In Herbie's Game, a Southern California burglar whose mentor/second father has been murdered embarks on an investigation that leads us on a tour through the nine circles of hell, but with better weather.
What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?
On the Kindle, Bare-Faced Messiah: the True Story of L. Ron Hubbard, an eye-opener of cosmic proportions for anyone who didn't already suspect that the carefully trimmed hedges surrounding Hubbard's life concealed a chaotic snarl of weeds, some of them toxic. On paper, Maximum City, by Suketo Mehta, about Bombay/Mumbai, the best book about a city I've ever read, and Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I haven't opened since I was twelve, and which is even better than I remember.
Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?
This is going to sound so pretentious. Anthony Trollope's six-volume Pallisers series is unique, as far as I know, in following a relationship over something like four decades, during which it changes from a convenient arrangement to deep love and then terrible loss. Anthony Powell's 12-book series A Dance to the Music of Time has changed into a new book every time I read it, which is four times so far. Also, it's hilarious and the home of the greatest comic monster of 20th-century fiction, Kenneth Widmerpool. And I'd have to add Haruki Murakami's 1Q84--which I just reread and which dazzled me all over again as only the best magic can--and Pride and Prejudice, which is just perfect. I think some of the people who point out what a tiny canvas Jane Austen works should also remark on how deep it is, and how funny. William Gaddis' The Recognitions, which I read in college, became the template for my self-education, my real education, for ten years. I read widely on many of the elements in Gaddis' novel: art, artists, forgery (both artistic and personal), the history of religion, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and on and on.
Important book you never read?
Books, really. Moby-Dick (but not for want of trying) and Finnegans Wake, definitely for want of trying. Life is shorter than I used to think it was.
Book that changed your life?
The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum. My family moved all the time – 22 houses in my 18 years with them, and when you're a kid, a move across town might as well be to the next galaxy. All your friends disappear, you're in a new school, and so forth. You learn not to make friends. When I was seven, I read The Wizard of Oz and realized that wherever I went, I could take books with me. From then on, I read all the time. It's impossible for me to imagine who I would be if that part of my life hadn't opened up so wondrously.
The Big Sleep, pure and simple. It opened to me a form of storytelling in which the objective was to answer a question, and the answer was buried deep inside a character. And, like most really great writers, Chandler made it look easy. Eighteen books later, I'm still finding out how difficult it is.
What's your most memorable author moment?
In my Poke Rafferty series of books, set in Bangkok, the central character marries a Thai woman and the two of them adopt a daughter, a street child, essentially right off the sidewalk. I've gotten lots of mail from families who have adopted across cultural and racial lines, and basically they accuse me (very nicely) of hiding somewhere in their house and writing things down. I heard several times from a family in Ohio who had adopted a Thai girl named Tippawan, and when I was in Cleveland at a mystery event, a teenage girl came up to me with a big smile and said, “I'm Tippawan.” Behind her were her parents, who said they'd finally let her read one of my books, and Tippawan said, “It was like reading about myself.” For the next few days I was so high people had to shout up to me.
What talent or superpower would you like to have?
The power to edit myself with some neutrality. On every manuscript I go through several clearly marked stages: 1) I love everything, 2) I hate everything, and 3) What's the use? None of those is the ideal platform for the editing process.
What are you obsessed with now?
Okay, you asked. The dynamics of Broadway musicals, an art form in which a large number of hugely talented people with enormous egos, practicing artistic disciplines that have virtually nothing in common, come together (or don't) and spend whopping amounts of money, either to create something seamless or else to launch the Titanic. I've been devouring backstage histories of musicals, and none is much better (for a successful show) than Ted Chapin's Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical “Follies.”
What's your most prized possession?
I'm not very thing-oriented. I don't think I own any object I'd miss for more than 24 hours. What matters to me are my marriage and my work, very definitely in that order. I've led an unreasonably blessed life, but nowhere more so than in those two categories.
What's the best piece of advice you ever got?
From my mother: “Marry that girl.”
From an editor (about Junior Bender): “Don't write any more of these books. The American reading public doesn't associate you with comic crime fiction.” Of course, 99.9775% of the American reading public has no idea who I am, and quite a lot of them like comic crime fiction.
Who's your current author crush?
I have two: Lisa Brackmann, whose thriller/mysteries set in China both grip and amuse me; and Jincy Willett, maybe the funniest novelist I know of who's working in English. I'd love to meet her, but I'm afraid of her.
What book do you wish you'd written?
Many days, any one except the one I'm writing. Any book that someone has actually finished. On a broader scale, I wish I'd invented Bertie Wooster, the owner of the most sublime first-person voice I know of, so I'd give anything to have written Thank You, Jeeves, the first Jeeves-and-Bertie novel.
What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?
It doesn't matter how I procrastinate. Anything will do. What I have to do every day is wait until my anxiety about not writing is stronger than my anxiety about writing. I have no vices whatsoever.
What do you collect?
Books and only books. And more books. I'd like that book over there, in fact. Have you finished it?
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