James Fuerst Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

James Fuerst
Photo: Katherin McInnis

James Fuerst

An interview with James Fuerst

James Fuerst talks with BookBrowse's Donna Chavez about his influences and inspiration in writing Huge.

BookBrowse: Is Eugene based upon anyone in particular?

James Fuerst: I hope no one is terribly disappointed by this, but Eugene "Huge" Smalls isn’t based on anyone in particular nor is he a composite of characteristics drawn from real people (at least no real people I know or have known). He is, however, pretty explicitly cut from the cloth of fictional hard-boiled detectives such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, among others, and he’s also a kid, a somewhat precocious, almost-thirteen-year-old kid who has problems, a foul mouth, has experienced his share of difficulties and is trying to figure out not only who vandalized the sign at his grandmother’s retirement home, but also where he stands in the small town pecking order of things before he begins junior high in two weeks. So, I’ve always thought of Huge’s character as mostly an attempt to explore the back-story that’s missing from Chandler and Hammett’s novels - how Marlowe and Spade actually became detectives - only with more curse words and jokes.

BB: Are any elements of Huge autobiographical?

JF: There are a handful of similarities between Huge’s biography and my own: I grew up at about the same time in a similar kind of town, rode my bike everywhere when I was young, skipped a grade, played Pop Warner football, have a mother and a sister and loved my grandmother (who died in 1996) very much. But my experiences at that age couldn’t have been more different from his, and the similarities of setting and circumstance between Huge’s world and my own were really just stage props and atmosphere that helped me get and remain close to his character and voice without too many unnecessary distractions along the way.

BB: I'm thinking Huge is suitable for adolescent readers as well as adults. Did you intend this as a YA book?

JF: While I tried to write Huge for the broadest audience possible, I always saw that audience as being at least four to five years older than he and usually in their early-twenties onward, mostly because the language used throughout and some of the subject matter and scenes might be too racy for younger teens. That said, I have no strong preference for or objection to how the book either is or may be categorized because I did intend it to be something that seasoned readers of all ages might have some fun with. Parental discretion is advised, though.

BB: Were you inspired by other coming-of-age stories?

JF: Over the years, many coming-of-age novels have inspired me in different ways at different times. Some of my favorites are Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, To Kill a Mocking Bird, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Crime and Punishment and A Clockwork Orange (with Burgess’s original ending), among many others. While writing Huge, I re-read both The Catcher in the Rye, to refresh my memory and to make sure I wasn’t stepping on Salinger’s toes without meaning to, and Mosquito Coast, which features a sustained dialogue with Walden throughout and is told from the perspective of a thirteen year-old boy. Also, while it isn’t a novel and this may seem an outlandish claim to some, I think Walden lends itself to being read as a coming-of-age narrative in the sense that it provides an account of Thoreau’s journey and experiences - his experiment in essential living - toward a kind of literary and philosophical maturity. So, I spent some time re-reading and puzzling through that, as well.

BB: I love how Eugene adopts the tough PI persona. It rings so true for those of us who grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew books. Were you a detective-novel fan as a kid?

JF: This question makes me wince a little because it forces me to confess that I wasn’t much of a reader growing up, although I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery and I’m definitely a fan. In fact, my longstanding interest in the genre eventually led me to teach a college writing course on detective fiction, which allowed me to read a wide variety of classic, hard-boiled, metaphysical/anti-detective and comic detective novels while also providing invaluable opportunities to learn about how others respond to such works by discussing them with students. Reading detective fiction and being able to converse about it at length over an extended period of time were undoubtedly what got me moving in that direction, because in my personal life I’ve never been much of a gumshoe or very tough at all.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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