Russell Wangersky, author of Walt and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!
IFOA: You’ve published novels, collections of short stories and non-fiction. Is there a form that you enjoy writing most?
Russell Wangersky: I like all three forms, but I think short stories are the ones I like working on the most—primarily because you can keep the whole story in your head at once, and can work on it all in a single sitting, there in the dark under your desk light. With novels, on top of the difficulties of having to work back into changing mood and tone (finding where you were in your head when you were working on it last), there’s the sheer problem of remembering where and when things happen so that you don’t trip up. And non-fiction? It’s just plain hard work—there is so much research to do behind every sentence, and it’s also so close to my daily job as a newspaper editor that it’s too much like work.
IFOA: Where did the idea for Walt come from?
Wangersky: Walt came from two places: first, from covering court as a reporter, and watching all sorts of truly awful people in the dock who still had family and friends who clearly loved them in the courtroom. It made me wonder about how people who do awful things justify it to themselves, and how others end up loving them. The second was the notion of concerns about personal privacy and the way that we’re all supposed to be concerned about electronic privacy while we go around shedding concrete personal information every day to people who can just pick it up off the ground.
IFOA: Walt is described as a psychological thriller. Was it difficult to maintain suspense throughout the writing of the book?
Wangersky: It’s described as a thriller, but it didn’t start out that way. It was a story I was interested in—it ended up a thriller almost by default. The suspense has everything to do with Walt himself—what he’s willing to do, what he’s willing to explain. So suspense wasn’t that hard to maintain, especially because most of the book is in first person. It was just a matter of staying in his head, which was not always a nice place to be. It was hard to go back later and maintain pace and tone in the editing, though, because edits feel like good muffin batter—lumpy.
Wangersky: I have hundreds of grocery notes now, and I’m still collecting them—every time I pick one up, it’s like the bones of a much bigger story, and now that I’m in the habit of picking them up, I can’t seem to help myself. Calling it “primary research” gives it much more dignity than it felt like at the time. Unsettled? I was asked by the publisher at one point after the book was done to put together a collage of the notes and photograph them. Looking at the photos, all the different handwriting and papers, some of them clearly stepped on or driven over, was suddenly quite unsettling. A clear intrusion of privacy, but I used them anyway.
IFOA: If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be?
Wangersky: Cormac McCarthy. Just to ask how—how you get the nerve to write like that, to use language as if you own it, without ever seeming to have any doubt. Suttree? Pure linguistic magic.
Russell Wangersky is a writer, editor and columnist. On October 28 he presents Walt, a dark, psychological thriller about a grocery store cleaner who is pursued by police detectives unsatisfied with the answers he’s given about his wife’s disappearance.