Veteran Journalist Becomes Debut Novelist

Chicago Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, Bryan Gruley is an award-winning reporter whose outstanding work includes one of the front-page stories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks that won the Journal a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News. In addition to newspaper writing, Gruley loves hockey, and he loves small towns. He brings these three things together in the mystery Starvation Lake.

Starvation Lake is an Indie Next pick for April 2009, and has won Gruley comparison to Dennis Lehane by Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Set in wintery northern Michigan, it is a tale of small towns and their secrets, of hockey and of friendships, and of what it means to be a journalist. Cornerstone Books welcomes Bryan Gruley for a reading and book signing of Friday May 8th at 7pm.  Because I couldn’t wait until then to find out more about him and the book, he was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance.

The town of Starvation Lake is so fully imagined; I feel like I could walk down its streets and chat with all its residents.  Was it difficult using what you knew from real life and keeping it fictional?
Thanks. I didn’t really feel like I had to make a distinction. Some is strictly invented; some has its roots in things I’ve seen, heard, smelled and tasted; very little is a factual reproduction. It was more difficult getting the tone right so that I didn’t create a stereotype of a small town, something that some writers, especially newspaper writers, are prone to doing.

Are there things that do or don’t make Gus Carpenter a good journalist, in your view?  Why did it take him so long to look in the damn file cabinet?
Overall, Gus is a good journalist. He goes where he has to go, sees whom he has to see, and asks the questions he has to ask. His flaw here is his reluctance to confront the past, partly because of the pain it dredges up, partly because he innately (and rightly) discerns that nobody cares to hear about it anyway. Joanie’s persistence helps to focus him.

Were there any surprises for you in writing and publishing your first novel?

Plenty. On the practical side, I was flummoxed by how hard it would be to keep everything straight. Funny, but you forget some of what you wrote eight chapters and six months ago. But more important, I was surprised at how the characters exerted their will over what happened. I was not surprised to get rejections from publishing houses, but 26, well, I guess I hoped I’d get a deal before they became so numerous. But I was lucky because those rejections made it possible for me to join with my gifted editor at Touchstone, Trish Grader.

What are you reading now?  What’s your favorite book ever?
I am reading Michael Harvey’s second novel, The Fifth Floor. It’s great (and Michael, as you probably know, is from Boston, though his novels are set in Chicago). Favorite novel ever? That’s a toughie. Loved The Catcher in the Rye, Sophie’s Choice, The Old Man and the Sea, and many others. One I will never forget is The Crisscross Shadow, a Hardy Boys book that was the first book-length fiction I ever read, as a boy.

I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Bryan to Salem next Friday!



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