As a misjudgment it was perhaps not quite on the same scale as the man who turned down The Beatles, but when Martin Cruz Smith's publishers declined his idea for a story about a Russian detective, they unwittingly let slip one of the global publishing successes of the past 25 years. Gorky Park (1981), featuring the world-weary communist party member and Moscow policeman Arkady Renko, became an instant crime classic, with reviews comparing its author not only to John le Carré, but also to Dostoevsky and Graham Greene. From the opening section where three bodies, their faces and fingertips removed, emerge from the Moscow snow, the story is an exemplary page turner. More importantly, it helped establish ambitious expectations for the genre - that thrillers should be psychologically convincing, socially observant and politically sophisticated - that have since become commonplace. Smith was among the first of a new generation of writers who made thrillers literary.
British crime writer Val McDermid says he is "one of those writers that anyone who is serious about their craft views with respect bordering on awe". She says Gorky Park signalled how the genre could develop and he has gone on to write about "places most of us have never visited but which we think we know something about from the headlines. He shows us a different story, and that can't help but make us re-examine our prejudices. It's one of the jobs of the novelist to shine a light in the dark places, whether those be literal or metaphorical. He does both."
Smith was a jobbing writer with a couple of moderately successful thrillers behind him when, in the early 70s, his publisher commissioned a new book about an American cop solving a case in Russia. Smith changed its focus when the figure of Renko entered his imagination and says: "I knew I was on to something pretty good. But when I showed my publishers they asked where was the American hero? I told them about my better idea and they said they didn't think it was a better idea." And so began the best part of a decade of dispute. "I appreciated I hadn't written the book I had promised and I offered to buy it back," he explains. "But they insisted on publishing the original idea even though neither they nor I had any enthusiasm for it. It became a stand-off, with them refusing to give me the book back and me refusing to finish the manuscript." Smith recalls one meeting to discuss their differences: "During the meeting this guy took off his shoes and socks and started clipping his toenails. That demonstrated their regard for me pretty clearly."
Over time, the personnel changed at the publisher and a new regime allowed him to buy back his book. Smith promptly re-sold it for $1 million and Gorky Park was given a flying start when its publication coincided with Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech about the Soviet Union. As Mark Lawson later wrote: "It's important to remember now how audacious that 1981 bestseller was. Just after the election of Ronald Reagan, chosen partly because of his hardline anti-Soviet stance, Cruz Smith dared to create an American novel with a Russian hero."
However, the book's depiction of contemporary Soviet life was so alarmingly accurate, it was soon banned in the Soviet Union. Alex Levin, a Russian exile in America who helped Smith with the research, says it quickly became popular with dissident intellectuals. "And even scientist and academician Andrei Sakharov was a big fan. He enjoyed action books anyway, but this was the first American one he liked. That's some compliment."
Christopher MacLehose was Smith's UK publisher and had previously overseen the respected Collins crime list. He recalls that Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley and Hammond Innes were the bestselling authors of the day. "But very suddenly their approach to the genre seemed to give way," says MacLehose. "A new type of novel emerged with Martin Cruz Smith. Gorky Park was an utterly original idea that was brilliantly executed."
His subsequent work has continued to focus on geopolitical or historical hot spots. Stallion Gate (1986) was set in the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, Tokyo Station (2002) in the period immediately preceding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There have been three more Renko books: Polar Star (1989) sited on a Soviet factory ship during the period of perestroika, Red Square (1992) set against the backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Havana Bay (1999), with Renko in Cuba. Smith returns to Renko and the by now independent Russia and Ukraine for Wolves Eat Dogs, his latest novel, published in the UK this month.
An illustration of the changes that have overwhelmed Russia comes from a line of dialogue in Gorky Park, where a character rules out mafia involvement in the crime because he claims, entirely without irony, that it would be unimaginable that they could operate in the Soviet system. Wolves Eat Dogs features contemporary Russian capitalism and crime, but a hangover from the Soviet years in the form of the ongoing if mostly unnoticed crisis at Chernobyl still casts its shadow. Surprisingly, in light of the praise heaped on the detailed accuracy of Smith's Moscow, he spent just a week in the city in the early 70s researching Gorky Park . He is now able to be far more conscientious and, during research visits to Chernobyl, was perturbed to find "there's more security at some very small port up in the Arctic circle. It's very slipshod. But the strangest thing was that people had returned to live and work there." His depiction of the supposed exclusion zone around the wrecked nuclear core is eerily atmospheric as well as worrying. "The United Nations makes these heritage sites around the world to celebrate civilisation," he says. "They should make one at Chernobyl to mark the potential end of civilisation. It's falling apart in front of you and it is not just a Ukrainian problem. Plumes of radioactivity don't worry about national boundaries."
