Ask the Author: Erik Larson

“Looking forward to hearing your questions. I'll be dropping in now and then to provide some answers. ” Erik Larson

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Erik Larson This is crucial. For starters, just set out about two hours a day, say from 8 to 10, and be there seven days a week, even if you never write a word. Writing is like erosion. Write one page a day, and in 360 days you've got a novel.
Erik Larson I'd love to do a book about Magellan, but there just isn't enough surviving material to let me write my kind of narrative account.
Erik Larson The research continues pretty much through the whole process, though the most crucial and intense phase lasts about two years, minimum. As to how I know when I'm done with the research: By now it's an instinctive thing. Documents start to repeat themselves. Revelations begin tapering off. But one thing is crucial: I need to accumulate about 100 percent more material than will ever actually make it into a book. Only the best stuff makes the cut.
Erik Larson Well I can't say it's surprising, but what I've learned is that writing is all about hard work. You might think it's not a typical job, but in many ways it is. You need to check in each day, seven days a week, and do it. Be there. You don't have to write for eight hours a day, necessarily. Larry McMurtry wrote for an hour and a half each day. But you have to be there, at your desk, every day. If you wait for inspiration, you'll be waiting a very long time.
Erik Larson A perceptive question: I'm a father of three daughters, and that relationship tints every book I do, in some way. With Dead Wake, for example, I found myself wondering what it would have been like to be aboard the Lusitania, with my wife and daughters. What would I have done? One family, the Cromptons of Philadelphia, included father, daughter, and six children. At the time the torpedo struck the ship, all of them were in different places aboard. What do you do, as a parent? What do you do, when the ship sinks in 18 minutes? The entire Crompton family perished. A chilling thing to contemplate.
Erik Larson In writing narrative nonfiction, research is crucial. Because you can't fake it. You need a lot of really fine-grained archival material, and if you don't have it, you can't tell the story. Part of what persuaded me to write Dead Wake, about the Lusitania, was that the archival base was richer and deeper than for any other book I've written. It gave me the material to infuse the book with maximum suspense. Real-life suspense.
Erik Larson Ha! My favorite failure. An oxymoron? Actually, I like it when ideas fail to become books. I often say that hunting for a book idea is a lot like looking for a spouse. You need to kiss a lot of frogs before one becomes a prince or princess. Having said that, as to failed ideas, I don't kiss and tell.
Erik Larson Just about everything surprised me, frankly.
Erik Larson I am ashamed to admit that when I came up with the title for that book I had no idea AC/DC had done a song by the same name!
Erik Larson Here's where things stand: Leonard DiCaprio holds the option to turn the book into a film. Recently he recruited Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Billy Ray to join him. A dream team for sure. Whether a movie ultimately gets made is entirely up to them, and to the cinematic fates.
Erik Larson Unlikely. The Civil War is pretty much overworked, in my view. Though I have to confess, I do find Gen. W. T. Sherman a compelling and fascinating character.
Erik Larson No. Never. In fact, my secret weapon is to stop early in the day, while I'm ahead--sometimes in mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence. By doing so, I guarantee that the next morning, when I sit down to write, I am almost immediately productive. It helps keep the terrors at bay. Binge writing, as I call it--or pulling all-nighters--can all too easily exhaust whatever that inner engine is that we writers rely on.
Erik Larson I'm not sure there are three lessons. But if there is one lesson, it is that excess confidence in technology is almost always misplaced.
Erik Larson Each book has a structure that is organic to the underlying concept. I don't seek out parallel stories. In the case of Devil, I would not have wanted to write a book just about Holmes; nor would I have wanted to write only about the fair. It was the juxtaposition of good and evil, light and darkness, that made me want to proceed.

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