My latest book is The Gentlemen’s Hour, a sequel to my last book, The Dawn Patrol. It’s about surfers in San Diego.
When I was starting out I read all the great crime fiction writers – Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Dash Hammett, Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson. I suppose I was particularly inspired by Joseph Wambaugh, T. Jefferson Parker, Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy.
Most of my spare time is taken up with research reading, but I try to keep up with certain writers. In addition to the people I mentioned above, I read Ken Bruen, John Harvey, SJ Rozan, Lee Child. Michael Robotham. .a pretty long list. There’s so much good writing in the genre these days. I really think that some of the best fiction being done right now is in the genre. Of course, that’s self-serving, but let it be. Outside the genre, I read mostly classics. I just finished Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, and DeLillo’s White Noise. But I mostly read history.
I’m not vexed by violence – I think we need to approach violence honestly. Show it like it is. Of course I come from that line of ‘hard-boiled’ fiction, but I don’t want to sanitize violence for the reader. If you’re writing about the so-called ‘war on drugs’. for instance, show the real-life, human consequences, which are bloody and violent. If I’m writing about child prostitution, I’m not going to soft-soap it for people. I don’t write for kids.
I don’t know that there’s a ‘should’ in writing about sexuality. I’ll go for frankness or discretion depending on the context and the characters. Sometimes I’m very discrete, other times I’m pretty graphic. But I want to use any action scene – including sex – to reveal character. If that’s better done through discretion, cool. If it’s better done in vivid detail, cool. Just as long as it’s done well.
The crime genre gives you the whole world. You can write about people in extreme circumstances or you can write about them cooking dinner at home. You can write about murder and you can write about love. Damnation or redemption. God and the devil. And you can write about politics, history, economics, religion – anything and everything. That’s a pretty rich world.
On the first few drafts I write entirely for myself. Selfish and tunnel-visioned. I write really fast and don’t care much about anything, just getting words down. But in later drafts, I start to think about the reader. Will the words convey what I want them to convey, and in the way I want? Are the words going to sing to the reader? Is there rhythm and pulse? Am I taking the reader on a really good trip on every page? Am I taking them into a world that they otherwise might not be able to go, and am I doing it accurately and clearly? Sometimes I take a step back and look at a page as if it’s a photograph or painting – does it look like what it is?
My next book is big, fat, long, sprawling and completely out of control.
The Gentleman’s Hour by Don Winslow is published by Heinemann in trade paperback at £12.99.