Martin William Smith - he added Cruz, his grandmother's maiden name, in the 70s when he discovered there were six other Martin Smiths writing - was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1942 and brought up in Philadelphia. John Updike has drawn on this region for some classic American fiction, but the first writers who caught the attention of the young Smith - Bill to friends and family - were the very English trio of Orwell, Waugh and Huxley. "Of course Waugh was very funny," he explains. "And Orwell and Huxley were commenting on the world in a way that made a terrific impact on a 14-year-old kid who cared about things like that. I remember being absolutely stunned by the candour of Orwell."
But while Bill was into books, the prevailing art form at home was music. His father, who died recently, combined a job in a car factory with a musical career. He was a jazz musician and arranger who played tenor sax and idolised Charlie Parker, whom he "followed round and knew quite well". His mother - of part Spanish and native American descent - was a singer, whose great friend John Lewis founded the Modern Jazz Quartet. Smith and his siblings Jack, a writer on cars, and Beatrice, a Montessori teacher, got used to seeing posters advertising concerts by their mother picturing her in spectacular evening dress around the streets of Philadelphia. In more recent years she became well known for her campaigning work in support of native American rights. But Bill seems not to have inherited the musical gene. Beatrice remembers him persevering with piano lessons for years, "but he only had one song he could play. It was called 'Biding My Time' and to be fair he could play it from memory, at the drop of a hat, with great style and swing. But it was just one song. He did love stories and storytelling and that was a big part of our family as well."
The family always had broad horizons, she says. "We certainly had a far more expansive childhood than a lot of folks from that time. We had family in the south-west and the east coast, who were from radically different cultures. And for instance when we went to New York City with our parents we always searched out ethnic restaurants, which was an unusual thing to do in the 50s. Our parents always encouraged us not be held back by whatever vacuum we lived in."
Smith won a scholarship to a local private school and says his experience slightly echoed that of the post-war English grammar-school boy. "I remember being punched in the street for no reason by this kid who was my friend at the public [state] school. He was letting me know that if I was going to a rich-kid school things had changed." For a time he was hospitalised with polio but recovered well enough to be a good school wrestler. He "sneaked through" graduation and his headmaster had to make a special request to the University of Pennsylvania to take him for a sociology course. But he failed a statistics paper and changed to creative writing.
"It was great," he says. "It was like being asked to ride a bicycle when you enjoyed riding a bicycle." The novelist Christopher Davis took the course and remembers some of Smith's stories - one about a gambler trying to get out of a horse track with his winnings and a vignette about a convict being transported by ship to the Arctic circle, which years later evolved into Polar Star - as being "good: fast, well-spoken, brimming with excitement about the art, though there were only faint signs then of the achievement to come".
Smith says being taken seriously as a writer at this stage made a big impact on him. But after college he earned the money for a journey to Europe not by writing but by selling ices. "It was a sweltering summer and people would be ordering half gallons of ice cream, not just popsicles. I got 25% of what I sold." The trip was supposed to combine romance and art but he and his college girlfriend Emily Arnold split up in Rome and he made his way alone to Spain where he almost got a part as an extra in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, and failed to sell second-hand cars to American airmen in Madrid.
"As a young man I never felt the world was black and white. And that trip con firmed it. It was wonderful."
Six months later he returned to Pennsylvania and a job with the Press Association where he remembers falling asleep listening to the state budget. "The PA was full of people who could write a straight story, which takes a certain focus I didn't have. So I moved on to the Philadelphia Daily News, a tabloid, to which I was much better suited. I'd cover race riots and movies and symphony orchestras. I had a lot of fun. And when, say, there were no developments on the third day of a mur der case, I got pretty good at writing something interesting under the heading of 'the mystery deepens'."
The job paved the way for a move to New York, where Smith worked for a company called Magazine Management, editing, and almost single-handedly writing, a magazine called For Men Only, "which was not nearly so prurient as you might think", he says. "This was 1967 and you couldn't show any nudity. Yes there was a pin-up girl whose bikini seemed to be getting loose, but it was never going to happen. What they really wanted was stories about Johnny Cash." As editor, Smith bought in writing from himself using pseudonyms, including Ted Irish, Dr Emile Korngold and Sol Roman, whom he pictured as a balding biker. The publisher was an extraordinary forcing house for commercial writing talent with, among others, Mario Puzo and Jimmy Breslin also working there. The American novelist and journalist John Bowers, another editor, later wrote about the house narrative techniques. "We wasted no words getting someone through a door; we couldn't fool around with Henry Jamesian language. We learned how to hold a reader's attention, to move people and emotions quickly, something which often gives beginning writers a hard time." He says while Smith and Puzo plainly added an extra dimension to their later work, the "fast, lively story, with resonant, easily understood characters came straight from Magazine Management".
