Stephen L Carter is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale University Law School and was a law clerk with US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He has written Reflections of An Affirmative Action Baby; The Confirmation Mess: Cleaning Up the Federal Appointment Process; The Dissent of the Governed; Integrity; Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy; The Culture of Disbelief and God’s Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics and he is a frequent contributor to law reviews and publications such as the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker and the New Republic. Carter, who has been referred to by the New York Times as a leading public intellectual (a term he abjures), often appears on such television programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer and Face the Nation. He is a law professor at Yale University, where he has taught for over 20 years, and he lives with his family in New Haven, Connecticut.
Stephen Carter has recently published his first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, which has caused something of an extra-literary stir because of the large advance he received with his two-book contract as well as the hefty option money for the movie rights to the novel. The 657 page (including the author’s note) book is set in the upper crust African-American society of Washington, DC, with forays to Martha’s Vineyard and is laden with ruminations on a wide range of subjects from God, Love, chess and, yes, race.
Robert Birnbaum: What was the first sentence in your novel?
Stephen Carter: When my father finally died, he left the Redskin tickets to my brother, the house on Shepard Street to my sister and the house on the Vineyard to me. That’s the first sentence.
RB: Did you think about it for a long time before you wrote it down?
SC: No, that sentence just came to me. It’s odd in a way, that most of my novel took lots and lots of thought and planning. The prologue, especially the very beginning of the prologue, just popped into my head.
RB: Was the book written in the order that it appears in its final form?
SC: No, not at all. Because the truth is that before I sat down and had the idea for this story, The Emperor of Ocean Park, which is a story that occurred to me—oh goodness—in the mid 1990’s, I had made false starts over the years, at other novels, with many of the same characters in them. I couldn’t call them first drafts of this novel because they are completely different stories. But there are a couple of bits and pieces in this novel that came to me many years before, they were parts of different novels. There’s a scene in this novel that takes place in a chess club. And the first page or so of that—the description of the club—that’s very old.
RB: And the proprietor of the club?
SC: The proprietor in that chess club is the only character in the novel who is consciously based on a real person. He’s kind of a composite of all the crazy cantankerous chess players and more important, chess club proprietors, I have run into over the years. And I have run into many of them.
RB: Was it a big stretch to go from writing non-fiction and on legal and public policy issues to writing fiction?
SC: It was and it wasn’t. It wasn’t because I had wanted to write fiction for so long, I’d been trying for so long. But it was still hard. It was hard for a couple of reasons. I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know the process. When I write my non-fiction—it’s basically scholarly arguments and so I know exactly where I am going. I lay out an outline and the final book pretty much resembles the outline. There may be some changes here and there as an argument gains or loses nuance. Basically, point one of the outline is chapter one, point two is chapter two and so on. When I sat down to write the novel, I thought that’s what one does, you write an outline. And I wrote an outline. What everybody says about writing turned out to be true, but reading about and having it happen to you is different—the characters did take over the story and it did go off in a totally unexpected direction. The beginning and the end are largely as I formulated them. The architecture in between changed dramatically. I threw my outline away, almost literally. I stopped referring to it within a few months.
RB: It changed because of what, about the characters?
SC: I had the characters before I had the story. Most of the main characters—not the narrator—have been with me for a very long time. I was simply trying to find a vehicle to let me tell their stories. What I really wanted to do was tell the story of this family that came to me—the Garland family. Its history, its present, what had happened to the Judge, his relationship with his kids, what his kids’ lives were like as a result of what happened to their father. That was what really interested me. And for years I was looking for the vehicle and I had a lot of false starts. I tried telling it as a multigenerational family saga. I tried telling it as a more conventional love story. In the course of all this the characters continued to take on shape and definition. As I began finally writing the story that became this novel, the characters were so well defined by that time in my mind, in my notes and on the page that they felt real to me. So it became plausible or implausible that they would say this and not say that. There were settings that I created for them that didn’t work. I realized that things I wanted to happen weren’t plausible anymore as I began to learn more about my characters. This is particularly true of the narrator himself. The narrator was a late addition to the cast of characters. The Garland family, as I originally imagined it, has the father and the mother and three children. That cast of characters was set early on, and for a long time the book was more Mariah’s story. It was only when I hit on the first-person narrative that I began to have to hunt around for a narrator. When I first came up with the prologue I didn’t have the identity of this narrator. He came fairly late.
