20 Questions with Author and Rock Bottom Remainder Greg Iles
Before novels and before the Rock Bottom Remainders, Greg Iles really was a rock star. He was a founding member of the band Frankly Scarlet. As things with the band were beginning to fall apart, Greg was ready to be home after spending 50 weeks on the road during his first year of marriage. What came next was life-altering.
By Melissa Hellstern
Photo: Rock Bottom Remainders
Greg explained: "I was in Mobile, Alabama, at 3 a.m. on New Year's Eve, standing at a phone booth in 28-degree weather. I was 30 years old, my wife was in school, and I had $9,000 to my name. I drove home to New Orleans, shut myself in our apartment, surrounded myself with library books and started working 18 hours a day. Literally. I gave myself one year to write and sell a novel."
And he did. His produced his first thriller, Spandau Phoenix, and secured a two-deal book contract. It became his first of many New York Times best-sellers. Today, Iles' novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages and he's moved from thrillers to speculative historical fiction to modern crime novels. Though his novel 24 Hours was made into a movie starring Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend, his personal favorites include Mortal Fear and The Quiet Game. Iles continues a steady output of 5,000 to 10,000 words per day but brings real rock cred to the Rock Bottom Remainders.
Before he went on the road, we asked him these 20 questions:
1. What book had the biggest impact on you? Why?
Arty the Smarty, a children's book about a fish who was too smart to be caught. However young I was when I read it, that story connected with me down deep, like a jolt of electricity, and from that moment on I was a reader, and probably a writer too.
2. Have you ever read or written a perfect sentence? What was it?
I have not written a perfect sentence, in the literary sense. It's a lot easier to throw a perfect pass than to write a perfect sentence, if that sentence is meant to perform more than a mechanical function. "See Spot run!" is a perfect sentence in some ways. But I doubt the critics would say it was. The opening paragraph of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is pretty close.
3. What was the oddest job you ever had?
Working at the bottom of a 14-foot-by-1-foot trench laying sewer pipe all day long.
4. How did you start playing music?
Like my best friend, I asked for drums for Christmas, and got them. But when he moved on to guitar, I realized two things: (1) guitar is a much more expressive instrument, (2) way more girls pay attention to guitar players than to drummers.
5. What would your theme song be?
"Message in a Bottle" by The Police.
6. What is your favorite food?
Tab soda. Although, since Tab contains no actual nutrition, it might not be classified as a food. It's a great stimulant for the creative process, however.
7. Which individual has, for better or worse, had the single greatest influence on your life?
My father and mother, equally. My mother, a teacher, encouraged me to use my creativity as an actual way to make a living, and my father, a Mississippi physician, did two things. First, he taught me that all human beings should be treated equally because no one is better than anyone else, and he never pressured me to become a doctor.
8. What is your greatest career coup?
Getting paid half a million dollars for something I wrote in five days while I had the flu. That's not bad money.
9. What is the biggest obstacle you have overcome or challenge you have ever faced?
Some things we must pass over in silence.
10. What characteristic do you admire most in others?
Saying what you mean and meaning what you say. No more, no less.
11. What talent would you most like to possess?
The infallible ability to know whether a person is telling the truth or not.
12. What is your favorite film?
2001: A Space Odyssey.
13. What inspires you most?
Courage in any form, at any time.
14. What is your greatest fear?
Lingering, painful illness with no hope of recovery.
15. What gives you hope about the world today?
The exponential growth of cross-cultural communication.
16. What is one thing you have always wanted?
To be self-reliant, with no one able to tell me where to go, what to do or when or how to do it.
17. What is your most valued possession?
A handmade, baritone acoustic guitar built by a gifted luthier who tragically died at the age of 50. There will never be another like it.
18. What is one book you've been meaning to read?
My own first novel. But it would be too embarrassing an experience to actually go through with—for me, anyway.
19. What is your secret, guilty pleasure?
Some things we must pass over in silence.
20. How would you like to be remembered?
Simply to be remembered would be sufficient. Beyond that, as someone who left the beaten track and thrived rather than starved. Kids need to know you can do that.