Political thriller author James McCrone discusses his work and where he finds his inspiration.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thriller writing?
I’m drawn to taught stories, strong characters and good writing. These are what (good) mystery-thrillers deliver. The writers I admire—Le Carre, Follett, Greene, to name a few— propel their stories relentlessly, economically. At the same time, though, they’re not afraid to pause over a question or to notice beauty. Le Carre and Greene in particular are masters of putting to work every little thing they pack into their narratives. I hope my work is as full.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?
I’ve wanted to write professionally since I was a boy. I’ve written stories, and some of them have been published. I studied for an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Washington in Seattle, but most of my work was unpaid.
It wasn’t until 2015, when we moved abroad for a year in Oxford, that I finally made a good fist of it. My wife had a fellowship appointment at the university, and I didn’t have a work permit for the UK. I threw myself into writing, finishing and publishing Faithless Elector in March of 2016 and beginning Dark Network that same month. Since returning to the United States last year, I’ve continued writing full time.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
Inspiration can come from anywhere, but I’m most interested in stories where the official version of events seems thin, naïve, or deliberately misleading. I want to know the rest of the story, the other side. For instance, when I first learned about how the Electoral College works and that electors weren’t bound to vote as promised, I thought it was mad. It seemed ripe for mischief. The idea and the outline for Faithless Elector came quickly. The writing of it came much slower.
As to writer’s block, I’ve been fortunate. When I find myself blocked in one area, I move to another. If a scene isn’t working, I work on a different scene, or I make notes about a different story entirely.
All kinds of incidents creep into my work, sometimes unconsciously. For instance, when I was writing about Imogen’s isolation at the FBI in Dark Network, and likened it to “traveling through a country where she didn’t speak the language,” I had just returned from a pretty frustrating grocery shopping trip in Konstanz, Germany, where I didn’t speak the language. I was struck by how little interaction I had with anyone else, how isolated I felt. I had typed the sentence before I’d even thought about it.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I’d love to work with Oscar Wilde, though I don’t think it would be much of a collaboration, really—more just me transcribing whatever witticisms he was saying at the time. Still, it would be great fun. Moss Hart, one half of the Kauffman & Hart screwball comedy team, would also be fantastic, and I think I’d learn a lot.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I’m working on Consent of the Governed, which will complete this series (due out fall of ’18); and I have some sketches for a fourth Imogen Trager novel. Before starting that fourth novel, though, I want to focus on my play, Culinati, a comedy set in a busy New York restaurant kitchen. It asks the question, “what would you serve if your life depended on it?”
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
I got the new Le Carre, Legacy of Spies. I’m very excited to make a start there. I also want to check out Attica Locke’s work. She’s the author of Pleasantville and Bluebird, Bluebird. My wife raves about her writing so much I’m getting kind of jealous!
Thank you James, it’s been great hearing your thoughts. You can learn more about James and his work HERE.