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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Using history as a 'writing engine'

“Once you have your characters, they tell you what to write, you don't tell them.” Alan Furst 
Arguably, Furst is the “inventor,” so to speak, of the historical spy novel.  And, he said he doesn’t write plots but rather writes around history and historical things to create his books.  “I use history as the engine that drives everything,” he said.  
Born and raised in Manhattan where he attended the Horace Mann School, Furst – who turned 76 yesterday – went to Ohio earn a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, then studied at Penn State for his Master’s.  After returning to New York, he took writing classes at Columbia and started working in advertising and writing magazine articles, most notably for Esquire, and as a columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. 

While he had several books and novellas published during his earlier writing years, it was while he was in Paris that he developed his style for the historical spy novels that became his trademark.  Since the mid-1980s he has written a dozen novels set in the late 1930s and during World War II.  While only 2 share a common plot, all are loosely connected with recurring characters and settings, especially Eastern European.

Furst said it takes him 3 months of research and 9 months of work to produce a book. “When I start writing, I do 2 pages a day; if I'm gonna do 320, that's 160 days.”
His advice to those seeking to find a voice is                  
to find a time, place and idea and make it your own.  “I chose a time in the (20th) century which had the greatest moments for novels - the late '30s and World War II,” he said.  “My theory is that sometimes writers write books because they want to read them, and they aren't there to be read.  And I think that was true of me.”

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