RB: Was this book always a so-called thriller?
RB: Is it a thriller?
SC: A lot of people describe it as thrilling. Obviously I am flattered by that. People describe it is a mystery and in some sense it is. To me it’s a love story. It’s a story about different kinds of love. It’s a story about the constancy of married love, sometimes when you don’t get anything in return. It’s about the way fathers and sons love each other, or should love each other or shouldn’t love each other. It’s about love among siblings. It’s about loyalty to institutions as a kind of love. Even loyalty to abstractions, like law, as a kind of love. I see it as a story about human affection or the things we care about. Those are the aspects of the story that are most interesting and compelling to me. So I think l of it as a love story. Obviously reviewers, certainly my publisher, think of it as thriller and that’s fine. I don’t object to that characterization. It’s just not what pops into my mind.
RB: Me neither. It’s pretty ambitious to write a big sprawling 19th century style novel about a family. Was it a larger book when you started?
SC: When you say it’s ambitious in an odd way I didn’t have to worry about that. I never thought I was going to finish this.
RB: When did you start it?
SC: The story that is The Emperor of Ocean Park I started in the mid 1990’s. It took me 4 years. That’s writing late at night and on weekends. Most of the time while I felt almost a compulsive quality to the need to write, I never envisioned it actually being published. It was something I had to get done. I thought I was going to have to put it in a trunk like all the other efforts I made at writing. I didn’t have to worry about, “Is it too big? Is it too small? Am I getting it right?” I was just trying to get these characters to leave me alone. Even when I finished it my ambitions were pretty modest. First of all, I thought when editors saw it that their first thought without even reading it would be, “This is too long. You have to cut three or four hundred pages and then we’ll look at it again.” That was what I thought. You have to understand that I’m a law professor, I have a career as a scholar and as a teacher.
SC: No, this is relevant. So writing this, when I was done, completely exhausted, glad to be finished, I thought some publisher would maybe want to run off a few thousand copies and not do any publicity and end it. And I would have been happy. I would have been able to say that I wrote a novel—which is something I wanted to do since I was a little kid and would have gone on with the other things that I was doing in life. In writing this I didn’t sit there and think what might happen. I certainly didn’t seriously imagine anything like all this.
RB: You have a high-powered agent [Lynn Nesbit]. What did your agent think? Did she know you were writing this?
SC: She knew for a long time that I wanted to write a novel. And years ago I showed her the prologue and a few pages of the first chapter—but those pages are gone—that’s basically what she had seen of it. Over the years, all she did was to ask me if I was still working on it. In early December of 2000, I was in New York talking to my agent about something else altogether and she asked me how it was going—she probably asked me about twice a year how the novel was going. “The truth is,” I said, “I think I am almost finished. I think it’s way too long but it’s almost finished.” She said. “Well, I think you should put everything else aside and just try to finish it and not work on anything else until you are done.” I said, “Okay.” Well, I didn’t say okay, that’s not really true. So I went home and talked to my wife. She and I always make these decisions corporately. My wife agreed. At the time my wife had not read very much of it. Bear in mind all my agent had seen was the prologue. For the first time in my life I was a full-time novelist.
RB: Weren’t you teaching?
