Monday, April 21, 2008

Charles McCarry Q&A in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran Scott Timberg's recent Q&A with the legendary Charles McCarry, author of two recent hardback reissues: Second Sight and The Better Angels. Here's a short excerpt:

Q: How do you achieve your style?
A: I don't feel when I'm writing that I'm drawing from any other writer, but of course I must be. The writers I've admired have been not so very different from myself: Evelyn Waugh, for example, that kind of crystalline prose. And I've always admired W. Somerset Maugham more than any other writer. He also writes in an absolutely clear and conversational style. But I have to tell you, I write in a very peculiar way. I think about a book for 25 or 30 years in a kind of inchoate way, and at one point or another I realize the book is ready to be written. I usually have a character, a first line and general idea of what the book is going to be about. And I sit down and start writing, 1,000 words a day; it used be 1,500 when I was younger. And it just happens. I hardly ever read a thriller. I was very fond of Eric Ambler --- another one of my masters. I think he must be a strong subconscious influence.

Q: It's amazing that The Better Angels, along with Tears of Autumn and your other novels, spent several decades out of print. Do you have a theory about why, despite your reputation among people who've read you, you're so far from being a household name?

A: Frankly it's a mystery to me. I think it's maybe because I've always written against fashion. Also, from the beginnings the books were marketed as thrillers and they aren't really. I don't think Random House would have had the success with Cormac McCarthy that they've had if they marketed his books as Westerns.

Q: I think you've said that your time in the CIA was not glamorous or exciting.

A: That's correct. It was tedious and boring. It's like being in love: long periods of deprivation and loneliness and suspicion and anxiety, punctuated by moments of intense gratification. And then the cycle begins over again. It consists largely of waiting, in fact, I've sat around in hotel rooms waiting for agents to turn up for weeks at a time. And finally they do --- you're supposed to meet them on the Champs-Elysees at 11 o'clock on Tuesday and they think they're supposed to be in Copenhagen on that day. Because there's so much of the charade involved in tradecraft, there's continual misunderstanding.

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