Content Section

Book Beast

The Passage

Justin Cronin: How I Write

Getty Images

“The Twelve” is a sequel to the extraordinarily successful novel about vampirelike creatures, “The Passage,” which cracked Cronin’s publishing career wide open. He talks to Noah Charney about how his daughter helped start the series, why he likes Ian McEwan, and his most embarrassing book-tour story.

You now live in Houston?That’s true, I’ve been here for nine years. I came to Houston for a job, the reason most people move halfway across the country with a first grader and a five-week-old. I came here to teach at Rice. I had been teaching at LaSalle in Philadelphia for about a decade. I’m not teaching anymore, I’m technically a fellow—I resigned my tenure because they needed the space, so someone else could teach my classes. I’m very much a creature of the Northeast, but I’ve really grown attached to Houston.

Mr. Black

John Banville: How I Write

The Irish novelist, whose new book is ‘Ancient Light,’ talks to Noah Charney about the increasingly irritating Nabokov, why he doesn’t like Dostoevsky, and what calms him if his plane goes down.

Which novel would you recommend as one’s first Banville reading experience? That’s a difficult question. The Newton Letter recommends itself by being short, The Book of Evidence heralds, I think, what might be called my later style, The Untouchable points to the coming of Benjamin Black; but the most representative is, I should say, The Infinities.Your work has been variously, and positively, compared to Nabokov, Dostoevsky, and Camus, to name a few.

To the Wire

How I Write: George Pelecanos

Gerald Herbert / AP

The detective novelist is also a writer and producer on the HBO show Treme, the third season of which premiered on Sunday. Noah Charney talks to him about the many jobs he’s had.

You’ve had a number of jobs before writing: woman’s shoe salesman, line cook, dishwasher. How do these various jobs color your work as a writer?I started working in my dad’s diner at 11, so I had 20 years of blue- and gray-collar work experience before I wrote my first novel. I had fun. It wasn’t like I was an undercover artist masquerading as a worker. I was paying the bills. I mine those experiences for my fiction to this day. But I think the greatest influence those jobs had on me was that they gave me my work ethic as a writer.

Renaissance

Stephen Greenblatt: How I Write

Michael Dwyer / AP Photo

The winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction talks to Noah Charney about his friendship with poet Robert Pinsky and having to rewrite ‘The Swerve’ about ‘10,000 times.’

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, newly out in paperback, earned the Harvard literary scholar and founder of New Historicism a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. The Renaissance and Shakespeare expert resurrected a time when books were rare but beloved treasures, through the story of the discovery of On The Nature of Things, a Roman poem that was thought long lost but eventually helped bring about the modern world. We spoke with him while he is spending a year away from his normal Harvard roost, at the American Academy of Rome—let’s hope another remarkable text is in the works.

The Grief of Others

Leah Hager Cohen: How I Write

John Earle

The writer of four fiction (including ‘The Grief of Others,’ newly out on paperback), and four nonfiction books, Cohen is also known for her frequent book reviews—and for growing up in a school for the deaf and entering NYU at the age of 16. She talks to Noah Charney about her work.

What’s your morning routine like?I love water, immersing myself in hot running water, so I tend to shower myself into the day, and then I walk the dog, and then come back home for the little scramble of everyone getting out the door, and then, if I am lucky, I begin to write. With an apple and coffee.Do you have any distinctive habits or affectations?Moving my lips and whispering under my breath while I work. I never knew I did this until it was pointed out to me.

Pantser

Michelle Gagnon, Club Dancer

The author of many mysteries—and now the young-adult thriller “Don’t Turn Around”—talks to Noah Charney about grabbing mobsters from the audience to dance the Macarena.

Where did you grow up?We moved around a bit when I was younger, but I grew up primarily in Rhode Island, in a beautiful seaside community called East Greenwich. It was a small town, and so safe that we rarely locked our doors at night. It was an idyllic place, where we did a lot of sailing and swimming. Even though I now split my time between San Francisco and L.A., New England is a big part of who I am, which is why I set a lot of my novels there.

FAMILY MATTERS

How I Write: Family Edition

Her dad is a famous horror writer. His daughter is a rising literary star with a debut novel. Emma and Peter Straub talk to Noah Charney about family ties.

Emma Straub is the author of the new Hollywood novel Laura Lamond’s Life in Pictures. Her book is quite a break from the work of her father, the literary horror novelist Peter Straub. Peter has been a bestseller for decades, and his Ghost Story is considered a masterpiece of the genre.Where did you both grow up? Emma: The isle of Manhattan. My mother likes to call me a little island girl. I can’t help it if I’m provincial. Peter: Milwaukee, Wis.

AS YOU LIKE IT

Movie Date With Shakespeare

Jan Phillips

Arthur Phillips, the author of ‘The Tragedy of Arthur’ says he would like to take Shakespeare to a movie that claims the Bard was a fraud.

Where did you grow up? Minneapolis, MinnesotaWhere and what did you study? Medieval history at Harvard. Jazz saxophone at Berklee.Where do you live and why? Brooklyn. Close to friends and family, and publishing. And a dog park.Describe your morning routine. Wake obscenely early, empty the dogs, exercise, breakfast with kids, see off everyone to school, then go to write.What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours?  I am notorious for always having two beagles with me, in any and all circumstances.

