Inter­view by Paul Stathakis | Decem­ber 6, 2011

James Grady is an accom­plished Amer­i­can author large­ly known for his nov­el “Six Days of the Con­dor.” He has also writ­ten sev­er­al award-win­ning short sto­ries and nov­els over the years, includ­ing two recent novel­las titled “Condor.net” and “This Giv­en Sky.”

Born in Shel­by, Mon­tana in 1949, Grady worked a vari­ety of odd jobs, from hay buck­er to gravedig­ger, before grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mon­tana with a degree in jour­nal­ism. In 1973, when Grady was only 24, Para­mount Pic­tures acquired the rights to his book “Six Days of the Con­dor.” The stu­dio then devel­oped the nov­el into a major motion pic­ture and called it “Three Days of the Con­dor” (released in 1975). It starred Robert Red­ford, Faye Dun­away, Cliff Robert­son, and Max Von Sydow and was direct­ed by Syd­ney Pol­lack.

A few weeks before the release of his lat­est novel­las, Paulz­eye invit­ed Grady to do an can­did inter­view and the author gra­cious­ly accept­ed the invi­ta­tion. What this inti­mate inter­view reveals is an author who is not a flash-in-the-pan writer in it for mon­ey or fame. He nev­er brags about his suc­cess­ful career even though he was award­ed France’s Grand Prix du Roman Noir, Italy’s Ray­mond Chan­dler Award, and Japan’s Baka-Misu lit­er­ary prize — each top lit­er­ary hon­ors. Grady is mod­est and sin­cere. He doesn’t hide away from ques­tions and his answers are as clear and poet­ic as any pas­sage from one of his stir­ring nov­els. He’s an intel­lect — wit­ty, expres­sive, and, more impor­tant­ly, hon­est. After near­ly five decades of writ­ing, one thing remains cer­tain: Grady hasn’t lost that burn­ing pas­sion for telling good sto­ries.

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Paulz­eye: What moti­vat­ed you to become a writer?

 
James Grady:  I was com­pelled, not moti­vat­ed.  I start­ed telling sto­ries to my moth­er to write down before I was 5.  For me, writing’s always been like a cross between a hero­in addic­tion and sex.  I feel like when I’m at my best, I serve some forces beyond me, take their dic­ta­tion.

 
Paulz­eye: Talk to us a lit­tle about your expe­ri­ence writ­ing “Six Days of the Con­dor.” What inspired you to tell that sto­ry?

 
James Grady: Con­dor rode my dri­ve to write and came from 3 main inspi­ra­tions, all root­ed in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.’s Nixon era.  I was an under­grad­u­ate col­lege intern work­ing for Mon­tana Sen. Lee Met­calf, liv­ing on Cap­i­tal Hill when it was then con­sid­ered a “rough” neigh­bor­hood.  Every day I walked to and from work past a cor­ner build­ing with a plaque on the front for a group that sound­ed so bland it seemed pho­ny (actu­al­ly, the respectable Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion).  From that scream­ing place where all my sto­ries come shot two what-if’s, the best kind of inspi­ra­tional ques­tion:  What if that place was a CIA front?   What if I came back from lunch and found every­one in my office mur­dered?  Then, the colum­nist Jack Ander­son (who I lat­er worked for) and his num­ber one reporter Les Whit­ten wrote sto­ries about the CIA and the hero­in trade in Viet­nam, inspired by research done by Beat poet Allen Gins­berg.  Two years lat­er, when I was 23 and couldn’t resist writ­ing a nov­el any longer, all that fused into SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR.

 
Paulz­eye: You were only 24 years old when Para­mount Pic­tures acquired the rights to your nov­el. How did that hap­pen?

 
James Grady: Absurd as it seems, I’d sold the man­u­script through the mail to W.W. Nor­ton, who in turn con­tract­ed William Mor­ris Agency to see three of their unknown first time authors to the movies (a bold and uncom­mon move, but also, back then, I had no agent).  Dino De Lau­ren­ti­is told me he knew CONDOR was going to be a great movie after read­ing 4 pages.

 

 

Paulz­eye: Were you involved in the process of adapt­ing your book into the screen­play?

 
James Grady:  No, I was way too young, and such work is con­tract­ed.  I got lucky and CONDOR had two great screen­writ­ers (David Ray­fiel and Loren­zo Sem­ple, Jr.).

 
Paulz­eye: You told me that you had a chance to spend some time on the set of the film. What was that like?         

 
James Grady: Sur­re­al.  I remem­ber stand­ing alone out­side the front of the New York city build­ing they’d “dressed” to be “my” CIA front build­ing, star­ing at the plaque on the wall that made it look “real.”  I walked around in a daze.  Met Pol­lack, Red­ford, both of whom were gra­cious to me.  Pol­lack talked to me about how he set up a cou­ple shots, and it was like going to grad school in hyper­drive.

