An Interview with James Hall
Where are you from? How--if at all--has your sense of place colored
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, but I've spent the last thirty years in Florida. Twenty-five of that has been in Miami and the Florida Keys. Even after all that time, I still find Florida wonderfully exotic, strange and beautiful and full of the oddest wildlife, both animal and human. I find the weather, the quality of sunlight, the always-changing scent on the seabreeze to be a powerful force. South Florida particularly has a reputation as a wild and dangerous place, and, yes, it is. But it's also very beautiful, still very natural and unspoiled in many ways. My characters are usually very aware of and affected by the settings they inhabit. It would seem silly for characters to move through an environment as rich and influential as South Florida and not be moved by it in some way.
When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?
For many years in college I wrote poetry. Then after graduating, I continued my studies of poetry in grad school at Johns Hopkins University and University of Utah. I published four books of poetry and lots of short stories in literary magazines before I wrote my first novel Under Cover of Daylight. I never set out to be a writer. I dreamed of being a professional tennis player or maybe a college teacher, but writing became such a habit, such a necessary part of my day that it took over. I've always been a reader, a lover of books, so it was the most natural thing in the world to want to try my hand at writing. Though my academic training helped to give me a better foundation to discuss books, like most writers, I've had to learn the craft of writing by studying books I admire and by a long process of trial and error. I started out trying to write serious literary novels, books that a college professor might admire, but my big breakthrough came when I decided to try to write the kind of book I secretly loved--mysteries and thrillers.
Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way? What books have most influenced your life?
The list of books that have shaped my own writing is very long. I suppose Hemingway stands at the beginning. Both in his rich and tragic life and in his lean, muscular prose, I found a model that made sense. I've loved a lot of books that have remained important to me, ones that I return to again and again for inspiration and pleasure. In no particular order: James Dickey's Deliverance, The Great Gatsby, Flannery O'Conner, John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series. Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer books. John Fowles in The Magus and French Lt.'s Woman. Among the contemporaries: James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly, both fine writers and fine people. Elmore Leonard and Robert Parker. Thomas Perry, Les Standiford, Sue Grafton. Oh, I could go on and on.
What is the most romantic book you've ever read? The scariest? The funniest?
The scariest is Silence of the Lambs. The most romantic is Lawrence Durrell's Alexandrian Quartet. The funniest? Oddly, I find Robert Parker's Spencer to be very funny. I love good banter, and that great self-deprecating tough guy humor of Hawk and Spencer together. Robert Crais can always be quite funny and Laurence Shames can too.
What music, if any, most inspires you to write? What do you like to listen to while writing?
I listen to the sounds of silence when I'm writing. Not Simon and Garfunkel's song, but the real sounds of silence. I listen to my dog pant, to the birds tweedle, to the rain outside my window. But I prefer to be sense deprived during the long hours at the computer.
What are you reading now? What CD is currently in your stereo?
I listen to books on tape, not music in my car. Right now I'm listening to an old Lew Archer mystery I know pretty well. But I love Macdonald's one line descriptions of people and places. I listened to the unabridged Into Thin Air on a recent car trip and loved it. Amazing stuff. I'm reading a novel by Louis Begley right now, a very literary novel. But I'm also rereading Thomas Harris' Red Dragon. I just finished rereading Elmore Leonard's Killshot which is a fine and scary book.
What are you working on?
I'm working on a novel about a mystery novelist who stumbles onto clues about the murder of her parents long ago. She has to put aside the book she's working on to pursue a very dangerous but very necessary quest. It's the first time I've ever written about writing and writers and I'm having a good time. It's especially rewarding to have fun at the expense of agents and editors and book critics. This book has the baddest bad guy I've ever done. And I've done some pretty bad, pretty creepy ones. But this guy is tops. I don't have a title yet. Titles always seem to give me trouble. But the book moves between New York and Miami and a couple of other places. I've had some very good experiences with it so far, which for me means that I'll write a scene and then sit back with my hair standing up (what's left of it). If I'm scared by something, it's a fairly good sign my readers will be too.
Interview first published at Amazon.com. Reproduced with the permission of the author.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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