Thursday, November 5, 2020

Matthew Hart

Matthew Hart is a veteran writer and journalist, and author of seven books, including the award-winning Diamond. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, the London Times, and Vanity Fair, and he has appeared on 60 Minutes, CNN, and the National Geographic Channel. He lives in New York City.

Hart's first novel is The Russian Pink.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title evokes a world both glamorous and dark, and in that way plunges the reader immediately into the matter of the book. The plot revolves around a colossally huge pink diamond. Pinks, as they’re called in the jewel trade, are among the most valuable objects on Earth, and this one is almost immeasurably valuable and rare. The reader witnesses the discovery of the diamond in the opening lines, and a few pages later, understand that Russians are involved. The action is set during a presidential election, so in that context the word “Russian” carries a special whiff of subterfuge and crime.

What's in a name?

Characters name themselves. That’s one of the truths I grasped quickly. You can’t just fasten any name you like onto a character. You find they just won’t live with it. They put their foot down! I learned to think very carefully before trying out a name. If it doesn’t work for the character, you’ll find out soon. It will sound absurd. You have to give him/her another and see how (s)he takes to it. Hercule might suit a dapper Belgian, but I don’t think it would sit too well on the shoulders of a forty-something American who grew up rough in his father’s diamond camps in Africa!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self loved every kind of chicanery. What teenager doesn’t? I devoured books with exotic settings. I remember especially Lawrence Durrell’s suite of four novels known as the Alexandria quartet, saturated with the outlandish and bohemian lives of young expatriates in the decadent world of the ancient Egyptian port city. So I think my teenage self would pat me on the back. He didn’t like the suburbs any better than I did. I just wish he’d get rid of that yellow V-neck and stop trying to look cool with that ridiculous cigarette holder.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

For me the opening is the easiest. That’s the part you can really make up by yourself. By the time you get to the end, the characters have developed enough to figure it out for themselves. You’re just there to write it down.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There's nothing autobiographical in The Russian Pink, but for sure there’s a strong personal connection. I know the diamond world intimately from the years I traveled in it and wrote about it as a reporter. I made sure my hero, the Treasury agent Alex Turner, and his lover, the Russian diamond thief known as Slav Lily, were true diamond people, so that I could recapture, through them, that enchanting, duplicitous, dangerous and sparkling world. So it’s my own world that I’m writing about, and the act of writing fiction allows me to re-enter it. But the characters have their own lives to live!
The Page 69 Test: The Russian Pink.

--Marshal Zeringue