The Fogged Clarity Interview
An intimate discussion with Pen/Hemingway award-winning author Justin Cronin. Justin’s latest novel, The Passage, was released in paperback this month and can be purchased here.
Ben Evans: When I spoke with you last week you said something that intrigued me; you related that you felt fortunate to have this story, The Passage, and impending trilogy, drop in your lap. It was as if you were referring to a muse. You almost suggested, as many authors have, that you were more of a conduit for this epic than a creator. Can you describe that feeling of inspiration as an author, and do you truly think it comes from somewhere outside of yourself?
Justin Cronin: Well sometimes you do, there are moments that you can’t really account for. You don’t know why, all of a sudden, a sentence kind of lays itself bare to you. But, on the other hand you can also say the reason that it does is because you’ve sat down at the keyboard everyday for twenty years making yourself ready and practicing your art. So while there is some part of it that’s mysterious, all of it is deliberate and all of it is yours. My approach to writing is quite thorough, I plan everything in advance, I sit down to work everyday, typical business hours 9 to 3; I’ve got kids so I have to keep a kind of ordinary domestic schedule. And it’s worked so far, no complaints. It’s produced three books, the last one of which was 300,000 words. So do I take credit? Sure, why not.
BE: You are more than entitled to it, you take your craft incredibly seriously and you’re incredibly committed. I just thought it was interesting that you had said it fell into your lap.
JC: Well I think, as I said, there is some part of this that does seem to sometimes come from above. Like my teacher in graduate school Frank Conroy said, writing is basically a daily practice to maintain a steady state of readiness for when something came your way that was worth writing. A lot of writing is failure; a lot of it is running scales up and down the piano until the concerto one day just shows up.
BE: You just said that some parts of the novel may have come from above, and that leads to my next question. There seems to be a sense of the spiritual running through The Passage, a certain otherworldly prescience, where certain characters are impelled to act, I presume by some kind of divine mover. Sister Lacey’s cross-country journey for example. Do you yourself have religious inclinations? And was it important to allow for spirituality in this book, as it can be a convenient explanatory device?
JC: Well, I begin by admitting that I practice no faith in particular. I was raised Roman Catholic with all the mystical trappings and no doubt some of that became part of my firmware, but when I wrote the novel you know part of the original conceit of the book was that the story that I was telling was the truth behind something that at some distant future time, a thousand years in the future, has become in a sense its own creation story. So it’s become a myth and–– here’s the story behind it, as I think most religious scripture is. It may not be based on divine occurrences, but it’s based on things that actually happened in some way, so that I always planned on as part of the underpinnings of the project. But one thing I discovered very quickly was that you could not write a book about the end of the world without questions of, for lack of a better term, divine intention leaking into the text. I meant to drag my feet on this a little bit, it wasn’t something that I was in a hurry to take on; not because I was afraid of it, but because I didn’t know how it would appear. And in fact it appeared very, very quickly in the book in the form of Sister Lacey Antoinette Kudoto, who is a nun from Sierra Leone. The one thing to do was give the reader some space to decide about matters of divinity, some invisible plain of existence operating in the world of the book. Just as people get to decide that about the world in which they actually live. So you could take a character like Sister Lacey, and decide if she’s an authentic mystic in communion with some divine force. You could also look at her as a woman with extremely bad post traumatic stress disorder, “that crazy nun,” as somebody else says. So when we’re inside her point of view, we’re inside a place where someone believes that they are in direct communication with the divine. Is that what’s actually happening? The reader gets to pick.
BE: And therein lies the author’s skill. Well if I remember correctly Mary and O’Neil were agnostics.
JC: Yes, they were agnostics, yes. It’s actually Miriam who gets that word, she’s O’Neils mother. She’s a Jew who has become agnostic.
BE: Was it more comfortable going into the writing of this book – a kind of science fiction project – knowing that you had already established yourself as a preeminent author of literary fiction with Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest?
JC: Well you know every book is practice for the next book, so sure, I felt more….
