This is the second part of a two part interview - the first part was here
Hunter has been a novelist for going on 30 years but is better known by some for working as a film critic
for the Baltimore Sun than the Washington Post.
As we ended the first interview I'd asked him about his policy on blurbs - he refuses to solicit them - and so I asked a tough question. It received a response from his publicist, Alexis: "Malcolm Gladwell named Night of Thunder his favorite book of 2008 on Salon.com. That's where that quote came from. Not a requested blurb."
Scott: First a follow-up on your comment about blurbs. One reason I asked was because the blurb on your book by Malcolm Gladwell caught my eye. It read like a blurb but maybe it was from a review or something but I wasn't sure how that fit with your criticism of the blurbing business.
Stephen: Alexis is right; not a blurb. I do have a blurb coming out for "Whirlwind," a non-thriller history book about the air campaign against Japan by a friend named Barrett Tillman. I'll blurb for friends if I'm asked but I never ask for blurbs from friends. I did send Malcolm a copy of the new book and if he'd have responded enthusiastically, I suppose I would have proven myself hypocritical by asking permish to use. But--his choice--he never responded, saving me from myself
The portrayal of the New York Times in this book seems quite negative. Is that an intentional slight against that newspaper or about the news media or newspaper business in general? If the latter, is your old paper the Washington Post equally guilty?
Five or so books back the Times ceased reviewing me. Their right, no conspiracy, no questions need be answered, I'm a good sport. In this book, as you say, the Times comes off quite negatively: my right, no conspiracy, no questions need be answered, I know they'll be good sports. So, to answer your second q, no, the Post isn't equally guilty. It reviewed all my books, some good, some bad, some indifferent. I was a good sport. Isn't it nice when everybody's a good sport!
Do you intentionally drop names of TV shows and movies into your books? I'm wondering if that's some bleed-over from your former criticism career? Or are those just shows you particularly endorse? (I wrote that question after reading the first 100 pages and I've noticed you've done that less later on so maybe it was unintentional on your part)
Hmm. I'm not intentionally plugging anything. I'm trying to set the books in an approximation of realworld culture, where the names of TV shows and movies frequently come up. I want the books to happen in a place where people watch "24 Hours" and saw "A Few Good Men" and know who Hemingway is.
You spoke in part one about how many in the news media are ignorant about guns. Did you set out to have a plotline that sort of made that point or assertion or did it just sort of work out that way?
It more or less developed; the way I work, I have to cut FROM the chase at key moments in order to cut BACK to it later, a suspense technique. I don't think the PR/Times guy plot is on any outline or note to self; I was just looking for something that would have its own momentum and reveal a part of a culture I had seen. I came up with that one night and never looked back. So much of these books come from the unconscious; as I've said elsewhere, they're just too hard to write entirely from the rational 10 per cent of the brain. Clearly, I had feelings about journalism and particularly the way it covers firearms issues, that came out of the faraway part of the head. So it goes.
While - as we talked about in part one - you've had good early press on this book there's always going to be exceptions. How would you respond to this person's review of your new book? And no, you're not allowed to pretend to shoot (pun intended) the reviewer or the messenger (me)
You know what: I don't respond to reviews. Long time policy. Won't even open it.
Did you do research for this book? I'm especially curious how you researched the parts about torture, both that went with the section about different types of torturers as well as about water boarding? You're not one of those people who actually got water boarded in order to explain what it was like, right?
I researched the shooting aspects with a great deal of energy, because the action sequences (and, I hope, the suspense) were built around the dichotomies of old scope/old sniper vs. new scope/new sniper. It was important to me that those sections be technically accurate, because I knew my core readers would expect as much. That said, I'm somewhat limited by my technical IQ. So what I'm selling is a simpleton's distillation of a far more complex process and I hope the guys who know realize that (inevitably, some won't.) The main thing isn't to make it absolutely right but to make it absolutely believable. You can know too much about a thing, and all the nuances hamstring you. That's why I could write a novel about a marine sniper but not about a Washington Post film critic.
As for the waterboarding, that was pure imagination, but the imagination of confidence. One thing I seem to have a minor gift for is the ordeal. Don't know why as, no, I've never been waterboarded nor undergone any of the other ordeals the Swaggers have suffered (Earl in the box in "Pale Horse Coming" for example).
You have a key character give an interesting speech about the media and "the narrative" – Is that something you believe to be the case?
Yes, pretty much. It's not a conspiracy, though, as I am at pains to point out, but a culture. Reporters tend to be certain people with certain values--I watched the complexion of the newsroom change in the post-Watergate years, as the old WWII guys retired or died, and the new W-B inspired college kids came in-- and they prefer to spend their time with people of those same values. They like irony, snark, "getting it," repartee, wisecracks, people who can banter and tend to go easier on them. In my estimation, they don't have much imagination for people with other-than-verbal intelligences, of which there are many.
Swagger, for example, would be a lousy interview and he'd get a snarky story because he wouldn't engage and flatter the reporter as a peer. Those cultural values have become political values in too many respects and the reporter goes in with an agenda of which he himself may be unaware. He is not consciously "lying" or "propagandizing" as too many righties insist; he is simply interpreting what he's seen through the prism of his assumed values and the values of every single other person he knows. For example, in no elite newsroom would a man be shunned for shouting "Bush is a monster." But if you shouted, "Bush is a great president" you'd find yourself eating lunch alone for many, many moons.
What's next on your plate?
I'm going to do another sniper novel, with Bob Lee in an older man's role, with a new sniper as the hero. Will be "ripped from the headlines," as they say. It should be fun. Gee, all I have to do is write it.
Just saw your piece at Powerline where you spoke of being disillusioned about journalism. In what respect were you disillusioned? Is there a bit of yourself in the New York Times plotline as far as pointing out problems in the media industry?
It seems I've answered this above. I will say that a lot of the David Banjax stylings were based on--of all people--me. He had an immense ambition, but it was undercut by self-consciousness. He never really felt "comfortable" in the newsroom, but at the same time was damned glad to be there. He knew he'd get a victory lap when he'd published a talker, and he loved it, maybe too much; he lived in fear of a humiliating error (I had dozens, believe me!) He turned to his email each morning assuming he'd get endless praise and was bruised when he did not. He liked being a success. All that was me to a tee. The descrip of the newsroom was clearly the Post's style section; I've never seen the Times' bureau and don't even know where it is.
Lastly, since this is running at year end did you make a best of year list regarding films or did you leave best-of list making behind when you switched from film critic to novelist?
No top ten--probably didn't SEE ten--,but two of the movies I enjoyed above all others of the few I saw this year were "The Hurt Locker" and "District 9."
Lastly I asked him why he thanked bookseller Otto Penzler, who I interviewed here for his latest book compilation
Otto and I are two right-wing cranks who love to drink and cackle bitterly at the sorry state of the world. Otto is a man of taste, cultivation, and superb instincts which is why I'm surprised he likes me. But he seems to and he's done me much good: inclusion in both "The Lineup" and "Agents of Treachery", his last and next anthologies, cannot have done my career any harm and may actually have helped it!