John Katzenbach: “Americans are very stupid”

John Katzenbach. A bestseller. (Photo Maximiliano Luna)

“You could put as a title: ‘Hypocritical author does not live what he writes’”suggests between laughs the American author John Katzenbach before the presentation of his new novel, the psycho clubat the Buenos Aires Book Fair . His surname, which he inherited from his father, attorney general of the United States during the government of JF Kennedy, today is synonymous with a best-seller. his novel The psychoanalyst sold over two million copies worldwideand many others of the almost twenty that have been published are on the podium of referents of their genre, the thriller.

Just arrived from Santiago de Chile, between praising the beauty of the Andes and complaining about the tightness of his schedule, slips: “The only problem with Buenos Aires is that we cannot transfer it to Mexico. It would be much more convenient!” Y Serie. In this interview with Infobae Let’s read, Katzenbach will laugh, a lot. Humor, impossible to emerge in the oppressive and distressing climates of his books, seems to be natural in his daily life.

For almost every question you have two answers: a short one and a complex one. It always gives both. Every once in a while, while thinking before speaking or even in the middle of an answer, a filler slips out that betrays his modus operandi: “What a good question!” he repeats in this and other interviews. Not only does he have an inexhaustible arsenal of the usual kindness that every big-name writer possesses after years of touring and interviewing. Also know the powers of flattery.

At the Book Fair. Katzenbach, this Thursday, in La Rural.
At the Book Fair. Katzenbach, this Thursday, in La Rural.

In the hour that the talk lasts, his gaze tends to nothing. He only looks into her eyes once he finishes spinning his idea, curious of the other’s response. Otherwise, he doesn’t seem too concerned. Despite the tightness of his schedule, he shows no rush. He sips his Diet Coke noisily as he carefully considers his words in comfortable, patient silence.

How is the tour of your new novel coming? the psycho club?

-When I’m on tour I feel like an elephant in the zoo who is let out of his cage to strut around and have some fun, but who knows that he is going to have to go back to his cage very soon. Latin America fascinates me. Everything is so different from what we have in my country! But we Americans are very stupid. We believe that from the Rio Grande to Patagonia everyone is Mexican.

To have an audience in the United States as massive as those here or as the one I had two nights ago in Santiago, you have to be a Stephen King

-The last time you were in Argentina, for the 2017 Buenos Aires International Book Fair, you stayed signing books until 4 in the morning. Why so much commitment? Do you plan to do the same in this edition?

-Why was I so stupid to stay there signing all those books? She laughs more stridently than usual. I felt like a star: a rock star! As an author, you are in a difficult position. For many readers it is significant to get an autograph on the novel that they liked so much. I don’t like to disappoint people. But this time we have a limited time to sign. It almost kills me to have to ask for it!

-Do you find any difference between the fans here and there?

-To have an audience in the United States as massive as the ones here or like the one I had two nights ago in Santiago, you have to be a Stephen King or a John Grisham.

-But here you’re like a Stephen King, right?

-It seems. Stephen King would probably be mad if he found out. God only knows what he would be capable of!

At the fair. The public awaits John Katzenbach.
At the fair. The public awaits John Katzenbach.

Do you have a writing routine? Does it change when you’re on tour?

I am too old to change. A friend once told me that when the male black bear wakes up from hibernation, he has several familiar paths, and every day he decides which one to take, over and over again. We authors are a bit like that. My writing routine is pretty stable. I work every day: I write in the morning and proofread in the afternoon. When I travel, I like to lie to myself. I bring the work with me, I leaf through it, I look at it and I put it down. In Bogotá I had the opportunity to reread the initial chapters of the book I am working on. Oh… the beautiful process of self-deception.

-Anything you can advance? Does it have to do with the rumors of a third party of The psychoanalyst or its possible adaptation on Netflix?

-The Netflix era! Although the truth, Netflix… ugh! They always ruin everything. I don’t know if the Netflix adaptation of The psychoanalystbut right now I’m writing the third part. It’s a very challenging thing. The problem with Dr. Starks is how to break free or separate from the other’s obsession.

-Beyond your activities around the Book Fair, where you will give a talk today and sign copies of your latest book, do you have any free time to enjoy Argentina?

