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Powell's Q&A

Erik Larson

Describe your latest project.
Thunderstruck is a work of narrative nonfiction centered on two converging stories, one about a mild-mannered killer named Hawley Harvey Crippen, the other about the development of wireless by Guglielmo Marconi. The two stories intersect in what may be the most celebrated criminal chase of the twentieth century, eclipsing even O. J. Simpson's freeway odyssey.

If you could choose any story to live in, what story would that be? Why?
I'd choose The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett, because I love the characters he created and the amiably dark manner in which he sketches early twentieth-century San Francisco. I of course would want to be Sam Spade, although my favorite character in the book is Gutman, the fat man.

What is your favorite literary first line?
Hmm. There are so many. But one that comes to mind is the opening paragraph of Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion."

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
I was in London with two of my daughters and one morning we went to the restaurant on the top floor of Harrods for a classic English breakfast. Wonderful. Eggs, sausage, tomatoes, toast, jam, and, above all, a pot of perfectly brewed Assam tea. The fare was simple, and pricey, but the setting was unparalleled, on the roof terrace with London spread all around under a brilliant lambs-wool sky.

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
A late-night glass of Wild Turkey, with an open-faced peanut butter sandwich. Crunchy peanut butter, preferably Skippy.

Why do you write?
I write because it's all I ever really thought about doing.

What do you dislike most?

Who are your favorite characters in history? Have any of them influenced your writing?
I suppose my most favorite historical figure is Teddy Roosevelt. Has he influenced my writing? In only the most tangential sense. I keep a quote of his taped to a wall in my office. It reads:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.
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