I haven’t read any of Pete Hamill‘s novels—I never hear much about them that’s convincingly positive. But I do admire his journalism (Piecework assembles the best of it), and he has plenty to say about the intersection of reporting and fiction in an interview with the Syracuse Post-Standard. One secret to succeeding as a reporter-novelist, it appears, is sleep:
As every newspaper man knows, often you hear stories that you can’t prove in court. That’s the essence of fiction. Fiction is an act of the imagination, whereas journalism is an act of witness.
So when I began writing fiction, I tried certain things. I’d learned the tricks of journalism. I don’t mean deception. How to make stories fit into a certain space. How to get a story done before deadline. Those types of things….
I also learned the great value of the nap. If I came back from the newspaper and would work on fiction, I’d take a nap, and just for transition I’d go to sleep thinking about what I’d write, and it would marinate.
I got great things from journalists. I got speed. I got reasonable accuracy. It helped me see instead of just looking at stuff, especially from photographers. That helped train me, just being with them on the scene of something. There was no transition. It was an expansion of what I was doing. Many people write their first novel and leave journalism forever. I didn’t do that. I love the journalism rush of the people. Best people I ever met were newspaper men and women. For whatever reason I needed that. And I never gave it up. I think of myself today as a newspaperman.
It may be impossible to fully think of oneself as both. There are plenty of novelists who started out as reporters, but few, I think, who succeed at doing both at the same time. It’s a strategy that seems to make for fiction that’s earnest but a little clumsy (Mike Sager‘s shaggy-dog D.C. novel, Deviant Behavior springs to mind, as do Kurt Andersen‘s airy Turn of the Century and Heyday)—proof that they’re not nearly the same disciplines. (As usual, of course, I may be forgetting a writer who’s done knockout fiction and journalism simultaneously. Mark Twain may qualify, but does any author born more recently?) Regardless, the entire Q&A is worth reading—Hamill has plenty of commonsensical things to say about the Internet and journalism, and generally avoids get-off-my-lawn lecturing—a rare feature in a reporter of his age and experience. If you happen to be in the Syracuse area, he speaks there Wednesday night.