Alan Furst: Still Gun-Shy About His Early Work
Over at The Stranger, books editor Paul Constant – whose dispatch from BEA was entertainingly cranky and epic – met up with Alan Furst to talk about his historical espionage fiction, why he’s doing all right publishing-wise and especially his days at the Seattle Weekly, which coincided with his start as a published novelist:
When David Brewster started the Weekly, I thought it was
a fabulous idea because Seattle didn't have anything like the New
Yorker but it's a rather sophisticated city. So, I had published a
novel. Nothing that's listed anywhere now. I have four books that I
never talk about…
Yeah, I've been publishing since I was 29. Those four were all about
sex and drugs and rock and roll. And the problem was nobody wanted to
read about sex and drugs and rock and roll—they wanted to do it.
So I had published this book called Your Day in the Barrel. David
Brewster asked if I wanted to write for the Weekly, and he said, "You
can do anything you want." So I said, "I want to write a football
column." The Nordstrom family had just bought the franchise for the
Seahawks, and they brought in and unwrapped a brand-new team and there
I was up in the press box, eating free hot dogs. It was great! This was
Seattle back in the '70s.
So this was the very beginning of the Weekly, then.
Way back. Waaaaaaay back. I also wrote a serial for them called "The
Heart of the Reigning Queen." Pun! It was terrible. Oooh, it was so
bad. But I tried. I did the best I could. It ran every week, and it had
its own sponsor: Yukie and Wendy's Hair Salon. It was very popular. It
went from Seattle location to Seattle location. There were
types—it wasn't a roman à clef, but there were types.
There was the Jewish lady from Mercer Island and the veteran just come
back from Vietnam and the fisherman who'd come from Alaska with $30,000
in his pocket. This was a very different Seattle. No Microsoft, no
Amazon. The U Book Store was all we had. Elliott Bay Book Company
hadn't started then, but there was certainly a very powerful Seattle
literary community. Small, but revolutionary in its way.
I’ve always been puzzled as to why Furst has been so reluctant to talk about those books – specifically YOUR DAY IN THE BARREL (1976), THE PARIS DROP (1980) and CARIBBEAN ACCOUNT (1981), comic novels featuring what Furst described in 2002 as “a Jewish marijuana dealer from Great Neck.” They may not bear any resemblance whatsoever to what Furst writes now and has been for the last two decades, but they sound like a lot of fun, are thought to be pretty good by people whose tastes I trust, and might actually find a new audience today even if they likely are dated and “too smart aleck-y.” So another summer project queued up, along with reading Furst’s backlist in general – because, sad to say, his works are a gaping hole in my crime fiction reading.