An introduction to Jim Lynch, author of Truth Like the Sun (Knopf, 2012), Border Songs, and The Highest Tide. Lynch’s history as a journalist shines through in his new novel, and in the delightful, conversational, and inquisitive way he manages to draw you out while you’re interviewing him. Lynch shared that his latest book “started with my desire to write a very urban novel . . . I also wanted to write a book about power and ambition, and journalists and politicians—all the gray morality involved in all that.” So yes, it would be easy to say this book is about politics, journalism, and cities, and leave it at that. What has stayed with me after reading it is that in its heart Truth Like the Sun is about people and growing up. Nobody’s perfect, and you can’t escape who you are; you can’t escape the past. Part of growing up, no matter how long it takes, is recognizing those things, and that goes for people and cities. As Lynch explained, and his characters illustrate, it is not easy “to size people up and try to boil down their integrity into a nice, neat newspaper article.” There’s always more than one side to a story.
Quick Facts on Jim Lynch
- Jim Lynch’s website
- Home: Olympia, Washington
- Comfort food: almond butter on rice cakes
- Top reads: It constantly shifts, but John Steinbeck, Ken Kesey, Joan Didion, Tom Robbins, Robert Penn Warren.
- Current reads: A book on performance sailing. It’s research for my next novel.
What are you working on at the moment?
A novel on sailing and online dating. I haven’t really found a resource for online dating—I just have a bunch of friends who are doing it. The comedy keeps piling up, so I’ve got to use it somehow.
Where did the idea for Truth Like the Sun come from?
It basically started with my desire to write a very urban novel, and Seattle is the city I know best. I was looking at how to capture the city, and the World’s Fair in 1962 seemed to kind of launch it. I also wanted to write a book about power and ambition, and journalists and politicians—all the gray morality involved in all that.
What do you hope readers will take away from Truth Like the Sun?
“I want to entertain,
and I want to provoke, to create emotion.”
What I hope they take from all of them: I want to entertain, and I want to provoke, to create emotion. In the case of this book, I want to have immersed them in the whole question of whether cities are built by visionaries or scoundrels, or both. That’s one of the things that drew me to the material, trying to describe and expose a city in all its beauty and grittiness. I was a journalist for many years, so I also wanted to get at what it’s like to be a journalist stalking a politician. And how hard it is to do it, to size people up and try to boil down their integrity into a nice, neat newspaper article. It’s not easy, nor is it easy to be the target.
Whom do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?
People with similar tastes to me. I try to write books like the books that I love to read. I get a huge kick out of the variety of responses on every book, how it’s a different movie in everybody’s head. With my first novel having been a crossover between young adult and adult fiction, I got all kinds of responses. It was fascinating.
Where and when do you prefer to write?
Early morning. I’m kind of an insomniac, so if I wake up at three or four I’ll go write for a couple hours and then go back to sleep. Or I’ll just stay up and keep writing. Most of my best work gets done in the morning. I try to exercise at lunch, get some things done in the afternoon, and then, if it’s really rolling, I’ll have a couple of beers and write into the night. Usually, I just try to have a really productive morning, and that’s a good day.
“I just try to have a really productive morning,
and that’s a good day.”
Where would you most want to live and write?
I have to move to a different space in my house every time I write a new book. I had an office space downtown that I wrote in for a while, which I liked because it was like a private eye office. But I’d really like to go south. My wife teaches English as a second language, and I’d really like to go to South America—Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina would be great.
What do you listen to when you work?
Jazz. Mostly Coltrane and Miles Davis, and some classical guitar, flamenco guitar. No lyrics. I feel like the music I was listening to should come out with the book; it feels like it’s all part of the same composition. There was one Allman Brothers Band song that I played over and over again while I wrote the ending. It just seems like when people get to the end of the book, “High Falls” should be playing in the background.
Do you have a philosophy for how and why you write?
It’s hard for me to define because it almost feels like something that’s an addiction. I just find writing irresistible. I write to entertain, but also to find out what I think. I find that it focuses my mind in a way that nothing else can. When it comes to writing novels, to me it’s just an irresistible adventure. Those are the driving forces for me. And, I like to entertain my friends.
“I find that it focuses my mind
in a way that nothing else can.”
How do you balance content with form? Did you do a lot of research for this book?