Smith was fired in 1969 when he refused to introduce more sexual content to the magazine. "It was pretty unpleasant stuff about roughing up women. But it was time to leave anyway. I wanted to go back to Europe and write my novel." Now reunited with Emily, whom he married in 1968, he travelled to Portugal, where they "lived in this idyllic bougainvillea-covered, whitewashed cottage in the Algarve and I sat on the terrace and wrote a terrible, terrible book that has never been published". After giving up on this first attempt, about a young man taking a morally questionable job as a speechwriter for the soon-to-be-disgraced American vice-president Spiro Agnew, Smith, now back in the US, wrote The Indians Won , a faux-documentary thriller set in a world where the middle of America was still Indian territory.
Cynthia van Hazinga was his first editor. "We were a tiny mass-market publishing house and he was a very fine and original writer. He needed to go to another publishing house pretty quick and he did." The book received one review - favourable and unusual in itself for a mass-market paperback - and Smith embarked on a proposed series of crime books featuring Roman Grey, a Gypsy with an eye for art and antiques. Gypsy in Amber (1971) was nominated for an Edgar book award and Canto for a Gypsy (1972) was Smith's first book to be published in Europe. "But something was wrong financially," he says. "I got $2,500 for Gypsy in Amber and then, despite its Edgar nomination, $2,200 for the next book. They were nice books in their own way, but they were still very traditional in that it was a slightly exotic detective and they really operated within the parameters of a television movie."
Around this time Smith discovered the work of the Swedish Marxist husband-and-wife team of Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall. They wrote socially and politically aware crime fiction, and "gave me a sense that this genre could carry more than I was giving it at the time. I had this idea about Russia and was hoping to make it something big and different. And that's when I found out if I could really write or not." He started to write what would become Gorky Park in 1972 and soon entered into the purgatory of the dispute with his publisher. He responded by writing "many, many" novels under pseudonyms: westerns, novelisations of TV series, formulaic crime stories. The American crime writer Lawrence Block had sold work to Smith when he was working at Magazine Management. "Later, when we were both publishing paperback originals, I read his Inquisitor series, written under the pen name Simon Quinn. It was wonderful stuff: the lead was a hit man for the Vatican, and after he does his work, he has to go to confession."
Smith says with two young children and a flat in New York City, money was nearly always a problem. "I was making less money each year so I bought a movie magazine to figure out what the hell people wanted. There seemed to be lots of killer animals, sharks, bees. I'd seen a newspaper report about vampire bats so I wrote up a story with vampire bats and some Hopi shamanism and my agent sold it within a day."
This production-line approach to writing bought Smith small parcels of time to work on Gorky Park , but to finish it he knew he needed longer. "I wrote one book in a week. I picked it up in a supermarket some time later and couldn't make any sense of it at all. And of course there was the unspoken, and sometimes spoken, question as to why I didn't get a job." It was literary agent Knox Burger who finally suggested he stop writing "as if he were looking over his shoulder at the spectre of hunger and desolation". Burger could see real possibilities in Smith's work: "All the time he was turning out these bread-and-butter books he was still working on Gorky Park , and running through them like a ribbon was sections of what would eventually be Gorky Park which you could pick out here and there. They were clearly more studied and elevated and better."
During these years, Smith became friends with many US-based Russians. Levin was a Moscow-trained nuclear physicist who had defected and then worked for Radio Free Europe. "The popular perception of Russia came from Hollywood where the hero of Dr Zhivago , an intellectual, must drink vodka and play the balalaika," he says. "The equivalent would be a film about TS Eliot that made him carry a baseball mitt. Bill's first instinct was to take this Hollywood line, but he is a very quick learner and was capable of saturating himself with the real facts of Russian daily life which are far more striking than the clichés."
