Describe your latest book.
Mr. Peanut tells the story of David Pepin, a successful video game designer who may or may not have killed his wife, Alice. He's being investigated by two detectives, Sam Sheppard and Ward Hastroll, and as the procedural proceeds, you not only learn about the marriage of the prime suspect but also about the marriages of the two detectives. I like to say it asks whether marriage can save your life or is the beginning of a long double-homicide. In other words, it's a tragic comedy.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
The summer before my freshman year of college, I did field research for NASA on shark hydrodynamics. I was part of a team helping the Navy build quieter submarines that made an amazing discovery about mako shark physiology: they have micro-scales that create an effect called laminar flow, which further reduces drag and contributes to their astonishing speed. But what made the job interesting — maybe insanely exciting is more accurate — was how we caught the sharks. We rigged a go-fast boat with a spring-loaded trap that we dragged behind it like ski-towrope. We called this The Pincer — essentially a metal lasso with a piece of chum, usually tuna heads, dangling in the center. The mako would pick up its scent, circle, then we'd gun the boats, hitting 30 knots easily. We'd watch the shark's pursuit on video monitors (we'd fixed cameras on the hull's bottom) and the shark would swim after the lasso, lagging into invisibility and then ghosting within range to clamp down on the bait, which triggered the spring and snapped the lasso tight above its gills. Then we'd shoot thin jets of dye from tanks attached between the outboards that streamed around their bodies, videotaping the flow-trails for statistical analysis afterward. The sharks looked beautiful with the red ink tracing their outlines underwater, like torpedoes limned with blood.
Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
True. See question above. I completely made that up.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"Don't confuse your hope with your evidence."
How do you relax?
I play golf, but sometimes it's so un-relaxing I have to play tennis to wind down. Now that I think about it, this process is sort of like when I go out for sushi and have to get a slice of pizza afterward.
What is your astrological sign?
I'm an Aquarius, born on February 15, and according to The Secret Language of Birthdays, people born on this day "would do well to discipline themselves and bring more order into their lives....However, they are discerning enough to know when the order imposed is necessary, and can follow rules to the letter if they are reasonable and just." This proves that everything in that book is completely true.
Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
Tough question. Some finalists: Space: 1999. The Brady Bunch. UFO. The Monkees. The Sopranos. But I'm going to have to go with Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I'm dating myself here. The year was 1974, and for those who don't remember the series' one-year run on ABC, it was about a reporter who investigated crimes the authorities had given up on and which always had a supernatural explanation. Essentially it was the proto-X-Files, and Darren McGavin, the middle-aged actor who played the title character, was both hard-nosed and physically vulnerable, so that when he tangled with the show's more memorable monsters (these included a terrifying vampire who looked, I kid not, like a cross between Nosferatu and Jim Carrey as well as a Hindu Rakshasa and an invulnerable hellhound), you were never sure he'd have the wherewithal to save himself. There wasn't a single episode where I didn't find myself diving for the knob to turn down the volume.
In the For-All-Eternity category, what will be your final thought?
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Alfred Hitchcock's life and films had on enormous influence on Mr. Peanut — in fact, the novel contains scores of allusions to his work — but like the novel's main character, I didn't discover his movies until I studied Hitchcock in graduate school (in the very seminar where I also happened to meet my wife). The five books that follow are absolutely necessary reading for anyone interested in learning more about the man and his movies:
Hitchcock's Films Revisited by Robin Wood
The Dark Side of Genius by Donald Spoto
Truffaut/Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut
The Women Who Knew Too Much by Tania Modleski
A Hitchcock Reader edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague