I have the great pleasure today of introducing you to someone who, in addition to being my favorite writer, I am fortunate to consider a mentor and a close friend. As it happens, Quentin James was also the first acquaintance I made when I began teaching at Columbia in 1992. I had just been hired as an instructor in the creative writing program, and had been in my new office for about ten minutes, when Quentin walked in. I of course knew who he was; the man, after all, had just won the Pulitzer Prize for Dogcatcher. But he introduced himself anyway, and then, to my surprise and my delight, sat in the chair opposite my desk, and proceeded to engage me in conversation. I just couldn't believe that this famous author, who I personally considered one of today's greatest novelists, was taking the time to sit and talk with me. I was even more surprised when he proceeded to inform me, after forty-five minutes chatting together, that I was actually sitting in his office! After I turned bright red and finished sputtering my apology, I asked him why he didn't kick me out when he first came in and found me at his desk. And I'll never forget his response. He smiled and said, “Because I like the company.”
In retrospect, I realize that I shouldn't have been quite as surprised by that first meeting as I was. Because anyone who reads Quentin James' novels knows that only someone who has that kind of fascination with other people could create the wonderful, absolutely believable characters that he's famous for. I'm thinking of characters like Evelyn, the alcoholic nightclub singer of Blue Streak, and Derek, the cop who dreams of a career as a chef in Walking the Beat—characters who are such unique, fully drawn individuals that we feel we know them, and who, when we've reached the last page, we find ourselves missing.