September 12, 2010

Interview With Bryan Gruley, Author Of The Hanging Tree

Bryan Gruley is the author of the critically acclaimed mystery novel series Starvation Lake. He incorporates lots of hockey into his novels, making for a unique setting in fictional literature. The second installment of the series, The Hanging Tree, came out in the summer of 2010.

Here's the interview with author Bryan Gruley.

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You are a life long hockey fan and player. What are some of your favorite hockey memories?

Winning the Michigan state title as a defenseman for Detroit Catholic Central High School in 1974. Watching the US team beat the USSR in the 1980 Olympics. Going to Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, each February for the World Pond Hockey Championship.

You live in Chicago. How exciting was the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run last season?

I guess it was pretty exciting if you’re a Hawks fan. I’m a lifelong fan of my hometown team, the Red Wings. Nevertheless, it was fun to see my Chicago hockey pals so fired up. The Hawks deserved the Cup, and Chicago deserved a great hockey team.

How do you think your Wings will do this year? Are they the team to beat in the West?

The West is loaded, so hard to choose any one team to beat. Depends on injuries, chemistry, goalie mentality, right moves at right times. That said, the Wings should do fine and could contend depending on all of the above. Will one of the younger defensemen step up? Will Modano make a difference? Will Jimmy Howard become a first-rate goaltender?

You use hockey as a main backdrop in your novels. What made you decide to go this route? Did you or the publisher have any concerns that the hockey theme might not be well received by some American marketplaces?

I had written part of a different novel that had almost no hockey in it. My agent didn’t like the book, and suggested that I turn to something I knew well: middle-aged guys who play hockey in the middle of the night (as she put it). I immediately had an idea, which I won’t share here because it would spoil STARVATION LAKE for those who have not read it. As for the marketplace, I didn’t really think about it; I just wrote the best story I could, trusting that if I created characters readers cared about, readers would follow them no matter what they did. Some readers have told me via email that they didn’t like the hockey; most say they loved it, despite knowing little about it.

You are an award winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal, sharing a Pulitzer Prize. How hard was it to cross over to the world fiction?

The hardest part is learning to write with a distinctive voice, a voice with a point of view. As a journalist writing news and feature stories, you are supposed to distance yourself from your subjects and write as objectively as you can, which tends to neutralize voice. Otherwise, I’ve written a lot of narratives over the years for the newspapers I’ve worked for, so I knew a little something about storytelling.

Compared to baseball in particular, there is a real lack of hockey fiction available on bookstore shelves. Why do you think this is?

Let’s face it. Hockey is the least popular of the major sports, at least as measured by tickets and TV ratings. So it’s less likely as a subject or theme for books. Writers will be understandably cautious about whether an audience will show up.

Your novels center not only around hockey but around reporter Gus Carpenter, our main character. How much of Bryan Gruley is in Gus or in any of the other characters?

Like me, Gus is a hockey-playing journalist. But he’s also shorter, balder, younger, single, and childless. And he plays goalie. I’m a winger. There are similarities, of course, but I actually think there’s as much of me—at least the goofy, smart-ass side of me—in Soupy Campbell as there is in Gus.

What is the future of the Starvation Lake series? How many more books can we anticipate seeing?

At least one, THE SKELETON BOX, which I’m writing now. That will fulfill my three-book contract with the nice people at Touchstone, a unit of Simon & Schuster. Then we’ll see if anybody wants any more Gus Carpenter books, or Bryan Gruley books, for that matter.

Is it difficult to write sequels?

Yes, in a different way than it’s difficult to write a first novel. You can’t assume that readers of a sequel have read the earlier book or books, so you have to give them enough background or back story so that they understand the context of the setting and characters. But you can’t put in too much lest you bore readers who have read earlier books.

Do you have a grand vision of the future of the series or the characters? Or will even you not know that until you start writing?

I wrote one book and Touchstone told me they wanted two more. I wrote a second that was pretty lousy, threw it away, and started over with what would become THE HANGING TREE. So, no, I have no grand vision. Most days, I don’t even know what’s going to happen on the next page.

Do you think we'll ever see one of your books turned into a Hollywood film?

No idea, but I hope so. I think John Cusack would make a great Gus Carpenter.

Bryan Gruley is the author of The Hanging Tree. Buy The Book - - Chapters -


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