Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I promised myself that, once I reached page 100 of the latest Inspector Pekkala book, I would add another page to the blog. I hit that mark two days ago and now feel that particular sense of relief which comes from knowing that a new book is somehow anchored to the world, instead of just floating around inside my head. This is #7 of the series and it takes place during the Battle of Berlin in the spring of 1945. Compared to some of the other research projects I had to undertake in order to be complete the other books, this one has been relatively easy so far, since there is so much written about this final battle for the Third Reich. Most of the time, it is a question of piecing together parts of many different books, since none of them alone can provide me with what I need to know. Every once in a while, I manage to come across a book that is entirely relevant to my research. This has been one of those times, and I will forever be grateful to James p. O'Donnell for his book 'The Bunker', which chronicles Hitler's final days in his underground fortress beneath the Reichschancellery in Berlin. 
The autumn has been so beautiful these past few weeks - the red maples and the poison ivy and the squadrons of Canada geese flying overhead - that I find it hard to put in the usual amount of time at my desk. Soon enough, the winter will clamp down on this place like the hatch on a submarine and it will be easier to install myself at my desk every morning, in the dreary half light, turn on my desk lamp while I wait for the sun to come up and start writing on my bomb-proof Getac B300, which I bought, rather than something more elegant and svelte, because during the summer my desk is quite often a rock or a tree stump out in the woods, instead of the black cherry desk which was made for me many years ago by a company in the American midwest called Arhaus.
I have done a lot of traveling since I last posted a blog. In the winter, I was up in Maine quite a bit - there's a picture in this posting which I took of myself just before I set off across a frozen lake. I was wearing 1930's gear as an experiment - research, really - you can't google what it feels like to walk across a frozen lake in the 1920's (When you read the new Pekkala Book, #6, The Red Icon, which is due out in 2015 - you'll see where I put that research to use).
In the spring, I was down in Mexico doing research for a new book which I am writing under my own name, my real name that is - Paul Watkins - as opposed to the alter-ego of Sam Eastland, which has otherwise taken over my writing life. I was also up in Maine again for the summer, and I have posted a picture of the little hut in my garden, where I do a lot of my writing these days. My daughter has largely taken over my hut, decorating it with flashing Christmas lights and other things I find distracting.
Back in new Jersey, where I spent the majority of the academic year, I have just begun my 26th year of teaching at the Peddie School. So much time. I don't know whether to be proud or to burst into tears, Much to my own surprise, I still enjoy the work as much as ever and the school has been very kind to me and to my family over the years. One of the great perks of a writer's life is that you can live anywhere - in the early days, I had all kinds of places marked out on the map - Waimea on the island of Kauaii, Tulum down on the Yucatan Peninsula, Lipari in the Eolian Islands, Essaouira in Morocco, Trondheim up in Norway. New Jersey was not on the list. The fact that I am here, and enjoying it, it a testament to the loyalty I feel to Peddie. 
I have a new American publisher, Opus Books, and have very much enjoyed getting to know its founder and director, Glenn Young. It is almost scary how much we have in common.
Over in London, I continue to work with my editor at Faber & Faber, Walter Donohue, who I have now known more than half my life.
My agent, Deborah Rogers, passed away suddenly this year. I would meet with her in a little Italian restaurant near the Portobello Road every autumn as I passed through London on my way to wales to visit relatives. Some people you just can't imagine ever not being there, and Deborah was one of those. I still hear her voice in my head. I am going over to London again in a couple of weeks and I have tried, and failed, to imagine how it will be to walk into to the agency, which is tucked away on a side street on the edge of Ladbroke Grove, and to have her not be there. She had the messiest office I have ever seen. I wonder what it looks like now. 
Apart from that, this has been a very good year for me. I am 50 now and time has made me easier to live with than I used to be. I am more patient. I am a better listener. I was always good at pretending to listen, but now I actually do. I still run as many miles each week as I did when I was 25. I think that the person I needed to be to get started as a writer is not the same person I need to be to make a life of this discipline. I probably could have written that a little more clearly. Late, perhaps, I will figure out some better words. But you know what I mean. 
