Martin Compart

KENT HARRINGTON 3/ Ein Interview by Martin Compart

Obwohl Kent schwer im Stress war um die Veröffentlichung von THE RAT MACHINE rechtzeitig zum Noir-Con hinzukriegen, war er so freundlich mir einige Fragen ausführlich zu beantworte. Alles zwischen Lesungen in San Francisco und den letzten Korrekturen. Der Mann ist eben ein 100%iger Profi. Genießt das Interview. Hier der erste Teil:


MC: How do you write?

KENT: I write in the morning, first thing. Coffee, breakfast, work until noon or so. I don’t look at the work again until the next morning.

When I’m ready to finish the book, I’ll work in the afternoon to put in things that come to me: areas I think needed more work and have put off. You collect a list in your head that you want to go back to at the very end and rework.

During the first draft, I don’t stop for small issues. The thing is to get the battle of the First Draft won. You have to take that flag!

MC: What is it that starts a new novel? A character, a situation, a plot?

KENT: Well, it can be a lot of things. In the case of Dark Ride, I saw a girl on the street and she had this most incredible tattoo going up the outside of her thigh. It was summer and she was wearing short shorts! She was very beautiful, dark hair. I don’t know why she was the muse, it almost sounds corny, but the novel came out of her sexuality and my own desire to explain something about myself and my country. And yet, I don’t consider Dark Ride an erotic novel, oddly it’s more than that — I hope!

In the case of this new work, The Rat Machine, I was reading a footnote in William Shirer’s The Rise And Fall of the Third Reich. It was an appalling bit of history discussed in the footnote: several SS officers, on trial at Dachau for war crimes(for murdering 80 American GIs at the Battle of the Bulge in cold blood rather than take them prisoners as the Rules of War mandated)had been released because AN AMERICAN, Senator Joe McCarthy, had asked for leniency for these particular SS officers. Why, I wondered? This is why: ex-Nazi intelligence officers, like Reinhard Gehlen, were employed by the West immediately after the War.

These ex-Nazi officers were involved in the illegal drug trade, first the penicillin Black Market in Berlin immediately after the war and, later, with the help of Western intelligence, the heroin business. So reading one footnote created a very long novel!

MC: And how do you develop?

KENT: I don’t develop in the normal way. I don’t outline; I don’t make lists. I’ve said this before: I watch the characters do what they are going to do. In other words: I get up in the morning, I turn on the computer and watch the screen like you would a movie. The story belongs to the characters who have come to me to tell it. I practice the No-Method of writing novels. And that is the truth.

MC: How is the process? A fast first version? Or do you polish from the beginning?

KENT: I never, ever, polish in the beginning! It’s a trap. And, again, getting back to how I work: I don’t want to interrupt the characters and their story. I don’t care if I’ve misspelled something, or the sentence isn’t perfect. Who cares about that! What is important is the HEAT OF THE SCENE. The HEAT OF THE MOMENT. That is all I care about in the first draft. If correct punctuation and spelling were all that it took to be a novelist, every English teacher would be Ernest Hemingway. Also, you have to be a little crazy to do this work. I mean it. I’m not trying to romanticize the life of an artist; I wish in fact it were not so. It’s just a fact. You can not be well balanced and be a great artist. There is something about the act of creating that is, in fact, not only extremely egotistical on the face of it, but also delusional; it’s a kind of emotional purging. You, the artist must give of yourself. If you aren’t willing to give of yourself, there is no art; look at Van Gogh! It’s not pretty, the creative process—not really. It’s about like dumping out your kitchen garbage on a clean floor and using the pieces of what’s there [your personal psyche] to make a something worth while!

MC: Are you ritualizing for writing? (Same hours, cop of coffee, at least a page a day?)

KENT: Yes. I want the same routine everyday. A lot of people starting out think that they can party and get high and live a boho life style. It’s just the opposite. Ironically, being a novelist is a bourgeois pursuit in the sense that you have to get up every morning and work; and be sober; and not be high, or have too much drama around you. Better yet, no drama. What you need in this order are food, good sex, paper, exercise, a working computer, and a quiet location that has a good vibe. I think that’s what Hemingway meant by “a clean well lighted place” in fact. I think he meant it had to vibe right. It does for me anyway.

