Continuing our day of awesomeness with Justin Cronin…
You now live in Houston?
That’s true, I’ve been here for nine years. I came to Houston for a job, the reason most people move halfway across the country with a first grader and a five-week-old. I came here to teach at Rice. I had been teaching at LaSalle in Philadelphia for about a decade. I’m not teaching anymore, I’m technically a fellow—I resigned my tenure because they needed the space, so someone else could teach my classes. I’m very much a creature of the Northeast, but I’ve really grown attached to Houston. It’s a very relaxed city, every interaction is a pleasant one. If you grow up [around] New York City, well, boy is that a shock!
What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours?
I have some habits that are distinctive to me because I rely on them. I’m a workmanlike writer. I show up every day and treat it like a job. The old rule that writing is like any other job, the first rule is that you must show up. I’m at the keyboard from 9 to 4 every day. That’s how I roll. When I’m at the keyboard is not when I’m inventing anything. My inventing time is all done under the influence of aerobic exercise. Basically, I do all my thinking while I run. That’s worked for me my entire writing life, with the added benefit that it keeps me in shape. I believe that creativity requires a form of auto-hypnosis in order to work. You need to put your mind in a state where the unconscious mind, where all the interesting connections are made, where metaphor is built, you have to be able to lift that dream state closer to your waking state. Otherwise, the book is just building an engine, not creating something interesting. My hypnotic trip is the highly oxygenated state of aerobic exercise.
Do you wind up mapping out your plot once you’re back from your jog?
I get back and I write down everything I thought of, usually sweating all over the paper. Sometimes I run with a little voice recorder. Now I do most of my running around the Rice campus, a few miles from my house, so I’ll drive there, park the car, run, and then when I’m back I write everything down in a notebook I keep in the car. I turn on the air conditioner right away, that’s the first thing you do if you live in Houston, and then I write down what I came up with. I also use a large whiteboard in my writing studio, the guest bedroom above the garage, to map things out without physical impedence. For me writing is like, if I couldn’t run I’d walk, if I couldn’t walk I’d crawl. It’s something I have to do.
What do you like to snack on while writing?
Not a thing.
Really? You abstain?
Coffee in the morning, decaf in the afternoon, water after that.
That sounds awfully healthy…
Does it? Yeah, I guess. If I started snacking while writing I’d probably end up weighing 5,000 pounds…
Tell us a funny story related to a book tour or book event.
Everybody’s got theirs, but which one is the funniest? The funniest stories, I think, always come early in our careers, when the crowds are not quite so thick. For my first novel, Mary and O’Neil, I did the miniest of mini-tours. One event was at a Barnes & Noble in Bryn Mawr, Pa. I was teaching in Philadelphia at the time, and had been for close to 10 years, but it was only the second event I’d done in the city. I go to the event and three people show up. But there’s a stack of books about a mile high, which only adds to the sense of defeated expectations. The three people are all my students. First thing I asked was if everyone was 21, so we can just go get a beer, because I feel so ridiculous. But the students said, “No, no, you’re going to read to us.” So I said, “OK, but the offer of a beer still stands after.” So I read, and it was altogether pleasant for what it was. As I approached the end of the reading, this fourth person showed up, sort of lingering at the back, but listening. When I finished the event, my students and I were chatting and the manager of the store asked me to sign some stock, so I signed some stock. But then this fourth person, a woman I did not actually know, came up to me. I said, “Hello, it’s nice to see you, would you like me to sign a book for you?” She said, “No, actually my reading group meets here on Tuesday nights, so…are you done?”
Yeah. And the only thing you can say, under those circumstances, when asked if you are done is “Yes.” Every writer I know has got a story like that, and that’s mine.
Tell us something about yourself that is unknown and perhaps surprising.
Unknown and perhaps surprising? One must be careful with those sorts of things. It’d have to be actually interesting, too, huh?
Whatever you got.
I’m a pretty open guy, that’s the problem. Here’s the answer: I’m almost impossible to embarrass. That’s why I don’t have many things that are unknown. Sometime in my 40s I just lost the embarrassment reflex, so I’m more likely to give people too much information. If someone asks how I’m doing today, I’ll tell them exactly how I’m doing.