Author Interview: Reading Nook

Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

My love of books and reading really is the reason I turned to writing. I wanted to contribute somehow to the world of literature that has inspired me since I was a child. My mother made sure there were always books for me to read, magazine subscriptions, newspapers. I was surrounded by the printed word and fell in love with it. First it was the Golden Books series, books by writers like E.B. White, then the Landmark Books which were titles for young readers, and finally by the time I entered my teens I was reading books from my mother’s bookshelves like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men which had a tremendous impact on me. I wanted to move people like I was moved and began attempts at novels, poetry, character sketches, and, as a theatre major in college. plays. I used to disappear in the library’s racks while in college reading primarily everything I could get my hands on by favorite novelists, playwrights, poets, and when I finally discovered Kenneth Rexroth’s translations of Chinese poetry in my junior year of college, I was totally hooked.  I knew I couldn’t be anything but a writer.


Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

My favorite place to write is wherever I place my desk, usually by a window so I can look out on the world. When I lived in Los Angeles during the days I owned a bookstore, I lived at the foot of Topanga Canyon and that view was my favorite until the one outside my den’s window now of the hills to the east in Izmir. I can also watch the trains go by every 20 minutes which I enjoy because trains  have always held a fascination for me and some of my fondest trips have been by train across the US and Canada, as well as in Europe.


Where do your ideas come from?

My ideas mostly come from life and people I meet or have met in my life. The books I wrote before moving to Turkey were set in either New York or LA, usually with a college campus somewhere in the book’s settings, though the LA book revolved around several characters frequenting a bookstore. My novels written in Turkey are really more diverse in terms of plot (two being mystery/love stories) but the city of Istanbul is the real setting of each. Lately, though, I have been using the cities of Izmir and Kiev as the two primary locations for the book I am working on at present besides the mystery series I have set in Turkey which uses various locations in the country for the characters to interact in. Turkey is such an interesting country to explore in that regard.


Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

I actually work both with a plan sometimes where I will actually outline the entire book much like a screenwriter or a director will use a storyboard for a film. That’s the approach I took with my latest book Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights. But that is only when I am working with multiple characters with several subplots to interweave throughout the narrative. Those books are very much like a mosiac and should be read as if they were a play or film you were watching. Otherwise I just start with a character and begin to explore his or her world by having other characters appear to interact with. I might impose a structure on the book like say everything that happens will be within a year or a week but what happens within that time period is really up to the character(s) that I have let loose in that world.


What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

I was influenced early on by Balzac who wrote over 90 books describing what he called “The Human Comedy” of life in and around 19th Century Paris. There are characters that appear in several of his books at various stages of their lives and I became fascinated with that approach so there have been several characters of my own that move in and out of different books of mine. Unfortunately only about half of the books I’ve written have seen print or virtual life as ebooks so that scope is not readily apparent. I am, however, trying to capture the world around me much the same way he did. As far as genres, though, I think of most of my books as romantic comedies while I have also written mysteries. I think I am attracted to mysteries because there is a resolution to them which doesn’t always seem possible in the romantic comedies I write or in life for that matter.


What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

A dream cast for my latest book Istanbul Days, Istanbul Nights would be an international one since the novel deals with foreigners (expats) working with Turks on a college campus in Istanbul. The age range also goes from 20 to 65 so the cast would have to have that spread, too. There are also several sets of couples in the various stages of romantic or platonic love so I would try to pair them in that way. Actors/actresses I would like to see would be Al Pacino, Rooney Mara, Baki Davrak, Emily Browning, Dianna Agron, Merve Büyüksaraç, Nurgül Yesilçay, and Bill Nighy to name a few in my ideal cast. For my other novel Rizzo’s World, I always envisioned Bruce Springsteen to play that role.


Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I read at least a book a week now and reread books more often than select new ones. I have many favorite authors and would probably insist on three or four trunks worth of books if stranded on a desert island but to name a few I’d have to mention those I keep returning to whether to reread a particular book of theirs or to drop in on occasion to read pages at random: Montaigne, Stendhal, Graham Greene, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, the Chinese poets of the T’ang & Sung Dynasties, Robert Creeley, Paul Blackburn, Plutarch, Marquez, Lorca, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Gogol, Bulgakov, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Joseph Mitchell, Jose Saramago, and I think I should probably stop there.


What book/s are you reading at present?

Presently I am reading two books at once which satisfies my love of history coupled with fiction. For history I am reading The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss. I love Greek and Roman history, though since coming to Turkey I have read quite a bit of Turkish history as well. As for fiction, I am rereading John Cheever’s The Wapshot Chronicle and enjoying it more this time. I also constantly dip into poetry, especially the many anthologies I have here, and have moved away temporarily from the Bulgarian and Romanian poetry I was reading to return to my favorite: the ancient Chinese. Two anthologies I am currently dipping into are Arthur Waley’s 170 Chinese Poems and The Poetry of Li Shang-yin translated and edited by James J.Y. Liu. I find much inspiration for my own poetry while reading the Chinese.


What is your favourite book and why?

I don’t really have a favorite book. Different books/authors appeal to us at different times in our lives and sometimes they stay with us for decades while at other times they fall to the wayside as we progress in our own experiences. The authors I listed in your question 7 are examples of those who have stayed with me throughout my life. There are others, too, who I will continually pick up from a bookshelf and savor much as one would savor a friendship one has had throughout the long decades of one’s life. They are, as a Chinese proverb says, a book is a garden carried in the pocket.


What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

Ah, advice. Well first off, don’t pay too much attention to what people say about your work. Just keep plugging along trying to find your own voice, keep reading and don’t be concerned with trying to emulate other writers but let them feed your imagination and open you up to other ways of doing things. And don’t be always looking for inspiration. It will come when it comes, but just develop the discipline you will need to get the work done because in the final analysis it’s the discipline that will carry you through to the end.


What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?

You can always learn more about me through the various social media platforms I’m visible on, though all my books with sample chapters and some biographical information can be found on my website: www.leonarddurso.net. I also have a blog where I publish poetry, my own and other poetry from poets I admire, as well as excerpts from books I’m either reading or have read and the occasional memoir piece: www.leonarddurso.com. And, of course, there’s my author’s page on amazon, facebook, twitter, LinkedIn , Goodreads, instagram. You know, the usual culprits.

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