Friday, December 5, 2014
SCHMOOZING WITH JOHN MOSS
Surrounded by the murmurings of writers, the question seems disarmingly simple and infinitely complex. I am writing this deep within Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris. The gleam of my laptop illuminates shelves tumbling with books that transform this cramped little alcove into a labyrinth of words. Looking around at books within my reach, it would be easy to pick out dozens of writers who influenced my life and writing, from the wonderfully eccentric Jorge Luis Borges to the profoundly thrilling P.D. James, from Poe and Hammett to Faulkner and Atwood. If I had to single out one, however, it would be Shakespeare, himself: for giving us language enriched so indelibly that four hundred years later it excites with its grandeur and subtlety, for mixing horror and wit in defiance of the classical rules, for writing with such exuberant insight about the extremities of human behavior, finding in murder and vengeance, romance and passion, the common threads that make up the human fabric.
2. What am I working on now?
I’ve just completed a trilogy of mysteries featuring a cosmopolitan private investigator who works out of Toronto and deals exclusively in murder. Harry Lindstrom is a paradox: a contemplative man of action, a brooding hedonist, a pragmatic moralist. Before the loss of his wife and children in a canoeing accident that he feels was his fault, he was a philosophy professor. The dramatic transition from exploring the fundamental questions of life in a lecture hall to exposing the mysteries arising from murder seems both absurd and grotesquely inevitable. A proud and solitary man of forty-three, Harry carries his wounds privately, with an edgy awareness that allows him to deal with inspired depravities that fall in his way, first in Sweden, then in Vienna, and finally on an axis linking the South Pacific to London and Greenwich in England.
3. In what ways are my protagonists and I alike?
I draw from the worlds I know, whether emotionally, socially, or geographically. The protagonists in my Quin and Morgan series originated in my wife, Beverley, and myself. They are originals, however: much of Miranda is born out of my own life and David Morgan, out of Beverley’s. Imagination is transformative. After emerging in three consecutive novels just finished, Harry is so familiar to me it is difficult to appreciate we have separate lives. The facts of our lives differ—I’m a lot old and not as smart— but we are cut from the same cloth.
4. Character driven or plot driven?
Characters caught up in situations that bring out the complexities of their innermost lives fascinate me, so the answer is both. Murder is the catalyst that sets the processes of revelation in motion.
5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m not sure of the difference between pantser and plotter. I work my characters through intricate and surprising plots, but where these lead I’m seldom sure until I get there. I write until it feels right, until there’s a retrospective inevitability to what I’ve written. I love surprising myself.
6. What do I hope my readers take away from reading my work?
I want readers to be entertained; I want them to be challenged, confused, illuminated, edified, and, ultimately, satisfied. I want to change lives, however imperceptibly. Life’s too brief for empty diversions. Writing must be more than building birdhouses; reading should be more than watching them hang in the wind.
7. Where do I see myself ten years from now?
At my age, that’s a loaded question. I’d like people to be reading my work. I’d like, of course, still to be writing. I’d like to be here.
8. I’d re-write this question to ask, what surprises me about myself?
I’d like to think, as a retired professor of Canadian literature, that I’m not professorial. I’m a master scuba diving instructor and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Apparently, it’s possible to be both. What surprises me most is how happy I am to have lived a rich and diverse life, to see my children prosper, and to know my books and Beverley’s books are being read. And until I stop, altogether, I think of myself as a mystery writer as being in mid career.
9. What do I like reading for pleasure?
All reading is pleasure. I read nutritional data on cereal boxes and the magic realism of Jorge Luis Borges. I tend to avoid current award-winning books. I read fiction, especially quality mysteries, and I read non-fiction that challenges convention. I consider a settee in an alcove in Shakespeare and Company, amidst a tumult of books, as close to heaven as I will ever need to be.
10. Blood Wine, my latest and last mystery in the Quin and Morgan series, in a tweet:
A corpse in bed and a wine scandal lead to explosive revelations of drug smuggling as an unexpected cover for international terrorism.