'Identical' Author Scott Turow: 'All Authors Really Write Only One Book'
Author Scott Turow is living the dream--literally. As he told Bookish, "I was one of those kids who never wanted to be anything but a novelist. And I don't know a lot of people who truly live the life that they dreamed of." Surprisingly, Turow says that he didn't want to be a bestselling writer, though, "because that seemed sort of déclassé." Alas for Turow, he's been a hugely bestselling author ever since his debut, "Presumed Innocent," sparked a new genre all its own: the legal thriller. Turow knows his territory--he told Bookish "I am a big believer in the fact that all authors really write only one book"--though his newest novel, "Identical," differs from his other thrillers set in his fictional Kindle County in that it is based on a Greek myth: that of Castor and Pollux. Turow told us about his take on twins, politics, murder and "Anna Karenina."
Bookish: How is "Identical" similar to or different from your other books?
Scott Turow: I am a big believer in the fact that all authors really write only one book. ["Identical"] is very much in the heartland of what I've written before: It's a murder, it's Kindle County. But, there are a couple of new elements: there's a very high-concept plot turn, and [the story] is based on the Greek myth of Castor and Pollux, identical twins.
Bookish: What did basing this book on Castor and Pollux allow you to do that you haven't done previously?
ST: The hard part of almost every piece of creative work is what I call the point of entry. It's a process of setting boundaries for yourself. You look at a writer like Jane Smiley--who I think is an icon--her most celebrated book is "A Thousand Acres," which was based on "King Lear." And you go, wow, why would that kind of direct correspondence produce such a great book? And the answer is, because a number of choices were taken away from her and she had to work within the confines of that pre-established pattern.
Because the myth of Castor and Pollux is much less known than "King Lear," I had a lot more freedom, so I took what I liked and ignored what I didn't. But, it gave me a point of entry. I've always been fascinated by twins because my sister was a twin. I went to the hospital and I thought this other baby was going to be born, and the other baby didn't come home. He was stillborn. That was a very dramatic event for a three-year-old, and I've always been hung up about twins.
I wanted to write what I thought of as a sophisticated book about politics--about a decent person who's in politics, instead of a scumbag. I've always tooted my horn about campaign financing--and I never will stop until we change our system--and I wanted to write about the impact of money on politics.
Bookish: And the twins in your novel are Greek?
ST: Yes, they are all Greek. Candidly, I had dated (for a number of years) a Greek woman, so I had been immersed in this [world] as an outsider. I was very interested in Greek culture anyway--how are they like Jews, how are they not like Jews?
Bookish: What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
ST: It's a phenomenal thing. And, frankly, to be a bestselling author--it's really a dream come true. I was one of those kids who never wanted to be anything but a novelist. And I don't know a lot of people who truly live the life that they dreamed of. I didn't want to be a bestselling writer, necessarily, because that seemed sort of déclassé. So, it was a shock when I wrote "Presumed Innocent" and it became this unbelievable hit.
It's a blessed life: You get up every morning, you play with your imaginary friends. I pretty much write what I want to write. Then, it turns out, people like it. It's very neat to have an audience. Nothing, however, is better than the writing.
I wouldn't say there's a bad part of it. I don't like re-writing very much. The fourth and the fifth draft--that's too much like work. There's not much inspiration about it, and the lawyerly side kicks in--being very careful and somewhat technical. Being an unsuccessful writer? That's a hard gig. And I was that too, and I don't forget that.
Bookish: What book have you been recommending recently? Over the course of your life, what's the book that you've recommended the most?
ST: Recently, a novel called "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," which I thought was great. I had a friend who was sick, and I sent him that book and I also sent him "Round House," by Louise Erdrich, which I think is just fabulous. In the last five years--Patti Smith's "Just Kids": breathtaking. Overall, probably "Anna Karenina." Or "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
Bookish: What do you love most about "Anna Karenina"?
ST: A great novel represents a coherent world. The imagined world of "Anna Karenina" feels more human, more real and deeper than [that of] any other novel I know. It's an immense, amazing achievement. There are plenty of books that you can pick up at any point and read for the prose. You can open any [Saul] Bellow novel and read it for the prose. But when you open Tolstoy, there's an observation about life on almost every page that's heart-stopping. I remember years after first reading "Anna Karenina," I happened to open it and here is Dolly thinking about her dead children, and both at the time and now, it was amazingly profound. People had babies and they didn't live. We don't think about that. And yet, that is the reality still for about two-thirds of the people on the face of the earth. The way she took it in her own time--just heart-stopping.
Scott Turow is the author of nine best-selling works of fiction including "Innocent," "Presumed Innocent" and "The Burden of Proof," and two non-fiction books including "One L," about his experience as a law student. His books have been translated into more than 25 languages, sold more than 25 million copies worldwide and have been adapted into film and television projects. He frequently contributes essays and op-ed pieces to publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Playboy and The Atlantic.