Saturday, March 13, 2010

It’s a Man’s Job to Take on Child

Easily the best interview I’ve seen at the 2010 Left Coast Crime conference in Los Angeles was the one conducted earlier today, with thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz firing questions at Lee Child, the creator of series protagonist Jack Reacher (61 Hours).

There were several reasons for the success of this exchange. The first was that Hurwitz (shown at left) had prepared well. He had an excellent list of probing queries that covered unique ground, avoiding the clichéd “Do you outline?” and “Where do you get your ideas” sorts of interrogatories that you so often hear during mystery conference interviews. In addition, Hurwitz handled the interview itself with aplomb. He was calm, cool, and collected. He bantered easily with a man who, he explained at very the beginning, does not suffer fools gladly. And he did not always let Child off the hook with humorous throwaway responses, nor did he get in the way when Child launched into serious topics.

The other reason for the success of this exchange, of course, was Child himself. He gave responses that ranged from bitingly sarcastic, to thoughtful and erudite, to surprisingly candid and touching.

In that last category, Hurwitz asked Child at one point about his greatest regret. Child (shown below) said he lamented a hiring decision he made when he was working for BBC Television in the UK. He had been charged with selecting a sort of on-air continuity person who would provide the “connective tissue” between shows with voice-overs, and who would give on-camera introductions. In response to the casting call for the job, he received many videotaped demos from candidates. Most of them, he said, were not very good. But there was one video that stood out.

That video started with a close-up of a woman speaking. He liked her looks and he liked her voice. Gradually the camera pulled wider and he realized that she was sitting in a car. As it pulled wider still, he realized that she had no arms. She had been a Thalidomide baby and was born with only vestigial stubs at the top of her shoulders. Although he still thought she was the best candidate, Child said he couldn’t force both himself and the woman through the gauntlet that would need to be run to win her the job.

In the end, he instead chose a woman who had emigrated to Britain from Trinidad. She did well and went on to have a bigger role at the BBC. Later, she went back to visit her family in Trinidad. There, she was thought to be very successful, and a robber assumed that she had a great deal of money. He broke into her family’s house on the Caribbean island and killed her and two other people.

Child told his audience that his decision had been doubly cursed. Perhaps this is why, when he was asked to say what novel he would choose to take with him to a desert island, he selected William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice.

In a lighter vein, Hurwitz asked Child to talk about the most difficult part of the writing process. As you will see in the video embedded below, Child compared the creation of a book to the male role in sex, and said that the pre-climax middle was the hardest, because--as in sex--you have to keeping going until your partner comes (that is, until you have a respectable number of pages), and then you can finally “let go.” (Note: You’ll want to turn up the volume on this video in order to hear it clearly.)

At the end of the interview, Child fielded a few questions from the audience. He had noted earlier that he didn’t want to leave this earth with his Reacher series incomplete, so he plans to write the last book at the appropriate time and then retire. An audience member asked him whether that meant he would kill off Reacher at some point.

Child answered, “yes.” He explained that the title of the last book would be Die Alone and it would close with a scene in which Reacher is finally backed into a corner where he cannot escape without mortal injury. Reacher would then crawl painfully back to his cheap motel room, where he would bleed out in its dingy bathroom.

The timing of Die Alone’s publication, he said, depends on us, the readers. Meaning that he will keep writing as long as we keep buying. A satisfying arrangement for all.

READ MORE:Left Coast Crime L.A. Friday Night and Saturday,” by Jeri Westerson (Getting Medieval); “Report from the Left
,” by Eric Beetner.


Maxine Clarke said...

That would seem to put paid to the much-promoted (by the publisher) cliffhanger at the end of 61 Hours, in which we are apparently supposed to believe that Reacher may have died. I can see how he may have got himself out of that one, though, having just finished the book. Looks as if I am probably right, as the title of the book isn't Die Alone!

Judy Bobalik said...

Thanks, Maxine for giving the ending of the yet unpublished in the US "61". Now i don't have to read it.

Mike said...

I've just finished 61 Hours as well and it doesn't take a genius to work out that it's not the last we see of Jack. We knew that there were going to be two Reachers published in 2010, so a no brainer really. But it's my favourite of the series so far - Reacher comes to be more rounded character to me.