-All my fly-fishing friends are outraged that I left Chile, where the trout is fabulous, without going fishing. And to top it all off, I came here and I can’t take a plane to Patagonia either. They laugh at me! Unfortunately, tour times do not allow for the patience of fishing. The problem with growing up is that you think that things are going to get easier, that there is more and more time, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Today, particularly in my country, people seem to live in these echo chambers, where they only hear what they want to hear, over and over again.

-Let’s talk about your new book, the psycho club. In this novel, the “bad guys” don’t follow the traditional pattern of the lone serial killer. Each one finds, thanks to the Internet, others like him. There is a feeling of camaraderie and community, rare for a thriller, which I find strangely beautiful.

-Beautiful…no one ever used that word to describe it! It is impossible to find in the psychiatric literature anything like The psycho club. I can only think of the SS in World War II. But I think it’s something quite unique that the figure of the murderer has a support group, a support. Writing it was spectacular. I don’t know how people will interpret it, but from my point of view as an author, It was one of the books that I enjoyed writing the most..

-Technology has a crucial role in the plot: the five main psychopaths meet in the deep web, where they share their hidden passion for murder. What role does technology have in your life?

I find it disturbing and fascinating at the same time. If I wanted to show you something horrible it wouldn’t take me more than ten seconds on the deep web to find it. I think technology is extraordinarily valuable. It has the power to shrink the world, shorten distances, create communities. The good thing is that you can find support, and the bad thing is… that you can find support, no matter how good or bad the idea is. I just take that to the next level.

If you think about the greatest serial killers in history, what Jack the Ripper did is not even close to their heels.

-The Spanish translation of the original title, Jack’s Boys, omits the reference to Jack the Ripper, the London murderer who saw in the press a fundamental tool to tell and mythologize his story. How does your past in journalism and your passion for serial killers mix in this novel?

-Thanks for clearing it up, because that’s basically the main point of the book. If you think about the greatest serial killers in history, what Jack the Ripper did is not even close to the heels of the most terrifying cases. But he knew how to use the press to become a myth: Books, movies, the Jack the Ripper tour of London… That’s what attracts my psycho club. But what happens when this group of men who want to become mythologized runs into a real family? It’s a blast: reality versus myth.

-When reading your novels, it shows that you understand your characters perfectly. Do you think that writing them helps you in turn to understand yourself better?

This is why I like interviews in Latin America: they ask you really interesting questions. The short answer is yes. The most complicated is that you can’t create those types of characters without being in touch with your dark side and your light side. We all have something good and something bad, and if you can’t explore that yourself, I doubt you can put it into a character. When I work on a book, those characters are in the room with me. It’s not uncommon to feel someone tap me on the shoulder and hear: ‘Hmm, I wouldn’t do that…’. You are right! I already take it out.

The writer and his characters. He says that when he writes he lives with them. (Photo Maximiliano Luna)
The writer and his characters. He says that when he writes he lives with them. (Photo Maximiliano Luna)

Do you go back to your own books?

This is why I hate interviews in Latin America: they ask you really incisive questions! Sometimes I go back to some old novel and think: ‘This is terrible!’ But other times, my ego gets out of control and I think, ‘I’m so smart!’ It is a strange relationship that an author has with his own work and it can be problematic to go back. The only valid reason to do so is to avoid repeating yourself. But I always have my eye on the next story.

-How do you see the current reality of the United States?

-We have some problems. The gap between rich and poor is getting wider, the distance between right and left is getting longer every day. It is a great confusion. I grew up during the Vietnam and civil rights protests. I was 13 when Martin Luther King had a dream (there was so much cheering you couldn’t hear a thing!) But this moment scares me that much more. Back then, disinformation did not spread so easily. Today, particularly in my country, people seem to live in these echo chambers, where they only hear what they want to hear, over and over again, which is extremely dangerous.

-Did you think about living somewhere else?

-Oh, Canada! -sings- When you travel the world you fall in love with some places and you imagine living in them. But no, I am where I am and I like it. At the moment I am stuck. In any case, as a novelist I live among the landscapes of my ideas. The rest is cable television.

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John Katzenbach: “Americans are very stupid”