Interview With The Author- Jess Walter


John Dwaine McKenna

We’re elated that we were able to snag some time today with all-world best-selling author Jess Walter, whose latest novel, Cold Millions, is reviewed in Mysterious Book Report No. 421  Mr. Walter, thanks for sharing your thoughts, your writing tips and especially your insights into this wordsmithing craft that’s captured all of our hearts and minds.  We’re all ears and eager to hear what you have to say, so, here’s our first question:

When do you write?

I write every day, 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., or so, with a break for second breakfast and another break for exercise, usually a bike ride or a basketball game. I work seven days a week, and take only a few days off a year. But this all sounds more strenuous than it is. For me, a workday includes a nap, a walk, reading, even a movie every once in a while.

Are any of your characters autobiographical? 

My characters aren’t outwardly autobiographical, although experience and certain traits trickle in (I find many of my characters, like me, have eye injuries.) I try to imbue characters with qualities I can relate to: a Mafia witness with intellectual insecurity, a meth addict with a keen sense of nostalgia, a host of fathers and sons trying to connect with one another.

How do you deal with a negative review?

Negative reviews can sting, no doubt. But like any sting, the pain is fleeting. I think, in general, authors are overly sensitive to criticism. I try to shrug them off. Some great books were greeted with bad reviews. As an author all you can do is realize that not everything is going to please everyone. And that’s as it should be. I’ve become a better writer because of criticism.

What’s the most important element for writing success?

Maybe it’s cheating to quote another writer here, but James Baldwin said it better than I ever could (and it’s James Baldwin!)—“Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.”

What makes a character compelling? 

Complexity and humanity. I bristle at the idea that characters should be likable. I think we are most compelled by people who yearn and struggle and dream of doing better.

Do you use humor in your work? 

This would be a great place for a killer joke. Instead, I’ll say yes, but that I like humor to collide with some other effect or feeling. The intersections of humor and wistfulness, of humor and suspense, of humor and tragedy—these are the places I like to work. The best days are when I write something that makes me laugh.

Are you more comfortable writing in the first, or third person POV?

Both, sometimes in the same work. (My new novel, The Cold Millions, alternates first- and third-person POV.) I’ve written in the second person (you) and first person collective (we) and I am wildly intrigued by what the novelist Olga Tokarazuk calls (playfully, I think) the fourth person. There are two advantages that fiction writers have over other artists. The first is time. We can span centuries, eons, or we can write an entire book within a single moment. The second advantage is point of view. We can convey multitudes and we can provide the sharpest interiority, the closest simulation of a single consciousness. It’s the reason I think novels have endured.

That’s a profound truth and a great way to end our discussion.  Many thanks from all of us here at the Mysterious Book Report, and please let us know about your next project.

Where can you be reached on the World Wide Web?

I can be reached at my website and Goodreads