Smith says he is proud of his research, "but Renko takes the risks because if he didn't there'd be no story. Of course I'm very intrigued by the things he finds out. But that's not me. When I was younger I was in Spain and thought it'd be fun to jump into the bullring wearing my red jacket. That's until I jumped into the bullring wearing my red jacket. Excitement like that is all well and good, but writing about it and making sense of what it means is the thing I've always really wanted to do." He says that the hiatus in publishing the book "did me an enormous favour. I had been working on it all those years and I was a much better writer by the end of it. I think I always had something to say, but by the time Gorky Park was published, I was much better equipped to actually say it."
When the book was eventually finished, Smith says: "I knew I'd delivered. And it was wonderful that my two girls were then just old enough to realise what had happened and how the wheel of fortune had turned for us." All his subsequent books have been dedicated to his wife, "Em", who taught English as a foreign language and is widely credited as being an astute early editor of his work. They have three children, Nell, Luisa and Sam, and three grandchildren, and live in an affluent small town 15 minutes north of San Francisco. Smith is proud that its demographics would make it a Republican stronghold in most other places in America. He says his family grew up thinking "FDR was God" and he has retained his liberalism. "My first book, The Indians Won, was quite political and I'm still proud of that. In the years since I've written novels that didn't work, but I've never written one that in some way didn't express a view."
The research for Gorky Park made him understand that the USSR, "this opponent of America, was not all he was cracked up to be. It was like going into his gym and realising he couldn't take a punch. The antipathy towards America was keeping it together, but it was an illusion that it was a threat to Americans. The system was far more dangerous to its own people."
He went into the follow-up, Stallion Gate, which pits science against traditional native American beliefs, "very pro the Indians and anti Los Alamos and the use of the bomb. But I went to Los Alamos and all the people there wanted was that I tell their side of the story and after arguing a lot with them about the use of the bomb, I ultimately sympathised much more than I had expected. "
Since then he has written Rose (1996), which links a story from colonial Africa to the lives of women mine workers in Victorian Wigan. Smith was drawn to this unexpected material after seeing photographs of Wigan pit girls. "Orwell mentioned these women in The Road to Wigan Pier ," he says and gives a nod to his early literary hero with a protagonist called Blair [Orwell's name was Eric Blair]. "But he didn't really talk about them because he was more interested in the working man. This was a social scandal of Victorian England but here was also, literally, an underworld which was something I could work with in terms of crime fiction." Havana Bay allowed him to explore America's "insane" relationship with Cuba. The book led to some criticism of him in the US. He says: "Most of my books do demand a certain basic knowledge on the part of the reader and I've therefore found my readers to be less likely to be hardline isolationists. They tend to understand."
Smith has been less fortunate in his dealings with the film industry. His vampire-bat novel Nightwing (1977), for which he first adopted the name Cruz, brought in a sizeable advance and an even larger payment when the film rights were sold. "But I know for a fact that it was the worst film ever made. I visited the studio once and met this actor who was made up like an Indian and he introduced himself by saying he would like to apologise privately, or publicly if I wanted, for the things they were doing to my book." An even more disappointing experience came with the 1983 Dennis Potter-scripted screen version of Gorky Park. "An indifferent movie," claimed Mark Lawson, which "Potter turned into too much of a 'Roubles From Heaven'." Smith says, "I was so pleased when I heard he was going to be the screenwriter but when I saw it I thought it was dreadful. I don't think he thought it through and he was never really engaged."
However, the film's failure did nothing to dent the book's reputation and it has remained a daunting act for Smith to follow. All his subsequent work has been compared to it, and Wolves Eat Dogs is no exception. Reviewers have welcomed his return to the former Soviet Union - for the first time since Red Square in 1992 - and have found his menacing evocation of Chernobyl an appropriately significant stage for Renko's return. "On this predatory ground, Arkady's pursuit of the truth seems not so much unlikely as elemental," wrote Francis Spufford in the Evening Standard. "There will be few thrillers half as good as this published in 2005, and none with its power to haunt."
Smith is now in the early stages of a book that again goes back to Russia to examine the role of its history in contemporary politics. He remains a firm believer in the capacity of crime fiction effectively to deal with such large and complex subjects. "By looking at the underworld you see how mainstream society works. You can travel through a social fracture and, for a limited amount of time, you can behave differently and ask whatever embarrassing questions you like." During his time studying sociology, he says he was "interested in people who are marginalised and what they say about the wider society. I had no talent for academic sociology but I do have a talent to write a certain type of story that has something to do with the world and things that have happened to the world: the collapse of the Soviet state, Los Alamos, Pearl Harbor, Cuba and now Chernobyl. The ability to describe these things and what they might mean is a talent I enjoy. I don't want to preach, the story always has to come first. But if you think you've changed someone's outlook on the world for the better, that is obviously very satisfying as well. And to do it through crime fiction is just fine."