It’s the first novel I’ve written where I’m jumping back and forth in time. I liked the challenge of trying to create momentum for 2001 in 1962, and momentum for 1962 in 2001, and having the stories, the mystery, snowball. Doing that weave was a fun writerly structural challenge.
Content-wise, what surprised me was that there was so much rich material from 1962 to pound through for my research. It got to the point where ’62 felt so vivid, whereas I’d been alive and reporting in Seattle in 2001, and that time felt almost flat by comparison. Some of that is just how novel the time was, but I felt the city’s excitement at being in over its head and throwing a World’s Fair. It was thrilling to feel ’62 come alive.
[Fun facts: During his reading at Rakestraw Books, Lynch mentioned that 1) The book is written in present tense during the 1962 chapters and past tense for the 2001 chapters. It’s not distracting for most readers, but it subtly influences the feel of each time period. 2) Lynch wrote the chapters as they are in the book, alternating between time periods. He didn’t write all of 2001 and all of 1962 and then splice them together.]
How have your goals as a writer changed over time?
“I always feel just as far away
from as good as I want to be as I always am.”
They must keep shifting because I always feel just as far away from as good as I want to be as I always am. I’m at a point now where I feel like I can put just about any story into motion, and improve it and make it work. In the beginning, I wrote a couple of novels where I was basically learning how to write novels. As good as I thought they were at the time, they really were training wheels for better books. It took me a long time to understand reader momentum—how to sustain it and not rush it. All those things that I think make a good book, those ingredients, I’m still learning and getting better at. I’m learning to trust my intuition and my improv abilities more; it’s more fun than trying to overly structure and plan. I like to outline some, but I know I’m in trouble if I’m not coming up with better ideas as I go.
Is there a quote about writing that inspires you?
James Salter has a line that says, “Art is life rescued from time.” I always thought that was good at getting at the urgency of what we’re trying to capture with fiction.
Then there’s something that F Scott Fitzgerald wrote in a letter to his editor: “I want to write something new, something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” It encompasses what we all hope to do when we sit down to write a novel.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write about what fascinates you, instead of just what you know. After multiple drafts, you have to remain fascinated with it or it kind of dies. Visualize scenes before you sit down to write them. Spend time imagining as much as you can to avoid writer’s block, to get to the point where you can fool yourself into thinking you’re remembering it instead of inventing it. I think that takes the pressure off.
“Get to the point where you can fool yourself
into thinking you’re remembering it
instead of inventing it.”
Don’t edit yourself when you’re in a bad mood. Be nice to yourself. I think a lot of writers aren’t; they beat themselves up. Yeah, you do have to kill a lot of your good stuff, but you shouldn’t be randomly killing more than is necessary.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Organizing my life to get the hours lined up to get the momentum I need to make it happen. Once I get the research done and I’ve thought about it enough, it not only has to happen on the page, I have to be me at my best. So, how do I clear my schedule enough to get on a writing binge of me at my best? That’s the biggest obstacle.
What was your favorite part of writing Truth Like The Sun?
The ending, but not because the book was done. It does a whole lot of things that I like endings to do. It was surprising and exalting, at least it was for me.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
I got hooked on tennis in the last few years. I also sail up into the San Juan Islands. And, beer, music, and friends.
About Jim Lynch
Jim Lynch is the author of three novels set in Western Washington. His most recent offering is Truth Like the Sun (April, 2012), which Knopf is calling a “classic and hugely entertaining political novel.” His first novel, The Highest Tide, won the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award, was performed on stage in Seattle and became an international bestseller after it was featured on England’s Richard and Judy television show. His second novel, Border Songs, was also adapted to the stage and won the Washington State Book Award as well as the Indie’s Choice Honor Book Award. The film rights have been sold for The Highest Tide and TV rights for Border Songs.
Lynch grew up in the Seattle area and graduated from the University of Washington before bouncing around the country as a reporter for newspapers in Alaska, Virginia and for columnist Jack Anderson in Washington, DC Returning to the Northwest, he wrote for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the Portland Oregonian and the Seattle Times. His national honors along the way included the H L Mencken Award and Livingston Young Journalist Award for National Reporting. He now lives in Olympia, Washington with his wife, Denise, and daughter, Grace.
[Toffoli, Marissa B. "Interview With Writer Jim Lynch." Words With Writers (August 24, 2012), http://wordswithwriters.com/2012/08/24/jim-lynch/.]