We owe many thanks to the late Ed Gorman (1941-2016) and Martin H. Greenberg (1941-2011) for the variety of collections and anthologies they edited through the years. I looked at bibliographies and counted at least 53 edited by Ed Gorman, and one source said Greenberg had edited over a thousand books. Ed was also one of the regular contributors to the Friday's Forgotten Books feature, as well as being an accomplished, award-winning author in his own right.
One of the Gorman/Greenberg collaborations were two books of interviews with well-known crime fiction authors, Speaking of Murder: Interviews with the Masters of Mystery and Suspense, published in July 1998, and Speaking of Murder II, which came out the following year.
I don't have the second volume, but the first is introduced by Ed, who tells the story of how a Chicago talk show producer once told him that writers made dull guests. Ed allowed as how he agreed, since "compared to cross-dressing prostitutes, mothers who sleep with their daughter's boyfriends, and UFO abductees who have mysteriously started to dress like Elvis, I guess most of us writers do lead pretty uneventful lives." He goes on to add that writers are interesting because they're quiet and introspective.
The 21 interviews in volume one include some of the best-known names in the genre, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, Elizabeth George, Marcia Muller, Mickey Spillane, Ian Rankin, Tony Hillerman Sue Grafton, Anne Perry, each offering up insights into their inner world as well as their personal take on the writing process.
I'm always particularly fascinated by the early stages of a writer's career before they were successful, because that's the "danger time," the period when a writer is most likely to get discouraged and give up. From Carolyn G. Hart we learn that despite having 13 books published ("nothing exciting happened with any one of them") and teaching journalism, she was depressed and felt like an enormous failure. One agent told her no one was buying mysteries, but after a Mystery Writers of America seminar, she decided she was going to write the mystery she wanted to anyway, the result being her wildly popular Death on Demand series.
Tony Hillerman worked as a journalist for 17 years and taught for 21 years, writing a lot of nonfiction. One day he decided he wanted to write the great American novel and decided to start with a mystery because he didn't know if he could do characters or plotting well. He knew he could do descriptions, though, and chose the most beautiful setting he could think of so the readers would at least enjoy the background. He wrote it off and on, thinking it wasn't good enough to be published, until he finally got tired of it and sent it off to an agent. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Other random tidbits: From Bill Pronzini, "Critical, editorial and/or peer misunderstanding or dismissal of my work only makes me more determined to hang around."
From Mickey Spillane: "If you are a writer and you do a scene ten times, the last one probably will sound like the first one, and you're not going to get any better as you revise. The best stuff you put down comes right off the typewriter, bam! ... I don't have a big garbage problem."
From Ian Rankin: "I remember an early attempt at research (at Leith Police Station)...They asked me what the book was about, I said a child killer. What I hadn't realized was that a child had just been abducted in Leith and a murder room had been set up. So they took down my details and added me to their computer. I became supsect number 350 and spent more time answering their questions than they did mine."
From Sharyn McCrumb: "Storytelling was an art form that I learned early on. When I was a little girl, my father would come in to tell me a bedtime story, which usually began with a phrase like, 'Once there was a prince named Paris, whose father was Priam, the king of Troy . . . .' thus I got the Iliad in nightly installments, geared to the level of a four-year-old's understanding."
From Sue Grafton: "I love mystery; it is my favorite form. It is sublimely difficult, and for my money, it encompasses everything that is interesting about writing because you need a strong story, strong characters, and mood and atmosphere. It is also the perfect vehicle for social commentary. Mysteries are about the psychology of crime and the psychology of human nature. It is a form so difficult that I know I'll never conquer it. So it's the perfect place to keep throwing myself into the abyss."