Q&A With New York Times Best-Selling Author Clifford Irving, Mystery Fest Key West Keynote Speaker
His works have run a gamut from restless youth searching for hope and meaning - “On a Darkling Plain” (1956) and “The Losers” (1958), to history - “The Battle of Jerusalem: The Six-Day War of June, 1967” (1970), memoir – “The Hoax” (1972), in which he tells how he perpetrated the Howard Hughes Autobiography Hoax – to numerous true-crime and legal thrillers.
Today, more than 20 novels bear his name, with several adapted for television. Those attending the Fest will have the opportunity to meet and gain insights from him. In the meantime, the author agreed to answer a few questions about his work and methods:
Q: In 1956, just out of school and after working as a copy boy at The New York Times, you wrote your first novel, “On a Darkling Plain.” The Florida Times-Union described your characterizations as rivaling those of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. How did you feel about that comparison? Do you think it impacted how you approached crafting personalities in subsequent book projects?
CI: I was thrilled to be compared to Fitzgerald and Hemingway; every young writer is a sucker for flattery. It’s only later in life that you realize that if you believe the praise you have to believe the insults as well. But I don’t think the reviews impacted my writing. I simply did things my own way, for better or for worse; and my true mentors were Conrad, Maugham, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. My favorite contemporary writer is Ruth Rendell. (Alas, she died two years ago.)
Q: You have worked as an investigative reporter. You write fiction and you write fact. Is there one abiding research practice or formula that you employ across the genres?
CI: There are a few principles that I try to follow:
* Portray interesting people in conflict, making choices, risking something, even their lives.
* Show, don’t tell. Action makes character.
* Delete unnecessary words, especially adjectives and adverbs.
* Be sure the story has a beginning, middle, and end.
Q: Publishers Weekly described the courtroom scenes in your 2015 legal thriller, “Trial,” as “breathtaking.” As an investigative reporter, do you have access to criminal court records that others might not? On a scale of one to ten, how much trust do you have in the judicial system?
CI: I spent a year in Houston covering three murder trials in order to write the nonfiction book “Daddy’s Girl,” so I came to understand the system pretty well. Without permission I recorded whole trials (boring!) and, with permission, dozens of the intimate conversations of defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges and witnesses who were my friends to varying degrees. I had all the material I needed for a few novels.
I do not use scales of one to ten. I do not trust the judicial system or the people who shape it.
Q: Do you currently have a book project underway? If yes, can you tell us something about it?
CI: I’m writing a memoir called “Bad Boy” about my life in Europe and elsewhere when I was in my twenties and thirties. My wife calls it a “mystery” because neither I nor the reader is sure what’s going to happen next.
Q: Are some or all of your books still available to readers? If so, where?
CI: Only “The Hoax” is currently in print between covers, but since 2012 eighteen of my books, the worldwide rights to which I own, are available in digital form on Kindle (Amazon) and Nook (Barnes & Noble). I depend on those e-book sales for my livelihood.
The 2017 Mystery Fest Key West is sponsored by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the Key West Citizen daily newspaper, Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, and is supported by the Marion Stevens Fund at the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys and the Helmerich Trust.
Fest registration is $195 and includes all panels, presentations, social events and four meals. For registration and information visit mysteryfestkeywest.com.