An Interview with John Searles
Are there any parallels between your own arrival in New York City and
Like Philip, I had a very colorful introduction to New York City. For years, I lived upstairs from an eccentric Village character who existed on a steady diet of martinis and cigarettes. I'd run into him in the hallway some days and he'd be dressed in a woman's blouse for no apparent reason. So he was an obvious inspiration for Donnelly. Thankfully, he didn't have a pet bird, because I happen to have a terrible phobia of birds as does Philip.
How do you approach the process of writing fiction, compared to your work at Cosmopolitan?
Both experiences are so different. At Cosmo, my work is part of a huge group effort each month, whereas my writing is done in solitude for long stretches of time until I am ready to share the story with my editor. Still, I approach both things with a great deal of focus while trying to maintain a sense of humor about myself and not take things too seriously.
Do you find it challenging or liberating (or both) to create such high-strung suspense in your storytelling?
Both. Since I love to read books with three-dimensional characters and compelling storylines, that's the kind I try very hard to write. It's a challenge to keep readers on the edge of their seats, and incredibly liberating when I feel like I've actually pulled it off.
Though Boy Still Missing is set in the early 1970s, it contains a few of the same elements conveyed in Strange but True. Do you believe these novels reflect each other in any way, or would you prefer that we read them as entirely distinct?
On the surface, they are different books because Boy Still Missing is told from the single point-of-view of a teenage boy, while Strange but True alternates between several characters' perspectives. However, I think there are similarities in that halfway through both books there is a major surprise that transforms the entire world of the story for the characters as well as the reader. Also, both books deal with the themes of unexpected loss, which is something I've had to face in my own life.
Who were some of your mentors or sources of inspiration in launching your career as a novelist?
First and foremost, my grandma always told me I was going to grow up and be a writer someday. And later, when I was earning my bachelors degree, I had a poetry professor, Vivian Shipley, who gave me invaluable encouragement and is still very supportive to this day. In grad school at NYU, novelist Ann Hood was instrumental in helping me grow as a writer. Finally, Wally Lamb was a tremendous help. I am a huge fan of his writing and years ago, I drove to one of his book signings in Rhode Island. He was kind enough to offer to read my work, and when he did, he put me in touch with his agent. I am so grateful to all of these people who gave me help, especially my grandma.
What should we expect in your next book?
I plan to bring my readers the same sort of dark story as my first two books, with very real characters and plenty of plot twists.
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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