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Gene Hackman on Hemingway, aging, and being a bad speller

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You’ve starred in a few Westerns. What made you want to write a Western novel?
I live in the West, in Santa Fe. I’ve been here for 25 years, and there’s something about the atmosphere, it rubs off on you. All the books I’ve written have some historical content to them, and this was a natural progression for me. It was just up my path, if you will.

The books you’ve written so far have been period pieces. Will you ever write one set in the present?
I’m working on one right now. It’s a police story. I find it fascinating having worked on historical novels, where you have to be careful about what you say and get your facts right. This was freeing in a strange way. Although I know absolutely nothing about computers, so that’ll be difficult to deal with.

The Count of Monte Cristo is featured prominently in the book. Did you have any other inspirations?
I’m a great fan of Hemingway and I would love to be considered of that ilk, but I just don’t have that kind of chops. I’d say ”yet,” but at 81 years old, I don’t know. The sand is running out of the old hourglass.

You’ve played some great villains, and the baddie in Morning Peak is especially nasty. How did you go about crafting him?
I just looked in the mirror.

That’s a little harsh!
[Laughs] No, no. I think villains are easier to write. They’re so pure in many ways, and they embody all the things that we pretend that we don’t have in us, when, in fact, given the right circumstances, we would see them. He was fun to write, and when I was acting, villains were more fun to play than a leading man. I never played many leading men, and certainly not many romantic leads. I think guys who have an edge to them are more interesting to me.

One of the reasons you gave for retiring from acting was that you didn’t want to have to keep taking ”grandfather roles.” Your main character here is only 16. Do you enjoy being able to write characters of any age?
That was fun, to not have to deal with my own age, to go back and think what things were like when you were young, what you thought about them, what was important. It relieved me of that burden of always being the nice old grandpa.

What’s your writing process like?
Recently, because of the release of the Western, I’ve been undisciplined, but normally I write in the morning for about three hours, then I do a little editing in the afternoon. But I write longhand, so my wife has to interpret what I put down and that’s usually an adventure in itself.

Do you have good handwriting?
Not great, and I’m a terrible speller.

And since you don’t know how to use a computer, you can’t use spell-check.
That’s right. Ah, well.

When you retired from acting, did you know you wanted to write?
I really like the idea of storytelling. I suppose that’s why I was an actor. I like story, conflict, drama. I think over the last 10 years I’ve been trying to find something to do, and I think this is a good pastime for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be considered a serious writer, but…

It’s a good way to keep busy?
You can only make so many birdhouses.

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