BE: I mean more in terms of your reputation as an author; this is a person (Cronin) who doesn’t need the shtick of vampires or anything, he’s already developed characters from nothing and done it exquisitely. I guess that’s what I’m asking in that sense.
JC: Well you write the book that wants to be written, the one that gives itself up to you most readily. I wasn’t really thinking so much about reputation as I was thinking about… Hmmm, I’m trying to find the right way to express it. Sort of the thing that makes me write, what keeps me writing, what makes it interesting, is not ever writing the same book twice. Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest were both on that broad shelf of literary fiction, but I had gone about those two books very differently. I mean Mary and O’Neil is really a novel built out of short stories, which was the literary form to which I was first apprenticed, the way most writers write short stories before they hazard the novel. And so from there to The Summer Guest which is more or less a conventional sort of novel, although it is four points of view in eight time frames, that was the next logical step. What I decided to do with this book, I had this conceit, I had this idea for a world in a lot of trouble and it had always seemed to me that every narrative of course has to be driven by some kind of urgency, its driven by moments where something changes that can’t be changed back, and I was very intrigued by essentially tightening the screw on that, making the decisions that my characters made and the situations that they encountered, to make them matters of life and death, to put my characters in a state of almost constant, overwhelming peril. So it was, in a sense, just sort of the next thing I wanted to try, and in order to try it I needed something really, really scary and dangerous. And as I said, I had this idea. This conceit came to me over a period of about three months chatting with my very precocious, at that time, 8 year old daughter. And it seemed kind of consistent with what I thought a novel could do, and what the next thing for me to try would be. I was perfectly willing to fail at it, which I think is the other thing you have to do as a writer, you have to be willing to have the whole thing not work, to come to a point where you see that “I’m not ready for this” or “I’m not up for this” and I was lucky that while I was writing this, it never came to that point.
BE: Is there ever a point, I’m asking this just after realizing that the cottage scene with Amy and the agent who takes care of her in Oregon, strikes me as somewhat reminiscent of The Summer Guest.
JC: Bingo, good job, you’re the first person to say that and you’re absolutely right. And its also a father daughter moment, which is in fact the central relationship in The Summer Guest.
BE: Yeah, I really loved him bringing his family on the roof of The Summer Guest and just taking in the panoramic view of the Maine wilderness.
JC: The Summer Guest, absolutely, and I didn’t realize it until after I’d done it, which is probably the best way to realize things about your writing. I came to it, and eventually said “oh I know what story I’ve gone back to” because it has some kind of real magnetic effect on me. I’ve often said that I’d be perfectly happy spending a few years alone in a cabin with my daughter playing board games. It’s absolutely true.
BE: I never forgot that I was reading a Justin Cronin novel as I made my way through The Passage. This book seems to stand out from others in the genre in that it both immerses the reader in a sprawling story, while also prompting them to pause in admiration of the prose. That being said, what is Justin Cronin’s most pronounced characteristic as a writer, stylistically or otherwise? What do think it is that distinguishes your work from other authors?
JC: Hmmm…that’s a good question and its hard to answer without sounding self-adoring.
BE: Do your best to be objective.
JC: Ok, I think probably my most distinguishing feature, and its not original to me, its one that I learned from other writers, is a desire to be absolutely clear. Which means when I write a scene I work extremely hard to know its physical and temporal reality with totality, and secondarily, it’s emotional and psychological reality in some totality; and then find, and this is always my ambition, not always achieved, the crispest, most compact way of naming that reality. The person I learned this from, and I’ve used his name already in this discussion, is Frank Conroy who was my teacher, who was a great teacher by example on the page and through his writing. He didn’t do very much of it, and I think that’s probably good, I think he wrote exactly what he wanted to write and nothing else. His sentences have an unbelievable sturdiness to them, they have no encumbrances, every word feels like exactly the right word. That’s what I always hope to try to do. Is that a style, is that a theology? I’m not sure which; I think it’s probably both.