SC: Other than teaching my classes. I didn’t do any other lecturing. In the past I always had other work going on. During the four years that I was writing this book I wrote two non-fiction books and I finished the editing process of another one. I wasn’t doing anything like that. I put everything else aside and just worked on this pretty much around the clock. By the third week in January, I sent it off to my agent. The manuscript was 780 pages. She called me back and said she had a few suggestions. I sat there for two hours and took 19 pages of notes. She wanted me to revise it and she sent it back to me. I made the revisions and sent it back to her. She called and said she was going to send it to some people to see what they thought. I said okay. At this point we hadn’t talked about whether it was a valuable property—as they say in the industry—or not. A few days she called me and she said, “There is an editor who has a question about your manuscript. Would you mind talking to him?” I said, “No.” She said, “I have to tell you that I told him that he can’t talk to you unless he makes a bid for the novel.” That was the first time I realized what kind of thing we were talking about. It was a complete surprise to me. It’s still a surprise to me. A part of me is still a little kid who wanted to write a novel. This is a little overwhelming. I don’t get tongue tied very often. I’m a little tongue tied, thinking about this. I never expected anything like this to happen. Even after all this time, there is a part of it that is still for me, quite overwhelming.
RB: Have agents like Lynn Nesbit replaced old-style, Maxwell Perkins-type editors?
SC: Because of 19 pages of notes?
RB: She read it and acted as an editor.
SC: She has always done that. That one of things I really liked about her. She’s been my agent for a long time. She has always been a very close reader and given a lot of editorial suggestions.
RB: The changes in the publishing business have made long-term editor-writer relationships more scarce.
SC: From what people say, editors used to edit more and better. Robin Dresser at Knopf, with whom I worked on The Emperor of Ocean Park, worked very hard on it. And working with her was a dream. She was just wonderful.
RB: She edited a wonderful novel that I read earlier in this year called Burning Marguerite.
SC: She edited one of my daughter’s favorite books, Girl, Interrupted. I found the editorial advice I got from her was really good. I assumed that a lot of publishers would greet an 800-page manuscript by saying cut 300 or 400 pages and get back to us. Or once having signed a contract my editor would arbitrarily decide it was too long. That didn’t happen. In fact the book did not get shorter in the process. It got changed around a lot.
RB: Were you prepared to cut the book?
SC: I had already cut it somewhat before. Those weeks in December and January, a lot of that was cutting. Otherwise it would have been a 1300-page manuscript. I haven’t been a novelist long enough to have the kind of ego that says that my work is untouchable. I always assume it can be improved. I just didn’t want arbitrary cuts. Overall, cutting out and putting in, it stayed about the same length. That’s also part of my surprise. None of that arbitrary notion of how long a book should or shouldn’t be happened.
RB: Why did you go to law school?
SC: (laughs) I went to law school because in 1976 when I was getting ready to graduate college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Like a lot of people, this was like three more years of my liberal education to make up my mind. When I was in college my main activity, much more than going to class, was the paper. My senior year I was the managing editor of the paper, I was a columnist for three years at the student paper. I loved it and loved it more than anything else I did in class. I always loved writing. I viewed law school as a place to decide whether I wanted to be a professional journalist or a professional historian. I knew whatever I did, I was going to write. By the time I was old enough to pick up a pen I have always loved putting words on a page. More than almost any other intellectual activity. Even now there are days that I am almost indifferent to what kind of writing I am doing. I just love to write. Whether I am writing fiction, non-fiction, a book, an article, a long piece, a short piece, a review, a scholarly critique. I just love the process of putting words on the page. I prefer writing to speaking. I write better than I speak. Going back to the question about law school. I just wanted to write. I got to law school and found out I liked it. I liked law. I didn’t so much like law school and I didn’t dream that I would be a law professor three years after I graduated because by my third year I was tired of law school. I wanted to get out of there. And I even did better than I expected. I even had a little bit of a talent for it. That came as a surprise to me because I thought of it as a way station as I decided what to do.
RB: I know that you clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall. Did you ever practice law?
SC: I clerked twice. I clerked for a wonderful veteran of the civil right movement, Spotswood Robinson, who was a judge at the US Court of Appeals. And then at the US Supreme Court for Thurgood Marshall. Then I practiced law for a firm in Washington for a little less than a year before going off to teach.
