How do you celebrate after you've finished a book?
Did you ever read "Misery," by Stephen King? If so, do you remember how his protagonist celebrated after he finished a novel? Something along those lines.
What's your favorite first line of a book? Last line?
There are too many to list, too many favorites in both categories, but I think the first line of "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," by George V. Higgins, is brilliant in its simple ability to hook a reader:
"Jackie Brown, at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns."
The last line of Nelson Algren's "Chicago — City on the Make" is actually three lines, and captures Chicago with timeless poetry:
"The city's rusty heart, that holds both the hustler and the square.
Takes them both and holds them there.
For keeps and a single day."
What book do you read over and over again?
I have to name three. First, "Out of Sight," by Elmore Leonard. I re-read it because I love it, of course, but also because he's a master of plotting. I dig into it before I start writing a new book or short story, just to remind myself of the importance of connectivity; everything has to click. Also, "The Big Sleep" and "The Long Goodbye," by Raymond Chandler, for the opposite reason — he sometimes jettisoned plot in favor of razor-sharp character development. Without characters who mean something to readers, who gives a damn?
What do you think of when you think of Chicago?
The very first thing that comes to mind is the memory of the house I grew up in, with its narrow gangway, busy alley, and the two block walk to grammar school. The second thing that comes to mind is the wind at the corner of State and Wacker in winter. Brutal.
Who is an author you'd like to meet, dead or alive?
Ray Bradbury. No question about it. I adored that man. I wrote him a heartfelt fan letter once, letting him know how much his stories meant to me and he called me at home, to say thank you. He also sent me an inscribed copy of "Fahrenheit 451." It's one of my most treasured possessions.
What's the worst question you've ever been asked in an interview?
"How did you get your job working at the White House?" Um…one of my protagonists works at the White House. I don't. Thank goodness that question came as a warm-up before the TV cameras went live!
What's your guilty pleasure reading?
Is there such a thing as a guilty pleasure in reading? We all enjoy what we enjoy. For me it's mostly mysteries (all types: cozies, thrillers, police procedurals, etc.), but I enjoy short character-based (as opposed to gadget-based) science fiction, too. I read The Chicago Tribune on a daily basis, More Magazine every month, and loads of non-fiction for research. I enjoy it all and I don't feel guilty about any of it.