24/7 VALENCIA:Could you tell us something about your background and experiences?

LAMAR HERRIN: I first wanted to be a professional baseball player, then an actor. But I was never much of an actor. While working on a film called ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’ for eight weeks (I was the sonar operator in a submarine), I got so bored by the tedium of it all that I began to read and read. Thomas Wolfe and especially William Faulkner, to name two authors. That was when the balance began to tip. I went back to school, to make a living became a teacher of literature and creative writing (29 years at Cornell University), and wrote fiction when I could.

Could you tell us something about your time as a Hollywood actor that included working on a film with Elvis Presley?
See the above. There was a lot of posing and preening and I simply didn’t have the stomach for it (nor much talent). Elvis Presley, freshly back from Germany and his time in the US Army, was a friendly enough guy, approachable if he wasn’t in a scene, who arrived on the set each day, a two-dimensional western town built out in the desert, in a fleet of three black Cadillacs driven by his Memphis buddies.

What brought you to Valencia and could you tell us about your book, ‘Romancing Spain’?
I wrote ‘Romancing Spain’ precisely to answer that question when asked at dinner parties by friends, “How did you meet your wife?” I met her brother on the boat coming from NYC in December of 1969. I wanted the experience of crossing the Atlantic for the first time on a boat. My brother-in-law, a fine painter and at that time something of a dandy, invited me to travel southern Spain with him in a search of a castle he could convert into an arts centre. I thought he was crazy, but then he showed me photographs of his sister and I didn’t care whether he was crazy or not.

What is your most recent book ‘Fractures’ about?
In a nutshell, the fractures created in a family when confronted by the decision of whether to lease their land for natural gas exploration (‘hydrofracking’) or not. But since I had been living in Ithaca, New York for more than 30 years, I thought the time had come to set something here. So the novel is also about me coming to terms with the people and the land hereabouts.

How does living in Spain compare to living in the U.S.A.?
Again, I’d need another book to answer this question, but let’s say the theatre of endless street life vs. the spectacle and the vastness of nature. The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is, with its gorges and waterfalls and deep glacial lakes, particularly beautiful.

Tell us about a typical week as a Professor of Literature at Cornell University?
I’ve been retired twelve years. The pleasure was always the one-on-one sessions with my writing students (and the aggravation) and the friendships with some of my colleagues. The downside was the dispiriting effect of department politics, but, thankfully, I was spared a great deal of that.

For any budding novelists, do you have any useful tips for how to write a novel?
Look on my website,, and the comments I make about novel writing there. Add to them the fact that it involves a lot of mulish effort, everyday ploughing, say, one more row in the eld. Nothing romantic about it. Lasting power and a dogged (or mulish) belief in yourself and faith in what you are doing.

You are quoted as saying, “For a novelist, no one is a wholly human anything. It’s not that we all have our dark sides, but we do have other sides, contain other selves, and there are always rifts.” In what novel have you explored these conflicts?
I’d have to say in all of them (although that comment probably refers directly to the fanatical Stonewall Jackson that Robert E. Lee carries inside himself in the novel ‘The Unwritten Chronicles of Robert E. Lee’). And, then, it is famously true, I’d say, that a novelist’s characters are all facets of himself. ‘Fractures’, for instance, has six third-person narrators, and I suppose I was each of them for a while.

Could you tell us about any books in the pipeline and your future plans?
I have a not very long novel presently called ‘Father Figure’, which deals with a son trying to understand his father’s behaviour in a famous battle of WWII. I have always been drawn to an imaginative engagement with history, seeing just how far an author can take it before it becomes an unpardonable expropriation.

Interview by Will McCarthy

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