Martin William (Cruz) Smith
Born: November 3 1942, Reading, Pennsylvania.
Education: Germantown Academy, Fort Washington, PA; 1960-64 University of Pennsylvania.
Family: 1968 Married Emily Arnold; two daughters, Nell and Luisa, one son, Sam.
Career: 1965-69 journalist and editor, Press Association, Philadelphia Daily News, Magazine Management.
Some books: 1970 The Indians Won; '71 Gypsy in Amber; '72 Canto for a Gypsy; '77 Nightwing; '81 Gorky Park; '86 Stallion Gate; '89 Polar Star; '92 Red Square; '96 Rose; '99 Havana Bay; 2002 Tokyo Station; '05 Wolves Eat Dogs.
Some awards: 1981 Crime Writers Association Golden Dagger.
· Wolves Eat Dogs is published by Macmillan at £17.99.
Martin Cruz Smith moves slowly into the lobby of the Hotel Monaco and eases down onto a couch next to the fireplace.
"Time to bring the old horse back to the barn," he says and laughs.
Smith is at the end of a cross-country tour to promote his novel "Tatiana," the eighth featuring Russian police inspector Arkady Renko. Smith says the tour zigged and zagged from one city to the next so much that "if you tried to connect the dots, you'd end up with something like a giraffe."
Smith says he's tired but wears his 71 years as easily as he wears a stylish jacket and scarf. He laughs often and is open about discussing anything from the state of modern Russia to his recent revelation that he's been suffering from Parkinson's for a decade and has to dictate his books to his wife Em.
You've been touring since "Gorky Park." How is it different now?
What's weird is that I recognize some of these people from 12-15 years ago. You forget that you labor away in your own little abode that you mean something to people. I'm very mindful, always surprised and pleased, when somebody says that you're my father's favorite writer. The endeavor is not as pointless as it sometimes seems to be.
Is it good that people are so loyal, or do you need to expand your fan base?
Both, probably (laughs), although I choose to believe it's the former.
They're coming for your body of work, not just the new book.
They say "this is my favorite, that is my favorite" and I think they all want me to say "It's my favorite too." Of course I don't, although I do (laughs). There's the standup military guy who likes "Polar Star" or "Wolves Eat Dogs" or the romantic types who want me to know that "Rose" is their favorite.
What do they most want to know?
They want to know if it's real. Did you really go there? Did you see that? I reassure them that I've been to Kaliningrad, I've been to Chernobyl. And it's true, I have been there (laughs). I must have been more intrepid than I thought.
When were you most recently in Russia?
About a year ago. I had to go to Kaliningrad.
Where you'd never been?
No. Who would? (laughs). But it's such an interesting place. It was bombed flat by the British. No German population – they were bused out or trained out by Stalin. Renamed by Stalin after a lickspittle president of his named Kalinin. As a result you end up with an exclave, squeezed by Lithuania and Poland in the Baltic Sea, also home to the Baltic Sea.
Was it easy to get to?
Sure. It's tedious to get to. You've got to fly in. Any other way is endless. They've got a couple of hotels there. It's also got the highest crime rate in Russia. It's not an inviting place. And the architecture is Brezhnev ugly or Khruschev ugly.
What's the difference?
One is six-story and one is eight-story.
Do you have someone go with you?
I don't speak more than 10 words of Russian, maybe not even 10 words. I always have a fixer-interpreter, and lately I've been taking my wife. She went to Kaliningrad with me.
When you started this thing, did you have any idea that you'd be sitting here 30-plus years and eight books later?
No. No. I was determined not to write another Russian book after "Gorky Park." I was offered the chance to write the screenplay and I turned that down, which was a foolish thing to have done. But I felt that I had done my Russian book. Later it occurred to me that that was like saying I've done my piano recital. As if there were no other tunes.
Of course when I came upon "Polar Star" ... I couldn't get back into Russia for awhile. I had a bad odor. I've seen a book that was issued to all Soviet citizens traveling abroad, warning them against engaging socially with any of these agent provocateurs, including Martin Cruz Smith. In fact, you could get sent away for a couple of years for possessing "Gorky Park." There was a certain kind of perverse allure. I did get on a Soviet factory ship, but the political commissar caught up with me and had me subtracted from the ship's crew. But the idea of this small island of Russia floating out there in the Bering Sea and operating in the fisheries of America was just too delicious.
Their attitude toward you has come around.
Now I'm published in Russia. Which is nice, they do a nice job.
