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Interview with Alan Furst, Author of The Spies of Warsaw

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Alan Furst 2Alan Furst is widely recognized as the master of the historical spy novel. Now translated into seventeen languages, he is the bestselling author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, The World at Night, Red Gold, Kingdom of Shadows, Blood of Victory, Dark Voyage, The Foreign Correspondent, and The Spies of Warsaw. Born in New York, he now lives in Paris and on Long Island. You can visit his website at www.alanfurst.net.

Welcome to Beyond the Books, Alan. Can you tell us whether you are published for the first time or multi-published? Can you give us the title(s) of your book(s)?

I’ve published 15 books and one anthology. On the author’s page I list only ten, since the others were very different, and I don’t want to confuse the readership that I have now. The titles are: Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, The World at Night, Red Gold, Kingdom of Shadows, Blood of Victory, Dark Voyage, The Foreign Correspondent, and The Spies of Warsaw.

The Spies of WarsawWhat was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

It was called Your Day in the Barrel, it was written when I was 29 (mistake) and published, to my astonishment, by Atheneum. I thought I was writing a potboiler for a little publisher that did cheapie murder mysteries.

For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

Oh, there were maybe 20 rejections, but some of them were very encouraging, although I thought that was just courtesy. This went on for over two years. A few friends had read the manuscript and they liked it, and the way I consoled myself was by telling myself that I’d read better books than mine, books about the same, and books not as good, so I felt there was room for me somewhere. The effort was hard on me, that I will say.

How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

I made a funny sort of decision—I decided to tell everybody I knew that I’d written a book and was trying to get it published. Because I decided that I might fail at this, but I was going to fail big and fail in public. Why this was consoling I don’t really know but it had to do with announcing that I was a novelist, failed or successful, that’s what I was, and the world could deal with me however it liked.

When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

Published by Atheneum, the only publisher that offered on the book, and they chose me—it wasn’t like I thought I could do better!

How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

It felt okay, but somewhere in my heart I knew that this wasn’t the sort of book I was ‘meant’ to write. I celebrated with friends, a lot! It was riotous, I’ll just leave it at that. Maybe the best part was telling my wife, and my mother, the good news.

What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

Had lunch with the local newspaper book critic. Sent copies to everybody I thought might know somebody who might write a review.

If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

No, I was purely desperate, and I’d tried all the routes I could think of.

Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

I’ve been published a lot—in 17 countries, paperback, audio, etc. I’ve worked hard to be better, you can always be better, and I’ve come to understand, deeply, over time, how the writing process works. For me—I can see trouble coming, now, and also good things, just because I’ve done this so much.

Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

I honestly can’t think of an answer to this—I don’t what I could have done differently because I literally did everything I could think of.

What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

My last three books, Dark Voyage, The Foreign Correspondent, and The Spies of Warsaw, hit The New York Times Bestseller List.

If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

I lived in France for years, in Paris, and I always wanted to be what’s called an antiquaire—the people that have the booths out at the flea market in Clignancourt. They sit there all day with their dogs, talking to each other or reading, and every now and then they sell something.

Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

Uhh, no, I think I’ll stick with being an author.

How do you see yourself in ten years?

Really the same, only older, fifteen books instead of ten. What would I do if I retired? Brain surgery? Some retired people write novels, but, well, that isn’t an option, is it. I like writing, can’t imagine doing anything else.

Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Don’t give up, there are no unpublished good novels, the industry is just too hungry for that to happen. But you have to be really tough with yourself about this. When writers hand in novels to editors, the first question is: “Is it good?” Because, if you don’t know it is, nobody else will think it is.


2 Comments

  1. [...] Furst, author of the fiction novel, The Spies of Warsaw (Random House),will be visiting Beyond the Books! Alan Furst is widely recognized as the master of the historical spy novel. Now translated into [...]

  2. [...] novelty. Michael Carlson says Furst recalls Eric Ambler. Here is an interview with Furst. Here is another with Beyond the Books. John Marshall interviewed him for The Daily Beast. Matt Poland interviewed [...]

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