MC: Did your writing habits change over the years? And how?

KENT: No. I’ve done this for the last 20 plus years always the same way. I may have been in a different country, as I was when I wrote Red Jungle, but I still woke up in the morning and drank coffee and hit it until noon. (I will say that in Guatemala I did work late at night in my office. I had a guard who would stand outside my office door. (There is a lot of violence and you need guards there. The guard and I got to be good friends.) I would look up and see him, shotgun slung over his shoulder, and think to myself: wow, yeah, this is the real deal someone could come in here and rob and kill me while I’m writing a fucking novel. How strange would that be. But I enjoyed working late into the night there—don’t know why. That office had had a hand grenade tossed in the door a few years before!!

MC: Is it a personal impression by me that your protagonists are not easy to like? I don’t think they are crooks. But a person like Russell ore Reeves seems at least ambivalent. But I think, they are all restless people. Something you share?

KENT: Yes. I am ambivalent because of my childhood. It was very hard and I had no close family. I did all my growing up away at military school without all that warm and fuzzy family stuff. So I’m a little different. There is part of me that is like Russell in Red Jungle, or as I had a character say in Dia De Los Muertos: “I’m not running for mayor so I don’t have to please anyone.” But I’ve learned to love and that humanized me: I love some people very much, and I love to write novels. I am restless, artists are restless in the face of life/chaos, which is our human experience. So, yes, I’m intellectually restless, that’s very true about me, and I suppose my characters. They want to find that one thing to make it all make sense. Something that can allow them to rest. But we only rest, I guess, when we’re dead.

MC: What kind of music are you listening too? Sometimes your writing seems to swing like a soundtrack (by the words, of course)?

KENT: When I started out as a novelist, I want to be a great wordsmith. And I suppose I still do. I believe in the music of the novel. I truly do. If I were going to teach the novel, I would stand up when all the students had sat down and say, “OK, this is what you need to know about writing novels: then I would turn on a great piece of music, say, Down So Low, by Tracy Nelson. I just met her, so she’s on my mind; but her song is a masterpiece. What I mean by this is that the novel is an emotional experience, not an intellectual one. Music is that way too, or at least good music is.

Kent mit der großartigen Tracy Nelson


Collin Reeves is an expatriate American living in Mexico City. He dabbles in painting, drinks more than he should, and appears to be wasting a brilliant career in epidemiology as a doctor to international tourists and poor Mexicans.

The reality is more complicated. Reeves is an operative with the CIA, recruited in the heady days after September 11 to help fight terrorism abroad. What he hoped would be a useful life of clandestine adventure, however, turned out to be humiliating drudgery; his tour in the Middle East consisted of inspecting a friendly sheik’s concubines for venereal disease. Now in Mexico, which almost no one considers a terrorism hotspot, he longs for the courage to give up the spy business and commit himself to painting.

Veteran CIA operative Alex Law suspects that Mexico City may indeed be a staging area for terrorists. He and his longtime colleague, Butch Nickels, question an Indonesian who tells them that an al-Qaeda operative may be active in Mexico City. Meanwhile, Alex’s wife, Helen, has just discovered that she may have an advanced case of breast cancer. The doctor sent to consult with her is none other than Collin Reeves.

A beautiful young woman, Dolores, falls ill at a cheap tourist hotel across the street from Collin Reeves’ apartment. Madani, the hotel’s manager, begs Collin for help. Collin treats the young woman, who claims to be an American citizen, and to have lost her travel documents. He can’t help but be smitten, and does not challenge the obvious holes in her story.

Dolores, of course, is not who she claims to be. Only months earlier, she had been a young wife and mother named Fatima, married to a doctor in Baghdad. An American rocket killed her son and wrecked her life forever. Now, distraught with grief, she’s put herself in the hands of people who want to use her as vengeance against the United States.

Alex, Collin and Dolores are on paths bound to collide, with terrible consequences. The Good Physician is the story of that collision. A political thriller and a love story, it examines the nature of loyalty and patriotism, in the tradition of Graham Greene and Charles McCarry.

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