Family Matters

After Foster Care, What Next?

Cosima Scavolini, Splash News / Newscom

Vanessa Diffenbaugh, author of the novel ‘The Language of Flowers’ and the founder of the Camellia Network, talks about her mission connecting youths with critical resources, and how she needs to have another baby in order to write.

At the age of 23, Vanessa Diffenbaugh took four children into her home, and she has been fostering kids in need ever since. Her debut novel, The Language of Flowers, chronicles the experience of a young woman growing up in foster care and the difficulties she experiences after leaving the system.What is Camellia Network?I founded Camellia Network with my dear friend Isis Dallis Keigwin. The mission of our organization is to create a national network that connects every youth aging out of foster care to the critical resources, opportunities, and support they need to thrive in adulthood.

BOOK OF THE TIMES

Inside the NYT Book Review

Earl Wilson, The New York Times / Redux

Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, talks to Noah Charney about what he looks for in great criticism.

Where do you live? In Tarrytown, New York. My wife found employment in Westchester when I was jobless and writing a book, so we moved up from Manhattan and stayed. It’s now been 22 years.Describe your typical day at the review. It’s a sequence of routines, though they vary depending on the day. Today, for instance, three colleagues and I discussed galleys of eight to 10 books, and settled on potential reviewers for each. Next we’ll review letters and see which we might publish.

Speak, Memory

From Russia With Love

Lauren Perlstein

Elena Gorokhova’s memoir about the Soviet Union has been called the ‘Angela’s Ashes’ of Russia. She talks to Noah Charney about studying with Frank McCourt.

Memoirist Elena Gorokhova’s debut work, A Mountain of Crumbs, about life in the former Soviet Union and emigrating to the United States, has been praised by many people, one of them being former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who said, “Elena Gorokhova has written the Russian equivalent of Angela’s Ashes.” Indeed, Gorokhova wrote A Mountain of Crumbs after taking Frank McCourt’s memoir-writing workshop.Where did you grow up?I grew up in Leningrad, the second in size and the most beautiful Russian city, in the 1960s and 1970s.

Walking

How I Write: Gideon Lewis-Kraus

Rose Lichter-Marck

The author of ‘A Sense of Direction’ reveals how he came to write a travelogue that is ‘all digressions.’ He talks to Noah Charney.

In 1947 Sal Paradise/Jack Kerouac and Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady went on the road, and their intense quests for meaning embodied the Beats. In 2008 Tom Bissell and Gideon Lewis-Kraus went on a trip around Europe, and their friendship illuminates a skeptical-slacker era exemplified by hipsters in Brooklyn. Their pilgrimage, on foot, forms part of Lewis-Kraus’s travel memoir, A Sense of Direction, with a lone journey to Japan and a trip to Ukraine with Lewis-Kraus’s father and brother rounding out the three acts.

Mystery Man

A Room of One’s Own

Getty Images (L)

With no windows! The popular mystery writer and Dan Brown predecessor tells Noah Charney he writes in a room without a view in order to concentrate—and it works. The Lost Angel is out in paperback.

Javier Sierra’s The Secret Supper, was a smash hit just before The Da Vinci Code raised further interest in Leonardo’s The Last Supper. Sierra is one of Spain’s best-selling authors. He’s also an art historian who writes non-fiction and presents television programs on historical mysteries.Where did you grow up?In Teruel, a cold and small city in Northeastern Spain. During Middle Ages, it was a meeting point for Muslims, Jews and Christians, and their fingerprints are still visible there.

Thriller Night

Steve Berry: How I Write

The thriller writer tells Noah Charney about ‘the most horrible thing you’ve ever read.’

With the addition of a new book, The Columbus Affair, Steve Berry now has over 14 million thrillers in print, available in 51 countries. There are seven novels alone in a series featuring his hero, Cotton Malone. But before success was possible, he had five separate novels rejected a total of 85 times before his first book sold, a process that took him 12 years: six years to find an agent, and then six years before his first novel came out. If anyone knows the value of hard work in writing, it is Berry.

Interview

Peter Watson, Resurrector

The historian talks to Noah Charney about the cities that inspire him and why Nietzsche should be brought back to life.

Peter Watson is the author of many books of cultural and intellectual history, including The Medici Conspiracy, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, and The German Genius. His latest book is The Great Divide: History and Human Nature in the Old World and the New, in which he attempts a synthesis of climatology, geology, paleontology, and archaeology to explain that geography determines the ideology of humans. Of which of your books or projects are you most proud?Sotheby’s: The Inside Story, because it did spark some change in the art and antiquities world.

About How I Write

Every week, we interview writers about their daily routine and where they keep their desks.

Latest From

Books

Philippa Gregory: What Are You Reading?

‘The White Queen’ author Philippa Gregory usually doesn’t read historical fiction, a genre she’s mastered. But she’s making an exception for two books.

  1. Larry McMurtry: May the Books Flourish! Play

    Larry McMurtry: May the Books Flourish!

  2. R.I.P. Seamus Heaney Play

    R.I.P. Seamus Heaney

  3. Jackie Collins Does Cher Play

    Jackie Collins Does Cher

Hot Reads

Book Bag

Longreads

The Big Idea

American Dreams