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Powell's Q&A

Harlan Coben

Describe your latest book.
The first sentence of The Woods is this:

I see my father with that shovel.

Enough said.

  1. The Woods
    $8.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist

    The Woods

    Harlan Coben

  2. Promise Me
    $1.95 Used Mass Market add to wishlist

    Promise Me

    Harlan Coben

  3. The Innocent
    $4.50 Used Mass Market add to wishlist

    The Innocent

    Harlan Coben

  4. Tell No One
    $2.50 Used Mass Market add to wishlist

    Tell No One

    Harlan Coben

  5. Gone for Good
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    Gone for Good

    Harlan Coben

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Harlan Coben: Stud Muffin, written as one of those serial novels written by many supermodels. My wife is laughing very hard right now and notes that this is why I write fiction.

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Whatever female I'm currently writing because a) I usually fall in love a little with them and b) maybe she can tell me what the heck is going to happen next so I can write it.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I worked in the laundry room at Amherst College and got to wash all the athletic supporters. Come to think of it, that wasn't so much strange or interesting as disgusting. I also worked two summers as a tour guide in the Costa del Sol of Spain.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Philip Roth and maybe Zuckerman Unbound. Too obvious? How about Tom Perrotta before Little Children. Maybe The Wishbones or Bad Haircut: Stories from the Seventies.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
I would answer this question...but how would you know if I'm telling the truth?

How do you relax?
I don't. I'm neurotic and high strung and have four kids. If I have time to relax, I panic that it means I can't think of something to write.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I'm reading Laura Lippman's latest, What the Dead Know. Her publisher sent it to me because they know I'm a fan.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Nope. Maybe Hemingway's house down in Key West — but that was because we were down there anyway.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
Comfort, plain and simple. I have size fifteens so it is hard to find shoes that fit.

What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, to what sign would you change and why?
Capricorn. I'm not big on astrology. My Hollywood agent once rushed a deal because the Mercury retrograde was coming. I didn't even know what that meant.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Oooh, that's too personal.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Hmm, doing something fun with the kids in the morning, having one of those magical writing days in the afternoon, and uh, having a night alone with the missus.

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
I can't think of one. I'm rather boring. If this were the early '90s, I might write, "Watching Melrose Place."

Why do you write?
When you like something and you're pretty good at it and you can make a living doing it, you don't ask why. You just count your blessings and go with it.

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
It's all about the readers, so I can't limit it down. For example, I finished the new book The Woods. But it isn't a book yet. It becomes a book when readers get their hands on it. A writer without a reader is like clapping with one hand, like playing catch by yourself. The reader makes it happen. Now, finally, The Woods will be a book and come to life — when people read it.

Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Fahrenheit. I have enough stuff to calculate in my head.

Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
Hill Street Blues, because it changed television dramas for the better. Every great show since — from St. Elsewhere to Law & Order to The Sopranos — owes that show a debt of gratitude. But the truth is, for all our whining, television is better now than ever.

Who's wilder on tour, rock bands or authors?
Authors. We have the hotter groupies. (See earlier question about my wife's comment on how I write fiction.)

On a clear and cold day, do you typically get outside into the sunshine or stay inside where it's warm?
Inside. On most days. I write for a living. Much as I'd love to sit out in the sun and do it, that never seems to work.

Talk about your vision of the ideal life.
Living it.

Who are your favorite characters in history? Have any of them influenced your writing?
Ben Franklin. He hasn't affected my writing at all. Except, well, for that electricity thing.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Woody Allen, Bruce Springsteen, Alfred Hitchcock, Edward Hopper. It would take a thesis to explain why. Or, easier, you could listen, watch, or read their work and understand immediately.

If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
Impossible to answer. I'm happy with who I am and where I am. Bad karma to want something different.

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?

In the For-All-Eternity category, what will be your final thought?
My favorite Yiddish quote: Man plans, God laughs.

Make a question of your own, then answer it.
Q: Would you rather have a person reading a long interview or would you rather stop now so that they could read your book?

A: Buh-bye.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
I've never read five books on the same subject. I'm serious.

Five "books" I give out as gifts:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
O by Damien Rice*
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen*

* Yes, these are music CDs, not books, but if you listen closely, they are much more. spacer

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