Happy Birthday, Erik Larson, born 3 January 1954
- I’m very perverse. If someone tells me I have to read a book, I’m instantly disinclined to do so.
- My day starts very early. I make some coffee, half decaf, half black, and I have one Oreo cookie. A bad day is two Oreo cookies. And the pencil is Ticonderoga Number Two. The best pencil ever made. Ticonderoga Number Two Soft. I use those to write passages that are particularly difficult. Using a computer is great; you can spew and rewrite a paragraph 10 times. But there are passages that are too important, too complex, to do that. I have yellow legal pads; I can even tell you which kind: yellow legal pads with a reinforced back made by Tops. So I sharpen my pencils, and what I find is that it almost invariably comes relatively easily because when you write longhand, you’ve got to think about it before you write, because the manual effort is significant. It matters. That really helps.
- I don’t listen to music when I write, but I do turn on appropriate music when I read portions of my manuscripts back to myself – kind of like adding a soundtrack to help shape mood.
- I always tried to do the funny pieces. You can’t be funny; you have to let the details be funny for you. So you have to collect the details. That gave me a really good eye for what details worked and what details didn’t work. Because what it comes down to with the sort of historical writing I do is finding those little details that make a scene come to life, that make a scene tighter. It doesn’t take a lot. I think sometimes just one sentence can really do it.
- I simply look for whatever historical event or situation offers the best opportunity for non-fiction storytelling.
Erik Larson is an American journalist and non-fiction author. His books include The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic & Madness and the Fair that Changed America, which won the 2004 Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category, and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.
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