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Interview: September 24, 2015

Lawrence Block has won more awards than almost any other living mystery writer and has been named Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America. His latest book, THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, follows private investigator Doak Miller, a retired NYPD officer now residing in small-town Florida. Miller does small jobs for the local police force, until an encounter with a femme fatale leads to his fall from grace. In this interview conducted by's Tom Callahan, Block discusses the philosophy behind the creation of his characters; his writing process, which is very organic and largely inspiration-based; and his upcoming projects and plans --- or lack thereof. THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES is your 11th book published for Hard Case Crime, but first original novel. What made you decide to do an original for them?

Lawrence Block: Actually, GETTING OFF was an original for Hard Case --- and their first hardcover book, too. In both cases, I didn't decide to do a book for Hard Case. I wrote a book and then decided where I wanted to publish it. In both cases, it was a surprisingly easy choice. Charles Ardai's enthusiasm for the work and his bone-deep understanding of it made it clear to me that he was the work's ideal publisher.

BRC: This has been described already as “James M. Cain on Viagra.” Since the blue pill did not exist in Mr. Cain’s time, could you elaborate on that?

LB: It was my Hollywood agent, Brian Lipson, who came up with the line, and I was at once delighted with it. It's a good way to get across the notion that the story is much in the mode of Cain's classic noir works --- POSTMAN, DOUBLE INDEMNITY --- but that it contains as well a powerful erotic element.

BRC: The classic noir plot involving lust, betrayal and murder has been tackled by many writers since Cain’s time. Did you feel the need to do something different, to update, twist or alter it in any way?

LB: I don't think in those terms. I had a story to tell, and all I knew early on was that Doak Miller was hired to pull a sting on a woman who wanted somebody to kill her husband. Everything else just grew out of that premise. I never outline and rarely have a clear idea of how things are going to work out in my books. I wrote them to find out.

BRC: All of the main characters in this book are, shall we say, less than good moral folks --- I am thinking of the pregnant mom taking care of her young son --- yet your narrative is very effective in evoking our sympathy or understanding at least. How difficult is that to do for a writer?

LB: I've never had much use for white knights. Nor have I met many in what we persist in calling real life.

It was a great revelation to me when I read John O'Hara's FROM THE TERRACE 55 years ago and realized that people weren't good or bad except in context. It's remarkable how many people still don't know that.

And if I don't like my characters, I've done something wrong.

BRC: Do you have a favorite film noir that you can watch over and over?

LB: There are quite a few, including several that Doak watches in the book. I'm about ready to see Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction again.

BRC: Is there any novel or writer you have especially enjoyed of late?

LB: Oh, you know how I hate to say anything nice about another living writer.

BRC: Fans are always clamoring for you to write another Scudder or Bernie book, but you recently said that “you feel complete as far as all my series characters are concerned.” Well, while that is hardly a Sherman-esque statement, what is next for you?

LB: The first order of business is a short story for an anthology I'm editing, but I can't really talk about it yet. Next will be a revision of WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT; it needs updating after almost 50 years, and there's a lot of material I want to add prior to republishing it. Then sometime next year Charles will be bringing out a "lost" book --- genuinely lost, because I didn't have a copy and wasn't absolutely sure it had ever been published. It was my first crime novel, and the whole story of how it got to be lost and found is quite fascinating.

As to what, if anything, I may write after that, well, I have no idea. Having reached the age where I deem it an act of hubris to buy green bananas, I'm not comfortable making plans.

BRC: Will there be a sequel to A Walk Among the Tombstones, which came out last year and is based on one of your Matt Scudder novels?

LB: If only! Liam would like to do another, but the box office wasn't big enough to call for a sequel. Maybe someday...