Alexandra Alter sits down with Thomas Harris — I’m a sucker for these writers-process excerpts — I’m reversing them here, but they still work:
The work can be painfully slow. Decades have passed between some of his novels.
“Sometimes you really have to shove and grunt and sweat,” Harris says. “Some days you go to your office and you’re the only one who shows up, none of the characters show up, and you sit there by yourself, feeling like an idiot. And some days everybody shows up ready to work. You have to show up at your office every day. If an idea comes by, you want to be there to get it in.”
No matter what kind of writing you do, I think everyone can relate to this.
Most mornings, Harris starts work around 8:30 or so. He writes until 2 or 3, when he has lunch and takes a nap. Some days, he finishes a single paragraph. When he’s stuck on a particularly difficult passage, he writes by hand.
Harris describes writing as an almost passive process, something that happens to him rather than something he does. His novels start with a scene that plays in his head, then he tries to figure out what came before, and what came after. He talks about his characters as though they exist in the world, leading parallel lives independent from his books.
Which leads to the potentially most haunting element of this interview:
“I don’t think I’ve ever made up anything,” he tells me as we drive across Miami’s 79th Street Causeway, which takes us past a small island called Bird Key where a climactic scene in his new novel, “Cari Mora,” takes place. “Everything has happened. Nothing’s made up. You don’t have to make anything up in this world.”
Again, this is the man who dreamed up Hannibal Lecter. Or maybe didn’t! (Also note the description of how closely he watches people in public…)