Sunday, November 15, 2009
ROGUE MALES: SUBJECT #5, ALISTAIR MACLEOD
(Author’s note: Rogue Males: Conversations & Confrontations About the Writing Life, is a collection of author interviews. It includes Pete Dexter, James Ellroy, Daniel Woodrell, Elmore Leonard and James Crumley. Rogue Males also features an account of a trip to the desert to interview crime fiction greats Ken Bruen and James Sallis about the craft of writing. During the next few weeks, I’m sharing a little background about each writer and interview featured in Rogue Males.)
At first flush, Alistair MacLeod’s inclusion in a collection such as Rogue Males might strike some as odd. But the overarching theme of Rogue Males is the idiosyncratic, highly independent approach the profiled authors have taken in shaping their own writing careers.
Alistair MacLeod put himself through college working in the mines of Cape Breton.
As a college professor, he began writing short stories that were immediately acclaimed as brilliant, even classic works of the form. He published two excellent, pitch-perfect short story collections: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, and As Birds Bring Forth the Son.
With their rich characterization, evocative description and attention to (mostly) working-class people yoked to their land and their cultural traditions, the shorts stories appealed to the part of me that admired similar elements in the finest of Ernest Hemingway’s short fiction.
In 1999, MacLeod published his first novel — a work decades in the making — titled No Great Mischief. The American edition of that novel followed in 2000 and was a critical and commercial smash. In June 2001, the novel received the Impac Award.
One month after making the same journey to Ann Arbor, MI, to interview James Ellroy who was appearing at Shaman Drum Bookshop, I returned to Shaman in the throes of a wicked case of kidney stones to interview Prof. MacLeod a week after he accepted the Irish literary prize.
In the interview, MacLeod discusses the craft of short story and novel writing, and examines the art of the word from the perspective of reader, distinguished literary professor and superb fiction writer.
He also considers his remarkable success in the commercial fiction market, despite never having many of the infrastructural elements most consider necessary for launching even a modest literary career.
The interview with Alistair MacLeod that now appears in Rogue Males was originally posted to a Web site of author interviews I offered for a few years. Based on site traffic reports, with the exception of an interview that I conducted with Dan Brown that was later collected in Secrets of the Code and featured in expanded form in my first interview collection, Art in the Blood, the MacLeod interview drew more online readers — many times over — than all my other interviews then-available, combined.
Alistair MacLeod interview excerpt: “I have never had an agent. So when I got the big write up in The New York Times I had people saying, ‘You don’t have an agent — how’d you get in The New York Times?’ But I think for young writers, particularly, there is this feeling that you’ll never get anywhere unless you’re sleeping with the father of the editor, or that kind of feeling that talent is not quite enough and that you have to have some backroom, high-powered agent or something. I think when this happens, it leaves people thinking, ‘Well, maybe you don’t have to do these kind of things at all. Maybe you just have to write good stories.’”
NEXT UP: ELMORE LEONARD