A Conversation with Harlan Coben
bn.com: What inspired you to create Myron Bolitar, a likeable sports agent? I never realized they actually existed until I read The Final Detail. But then, of course, this is fiction.
Harlan Coben: Saying "likeable sports agent" is a bit like saying "pleasing jock rot." Maybe that was part of the challenge. I never know what inspires what. The process is, I think, more a question of grind than inspiration.
bn.com: Myron has some vivid childhood memories of Yankee Stadium. Are any of those memories actually yours?
HC: The father and son stuff, sure. Ask most adults -- men and women -- to list off some rich childhood memories and I guarantee you that more will revolve around baseball than, say, school. I don't know why. The smells and sounds of baseball are wrapped up in us. I'll always remember the first game my dad took me too. Writing some of the scenes -- digging up these memories -- hurt, almost physically. Readers of all stripes seem to react to that in the book.
bn.com: Do you and your hero Myron Bolitar have anything in common?
HC: Most writers don't like to admit this, but yes, Myron is based somewhat on his creator, albeit with a bit of wish fulfillment tossed in the mix. We both, for example, have great relationships with our parents. We both know too much TV trivia, enjoy Broadway musicals too much, and would rather quote Felix Unger and Oscar Madison than Proust and Yeats. But Myron is funnier than Harlan Coben; he's stronger, more loyal, a better friend, and a helluva better basketball player. I do, however, have him beat in two areas: I'm a better dancer -- I think the correct term for my floor moves would be "snazzy" -- and I'm wiser in the opposite-sex department. I've been happily with the same woman since I was 20 -- I'm 37 now -- while Myron, well, simply put, is an idiot in the ways of women. While I'm jealous of Myron's relationship with his parents, he envies me big-time because I have what he really wants: a great wife and three great kids.
bn.com: The Final Detail touches on a serious problem in our society -- the impression that with talent, money, and fame comes a right to step freely across the line of right and wrong. As your novel points out, the more a person steps across that line, the more it fades and smears. How rampant is this blurring of the lines among professional athletes today?
HC: Pretty dang blurry. But not just for athletes. Myron and Win are often forced to play with those lines too. As I said in The Final Detail, the line between good and evil is not so different from the foul line on a baseball field. It's often made of stuff as flimsy as lime. It tends to fade over time. It needs to be constantly redrawn. And if enough people trample on it, the line becomes smeared to the point where fair is foul and foul is fair, where good and evil become indistinguishable from each other. This is the evil I want to explore. It's why I'm not big on psycho serial killers or that stuff.
bn.com: Have you been enjoying Major League Baseball '99 thus far? What do you think? Are we going to see a subway series?
HC: I don't know. Do you really want to watch a baseball game underground? Duh, duh, dum. Thank you, I'm here all week.
bn.com: What went into your decision to make Myron's partner and friend, Esperanza, bisexual?
HC: When I was in high school, I dated a lot of bisexuals. I'd mention sex; they'd say "Bye." Okay, old, old joke, but should we ignore the classics? Actually I didn't know Esperanza was bisexual until midway through the first book in the series. It shocked the hell out of me.
bn.com: Are you as hilarious in real life as your writing suggests? That bit about "The Sound of Music" killed me.
HC: No. In real life, I'm debonair and oh-so-good looking. Many people mistake me for Mel Gibson, but no one who can -- what's the word? -- see.
bn.com: Talk a tad about today's sports heroes and their responsibility as role models.
HC: They shouldn't be role models. Plain and simple. That's what fascinates me. I don't care who wins or loses or any of that. And it doesn't drive the books. But -- and this is going to sound high-falutin' -- the sports world is a super-intense, high-stakes microcosm. Every emotion is fervently raised to the tenth power. People care about winning and losing way too much. We treat kids who are barely old enough to vote like neo-gods. We make role models out of young men and women whose only claim to such a lofty title is the ability to hurl a sphere with great velocity or jump high or grow big muscles. The money, the power, the fame, the passion -- it's scary and it's a ripe arena for murder and suspense. Whoa, that was deep. Give me a second.
bn.com: What's up next for Myron Bolitar?
HC: I just finished a novel tentatively titled The Ghost in You, which Delacorte will release in May 2000. I don't want to reveal anything yet, but let's just say that Myron readers will be shocked to the core. How's that for a teaser?