How did you become a writer? Always wanted to be a writer. Sold a few pieces of journalism, landed a job as a fact-checker, landed in Moscow on the strength of my language ability, took time off to write a novel. Kept on going: journalism, fiction, non-fiction, now popular history.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). Mainly my parents, who were both excellent writers, although not professionals. My mother directed me to superb, non-obvious literature from a young age, e.g. Orwell's "social" novels, set in England; "Darkness at Noon;" many mysteries (John Creasey...), Josephine Tey. Or to books I wouldn't have known about, such as "Red Pawn," by Flora Lewis. or "Bible and Sword," by Barbara Tuchman.
When and where do you write? At home, mainly in the mornings, before the world crowds in.
What are you working on now? I just spent two years writing "American Crucifixion," about the assassination of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. It will appear on April 22 (Vladimir Lenin's birthday), 2013.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? You mean "unemployment block," as veteran Miami Herald columnist and comic novelist Carl Hiassen calls it? I've been at the Boston Globe for over a quarter-century; people who have trouble writing don't stick around at newspapers. It's fantastic training, as I'm sure Mr. Hemingway of the Kansas City Star would attest.
What’s your advice to new writers? If it's not fun for you, don't do it. If you enjoy writing, keep at it. Something good may happen. And remember: almost no one in America can write a coherent sentence, so if you have to go out and sell yourself, price your talent high. You're worth it.
About Alex: I am a writer with a motley assortment of credits, including the Introduction to Arie Zand’s Political Jokes of Leningrad, for which I was paid the princely sum of $500 in 1982. Also: two novels about Russia; and two – soon to be three — non-fiction books on various subjects. I worked for Business Week magazine in Los Angeles, Moscow and Boston, a cheery eight years of my life I now call The Lost Weekend.
In 1987, I started working at the Boston Globe, where I became seriatim, a business columnist, an Op-Ed columnist and finally a columnist in what used to be called the Living Arts section. I took a buyout in early 2013 and am now writing a weekly column in the Opinion section. I have won a few awards, including some Best of Boston citations, a Massachusetts Book Award and an extremely lucrative (now defunct) John Hancock Award for Excellence in Financial Writing. I was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford for the academic year 1996-1997, which was an award of sorts, in addition to being lots of fun. The Globe allowed me to write occasional humor columns for the (soon to be disastrously renamed) International Herald Tribune, as well as the first-in-the-world squash blog, for Vanity Fair. My friends and I used to read and post “hate mail” podcasts for the Globe website, reading letters from irate readers. Alas, our efforts failed to attract much of an audience. Further proof, if any were needed, that hate doesn’t pay.
Here is a link to an interview I did for the Globe’s web site a few years ago, where, according to my wife, I say at least one very stupid thing, “…You don’t even have to be right.” But I meant it.
I have been married for a very long time and my three adult sons seem to be thriving, for which much thanks.