BE: Throughout all your books, to me, the most marked characteristic is the sincere compassion you exhibit for your characters. What experiences can you point to in your own life, outside of the classroom, that you feel helped to shape your sensitivity as a writer?
JC: That’s a good question. I’d say some of the obvious ones and some maybe not so obvious. The most obvious is watching babies be born (laughs); and I’ve been in the room for two of those. I really like to write from the point of view of women, and I think that’s part of our job as writers–– to write with psychological clarity and insight about people who are not like us. The experience of watching a baby being born is a putting aside of your own ego. As the man in the room, I mean they give you these phony jobs to perform, you know they are kind of just keeping you busy. And at the center is another person, it is in effect one and a half people becoming two people and it is a situation where tremendous strength is called upon, and of course you’re emotionally involved in this, these are not total strangers, its your wife, its your son or daughter about to step on stage. And there is something very transformative about that that enlarges your sense of yourself, and maybe even by doing that actually sort of eradicates yourself temporarily and you come away fattened by it.
So that’s one, the other one I’ll say, and I wrote an essay about this long ago and I’m still not quite sure what it did to me, but I think something started there–– I was a young man, I don’t remember how old, I think maybe ten, ten years old, and for whatever reason I was driving on a dirt road near a reservoir with my father. I think we were going to the hardware store, and we came upon a car, a battered old Mercedes parked on the side of the road, it was March, it was raining a little bit, it was very muddy, and there was something about the car that seemed odd and as we drove past it I said to my father “I think we should stop, I think there is something wrong,” and we stopped the car, we backed up, and to kind of make a long story short, indeed something wrong, there was a man in the car who was nine tenths of the way to successfully committing suicide with a bottle of pills and a fifth of whiskey. There is more detail to this story that captured my attention, but it was the first time I had ever been in a situation even remotely like this, and where essentially it was my job, and my father’s job, to save somebody’s life who didn’t want it at that moment. The only thing to do was, my father tried to keep away, while I ran about a mile up the road to the next house, it was actually the house of a friend of mine, to call the ambulance. And this memory has stuck with me a million years and in fact it’s the basis of something, I wrote an essay about it many years ago, it actually is sort of replayed in a way, in the second volume of The Passage. But it was on my mind very recently, and as I said I think it’s a place where something started.
BE: Wow, that’s a complex and contradictory emotional event for a child I’d imagine.
JC: Yeah, it was completely perplexing; it was one of those things you don’t understand till many years later, if at all.
BE: I may be arching here, but at the conclusion of The Passage one of your characters, Sara, has a baby, and the way in which that’s written, it almost seems as if the birth is a metaphor for your creative process. As if you’re referencing this world that you yourself have given birth to with the book and the triology. Am I even close in assuming that?
JC: Hmmm…that’s a question about my unconscious mind as opposed to my conscious mind. I didn’t write that scene saying, “Oh, its time for one of the moments like at the end of The Tempest where Prospero comes on stage, becomes an actor and says, “Gentle breath of yours my sails must fill or else my project fails”” meaning I got to go home, can I leave.
BE: Or Breakfast of Champions with Vonnegut.
JC: I’m not meta-fictional in that way. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, I come back often to the experience of babies being born and a kind of, this kind of battlefield you go through, that people pass through and come out the other side changed. And I was thinking of that scene in terms of what my character Theo needed, and you know this is a book in which a lot of people die; babies should also be born, it seemed only fair.
BE: You’ve already committed immense amounts of time and energy to writing this epic which I imagine will come out to be somewhere around 2,500 pages, did you have any hesitation in starting a project this large, one that might impede you from exploring other things?
