Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Authors tell the facts of fiction

Mystery crime novel fans got a peek behind the making of some of their favorite books yesterday as two writers discussed the long and sometimes isolated creative process.

A crowd of about 150 students, faculty, staff and local residents gathered Monday afternoon to hear Chicago attorney and author Scott Turow and Jack Fuller, writer and president of the Tribune Publishing Co., discuss the craft of fiction writing.

The discussion, “Writing From Life: Truth, Fiction and the Facts” was moderated by Law School lecturer and author Leigh Bienen. It was the first installment of Winter Quarter’s Crain lecture series.

Turow described his writing process as chaotic while Fuller said he works in a more organized, “inchworm-like” way.

“I have found the search for form to be a lifelong endeavor,” said Turow, who is a practicing attorney and author of six novels, including “Personal Injuries” and “Presumed Innocent.” He faced “decades of rejection slips before I became supposedly an overnight success.”

Turow said he types scraps of dialogue, descriptions and character histories on the computer for about a year before tying it all together into a manuscript.

“I am a true child of the personal computer,” Turow said. “If the personal computer didn’t exist, I doubt I’d be sitting here.”

Fuller takes a more old-fashioned approach.

“I wrote (my first novel), and I didn’t have any instruments except a pencil and a yellow legal pad,” said Fuller, who still writes his first and second drafts in pencil longhand.

“What comes first for me is an itch. … It usually comes out of something that bothers me or that I don’t understand,” said Fuller, author of such novels as “Legends’ End” and “The Best of Jackson Payne.” He explained that when writing “Payne,” about a heroin-addicted jazz musician, race was the issue that bothered him.

Fuller and Turow also discussed their inspiration for writing fiction.

“There is a true connection in writing fiction to the world of childhood play,” said Turow, who added that writing fiction requires that he integrate that creative, imaginative process into his adulthood. Fuller said that when writing, he works close to his subconscious and that the process of writing a novel is a way of learning.

Both writers emphasized the importance of having life experiences when writing fiction. Fuller said his years as a police reporter put him in situations he otherwise would not have experienced — situations that serve as inspiration for his writing.

“I think all writers have to be very curious people,” added Bienen, co-author of “Crimes of the Century.”

Bienen, Fuller and Turow also used the lecture as an opportunity to discuss former Gov. George Ryan’s decision Saturday to grant blanket clemency, clearing out death row in Illinois. They congratulated journalism Prof. David Protess and his students and pointed out the role journalism played in changing government policies.

The talk was well-received by many audience members, many of whom had read the writers’ work.

“It was interesting how Scott Turow was talking about his method for writing and how it was different from (Fuller),” said Medill graduate student Andrew Wang, who read Turow’s “Personal Injuries.”

Nancy Guthrie, a Libertyville, Ill., resident, said she and her husband have both read Turow’s work. She especially enjoyed the question-and-answer session that followed the lecture and she noted students’ interest in the writing profession.

“I was interested in the students asking the questions,” she said. “They were excited about learning to be authors.”

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Authors tell the facts of fiction