RB: Were you recruited by Yale?
SC: A professor of mine from law school who had encouraged me to apply for clerkships called me up and asked if I was interested in teaching and suggest I go into the teaching market. In those days a lot of schools came down to the Supreme Court and tried to talk to law clerks who might be interested in teaching. As I talked to more law school recruiters the bee really got in my bonnet in a big way. I thought it might be fun. I liked law. I liked writing. This looks like a job for me. I wasn’t such a good practicing lawyer. I believe—I teach legal ethics— that lawyers are at their best when they think of themselves as one of the helping professions. That when a client is sitting across the desk, whether it is a welfare mother trying to avoid eviction or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the best lawyers are the ones that see a human being with a problem. If you see a profit center or an opportunity to make an ideological point or something else, you are not seeing a human being and you are not doing your job. Well, here was my problem as a lawyer. When someone came in with a problem, what I saw was an intellectual puzzle. I was not so much interested in helping the client. It was more like, “Gee, that raises some interesting questions. I liked to track those down.” When I was in private practice, a client came in a with an antitrust question. A partner called me in a said, “We’ve got this problem. We need you to write a memo about this.” I wrote this 50 or 60 page memo about all the reasons the client couldn’t do what the client was trying to do. The partner called me and said, “This is a wonderful memo, but it’s not helpful. Your job is not to tell what to do. Your job is to weigh the risks and let the client decide. You are not writing a law review article.” I realized, “Yes, I am.” And that was the problem. So I went into law teaching. I think the best lawyer has some of the best qualities as the best teacher or the best pastor. Or the best doctor, the person who is in a helping profession and understands that he or she is working with human beings who are troubled and [whose attitude is] let me see if I can help you.
RB: Is legal ethics an elective course at Yale? (laughs)
RB: I’m wondering how many students are privy to this point of view of the legal profession?
SC: We just adopted a legal ethics requirement but it’s been an elective course. I think a lot of professors feel this way.
RB: How many lawyers feel this way?
SC: Well, I don’t know. That’s part of the problem. Lawyers have different views of what their duties are. Everyone will tell you, “My main responsibility is zealous advocacy to my client.” That’s actually a fairly recent development in law. If you go back to the 19th century, where there was no formal regulation of lawyers, there were a lot of treatises about lawyers’ duties. The overwhelming view of lawyers in the treatises was that the first duty was to serve the public interest. That was ahead of client service. I’m not saying lawyers experienced their careers that way. The client-service vision of lawyering is a perfectly sensible and appropriate and virtuous judgement as long as the lawyer doesn’t end up seeing himself or herself as a kind of extension of the client, an instrument, a kind of technology that the client is wielding. That the lawyer is a human and owes duty to humanity if nowhere else, I think.
RB: I’m still wondering how many people in the legal profession see it that way?
SC: I don’t know, maybe that’s why I wasn’t a good lawyer (laughs).
RB: You are a law professor, a writer and a public intellectual, and now you are a novelist—
SC: I don’t like that phrase, ‘public intellectual.’ It keeps getting applied to me but it’s not a phrase that I like very much.
RB: Let’s come up with something else. Describe how you see yourself? You talk about public issues and you go to conferences on social issues.
SC: The reason I don’t like the term—I don’t have a strong sense of offense—on campuses the term ‘public intellectual’ is often deployed to deride people who are not serious scholars, one is merely a public intellectual, you see, as opposed to a serious scholar.
RB: Intellectual activist?
SC: (laughs) No, no, it’s hard to put a name to it. I would just say that—I write a lot of things for scholarly journals that are plainly intended for lawyers, but I also often write for large audiences.
RB: You make significant contributions to public, serious issues.
SC: Thank you (laughs). I’m not disputing the description, I’m just trying not to put a label on it.
RB: There are not a lot of people who do that. You have an array of talent and accomplishments. You have already indicated that sometimes you take on too much. Do you have a plan as you look forward in your life?
