Thursday, May 13, 2010

Author interview: Alan Furst

Meet Alan Furst.

For my money, he's simply the best writer out there at the moment. I have a penchant for Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, and the old-fashioned spy writers that Mr. Furst also favors, so I'm predisposed to liking his work.

But for setting, mood, complex and interesting characters, he really is superb. In fact, he was the second novelist I recommended when I began Thriller Thursday, lo these many months.

So if you like Europe, the pre-WW II era, spy novels, or just reading, I beg you to try him. You will become addicted. Even my wife, who only reads non-fiction, makes an exception for him. And luckily for us addicts he has a new novel coming out soon, SPIES OF THE BALKANS.

His interview:

Why do you think the pre-War years (and WWII itself) are still so fascinating - to you and your readers?
I think it's a combination of good versus evil,heroism and honor versus villainy. WWII replays every night on various tv stations and the right side always wins.

Will you continue to write in this era, or are you tempted to try something more contemporary as a setting?
No, a contemporary novel would be awful--cranky and overly sharp, all romantic notions gone. I'll stay 30s/40s.

Have you considered having a German be one of your heroes?
See Dr. Lapp of the Abwehr, a recurring character. And I will surely use a German hero one of these days.

Do you find your books more popular in Europe, compared to the States?
In the beginning, more popular in the UK, now by far selling more in the US.

Do you spend much time in Europe while working on a book?
That varies, I wrote the first three in Paris, conceived and read for two others there.

How long does it take to complete a novel, start to finish?
About 3/4 months for research and 9 months for production writing. (2 pages a day)

What is your writing process? Do you set yourself a target number of words per day?
As above, and all the Hemingway rules (600 words per day, stop when you know what's coming next) apply. Amazing, he's always right, at least for me. And you have to make progress every day, have to.

How did you get to feature in that Absolut Vodka ad?
They called me--one of the creative directors on the account is a serious fan. I suggested that
I write the copy instead of having my photograph.

Your central characters are fairly ordinary people fighting to survive in extraordinary times - is this the most compelling literary theme to you?
Not only me--though I hesitate to say everybody.

Do you have an opinion on the evolution of e-readers and the technological changes facing writers and publishers? Good or bad for readers? Writers?
I don't yet know--I like the book as a technical triumph, but I'm selling about 5% e-editions. The people who seem in love with e-readers are those who spend a lot of time traveling--e-books means you always have something to read.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would you say?
What I would say to aspiring authors is NEVER permit any relative or love interest to read your work before publication. Believe in yourself, and then there's always the Michener gospel: "Never complain, never explain, never disdain." Before I was a successful writer, I had determined that to be a failed writer was a life I would live if I had to. I just wouldn't quit.

Do you enjoy the sales/marketing aspect of being a 21st century novelist, or are you the stereotypical introvert?
I do the sales and marketing with full attention and determination, but being in public is not the easiest thing I do.

Who are you favorite authors, in terms of those you read for pleasure, and those who inspire you?
I read a lot in the 40s, so like Ambler, Greene, Anthony Powell, I like British authors of the 40s as a general rule.

Will we see Brasserie Heininger [go to slide 4] in your new novel, Spies of the Balkans?
Every novel has a scene set at the Heininger, it's a signature.

1 comment:

  1. "Even my wife, who only reads non-fiction, makes an exception for him." Well, now I need to spank you, because * obviously * I read your novels. Furst is fantastic though. Thanks for introducing me to him. ;)


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