Tell us a bit about your family. Writing is the family affliction. At least seven members of my extended family have been published writers, including both my parents, my sister, several cousins and an aunt. In reaction to that lineage, I resisted the occupation for a number of years, but family appears to be destiny. My mother was a huge influence. She wrote a murder mystery series in the 1960s and 70s. When she became too ill to continue, I tried to take over the series with her blessing. I wrote three mysteries. They were never picked up, but that got me interested in writing fiction, and I moved on to a genre that appealed to me more: historical thrillers. Though my mother was a university professor of English, she was fascinated by the sciences. Archaeology, astronomy, physics and oceanography all went into the mix. I thought this gave her books an added dimension and I adopted the same pattern in my own writing.
What is your favorite quality about yourself? I would have to say not getting down about the frustrations of this business, the endless rejections, rewrites and so forth. If you’re going to be a writer, you just have to get on with it. I wrote fiction for thirty-four years, produced at least a dozen novels and went through three agents before I got my first work of fiction published. I have writer friends who spent a decade or longer working on a single book, refining it, getting critiques, taking it to workshops and on and on. They essentially froze themselves in place by staying with one book, hurting their development as writers. I’ve never had a problem finishing one book and immediately starting the next. Just get on with it.
What’s your favorite place in the entire world? It’s a very close toss-up between London and Istanbul. However, I have to give the edge to London. I have a long personal history with the city going back fifty years to my first visit in the early 60s as a boy with my parents. I’ve been an Anglophile ever since. British history is among the most interesting and all-encompassing of any country, as a result of its empire and its resistance to tyranny. It’s clichéd but true, that one finds history around every corner in London, and as Samuel Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” I’ve used this extraordinary history in many of my books, but London Underground was the first time I set an entire book around the great city. In my twenties, I made several trips, staying for six weeks each time. This was when I really fell for the city, for its history, museums, the mighty Thames River, the markets, opera and theater and the wonderful parks. I had a brief infatuation with an English girl, wandered the city on foot for weeks and sat on stage just feet behind the great cello player Pablo Casals. The house had oversold tickets and as a result put a row of chairs on stage immediately behind Casals. I often wonder how many people ever got to see Casals play from behind at a distance of about six feet.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing? When I would come home from school as a boy, it would be to a house filled with the sound of typewriters banging away. Both my parents and my older sister would be hard at it, each in their separate rooms. As a teenager, my sister wrote reams of what would probably be called romance novels today. She burned the passion out at an early age. Though she worked for a time as a journalist, she eventually went on to a completely unrelated field. I went in the other direction, resisting at first but eventually giving in to the creative urge. Writing is clearly in the family DNA. My own son is a very good writer and may very well end up making a living at it.
What genre are you most comfortable writing in? I began writing fiction when I was in my late twenties. I wrote mysteries, young adult novels and thrillers. Because it took me over thirty years to find a publisher for my fiction, I probably would have given up if I hadn’t had some success writing non-fiction. I wrote newspaper columns, articles, book introductions, a biography, encyclopedia entries, two collections of essays and other assorted pieces. But fiction was my first love and I never gave it up, so it feels particularly rewarding to finally break through.
Do you intend to make writing a career? That was always my intention, but coming from a family of writers, I clearly understood the difficulty in making a living in this profession. My father warned me not to be a writer. Though he was a university professor of English, he understood the incredible frustrations of trying to make a career out of this. The nearest he came to the big-time was with a novel called The Ivy Trap published in 1959. That book came close to being made into a movie starring Lee J. Cobb and Gregory Peck; just one more of the near misses that come in the life of a writer. But I always accepted that earning a living was going to be impossible as a writer and only a writer. One needs some other way to put food on the table.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – PG
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