I have gotten old enough to be a little bit humble about what is going on. One thing I have always realized is that I have written for an audience that knows as much as I do or more, and I am very conscious that there are too many words in the world. I work against the grain of the writer who is the conspicuous consumer of words. Like Ray Carver and some of the others attacked for "minimalism" now, I have always believed in compression and brevity, as I was taught by my wonderful high school teacher.
I do think that what starts the story for me is music. It is a tone. I used to be hilariously impressed by a paragraph I read about a sitar player in India who tuned his instrument by listening to a rock. I thought that was the most laughable damned thing that I had ever heard in my life. I just howled like a good Westerner and Southern American. "Jesus Christ. You do that? Let me tell you." But you get older and you find out, among other shockers, that this is true, that there are tones running through your mind all the time. There is a music that the writer wants to put into words. The writers that interest me always have a music. It is no mystery.
I have never been baffled by the idea of people who say when they are young, as I did, "I really want to write, although I have nothing to say." It is not even a paradox to me because the music comes before the message, and I think you will find a lot of young writers around the nation waiting just simply to get subject matter. They've already got the tune. They've had the tune a long time.
Spies with music. I have just lately discovered the great works of John LeCarre. I love his language, his attention to his world, and I find myself comforted and awed by his metaphor of the circus, because I feel we have signed away something we have been given as writers: an invitation to the circus. That is, we are spies. And if you make it to forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years