RB: I know you are obliged to write another novel. But, beyond that?
SC: No, I don’t have a plan. I always have a lot of projects going and whatever percolates to the top is the next one that I finish. I wish that I could be more decisive than that. But that’s really the answer. I often don’t know what I am going to finish next until I finish it.
RB: Is it a mystical process?
SC: I wouldn’t say mystical, but it is often mysterious, perhaps. I don’t plan for the long run very much or very well. I wouldn’t say I have no scholarly agenda. As a legal scholar, there are certain issues I pursue and return to–the separation of Church and State is one, the confirmation process for Federal appointments is another. But in terms of my work that is other than for a scholarly audience, I have no long-run agenda.
RB: What do you make of the description of The Emperor of Ocean Park as a ‘silk fork’ novel?
SC: I don’t know what that means. I read very few reviews of my work. I have no disdain for critics, it’s not that. If I read a lousy review, I either get depressed—which interferes with my work or I find myself, as I write, trying to please that critic—which also interferes with my work. A good review and I also get depressed, in an odd way. I say, “Well, gee, I can never write up to this fellow’s standards again.” That also interferes with my work. So I didn’t read about this “silk fork” description. What is it? Is it a novel of manners? That’s another way that one could describe it, in a sense. To the extent that one thinks the novel is about a particular class of people, one could certainly view it that way. I don’t view it as being about a class of people, although some reviewers have said that it is. I view it as a novel that is peopled by many characters, some of whom are from a particular group. I hope that the characters have at least some degree of complexity and universality that transcends the particular group that one may find it.
RB: That sounds right except that are the regular references to the “darker” nation and the “paler” nation.
SC: Oh yeah, that’s right. And in fact, those references are themselves kind of a trope. If you think of most commercial fiction today, writers very rarely specify the race of the characters unless they are not white. So the default value of characters in a novel is white. Some writers—Toni Morrison comes to mind—who do a wonderful job of very deftly telling you characters’ races without ever specifying. I don’t quite have that talent. In a way, I was trying to approach that on two levels. One was to write a novel where the default value wasn’t white and second, to give us a narrator for whom race was a sufficient obsession that he was always going to tell us. In almost every case he tells us the race of the characters. So that rather than the usual narrator who thinks very little about race, unless he happens to encounter a black person, I offer a narrator who is sufficiently obsessed by it that he feels the need to categorize everybody, all the time.
RB: Is that common phrase, ‘darker nation’? Who uses it?
SC: Well, I made it up. I don’t mean I invented it. Somebody may have used it before, I don’t know. The idea was—I say on the second page of the novel that it is a phrase that he [Talcott] got from his father. That seemed plausible because his father would not have wanted to follow fashion. He would have wanted his own peculiar and interesting way of describing things. But at the same time, use of the word ‘nation’ is very pointed because the traditional upper middle class social conservatives in the black community had a very strong strand of nationalist self-reliance running through their ethic. So the darker nation would have fit the father’s vision coming from that background. He would have seen nationalism in a particular sense as being of great importance. That the idea of—if you look at the career path of a lot of the professionals in these families that had been professionals for many generations in African America, one of the things you discover is that lot of those that were in professions offering service, doctors, lawyers, funeral directors— their service was to the black community. There was a long tradition—for obvious reasons of segregation—but it became a kind of ethic of helping your own people. That is the other function that is served by this notion of the two nations, the darker and the paler.
RB: Having just read Enough About You and talked to its author, David Shields, I was struck by your need to disassociate yourself from any autobiographical elements in your novel.
SC: Except for the guy in the chess club.
RB: Right. I think it’s very hard to make that disassociation and in the commencement speech that Talcott Garland gives near the end of the book I wondered how much of the values and opinions in it were yours?
