Thursday, August 4, 2022

An 'Impertinent' Interview with Lawrence Block

Thanks to the amazing, talented, and prolific Lawrence Block for this "Impertinent" Interview. Enjoy. I did. Be sure and pre-order The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown.



You’re listening to the Impertinent Interviewer, and my guest today is Lawrence Block, author of over 200 books. That’s enough to fill a pretty extensive set of shelves, wouldn’t you say?




Or, more likely, a dozen cartons at a garage sale in a bad neighborhood, eh? Eh? LB is here today in aid of his new book, the latest entry in his Bernie Rhodenbarr series. Could you tell us the title?


It’s called The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown.


And it’s the 13th book in the series, but only the 12th novel. How do you explain that?


The book preceding it, The Burglar in Short Order


Right, never miss a chance to mention a title. Go on.


—is a collection of four Bernie Rhodenbarr short stories, plus some book excerpts that seem to work well on their own, along with a selection of essays and newspaper op-ed pieces that feature Bernie, and—


Why does it sound like the kind of meatloaf you make after you sweep the kitchen floor? Hey, I’m the Impertinent Interviewer. What did you expect when you agreed to come on the program?


Well, I—


That was a rhetorical question, LB. You’re not supposed to answer it. Let’s move right along, shall we? I’m one of the fifteen people in America who actually read The Burglar in Short Order, and it winds up with Bernie explaining exactly why there won’t be any more books. The world has changed, it’s no place for a burglar or a bookseller, and he’s stuck with what he’s got, never getting a day older and no longer able to get anywhere in his two chosen professions. Did I get that right?


Close enough.


And here you are with another book—


The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown.


—and another plug for another title, sheesh, what is it with you? Never mind, don’t answer that. Fredric Brown. Sensational writer, a whole lot better than you, and equally at home in science fiction and mystery. You ever write any SF?


I had a story in a magazine, Science Fiction Stories, in 1959, and it was chosen for Judith Merril’s best-of-the-year collection. And in 1984 Fantasy & Science Fiction ran “The Boy Who Disappeared Clouds.”


Two stories twenty-five years apart. Doesn’t exactly put you up there with Sturgeon and Asimov, does it?


I never said—


Never mind. Fredric Brown was born in 1906 and died in 1972, and Bernie first showed up in 1977 in Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, so how could they possibly meet? Answer: Time travel, right? You’ve written a time travel story and Bernie goes back in time, knocks back a couple of drinks with Fred B., and breaks into houses back before anybody even dreamed about pickproof locks and security cameras. Am I right?




No? Why the hell not?


Because there’s no such thing as time travel. It’s a viable literary device, and writers from H. G. Wells to Audrey Niffenegger have made remarkable use of it, but how can anybody with even one foot on the ground take it seriously? It’s not real. The past is over—


Oh really? Faulkner says it’s not even past.


—and the future hasn’t happened yet. So no, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown is emphatically not a time-travel story. 


You’re saying it’s set in the here-and-now? . . .Um, hello? Earth to LB: That wasn’t a rhetorical question. You’re supposed to answer it.


It’s set in the Now.


But not in the Here, not exactly. Hey, I read the damn book, okay? I know what you did here. The book takes place in a parallel universe. Bernie falls asleep reading a Fredric Brown novel, and he wakes up in a world that looks just like this one—except it’s different.




No security cameras documenting your every move. No pickproof locks rendering your talents obsolete. No online booksellers ruining your retail trade.




And no Metrocards. What the hell have you got against Metrocards?




Never mind. There’s no such thing as time travel, you wouldn’t dream of writing a time-travel story, but you’re fine with parallel universes? How do you explain that?


Why do I have to? I don’t believe in time travel. 


But you do believe in parallel universes?


Of course. So do you.




You and everybody else who reads fiction. Every novel takes place in a parallel universe all its own, and that’s as true of the grittily realistic novel as it is of the most whimsical flight of fantasy. Take my Matthew Scudder novels, for example.


I don’t believe it. You just found a way to plug a whole other series.


They’re set in New York City, over a span of time from the early 1970s to the present. The protagonist, Matthew Scudder, ages in real time. He’s fifty years older now than he was when I first began writing about him.


So how’s that a parallel universe?


In the world you and I inhabit, I’m a writer, and Matthew Scudder is a character in some of the books I write. In the world of the novels, I don’t exist, and neither do the books, and Matthew Scudder is a living person recounting an actual series of incidents.


I’m trying to get my mind around this. So in the Bernie Rhodenbarr books—


He’s been living all his life in a universe that exists alongside ours. If you walk over to the block of East Eleventh Street between University Place and Broadway, you won’t find a store called Barnegat Books, with a tailless cat dozing in the front window. Nor will you find The Poodle Factory,  Carolyn Kaiser’s place of business. In one world those establishments exist. In another, they’re just something for me to write about and you to read about.


But this world is real, and the world of the books—


Isn’t? That’s certainly how you would see it. Bernie, on the other hand, would probably view it differently. He’d say his day-to-day world is the real one.


But then he wakes up in another world, a parallel universe. And does he think the new world is real?


Sure. But maybe not quite as real as the original one, and with some interesting wrinkles. You know, every couple of months someone will turn up with an idea for me: Why don’t I write a book where Bernie and Matt are both characters? Or Bernie and Keller, or Keller and Matt, or whatever. It’s always the same idea, and each person who proposes it thinks he’s the first to come up with it. “Bernie steals Keller’s stamp collection! Wouldn’t that be great?” Well, no, it wouldn’t, but whatever the idea may be I have the same response. My various characters can’t meet because they live in different worlds. Bernie and Matt may both live in New York, but it’s a different New York for each of them, in a different universe.


Far out. I ask you what time it is, figuring you’ll tell me how to build a watch. And instead you explain to me how there’s no such thing as time.


Not exactly.


No, not exactly, but close enough. But here’s a thought. Your characters can’t meet because they live in different worlds.


That’s what I just said.


So there’s no way Chip Harrison can wind up in the sack with Kit Tolliver.


God, what a thought.


Well, I’m the Impertinent Interviewer, remember? And here’s another thought. There’s an infinite number of parallel universes, right? So Chip lives in his universe, and Kit lives in hers.




So let’s suppose there’s another world, parallel to both of theirs, in which they’re both present. Isn’t that as possible as anything else we’ve been talking about? Never mind, it’s only a thought, and an impertinent one at that. Whatever it is you want to say, keep it to yourself, okay? We’re out of time. This is the Impertinent Interviewer, saying goodbye, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.




Lawrence Block’s new Bernie Rhodenbarr novel, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown,  is available for preorder in advance of its ebook and paperback publication on October 18. Sometime in 2023, look for a signed-and-numbered limited hardcover edition from Subterranean Press.





No comments: