I haven’t read much Lawrence Block. A lot of people admire him. I reviewed one of his recent books and it didn’t grab me. Maybe the earlier ones were better. I think that some of Westlake’s books are a lot of fun. Maybe thirty years ago he wrote a little comedy called “A Likely Story” that is the last word on the tribulations of the writing life. What he does he does very well.
Your bio says you were a speechwriter for the Kennedy and Clinton administration.. How does one go from being a novelist to speech writer to book reviewer for the Washington Post?
I started out as a newspaper reporter and found out that I could take a lot of material, organize it, and write something in the time available. I think my talent is essentially journalistic and I’ve found that I can apply it to various genres. At thirty I started writing magazine articles for the The New York Times Magazine and others. Then I wrote my first book, which was nonfiction, about the White House staff. Then I wrote my first novel about a young man who worked on the White House staff. I’ve published nine novels and I think their strengths are essentially journalistic – good dialogue, fast pace, plots that makes sense. (They have some weaknesses too.) I think that if you can write a magazine article or a book you shouldn’t have much trouble writing a speech.
The hard part isn’t the writing, the hard part is keeping your sanity in the political world, which I more or less did in a couple of campaigns, most notably the Carter campaign of 1976, which I wrote about in a book called Electing Jimmy Carter. I always say that the leap from writing fiction to writing political speeches is not a great one.
Do you think you are a better book reviewer having been through the experience of being published and reviewed yourself?
I hope that having been published and reviewed myself has made me a better reviewer. I’m very sympathetic to novelists. It’s a tough business. I know that it’s no fun to have your books denounced, or misunderstood, or ignored. I try not to take cheap shots or to beat up on people for the fun of it. Still, my job is to give the reader my best and most honest opinion. At one level, a review is a consumer guide: You’re telling the reader whether or not to invest $25 in a book, and that’s a lot of money.