SC: Let’s think about that for a minute. On the first point, every creative work, certainly a piece of writing has a degree of autobiography in it. Just as all has a degree of cultural context and other things in it. There is a vast difference between the notion that what we have lived influences our writing and the notion that one consciously tries to make a model or avoid a model. My point was that to the extent that people want to play the game of what professor is this really they are not anybody really. That was the only claim. I make no broader claim than that. And for the second point, Does the commencement speech mirror some of my views? It may, but Talcott make a lot of moral and political and social observations in the course of the novel and I think it is fair to say that I would share some of them and not all of them. But the game I don’t want to play is to figure out which ones are which. What was really hard about the novel was trying to get Talcott’s voice right. I see him as a character who is very different than myself. We have some surface similarities. We are both black with black wives. We both are law professors in New England. His view of the world is very different than mine. I would describe his view of the world as ungenerous. Although he sees himself as a calm and distant narrator, the truth is, he is passionate in his views about people, He’s very prickly. He always thinks people have ulterior motives. He always thinks he’s being offended or condescended to. One reviewer referred to him as prim. That is not quite the word I would use, although I can see why one would choose it. I would say rather that he is set in his ways. And in that sense is much more like his father than he wants to admit. There is a line where he talks about his father and he says, “His father was always more comfortable in mourning for the world that had passed than planning for the one rushing toward him.” That describes Talcott also, though he himself doesn’t realize it. One of the things that was really hard was getting his voice right. I didn’t experience it being much like my own. But when he was expressing his views or concerns I wasn’t trying to be a ventriloquist. I was trying to craft a character whose views flow plausibly from his context and his family background. Sure, some of them are also concerns I share, but some of them are not. Let me give you one example—I’ll play the game one time—of something that I do care about as passionately as he does. One of the scenes that I have gotten the most questions about from readers is the one that takes place in a soup kitchen. In the soup kitchen, Talcott, who comes from this very privileged background, draws the contrast between his life and the lives of the women he sees there, who are pretty much all poor black women. But they are plainly people who trapped in a particular cycle. They are poor, have been poor and probably are always going to be poor. And poor in the particular and grueling way of urban poverty in the modern age. Talcott looks at these women and says to himself, “To my father these women show the failure of liberal social welfare programs. To my colleagues in the university these women show the failure of conservative programs.” He goes on to say, that he thinks both groups are more concerned with winning the argument than helping these women. That is something I passionately believe. That in our politics today, right and left, Democrat or Republican, no one has a passionately held program for the people who are worst off in America. Everyone has a program. Whenever I say to politicians they say, “Well if you look at page 14 of my program you’ll see.” But where do our passions come out? They come out at moments of Supreme Court nominations. Our passions come out about election campaigns. But in the 1960s and ’70s, the centerpiece of moral argument in America was racial justice and by the ‘70s, economic justice as well. Those days are gone. It’s not a centerpiece and we don’t argue about it in a sustained way or in a passionate way. I think that’s a terrible thing. It’s as though we decided some people are just going to be left behind and I wish it weren’t so but it’s just too bad.
RB: Economic disparity is, I think, going to be a bigger problem. Who’s going to champion issues of economic justice?
SC: That’s the thing. It’s a issue that is not going to go away and it’s not just economically. In so many ways people are being left behind. They are being left behind digitally. And the culture itself is fissioning across so many lines. I don’t mean high culture, low culture.
RB: ‘Fissioning” as in replicating or as in breaking?
SC: Breaking. Fissuring. If you think of where people are getting information from, it turns out we all turn to the place that tells us what we already think is true. We don’t have a common story anymore and for me that’s a little scary. What’s scary is that most politicians just want it to disappear. I’m not talking about genocide but they just wish, “Could we just not worry about that?”
RB: They see addressing issues of economic imbalance as insoluble within their value structure.
SC: That’s right. Part of the way Bill Clinton helped the Democratic Party recover its fortunes and become a strong political party after Reaganism was to decide that the obsession with poverty was dragging the party down. And it probably was politically and yet morally it had something to recommend it. What a new Democrat would say is that if you can’t win politically you can’t address these issues. The trouble is as a scholar I think argument is important. The truth in politics is that what you run on is almost certainly what you are going to do. It is a myth that people are elected and suddenly say, “Now that I’m here I’m going to do something different than what elected me.” The fact is what people run on is pretty much what they do. What you see is what you get in politics.
