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My interviews with the Marshawn Lynch of writers

30 January 2015

From Crosscut:

Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawk’s star running back, is famous for his desire to avoid sitting and answering the media’s questions. Hostility to the media is common among people whose fame relies on it, but it is not restricted to athletes. There are plenty of literary figures who detest the probes of inquiring minds — think of semi-recluses like Thomas Pynchon, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee.

We understand the need for solitude and control in the case of creative types, and honor it. Authors, however, also play in a public arena, usually less raucous than a football stadium but still often a circus of distractions. With a unique soul like Lynch — an artist of the running game — maybe we should cut him some slack. Think of him as Emily Dickinson in shoulder pads.

The saga of Lynch puts me in mind of another popular semi-recluse whose work was beloved by millions and who enjoyed the fruits of adoration — and its monetary rewards — but loathed interviews and fuss. In 1995, I was tapped to interview this man, the author Patrick O’Brian, beloved for his series of Napoleanic era sea stories, the so-called Aubrey/Maturin novels. They have been described as the successors to the works of C. S. Forester, or as “Jane Austen-at-sea.”

. . . .

O’Brian was an intensely private man who lived and wrote in relative obscurity in the south of France near the Spanish border, where he’d moved from Britain in the late 1940s.

. . . .

In 1995 he went on a U.S. book tour arranged by his New York publisher, W.W. Norton. He would hit only a few select cities — Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, New York and some others. The format was on-stage interviews — not your usual bookshop signings. I was tapped to interview him on stage in the two Northwest cities on that tour, Seattle and Portland.

. . . .

I was made more nervous because I knew that O’Brian hated interviews on principle. A few years before, he had told Francis X. Clines of the New York Times that “Question-and-answer is not civilized.” He also asserted the right to keep his private life private. O’Brian, a man of culture, high literary achievement, a close friend of people like Pablo Picasso and Simone de Beauvoir and whose work was consider by some to be on the level of Austen’s, was being sent forth into America to capitalize on his success, yet in a format that he considered by definition to be barbaric.

. . . .

I decided to approach the interview with O’Brian from a slightly unexpected angle. His fans would want to hear about his Aubrey/Maturin books. Most were unfamiliar with his other works. So I figured, if I came at O’Brian with something fresh, he might find it fun to talk about, before we slid into the hardcore fan stuff. I began by asking him about his relationship with Picasso — O’Brian had written an excellent biography of the artist and had known him well. We also talked about his biography of the British naturalist Sir. Joseph Banks. I appealed to his ego, to the historical substance of his work, and by this route we managed to get through potentially rough waters and into the friendly sea of a wonderful conversation.

. . . .

How do you protect that inner fire that makes you who you are, that helps you create or perform in a way others describe as genius? O’Brian managed to do it for decades, until his fame hit a critical mass. I’m sure he loved parts of it — on this visit to North America, he was able to acquire a narwhal tusk and some first editions of Jane Austen that he treasured. Fame had its rewards. But it also disrupted the bubble of privacy and quiet that he had cultivated for so many productive years — that had helped to make the reclusive, private O’Brian a literary star.

Link to the rest at Crosscut and thanks to Ryan for the tip.

Books in General

24 Comments to “My interviews with the Marshawn Lynch of writers”

  1. Can’t imagine why O’Brian wouldn’t enjoy speaking with the kind of people that would compare him to transitory sporting figures that few people in the book world have even heard of, let alone care about.

  2. Oh, bullpuckey. Authors owe NOTHING to the media. The media didn’t make them famous. Their writing did.

    By his logic, everyone who ever worked on a publisher’s ad campaign is owed something by the author of the book.

    By his logic, everyone who works on Madison Ave. in the big ad firms should be able to dial up the CEO of every company’s ad that’s ever done well for the company. Because dammit, those advertisers MADE those companies famous.

    What an abysmally stupid argument.

  3. Wishing everyone a HAPPY SUPERBOWL WEEKEND.

    Maybe skip the commercials and read a little Patrick O’Brian?

    • If you watch one Super Bowl commercial, may it be this one. Because Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi rock!


    • FWIW, for those who look at PoB’s works and think it’s all blow-me-down-me-hearties, there’s a nice balance between the shipboard and… everything else. In the same way, many of Forresters more memorable works were set on land, or only had some scenes on the water, such as African Queen.

      • O’Brian’s works are what should exemplify “literary” novels, but that’s rarely the case.

        I’ve been through the entire series at least five times, and I don’t usually reread fiction.

        • The greatest dialoguist in the world, I’d say.

          I remember when he was still alive, some review went on and on (correctly) on how amazing he was as a writer, and then said, snootily, “Of course, this is not literary fiction.”

          Okay, WTF is then? And why if O’Brian was excluded, would we care to read it?

  4. O’Brian is wonderful! He should have refused that horrid tour and the interviews. I only do e-mail interviews. I’d never do an interview without knowing the questions.

    • I wish he’d never given any interviews. Perhaps then he’d have had time to finish 21.

      • After killing two of his major characters in the previous books, I’m perfectly content with the first 18.

        (For those who haven’t tried his books, I heartily recommend the audiobooks featuring Patrick Tull as narrator. Exquisite acting, there.)

  5. “There are plenty of literary figures who detest the probes of inquiring minds ”


    This would be a journo writing this guff?

    I worked for a time in diplomatic protection, and while I am eternally sympathetic and empathetic to the desire of journalists to find the truth and present it to the public at large-provided their name is Ed Murrow.

    Having to listen to the same question repeated over and over again by different journalists or then subjected to the attention of the paps does get old.

    Major news occasions are known by journos as a donkey **** where the news media moves like an enormous amorphous slug from spot to spot nagging the carp out of anyone and anything they can suck information from.

    Every now and again, or after you’ve been selected for a grilling by some aggressive Paxo or two, you might just think to yourself, especially if your habits include a bit of naughtiness, you simply don’t want to talk to ’em any more.

    I’m absolutely certain if I was rich beyond the dreams of Croesus-I’d sit silent in my mansion and I’d have the paps shot on sight and fed to the pigs.


  6. I hate to be a party-pooper, and I love Patrick O’Brian’s works.

    But I’m pretty sure he hated interviews because once he took the name O’Brian, almost everything he ever said about his life was a lie. No doubt he was stressed about being found out.

  7. We know why he’s here.


  8. Lynch is a jerk. So is O’Brian. Why must we spend thousands of words defending these behaviors? Act like a normal human being and submit to stupid interviews, it’s part of the job.

    • That is ridiculous. We do not have to submit to whatever publishers demand. There are lots of writers who refuse to do the publicity bit. Of course, it probably means they get no more support from publishers.
      But then, who needs publishers?

      And O’Brian did not deserve this treatment. His decision to hide behind another persona is also his own business. The man should be judged only on his work.

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