|photo: Maggie Evans Silverstein
James W. Hall is the author of 18 novels. Most of them, like his most recent, Going Dark (St. Martin's Press, December 3, 2013), feature a hard-core loner named Thorn, who makes a meager living tying bonefish flies. Thorn and his P.I. pal, Sugarman, have teamed up in a dozen books to thwart animal smugglers, cruise-ship hijackers, rogue medical experimenters and other assorted villains. Hall's nonfiction work includes Hit Lit, an analysis of 12 of the most commercially successful novels of the last century and the dozen features those books have in common. He started his writing life as a poet and has published four collections of poetry. He has a master's degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a doctorate in literature from the University of Utah. In the early 1970s, Hall founded the creative writing program at Florida International University, where he taught literature and writing for 40 years.
On your nightstand now:
I've just been rereading Elmore Leonard's City Primeval. Went to his funeral recently and wanted to saturate myself in Detroit. Wonderful novel. Just finished James Lee Burke's Light of the World, another triumph. And a greatly underappreciated book from a while back, The Art of Breaking Glass by Matthew Hall. I'm also reading Dennis Lehane's Live by Night, which is marvelous. There are several other books in progress on my nightstand, but those are all nonfiction works I'm using as research for my next novel.
Favorite book when you were a child:
As a Kentucky boy, I was a basketball player and fanatic, so Bob Cousy's autobiography was one of the first I read and loved. The first novel I recall was a British mystery whose title and author I don't remember. I was 10 and read it on the sly bit by bit in my hometown library. But I remember being mesmerized by the lurid opening--a nude woman's body was found on the moor. I suddenly realized one of the main reasons why people read novels--to get turned on.
Your top five authors:
John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, John Sandford, James Lee Burke, Ross Macdonald.
Book you've faked reading:
Too numerous to list, but I started in college with Moby Dick. These days, I'm able to fake it better because my e-book reader allows me to sample five chapters for free.
Book you're an evangelist for:
An obscure novel set in Miami, from 30 years ago: Douglas Fairbairn's Street 8. Starkly written, but funny and tough and realistic. Another Fairbairn thriller, Shoot (not a Miami book), is another beauty. Been reading a lot of Daniel Silva lately and loving them all. And I've read and loved all of Daniel Woodrell and Joseph Kanon. Also love to recommend Megan Abbott and Gillian Flynn, both terrific writers.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I never consider the covers when I buy a book. But when I've read and loved the novel itself, then I usually spend a while studying the cover and the author photo.
Books that changed your life:
The Magus by John Fowles. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. I fell in love with lush, purple prose and big sweeping, sexy novels for many years. As I transitioned from an avid reader to a student of literature (in college), poetic prose made me swoon. Probably attributable to the abundant dope smoke in the air of my college dorm.
Favorite line from a book:
The lines that haunt me are all from poems. As I grow older I keep repeating a few lines from Theodore Roethke's "Waking":
"Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Reading George V. Higgins and early Elmore Leonard novels helped liberate me from highly ornate prose and encouraged me to explore the power of dialogue. I felt years of overwriting just fall away when I first read those authors. I need an occasional refresher.