David Liss is the author six novels, most recently The Devil’s Company. He has five previous bestselling novel: A Conspiracy of Paper, winner of the 2000 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, The Coffee Trader, A Spectacle of Corruption, The Ethical Assassin and The Whiskey Rebels. In 2008, at the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Bali, Indonesia, he was named an Artist for Integrity by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. No one is really sure why he should receive this honor or what it means, but it very possibly makes him the Bono of historical fiction. David Liss’s novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and children, and can be reached via his web page: davidliss.com, which features his endlessly fascinating and edifying blog. You can also contact David Liss on Facebook.
Q: Thank you for this interview, David. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Devil’s Company, is all about?
A: Like many of my other novels, The Devil’s Company is a historical thriller set in the murderous world of pre-modern finance. In this case, it’s about the British East India company in the early 1720s. We tend to associate the East India Company with tea, but in the early part of the 18th century, its main import was textiles – until Parliament forced it to give up this trade because it was competing with home grown industries. So, like GM and Chrysler today, the East India Company had to figure out how to change and modernize in order to survive. In this novel my protagonist, Benjamin Weaver, a thief taker (a sort of 18th century private investigator) is blackmailed into going undercover at the East India Company, and what he discovers is a lot of intrigue, foreign spies, government operatives, and a large number of very dangerous and greedy people who are all more complicated than they seem
Q: Is this your first novel? If not, how has writing this novel different from writing your first?
A: This is my sixth novel, and the third to feature Benjamin Weaver as a protagonist – though it is by no means necessary to read the previous two to enjoy this one. Every novel has its own challenges, but the novels to feature Benjamin Weaver are always a particular pleasure to write. For me, the hardest thing about getting a new novel going is finding the right narrative voice, but with the Weaver novels, I already have the voice, so I can jump right into the enjoyable story-telling.
Q: How difficult was it writing your book? Did you ever experience writer’s block and, if so, what did you do?
A:This book was probably the easiest novel I’ve ever written. The idea came to me almost fully formed, and while it changed somewhat along the way, I retained a pretty good chunk of my core ideas. I seriously doubt I will ever again write a novel without the normal amount of doubt, heartache, recrimination and regret.
I have, in the past, been stuck on projects, though I’m not entirely sure I believe in writer’s block. Bus drivers don’t get bus driver’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block. I think when I’ve been stuck it’s always because some fundamental part of what I’m doing isn’t working out. I’ve learned over the years to pay attention to these feelings. Usually, the answer is to go backwards and find the mistake rather than try to force myself to move forward and live with the mistake.
Q: How have your fans embraced your latest novel? Do you have any funny or unusual experiences to share?
A: The book hasn’t come out yet, but there is already a great deal of enthusiasm on my Facebook fan page and on other book social networking sites like Goodreads. I’ve received a great deal of email from readers who have been kind enough to share the excitement. To celebrate the publication of the new book, I’ve updated my web page and I’m going to include a blog. I guess it’s a good sign that my fans are anxious when the new site has been up a couple of days, and I’m already getting complaints that I haven’t posted a blog entry yet. Soon as I finish this interview, that’s my next project.
Q: What is your daily writing routine?
A:I am a morning writer. It doesn’t matter what time I go to sleep or wake up, I can’t get any serious writing done after about noon. On most days, I drop my daughter off at her school, take my lap top to my favorite coffee shop (they reserve a particular table for me), and write there from about 8 to noon. If I have a lot of work to get done, I will get up extra super early – three in the morning – and write until my children wake up and force me to pay attention to them. Then I’ll get back to work again later in the morning as a second shift. It is a great way to get things done, but also a great way to turn yourself into a sleep-deprived monster. Don’t try this at home.
Q: When you put the pen or mouse down, what do you do to relax?
A:Because of the nature of what I write, I have to spend a lot of my non-writing time reading. There is always more research to be done. However, I love reading for pleasure, and always try to make time for leisure reading. I have a no-research-reading-before-bed rule, in part because I won’t sleep well otherwise. Besides reading, I enjoy cooking, drinking good wine, exercising, and tinkering with my own private particle accelerator.
Q: What book changed your life?
A: When my daughter was a little bit younger, she always used to ask me what my favorite color was, and she became frustrated when I refused to answer. I always said, “I like them all.” That is sort of how I feel about books. There are obviously some I like far more than others, but I don’t have a favorite book or one that changed everything for me. I love that there are so many of them, far more than I can ever read, and every one can be my next, great book love.
Q: If someone were to write a book on your life, what would the title be?
A: Godzilla Versus Mothra: How One Writer Conquered his Two Opposing, yet Equally Absurd, Inner Monsters, Destroying Much of a Major Urban Center in the Process.
Q: Finish this sentence: “The one thing that I wish people would understand about me is…”
A: that they will never understand the one thing I wish they would understand about me.
Thank you for this interview David. I wish you much success on your latest release, The Devil’s Company!