David C. Taylor joins us at BookPeople Monday, April 11, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his second novel, Night Work. He joins Stuart Woods, speaking and signing his latest Stone Barrington novel, Family Jewels.
–Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
MysteryPeople Scott: What was the biggest difference between working on your first book, Night Life, and the follow up?
David C. Taylor: In Night Life I was going back to prose for the first time in years, and I had to shed some of the habits one picks up writing for movies and TV where you describe the scene in only the most rudimentary way, because you know that the production designer, the director, the director of photography, and all the other team members who make a movie are going to decide what everything looks like. In prose you have to build your world from the ground up. But more than that, in Night Life everything was discovery. I had to find out for the first time who my characters were, how they behaved, what they thought, their weaknesses and strengths, how they saw the world and what that world looked like, and all of that was new to me, because I had never met these people before.
In Night Work I had become more comfortable with the latitude prose allows the writer. In movie writing you try to get into a scene as late as possible, and out of a scene as early as possible, and you are restricted to telling your story in about 110 pages. You want to be disciplined in prose, but you do have more room to continue a scene, to add information, to be somewhat more discursive. And I already knew things about Cassidy and Orso and Ribera and Dylan and about Cassidy’s family, so now I could build on what I knew and try to discover things about them that I did not yet know.
MPS: What drew you to use Castro’s visit to New York as a main part of the plot?
DCT: I was looking for another historical moment on the cusp of change. Night Life takes place just as Senator Joseph McCarthy was about to lose his power. In Night Work it was Castro’s first visit to New York in 1959 when he had not yet assumed the formal leadership of Cuba. He was invited, not by our government, but by an association of newspaper editors. The Cold War was at its height. The fear of Communism was very strong in the country, but Castro had not yet embraced Communism. His brother, Raoul, had, as had Che Guevara, but Fidel was still claiming to be a socialist. However, the political climate in America at that time was “if you’re not for us, you’re against us,” and there were forces in the country who had already decided that Castro was an enemy: the Mafia, because he was taking over their casinos in Cuba, American business interests, because he had nationalized the telephone company, and they thought that was the beginning of the end of U.S. business power in Cuba, and the U.S. Government which was wary of a communist nation 90 miles from Miami. The intersection of those disparate interests with the shared goal of getting rid of Castro seemed to me the perfect petri dish in which to hatch a plot.
“Living in New York was a rush. Everything moved fast. The noise was constant. You went to sleep listening to the traffic below like the sound of a river. You woke to sirens and the rasp of the brakes on a bus. The smell of the city was ever present. Even now, years later, when I go back to New York, I pick up its rhythms very quickly. I find that I am walking faster, ignoring traffic lights, slipping through the crowds without bumping people.”
MPS: Castro is one of those characters both iconic and enigmatic. How did you approach him as a writer?
DCT: As a writer, one hopes to take the icon and make him human. There was enough available research to understand him, at least a little bit, as he was then, a relatively young man, newly triumphant, and not yetbeaten down by the burden he took on, and not yet a symbol rather than a human being. There was a wonderful, true moment during his trip when he was at the Bronx Zoo and he reached into the tiger’s cage and patted the tiger on head. It is a moment like that that reveals the man. As to the enigma, I do not know if I successfully penetrated that, but you have to remember that the Castro of 1959 did not yet carry all the mythology that has accrued to him in the last fifty some years. He was not yet a historic figure. He was a young man on the cutting edge of history, living in his present, but we view him from a distance caused by all that has happened since then. I was trying to show him as he was before his history happened, and, of course, he was not the primary character in the story, so I was able to sketch him rather than give him in detail.
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