 
Paulz­eye: The end­ing of the film is sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent from that of your book. The film took aim at pol­i­tics- pri­mar­i­ly the sit­u­a­tion of oil and the Mid­dle East. What did you think of the film’s end­ing then?

 
James Grady:  I thought the film was superb all the way through.  The oil cri­sis mate­ri­al­ized after Para­mount bought the book, and Pol­lack, Red­ford and the writ­ers real­ized they could not ignore the his­to­ry break­ing around them.  One of the things I think they tried to do was cap­ture a “behind the scenes” fic­tion­al “what if” movie about life in Amer­i­ca right then, right there.  They suc­ceed­ed.  First time I saw the movie was at a screen­ing in D.C. arranged by Red­ford.  I had just start­ed work as an inves­tiga­tive reporter for Jack Anderson’s col­umn, and the idea that “my” char­ac­ter would take ‘my” sto­ry to the press…wow.

 
Paulz­eye: Do you still share the same thoughts about it now as you did then?

 
James Grady:  Now I think the movie is even bet­ter than I thought it was back then.  Also, back then, the emo­tion­al­ly sur­re­al impact of hav­ing all that hap­pen­ing to me at that age (when the movie came out, 25) dis­tort­ed any sense I had of the qual­i­ty of the film.  Still, I knew it was good.

 

 
Paulz­eye: There are those who would argue that today’s polit­i­cal land­scape strong­ly resem­bles that of the one seen in “Three Days of the Con­dor.” Do you agree with that sen­ti­ment?

 
James Grady: Pol­i­tics is about mak­ing choic­es with what fate gives us.  That’s what Con­dor does, and that’s clas­sic, so in that sense, the polit­i­cal land­scape is the same.

 
Paulz­eye: You’re work­ing on a book right now which is a “Con­dor” re-imag­in­ing of sorts, titled “Condor.net.” What influ­enced you to revis­it this char­ac­ter? And what is the book about?

 
James Grady: My “re-imag­in­ing” has become a novel­la that will be pub­lished as an e-book by Open Road Media and Mys­te­ri­ous Press in Octo­ber, 2011.  I was dri­ving to NYC from my home in Wash­ing­ton, saw the “emp­ty scarred” sky­line post-9/11…and I got mad.  Won­dered:  How would I do Con­dor now?  Couldn’t stop, and out came the novel­la.

 

Paulz­eye: Have we seen the last of Con­dor or is a third nov­el involv­ing the Con­dor char­ac­ter a pos­si­bil­i­ty?

 
James Grady: I don’t see me doing anoth­er Con­dor nov­el, though a pro­fes­sion­al live com­mu­ni­ty the­ater in Mon­tana wants me to write it as a stage play.  In my last nov­el MAD DOGS, I account for what hap­pened to “that” Con­dor, so…

 
Paulz­eye: You’ve remained active as a writer over the years. You’ve writ­ten sev­er­al award win­ning short sto­ries and nov­els and your lat­est work is a Noir novel­la set in Mon­tana called “This Giv­en Sky.” Talk to us about that project.

 
James Grady: My – I don’t know what to call it – let’s say “my cru­cible” as a writer has always been split between Wash­ing­ton, D.C., sort of the “we are the world” type fic­tion­al per­spec­tive and my “this is where I’m from” per­spec­tive of Mon­tana, espe­cial­ly my small home­town that was a bizarre place to grow up.  Only in the last 10 years, after turn­ing 50, have I been able to write true and well about my home­town of Shel­by.  THIS GIVEN SKY poured out of me.  I had no idea what size it was going to be, where it was going.  I saw a man, 40-Some­thing dri­ving through the a full moon night com­ing home to Shel­by where his whole life would be defined and every­thing was on the table, includ­ing mur­der.  And I had to know why, what, how.

 

 
Paulz­eye: When we first spoke, you men­tioned that your dad had once man­aged a movie the­atre in Mon­tana. You told me, being a young­ster cel­lu­loid “got in your blood” because of your dad. And you added, “I still feel like something’s off if I don’t see at least one movie a week.” So I must ask, what are some of your favorite films and some of your ear­li­est film mem­o­ries?

 
James Grady: One of my ear­li­est film mem­o­ries is a movie called THE LEGS DIAMOND STORY – I think that’s the title – star­ring Ray Dan­ton.  Pure sexy noir.  I’d see four movies a week grow­ing up, and am lucky now to live in a city with good the­aters, includ­ing one that shows old movies.  Favorites?  Oh man:  THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, CASABLANCA, THE MALTESE FALCON, DR. STRANGELOVE, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE SEARCHERS, BULLITT, BLADE RUNNER, THE MATRIX, BREWSTER MCCLOUD, MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, GODFATHER I & II, GOODFELLAS, THE BEST YEARS OF THEIR LIVES, BONNIE & CLYDE, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, THE 400 BLOWS, EVEN THE RAIN, BLUE VELVET, CHINATOWN – I have to stop now and that list is so incom­plete.  And, of course, CONDOR.