Do your books sell in Russia?
They must because they print more titles in Russian all the time. To me, publishing here is obscure, so there, it's utter confusion (laughs).
Do they have crime fiction?
Oh yeah, plenty of it. Most of it is dumb, as our crime fiction tends to be. People who write crime fiction – not all, but a good number – write the same crime fiction, the simplest, easiest kind of story, usually involving a serial killer. I think the Scandinavians have caused a rebirth. I did an evening a couple of nights ago in New York with Michael Connelly, and you couldn't find two writers more different than Michael and me. He writes in a really time-honored police procedural way, and I don't know enough about police procedure to do that (laughs).
Is there a Russian writer who's anything like you?
I don't think so. I haven't looked. I'm so much more interested in Russian character than I am in Russian murders.
My favorite writers when I was a lad, one of the writers I patterned myself after, was a Swedish couple, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. To me, they were the perfect example of style and information, and they had a purpose in what they were writing about.
It's funny that you said that. A moment ago you were saying that you're somebody's favorite writer. You're one of my father's favorite writers, and they are another.
He has good taste (laughs).
But once you get a series going, you can take it anywhere.
I love that about it. You can get into any story as long as you have a body shoved up against the door somewhere.
And you took Arkady Renko to Cuba.
That was fun. Now that was research (laughs). I went to Cuba four times. That was just a dream project. The result may have been ... no, it was OK. But to use this murder-mystery as a way to get into Chernobyl, that to me is a great example of how there are no limits.
And speaking of no limits, you have no travel limits when you go to Russia?
No, and I didn't when I was there earlier. My Russian friends would always say "you were followed." I would say "I didn't see anybody." "That's because they're good. But you were followed."
Do you believe it?
No. I never had the sense that I was followed. I never felt in danger.
I would think in a totalitarian society it's more a feeling of being followed. There aren't enough security forces to follow everyone around.
Right. But anybody involved in a business venture, any American getting involved in a business venture there, is asking for more than trouble. They're asking for woe. That I regard as a serious chance to take.
Do people approach you and ask for advice about Russia?
The response I'm more interested in is when people come up to me and say "you're a fraud." Then a week later they come up and say "I've finished your book, and that's my life you're writing about." I say "that's terrible, I'm very sorry" but inside I'm saying "yes!"
You expressed such happiness about Cuba. Don't you want to send Renko to Tahiti?
Nothing easy (laughs). When he was in Cuba, he was in deepest despair.
What about outside the series?
I'm writing an Italian book right now. I have to do that to keep Arkady fresh.
I have a couple of Russia questions: The Olympics are coming up.
That has the possibility of being very calamitous. They're playing ball next door to Chechnya and Dagestan, and there's a tradition of the Olympics being very political. It's going to happen right next to a war which is not totally finished. They're going into a trap, very possibly.
What everyone hears about in Russia is oligarchs. Guys driving around in fleets of SUVs, partying in nightclubs, controlling everything. Fact or exaggeration?
Fact. Not exaggeration at all. You see these guys at their clubs, or you're in the lobby of a hotel and an oligarch comes in surrounded by guys with Uzis. In part it's just their way of maintaining status, to appear to need 10 bodyguards. But it's reality too.
How has Parkinson's affected your writing?
I can no longer type in any kind of sensible way. I have to rewrite every sentences two or three times. My wife has stepped in. I dictate to her. It was about halfway through "Tatiana" when it became clear that I wasn't going to sail through.
It hasn't hurt it. It's curious. Maybe it's because I'm used to Em being my first editor anyway. It funny, I used to not be able to write without smoking (laughs). Not to denigrate Em to the level of that (laughs). In fact, she's been a great beneficial influence. She has great taste. She's been reading my writing for 40-some years and she knows when I'm writing well and when I'm not. She only made two stipulations: no dead children or dead dogs (laughs).
What have you done to treat it?
I had deep brain stimulation. It's creepy to think about – they drill a hole into the brain and run some wires and machinery down to your chest. It's got a Frankenstein monster aspect to it but boy it saved my life.
How long ago was that?
Eleven months. About 2 ½ years before we change the battery (laughs). I'm counting on a good 10 years. After that, who knows?
Why did you decide to go public?
I hated the aspects of hiding. This is a hidden illness, and men in particular are very vulnerable to pride. Instead of adding to the problem by hiding I thought I should open up, first to give Em a little payback for all she's done for me but also to encourage other people to connect.
It takes a lot of effort to hide something. It takes over your life.
-- Jeff Baker