Lawrence Block is the author of countless mystery and suspense novels. He has written award-winning fiction for half a century, including A Drop Of The Hard Stuff. He has a new novel out, Hit Me, about a hired killer. Lawrence met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his latest release and the publishing industry.
Tell us about Hit Me.
Hit Me is the fifth book about Keller, a hired killer. I wrote a short story about him in 1989 and, well, one thing led to another. He’s a wistful, introspective fellow, a passionate stamp collector, and the Urban Lonely Guy of assassins, and I seem to find him sufficiently compelling to go on writing about him over the years. The fourth book, Hit and Run, ended with him married and a partner in a construction business in post-Katrina New Orleans. I figured he was retired. I seem to have been misinformed.
Do you think killers are collectors and what stops collectors stepping over that line?
No, I think Keller’s an anomaly.
Do you think the best detectives have strong criminal shadows?
In life or in fiction? A cop has to be able to think like a crook. Beyond that, one is what one is.
Do you think too much crime fiction sanitises crime?
I don’t think fiction has any effect on much of anything, so whether it paints a realistic picture of crime—or anything else—seems beside the point. That’s not necessarily its goal. All that matters is whether a given book works for a given reader.
How has your experience writing erotica helped your career?
For awhile it made my description of sexual episodes far more circumspect; I was reacting to what I’d written earlier. And I went through a long stretch where I wanted to disassociate myself from that early work. I found it comforting that they hadn’t been printed on acid-free paper.
But, you know, the hell with that. I’ve brought much of my erotic work back into print—or the electronic equivalent thereof—and people are reading the books, and enjoying them, and who am I to judge?
Graham Greene famously wrote, ‘There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.’ What do you make of his observation?
It probably tells us more about Graham Greene than about writers—or ice or splinters, come to think of it.
Is the publishing industry in trouble with the rise of Amazon and the E Book?
The industry is changing at a whirlwind pace, and anyone who purports to tell you what it’ll be like in five years—or five months, or five minutes—is guessing. I think it’s a fine time to be a writer, and a fine time to be a reader—but I’m not sure it’s such a good time to be a publisher. The big houses are becoming irrelevant, and I don’t see this turning around. But, like everybody else, I’m just guessing.
I sold my first story in 1957, so I’ve been doing this for a while. Everything I wrote under my own name, and most of what I published under pseudonyms, is presently eVailable. I’ve done much of the ePublishing myself, and I’m neither tech-savvy nor a marketing genius. Anybody can do it, and most people can do it more effectively.
Books and readers can find one another as never before. So how necessary are traditional publishers? My favorite argument of theirs is that they’re the gatekeepers, maintaining the standards of the literary landscape, keeping us from being swamped with crap. It’s a nice story, and then you look at their lists, and their argument goes, um, down the drain.
Would you say you are more Noir than thriller writer?
I think judgments and assessments of that nature are for other people to make. I just write books, and I don’t know that they run greatly to type. Some are light, some are dark, some are suspenseful, some are not.
What are you working on at the moment?
Nothing, as I’ve just finished a new book. About which, alas, I cannot tell you a thing at present.
I thought I might have retired. A few years ago I had the feeling that I was done writing novels. I’ve certainly written enough of them. But there were a couple of books after that. And then I once again felt as though I was probably finished.
Still, I had the urge to write another book. And I went on a five-week cruise, from which I’ve just now returned, with the intention of either getting a book written or knowing for certain that I was done. Well, I came home with a book, and the half dozen people who’ve read it say it’s one of my best.
Which is not to say that there’ll be more. But there’s no gainsaying the fact that I’ve made an absolute dog’s breakfast of retirement. Eventually, though, I hope to get the hang of it…
What advice would you give to yourself as a young man?
Same advice I give everyone: Write to please yourself.
Thank you Lawrence for a perceptive and informative interview.