Photograph by Andrew Councill/The New York Times/Redux
With his latest, The Given Day (William Morrow, $28), the 43-year-old Bostonian finally arrives in the big leagues, weaving a gargantuan historical epic involving police strikes, anarchist bombings, and the Red Sox' infamous 1920 trade of Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
Q: Why did a crime writer like you decide to write a historical novel?
A: I began to believeafter I wrote Mystic River that I was living in a time I was incapable of writing about. The post-9/11 world is one that I'm only capable of reflecting on by writing about the past. I just don't think I could write about Facebook. Were I to write about the political landscape in the last seven years directly, I'd get enraged.
Q: Was it hard to maintain authenticity while writing about a different era?
A: I discovered with only one draft to go that there was a great swearword that I can't use: motherfucker. If I'm doing my job correctly, I should be able to write about anywhere. It's the people that I have to have a comfort level with. I can write something set in, say, the Dust Bowl in the thirties, because I grasp what they were going through. But I don't do rich people well. I don't understand what's in their kitchens.
Q: So did you need to do a lot of research?
A: For this book I read everything I could get my hands on about that time period, about the Boston police strike. Then I put all of that aside and just wrote. It took four years to write. I'd rather make it up and then double-check if I got it right later, because I won't get hemmed in by the way things really happened. Who gives a shit how it happened? It's what's dramatically interesting. Timothy Hodler