices, because like all my fictional decisions they're made not intellectually but intuitively. And, finally, it's a spoiler, as you point out, so the hell with it.

And that, my friends, is how to stick your foot in your mouth during an author interview.  Though, I gotta say, getting your ass handed to you by a living legend is a lot of fun.  Everyone should get to do it at least once before they die—kind of like going to Disney World.  Except better.

In all seriousness, many thanks go to Mr. Block for putting up with my questions and for being gracious enough to share his thoughts on I Read a Book Once.  There’s a lot of wisdom in that skull of his, and I’m honored to have been able to sample even the slightest bit of it.

Oh yeah, and that Not Comin’ Home to You giveaway should still be rocking and rolling right about now.  If the interview has piqued your interest, be sure to stop by and enter to win.


Lawrence Block (c) Open Road Media
Author Biography (from Open Road Media):   Lawrence Block (b. 1938) is the recipient of a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and an internationally renowned bestselling author. His prolific career spans more than one hundred books, including four bestselling series as well as dozens of short stories, articles, and books on writing. He has won four Edgar and Shamus awards, two Falcon awards from the Maltese Falcon Society of Japan, the Nero and Philip Marlowe awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers Association of the United Kingdom. In France, he has been awarded the title Grand Maître du Roman Noir and has twice received the Société 813 trophy.  A father of three daughters, Block lives in New York City with his second wife, Lynne. When he isn’t touring or attending mystery conventions, he and Lynne are frequent travelers. They have been members of the Travelers’ Century Club for nearly a decade, and have visited about 150 countries.


  1. Replies
    1. That was exactly what I told my wife when I first read the responses. :)

  2. This happened to me when I interviewed Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo a few years back. Except it was over the telephone. I totally know the feeling!

    1. For me, it's kind of like talking to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and having him rip you. It's part of the fun, y'know? I mean, I'd be disappointed if it didn't happen.

  3. Such a great interview. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  4. lmao you can always cry on Mrs. Jonathan's shoulder. Awesome just the same

    1. Yup, I'm weeping like a girl. Lawrence Block made me cry. ;)

  5. Oh and you could have asked if you were a tree what kind of tree would you be hahahahaha
    Okay I'll stop now *snort*

    1. I could have asked him what was his favorite color or how he liked his eggs. Those would have been good too, right?

    2. You could have yes but it's quite hilarious as is.

  6. He sounds like he writes interesting books. I have never read any of his books but I think I've seen some of them in shops.

    1. For sure. You should give something of his a read sometime. You won't be disappointed.


  7. His responses were freaking amazing - and - lol - he was a good sport about handing your ass to you :-)

    1. Yes, he was a really good sport about it. I wouldn't have had it any other way, though. Getting my ass handed to me by an author like Lawrence Block is an honor and a privilege.

      Thanks for reading. ;)

  8. Haha! Absolutely loved this! Great job.


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