How did you become a writer?
I think I always knew somehow. My sixth grade teacher--who was great--told me I would be a writer; that made an impression. Then there were other tectonic forces. A lot of support from other teachers. Then, at the awkward age of 15, a senior recruited me to work on the school paper and I was hooked on journalism...edited the high school and college papers. I always wanted to write fiction, but I was a journalist for many years and had a lot of success writing nonfiction. But the compulsion to write novels never left me. I returned to it in my 50s.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
So many it’s hard to name them. Among thriller writers, Henning Menkel and Ian Rankin are favorites. So are Sara Paretsky and Michael Connelly. Before that, many of the classical crime writers: James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Outside the genre, Wallace Stegner, Hemingway, E.M. Forester and the king of kings: Tolstoy. Not very original. I guess there is a reason they are influential.
When and where do you write?
First thing in the morning, as early as I can wake. I used to write everywhere around my house. That led to spine surgery. Now I have a writing room, a small converted bedroom, ergonomically organized, huge screen, trying to save my body. But I now try to do the first bad drafts fast--in longhand--so I don't fiddle so much.
What are you working on now?
My third novel, called Oppo, about the next presidential campaign, is done. I’m now starting a fourth about the launch of a new presidency and the efforts of a maverick if reckless politician--not Trump--to tackle climate change. Yeah, its a little weird to write political fiction when the news reads like dystopian fiction.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
From Walter Mosley's wonderful small book on writing (and most other professional writers I have met): Write everyday. No matter what. Humphrey Bogart supposedly once said, "A professional is someone who does his (let's use the plural pronoun they) best work when they least want to." Sounds about right.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Don’t give up. Believe in yourself. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up.
Bio: A journalist in Washington, I was press critic at the LA Times for a decade, chief congressional correspondent at Newsweek and a press critic at MSNBC. I was a cofounder of the Pew Research Center, where I ran the media research for 16 years. I am now executive director of the American Press Institute and a senior non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution. I’ve written seven nonfiction books, including the Elements of Journalism, which is been translated into more than 25 languages. My first novel, Shining City, was published when I was 60, in 2017. Don’t give up.