RB: Let’s get back to you. Has the publication of this book and the attendant whoopla made you a celebrity?
SC: I sure hope not. Isn’t that a terrible word, ‘celebrity’? We live in a quiet subdivision in a quiet suburb of New Haven. So far, we haven’t had hordes of fans sneaking in.
RB: Wait until the movie is made.
SC: What I hear is that being a novelist, even one experiencing some success is not like a lot of other things where you have success. It’s very important to me that my family’s life stay as quiet and private as possible.
RB: Do you want to have anything to do with the production of The Emperor of Ocean Park movie?
SC: Well, anything to do with it is pretty broad. I accept the view that film is a very different medium. So I don’t think that it’s the job of filmmaker to say, “How can I stay true to this novel?” I had dinner with the screenwriter [Steven Schiff]. I said to him,”I have neither the interest nor the desire to ride herd somehow over your work. I know film only as a consumer and have no pretense that I know anything of what goes into making a good film. That’s not my world. My world is putting words on a printed page.”
RB: Will the second novel be completed before the release of the movie?
SC: I have no idea what the schedule is. I have 400 manuscript pages of the second book done. I refer to it that way because if it’s the same length as the first one then I am about half finished. But I don’t think I am half finished because I am not all satisfied with all those pages. I don’t have a deadline in any formal sense. When I think it’s good enough then I will be finished. I don’t know when it will be good enough.
RB: Considering that you have a day job, economic necessity is not a pressure to complete the next novel.
SC: What drives me is the same thing that drove me with the first novel. There is a certain compulsive quality. The first novel I felt this compulsion to get these characters out. There are still characters I didn’t get to tell their full stories and there are characters that didn’t make it into the novel. As long as the Lord spares me, and as long as I keep getting ideas for characters and as long as I find a willing publisher I’ll keep writing novels, at least from time to time. I don’t think I will be one of these people who writes a novel a year.
RB: You’ll continue to teach law and conduct your life in much the same way?
SC: The plan is keep being a law professor and legal scholar. I’ll probably travel a little less than the pace I’ve been doing. I have to pace myself more. I am not going to return to the crazy hours that produced this book.
RB: In going out on tour are you talking to same people that you’ve talked to with your earlier books?
SC: Well, I didn’t talk to you before. (laughs) Many of the talk shows are the same people or the same kind of people. What’s different is the kind of audience that comes to the book signing. The biggest difference is that when I wrote non fiction, people came to the signings to argue with me. They wanted a piece of me somehow. And now they like the book. Everybody that comes is happy. Nobody comes because they are angry. Now I get crowds of people who are smiling.
RB: So all in all this has been a splendid experience?
SC: It’s been a lot stressful. Clearly, I should be dancing in the streets. I’ve gotten out of a first novel everything that I could possibly want. Something that many writers who could write circles around me don’t get. I can’t fully explain it myself but the kind of stuff I have had—obviously I should relax and ride the wave, but it makes me nervous somehow. I get a little tongue-tied talking about it.
RB: Waiting for the other shoe to drop?
SC: Maybe so. Waiting to wake up from the dream. It’s been a pretty amazing experience There are people who say—and I am one of them—be careful how you treat people on the way up, you pass the same people on the way down. You go up, you go down, these things happen. There some people who are very fine writers and suddenly their books stop selling. They are the same writer but the public’s tastes change.
RB: Life’s roulette wheel.
SC: There is that. I hope that as I go through this experience I’ll calm down a little bit. I still feel like a kid. I wanted to write a novel when I was a kid. I wanted to write fiction and tell stories and I have gotten to do that. There is still a kind of kid’s excitement about this whole thing. It’s so hard to believe. So, I’m hoping to calm down a little.