 
Paulz­eye: Eng­lish author Bri­an Ald­iss once claimed that, “There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you won­der.” Which of the two do you con­sid­er your­self to be?

 
James Grady:  When I’m at my best, I make you won­der:  emo­tion is stronger than intel­lect.

 

Paulz­eye: Sure­ly all writ­ers must have lim­its in terms of their own writ­ing or, for that mat­ter, genre pref­er­ences. Tak­ing that notion into con­sid­er­a­tion, what’s an exam­ple of a book you could nev­er pic­ture your­self writ­ing? And why?

 
James Grady: It’s fun­ny, before I turned 60, I would have said “any­thing like Updike” and now I have a sto­ry being pub­lished that some­one at the mag­a­zine likened to Updike.  I’ve writ­ten hor­ror for the first time this year, too.  Pre­vi­ous­ly dab­bled in sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy.  I think the one thing I”ll nev­er write, how­ev­er, is the “aca­d­e­m­ic nov­el” – some sort of sto­ry in which the char­ac­ters are not con­front­ed with major chal­lenges but instead pon­tif­i­cate on “rela­tion­ship ques­tions” while they are insu­lat­ed by sub­ur­bia or tenure.

 
Paulz­eye: Do you have any oth­er projects in devel­op­ment as we speak?

 
James Grady: There are a few “Hol­ly­wood” projects per­co­lat­ing, but there’s always more bub­bles that come out of that process than cof­fee, so I only have hope, not opti­mism.  What I’m most excit­ed about is I’m in the mid­dle of writ­ing a Gra­ham Greene like “spy” nov­el cen­tered on Arab Spring but real­ly encom­pass­ing every­thing from Amer­i­cans in the streets of our own cities like New York and Wash­ing­ton to the pol­i­tics of mar­riage – and all under the aim of vio­lent guns.  My work­ing title is THE AMERICAN AGENT.

 

Paulz­eye: The Inter­net has become some­thing of a neces­si­ty today. And as time goes by, more and more peo­ple are demanding/choosing “online deliv­ery” of con­tent, be it news, movies, music, and books. That said, what in your opin­ion does the future of the print indus­try look like?

 
James Grady: E-books are not the future, they’re our present.  I think for anoth­er decade, books will still be pub­lished in paper, though prob­a­bly “print on demand” in stores and off our desk­tops, then after that, they’ll be curios and antiques and col­lec­tors items, cof­fee table art trea­sures.  That just is.  We as writ­ers need to learn how to pre­vail in that real­i­ty.

 
Paulz­eye: What advice would you offer to the many aspir­ing authors around the world who not only dream of becom­ing suc­cess­ful writ­ers but being pub­lished as well?

 
James Grady: You wish it were all about the writ­ing, but it’s not.  Suc­cess oth­er than what you feel for hav­ing fin­ished some work of writ­ing is depen­dent on forces that are not ful­ly about your writ­ing.  Good writ­ers get ter­ri­ble breaks and vice-ver­sa.  So while you need to pay atten­tion to mar­ket­ing and oppor­tu­ni­ties, that kind of hus­tle is the least of what your life should be about.  You’ve got to love what you’re writ­ing.  Oth­er­wise, why should any­one else even like it?  This is a nev­er end­ing growth jour­ney, and the day you stop get­ting bet­ter is the day you should stop, so keep fight­ing to be bet­ter.  Oth­er than that, get used to liv­ing life in one of the loneli­est endeav­ors in the uni­verse.

 
Paulz­eye: James, I want to thank you for tak­ing time out of your busy sched­ule to answer these ques­tions today. It’s been a real plea­sure and an hon­or.

 
James Grady: Thanks for ask­ing, and for try­ing to keep the light shin­ing on movies and fic­tion.  The sto­ries we tell and choose to hear define who we are, and it’s impor­tant to cast a crit­i­cal eye on all of that.

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Note: For infor­ma­tion about author James Grady, you can vis­it his per­son­al site at http://www.jamesgrady.net  In addi­tion, you can pur­chase Grady“s lat­est E-books online. They are avail­able for down­load on iTunes, Ama­zon, B&N Nook, Google, and Kobo. Sim­ply click on the fol­low­ing book title(s) to be tak­en direct­ly to their down­load page: CONDOR.NET, SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR, THIS GIVEN SKY, and THE NATURE OF THE GAME.