NOT SO FAST: Scott Turow

A quick chat with Scott Turow, international bestselling author.
Turow has redefined the genres of mystery and legal thrillers, selling over thirty million copies in more than forty languages, and inspiring movies such as Presumed Innocent starring Harrison Ford. As a preview to Turow’s arrival on the island this June as a luminary at the Nantucket Book Festival, N Magazine caught up with this master of suspense to see what keeps him curious.

N MAGAZINE: Did you grow up always wanting to be a writer?

TUROW: My dream was to be a novelist from the time I was a kid. I always say that the great break of my literary career was going to law school — it was one of the most fortuitous decisions of my life. I was a lecturer in the English Department at Stanford, and for me going to law school meant giving up a teaching career. But I realized I was passionate about the law and the questions it asks, about deciding right from wrong for an entire society, fashioning rules that are firm yet flexible enough to fit the multitude of human circumstances. Those questions continue to preoccupy me. The truth is that I became not only a much more successful writer when I started writing about the law, but also a much better one as well, because I was writing about things that gripped me to the core.

N MAGAZINE: Was there something that gripped you as a young writer, something or someone that inspired your career?

TUROW: I spend a lot of time wondering if it was desire or talent that made me a writer. My mom’s dream was to be a novelist. She took no more than halting steps toward that goal, but I think I caught the bug from her. I loved stories and reading, and when I read the Count of Monte Cristo at the age of 11 and was transported by it, I wanted to hold that magic.

International Man of Mystery

N MAGAZINE: Beyond Alexandre Dumas, what other writers influenced the way you craft your stories?

TUROW: Dickens, Saul Bellow, Graham Greene, John le Carre. I think Dickens had a lot of influence on the way I conceive of novels, but the style and content were my own blundering discoveries. As for Bellow, there is no imitating his remarkable voice, but he certainly gave me an idea of the amplitude of the third person and the rich mix of idioms and rhetoric it can contain.

N MAGAZINE: Other than your own books, do you recommend any good reads to our readers?

TUROW: I loved Anthony Marra’s The Constellation of Vital Phenomena. I’m also greatly enjoying Robert Bolano’s The Savage Detectives.

N MAGAZINE: What are you working on these days?

TUROW: I am working on a novel set at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. It focuses on an American lawyer who’s thrown aside everything in his life to move to The Netherlands and to undertake an investigation of the murder of 1200 Roma in Bosnia in 2004, perhaps by U.S. forces under NATO command.

N MAGAZINE: What would you hope the audience will take away from your presentation at the Nantucket Book Festival?

TUROW: I have always believed in the saying attributed to Darryl Zanuck, in conversation with one of his screenwriters: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” I don’t have a specific agenda, beyond trying to create a coherent imagined world in each novel, one from which readers will feel slightly better acquainted with their world.

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