Thank you for reading the Inspector Pekkala books. You can write to me through the website and I am pretty good about responding. I always enjoy hearing from you.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I don’t write this blog often enough. Most of the time, when I sit down to write it, I think to myself – you could be doing your book – and I end up writing that instead.  It is not in my nature to tell people I don’t know about myself, and to need them to know what I’m doing. The way I interface with the world is mostly through the books and I imagine it will stay that way.
But I wanted to write now and thank those of you who have written in to say you enjoyed, or are still enjoying since it only just came out, the new Inspector Pekkala book. Even though the book was only published a week or so ago, I have had more messages from more kind people than I received altogether for the first book in the series.
I know it is a horrible cliché to say that something warms the heart, but it literally does to read such thoughtful and enthusiastic messages. There are a lot of days when things aren’t going smoothly with the writing – too many interruptions or a piece of the plot which I have to take apart and put back together, as brutal an operation as breaking a bone which has set incorrectly – and I start to lose faith in what I am doing. This is not one of those jobs in which you get regular and consistent feedback, as you might in a sports game for example. With the writing, weeks and months go by when you are so far down in the mines that you can’t even remember the way out, let alone keep track of what you are ultimately trying to create.
The publications of the books, both the Eastland series and those I have written under my own name (Paul Watkins) used to be a huge event for me.  It was inevitably disorienting, whether things went well or not. Good news is as diverting as bad news when what you really need to be doing is sitting at your desk and writing. I had to work very hard not to be run off the rails by publicity work, reviews and the pressure to keep up momentum.
A strange thing happened to me a couple of years ago which, although it was a little traumatic at the time, actually helped me to gain some distance. I used to read all the reviews, good or bad, and did my best not only to be grateful to those people who had taken the time to write them no matter what they said, but also, if possible, to learn from them with an eye towards writing in the future. Then I started to notice that I was getting identical reviews on various websites – and by identical, I mean word for word the same – but apparently written by different people. The other strange thing about these reviews, all of which were horrible by the way, was that they appeared to be generic. They could have applied to any book at all. I knew something was fishy but wasn’t sure there was anything I could do about it. Then I received word that I had even targeted by another author, named RJ Ellory, who also wrote crime fiction. Apparently, he had created a number of accounts on Amazon and was using these accounts, all of them listed under different names, to undermine the work of people he believed to be the competition. He was also writing rave reviews for himself under these same names, which I thought was just funny.  He got caught eventually, and his various fake accounts were made known, which is how I found out about it. I hadn’t lost any sleep over it – if you are kind-hearted enough about humanity to think that there aren’t people out there who will do everything they can to wreck you, particularly if they can hide behind a mask while they are doing it, just because they can – they this is the wrong line of work to be in.  But I thought it was so sad and desperate and so cheapening of his own talent that RJ Ellory had taken it upon himself to do this, that I quite reading reviews altogether.
But I do read the messages that people send to me through the Inspector Pekkala website, and I am pretty good about writing back to everyone, although sometimes it takes me a couple of weeks. I very much appreciate those of you who have take the time to write, particularly over the past couple of weeks. I’m glad you are enjoying the new book – The Beast in the Red Forest.
 It was a real pleasure creating a nemesis for Pekkala.  The challenge was to avoid making someone who was simply his opposite. You have to give them a reason for being who they are, no matter how twisted that is. And the thing about people who are twisted is that what makes sense to them isn’t necessarily going to make sense to the rest of us. The logic by which they pursue their goals, and the goals themselves, necessitates a departure from what normal people would consider reality. What are you going to do if you go after someone for a crime you think they committed and then you find out that the person you were hunting is innocent? A normal person would simply admit they were wrong and call a halt to their private crusade. But what if the need for vengeance has become so much a part of who you are that it is the only thing that makes sense to you anymore? What kind of lies do we tell ourselves in order to justify the things we do, even when we know they are lies? These were the kind of questions I had to answer as I was piecing together the Frankenstein monster that Pekkala must face in this book.
I am just finishing up the next book in the series. My desk is strewn with post-it notes and red-lined manuscript. It will be out this time next year, and I hope you will enjoy that one as well.

But I promise to write more of this blog before then.