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Q&A with george dawes green about...

the juror

the caveman's valentine

    small photo gdg
 

Q. What sparked the writing of this novel? Did a real-life incident or situation inspire you?

A. Thomas de Quincey’s thunderous essay “The English Mail Coach” tells of an approaching accident that the narrator is powerless to avert. I wanted to recreate that atmosphere. So I dreamed up a terrifying car-ride during which a protaganist realizes that the destination is the murder of her own child. I filed that away in my head and years later, when I came across a small news item about a juror who had maybe been threatened by some mobster, I knew that was the story to wrap around this core terror …

Q. You are a poet as well as a novelist. In The Juror, you create two characters who actually write poetry. The hotel night clerk describes the first fictional poet, the detective Slavko Czernyk, as a “romantic” (p. 273). Eddie says about the second poet, the villain: “Though there was always some question . . . as to Vincent’s sanity.” (209). By choosing these characters, are you commenting on the nature of the poet, or just poking a little fun?

A. Vincent creates worlds. As poets and murderers will. Slavko is a failed poet, and thus deserving of our deepest compassion and reverence.

Q. You also include an excerpt from the poem “The Gulf” by the Nobel Prize-winning poet, Derek Walcott. Why did you choose Walcott?

A. There I WAS poking a little fun. But Derek charged me an arm and a leg for the rights to use that one little stanza, so he had the last laugh.

Q. It isn’t common for an accomplished poet to also write genre novels, and vice versa. Yet you have done both. Are the experiences of writing in each genre the same or different? How does your poet’s use of language influence your style as a novelist?

A. As Cheever said of novels vs. short stories, they are two distinct disciplines – utterly dissimilar. One doesn’t seem to help with the other.

Q. You also associate the villain with Taoism and refer to specific aphorisms by Lao Tzu. Can you share with readers why you included the Tao?

A. Because Lao Tzu’s meaning is so difficult to plumb, he’s always been beloved by charlatans. Such as Vincent.

Q. Protagonist Annie Laird is a talented artist who has to work at data entry to support herself and her son. Is this a comment on the artist’s struggles in contemporary society?

A. Not a ‘comment’ but it is how things work.

Q. Like the character Turtle, you spent time in Guatemala. Are there any parallels between you and that character? When the heroine Annie escapes with her son, she goes there. How did your personal experience influence that plot twist?

A. She wanted to get as far from her tormentor as possible – to the very end of the earth – and I recalled the Cuchumatanes mountains, which perfectly fit that description.

Q. There are many kinds of criminals in The Juror, from figures in organized crime and corrupt officials to the novel’s villain Vincent/Zach/Eben/Ian. Are any of them “evil”? Is crime boss Boffano? Is Vincent? Would you talk a bit about your concept of evil?

A. The word has no meaning to me. I suppose that should worry me.

Q. Will you share some of your writing life with us? Do you write daily? Do you have a routine? Do have a specific place to write?

A. I wrote most of The Juror in a one-room schoolhouse in the Pennsylvania Mountains, in winter, with two-foot snowdrifts all around. I was alone. At night I would slog through the snow and shine my flashlight at deer in the meadow, and pick up their slow-gliding headlights of their eyes. All of them moving away from me. Then I’d go back to the schoolhouse and work some more. Vincent got into my head and loosened the hinges. I was having an affair with a beautiful girl I’d met at a bar in town (Stroudsburg, Pa.); she was also sleeping with her father. I think if I’d stayed out there much longer I’d have lost my mind. Maybe I did anyway.

Q. How do you go about developing a story? How carefully do you plot your novel before you write it?

A. All the pieces of a thriller have to fit seamlessly, and should be weighed and measured scrupulously before any assembly is undertaken.

Q. Do you base characters on real people?

A. On myself mostly. Although the characters of Vincent and Annie were informed by people close to me. But when the writing begins, all personas must say goodbye to their models and board the train and make the journey by themselves.

Q. Discuss your choice of a female protagonist. Do you feel a man writing about a woman’s emotions and mental state faces any special challenges in making them seem authentic?

A. Creating any character is impossible. To me ‘authentic’ always signifies really good sleight-of-hand. Woman, monster, child – I do the best I can.

Q. How important is storytelling for a society? Would you talk about your founding of The Moth?

A. The art of the raconteur is a beautiful thing–there’s its prime importance. It may have some kind of therapeutic or societal value, but I’m mostly interested in the beauty. So far as I know, there had never in history been a public forum for the kind of stories we celebrate at the Moth – unscripted, personal, ‘kitchen’ stories. So I created one – with the help of a thousand friends and, in particular, Joey Xanders and Lea Thau – and now we’re traveling all over the world and we’re downloaded by millions and the art of the raconteur seems to be exploding. As it should. If you haven’t been to a Moth, please go – the evenings can be rapturous.

Q. The Juror was your second novel and was tremendously successful. Your first book (Caveman’s Valentine) won an Edgar Award. Then over a decade passed when no novels appeared. Now, you have a third book, Ravens. Why did you take a hiatus after The Juror and why did you return to novel writing?

A. The years just kind of got away from me.

Q. The Juror became a Hollywood movie. Would you tell us something of your experience and the process through which your novel was transformed into a film?

A. The studios were captivated by a certain strain in the novel, the core story, which they seemed to find compelling. The rest they jettisoned. And naturally, it was ‘the rest’ – the other strains, the surrounding layers, that I most cherished. It’s very tough to make novelists happy. But we’re paid handsomely so no whining.

Q. Are you currently working on another novel?

A. I am, and I’ve sworn to deliver it soon, and my amazing, beautiful, patient and gracious editor has threatened to put me in irons if I don’t.