Interview: David Corbett

Welcome David Corbett, author of The Long Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

A day when I get in at least 4 solid hours of writing.

corbett_thirteenconfessionsWhat made you interested in writing your latest novel?

The novel (The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday) centers on the lifelong correspondence Doc Holliday conducted with his cousin Mattie, who became Sister Mary Melanie of the Sisters of Mercy, and was the inspiration for the character Melanie in Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell was related to the Holliday clan). These letters, which supposedly have been destroyed, have always fascinated me, as has Doc Holliday, who I think is America’s prototypical antihero.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

In no particular order:

Fiction:

God’s Pocket, Pete Dexter
Clockers, Richard Price
Angels, Denis Johnson
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
Double Indemnity, James M. Cain
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and A Hall of Mirrors, Robert Stone
The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes, Joseph Conrad
Citizen Vince, The Zero, and Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
The Power of the Dog, Don Winslow
The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka
The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams
The Homecoming and No Man’s Land, Harold Pinter
The Price, Arthur Miller

Non-Fiction:

Dispatches, Michael Herr
The Face of War, Martha Gelhorn
Homicide, David Simon
When Things Fall Apart, Pena Chödrön
The Quest for a Moral Compass, Kenan Malik
Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, Albert Camus

Poetry

The Palm at the End of the Mind, Wallace Stevens
Tell Me, Kim Addonizio
The Complete Poems, Wiliiam Butler Yeats

Do you listen to music when you write?

Seldom. If I’m writing an article, I may listen to soundtrack music, especially pieces by Bernard Hermann, Alex North, Nino Rota, Randy Newman (especially his music for Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, which I love), or Mark Knopfler.

If I’m writing fiction, even melodies are distracting, and lyrics make it impossible for me to focus on my own words.

However, I have on occasion used classical music, but even then it needs to be non-intrusive and atmospheric. This will sound hopelessly snooty and esoteric, but these are the pieces I listen to if I do indeed play music in the background while writing fiction:

Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen, Transfigured Night, Four Last Songs
Alban Berg: Altenberg Lieder
Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna
(These vary from eerily passionate to airily abstract)

I also have a CD featuring Dino Saluzzi on bandoneon with the Rosamunde Quartet that is very evocative of a tango danced amid beautiful desolation, like the desert at night, or the dark side of the moon.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

The difficulty in knowing what’s the right thing to do, let alone doing it. The primacy of honesty, courage, and love among the pantheon of virtues, in particular the role of love in creating meaning and purpose. We do not know ourselves by ourselves. A lone wolf is a lost wolf. Learning how to live despite “the benign indifference of the universe” — Camus

Tell us about your main character.

I don’t have a series character, so I’ll tell you about the protagonist of my current novel, which I just finished. Her name is Lisa Balamaro, and she is an arts lawyer in her late twenties who grew up in Philadelphia and has never earned the love and respect of her father, a brilliant and famous jurist. The lack of love led her into some serious alcohol and drug abuse, and her life nearly cratered early on. But she pulled herself out of the wreckage, moved to California where she shares a practice with her former mentor, and is smitten with her most intriguing client: a former rodeo rider who became known as The Man Who Forged the West, due to his mastery at imitating famous western painters (and serving time in prison for it). His name is Tuck Mercer, and he’s the one who comes into possession of the supposedly destroyed letters between Doc and Mattie Holliday.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Actually she is a mash-up of three women I know, one of whom is famous, the poet Kim Addonizio. The other two are friends, whom I’d prefer not to identify too closely. But I will tell one story that was key in my using one of them, whom I will refer to as Lisa, my protagonist’s name.

At Mette’s and my wedding, the DJ called out all the single women in attendance for the traditional bouquet toss. His call was met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm (to put it mildly). Only two “women” obliged, one a very dear friend of my wife’s, the other a four-year-old girl. It was potentially humiliating for my wife’s friend, standing out there all alone—but then Lisa came out with her thick Philly accent and bright red dress and drew all the attention to her, rolling up her sleeves, clapping her hands, bellowing, “All right, big guy! C’mon. I’m ready.” By redirecting the focus and making all of us laugh, she turned a potential disaster into a triumph, and I will forever love and respect her for it. I also thought that what she did was a wonderful basis for a character, and I ran with it.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

I’d just invite six of my friends. (Don’t tell the others.)

What’s next for you?

I hate talking about works-in-progress, because it diminishes the fascination with seeing it come to life in my mind and on the page. Sorry. I know that sounds like a cop-out. I will say it includes a distinct departure for me, in that I let go of the reins of realism just a bit. And Lisa Balamaro will return. Is that vague enough?

*****

John and Pete aren’t just neighbors—despite their obvious, heated political differences, they seem the best of friends. Then on New Year’s Day, Pete strangles John for reasons not even he comprehends. He joins twelve others—including his ex-wife, a neighbor, John’s daughter, the judge—in confessing their lack of any answer, their fear of what that means, and their nakedly honest judgments of the killer, the victim, and themselves.

This title story joins a dozen others, both new and previously published—including one chosen for Best American Mystery Stories—that together provide a baker’s dozen of the very best short fiction from award-winning novelist David Corbett. Though they cover the breadth of the author’s experience—from the casinos of Vegas to the barrios of Central America—they all share a common theme: the inexhaustible search for dignity even in the face of life’s last chance.

*****

mette-and-david-in-hat-on-birthday-copyDavid Corbett is the award-winning author of five novels, including 2015’s The Mercy of the Night, the story collection Thirteen Confessions (2016), and the writing guide The Art of Character (“A writer’s bible” – Elizabeth Brundage). His short fiction has been selected twice for Best American Mystery Stories, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Narrative, Bright Ideas, and Writer’s Digest, where he is a contributing editor. www.davidcorbett.com.

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6 thoughts on “Interview: David Corbett”

  1. Welcome, David! I love Doc Holliday and I’ve been hankering to read a book about letters. It seems I read several in my youth but I haven’t noticed it being done lately. Your new book isn’t up on Amazon yet so I hope you make a very big noise about it on FB when it does. Meanwhile, I’ve ordered Thirteen Confessions.

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  2. Your story about the Philly wedding made me laugh, having just attended one. Thanks for that and for visiting! I am looking forward to checking out your books.

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  3. I learn something new every Friday! I had no idea Margaret Mitchell and Doc Holliday were related. That’s fascinating. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I am going to become known as the late Kait Carson for how long it takes me to get to Friday posts- I love Lisa – what a great human being and what a great role model for a character or a true best friend. Growing up we had an amusement park nearby named Freedomland. Doc Holliday roamed the “streets” of the town. I always knew he had a softer side. This book just jumped to the top of my TBR. Thanks for visiting.

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