JC: No, not really you know I just felt lucky. I didn’t know quite how long the first book would be. I knew it was going be long, I didn’t really fully apprehend its length until I was maybe three or four hundred pages into the manuscript. The actual manuscript, I mean the book as a book is about, I guess, just under 800 pages in its English publication–– you should see it in the Norwegian, it takes forever, this book is the size of four books. But, I knew it was going to be long, the actual manuscript ended up in its longest version, from which I retreated somewhat, to be about 1400 pages. Which takes up a lot of room on your desk, and I had a good time with its length actually, I was really sort of excited at its length, like weightlifters are really excited about lifting something really heavy– its hard to do, but there’s a moment where you just want to say, “Look at me, look at me! Look at this heavy thing I can lift.” Writers are competitive you know, to my friends who have written 300 page novels, ha. So I didn’t worry about that, I still don’t, I look forward to writing other things but I also look at these three books as being separate challenges, its not just a continuation of story, each of the books resets the terms slightly, I want them to stylistically have little adjustments, and that’s as much for my amusement as anything else, but I think the reader doesn’t exactly want to hear the same thing over and over. I have a lot of faith in readers, I think they’re smart…
BE: Stop pandering (laughs).
JC: No, I think they are smart, I really do. I think a lot of writers write essentially episodic television by writing the same thing over and over, and I think that is pandering in a sense. I think readers are… they like something dense that has freshness to it and that challenges them a little bit. I know I do, and maybe I’m just assuming other people are the same as me, but I think its just… I think part of the book isn’t just for reading.
So yeah, this is going absorb a great big chunk of my, for lack of a better term, mid-career, but I’m lucky to have that. I don’t have to go hunting around, kicking over every rock looking for the next project and worrying if one will ever show up. I know what I’m doing from now until, I don’t know, the next five years or something, and that’s a tremendous load off my mind actually.
BE: Do you think, and this is somewhat of a generalization, that an author’s abilities and faculties diminish as they get older. I mean, how different of a writer do you feel you’ll be at fifty-five or sixty compared to what you are now?
JC: I hope better. I feel like… I don’t think I wrote anything interesting until I was close to 40 years old. And there are younger writers through maybe preternatural wisdom, they succeed earlier in saying something worth saying in a way that makes it seem true. But I think writing comes from two qualities: one of them diminishes in theory and one of them increases. The diminishing one is stamina, I suppose at some point I’ll have less stamina. And the other one, for lack of a better term, wisdom, is based on observing human life for a long period of time. In my case I hope that always increases, I hope the day I die I’m the smartest I’ve ever been. I do know stamina tapers off, but at the same time writers seem not to retire. Their careers seem to be the span of their adult lives. That is something to wonder about, you know, will there ever be a day when I say, “I think I’ll spend the last ten years fly-fishing,” and if that’s the case, I hope I catch a lot of fish.
Fly-fishing discussion ensues…followed by a discussion on obesity in Houston, TX.
BE: Can you talk about the relationship between experience and training in fiction writing–– how much can be taught and how much must be lived?
JC: I think the craft is both taught and observed. I think mostly how you learn how to write is by reading in some attentive way with piracy in your heart…
BE: Was there a point in your life when you changed the way you read; a light came on and you started observing craft and diction, as opposed to just being immersed in the book and the story itself?
JC: Yeah, I suppose there would have been, I’m trying to think when that would be. Probably not until graduate school because that’s when I started really kind of building a glossary in my head of the various technical and stylistic tropes that hold a fiction together. It wasn’t actually until few years after that though, when I began in an intelligent way observing the patterns of a novel, sort of the large super structures that make a novel work, and that was a case of me learning entirely on my own. That subject never came up at Iowa, where pretty much everybody at that time was writing short stories. I think that’s changed, I think graduate programs now at least make some gesture toward the novel. I’m actually much more of a novelist than I ever was a short story writer. I find the short story enormously demanding and exhausting to write, I’d rather go write the chapter of a novel any day. So, somewhere in there I made the transition, but it wasn’t all at once, and it wasn’t all forms simultaneously.
BE: I read a couple reviews of The Passage, and one reviewer said that there is a portion of the book that is written perfectly, and there was another reviewer who said you were over-reliant on kind of common overused tropes. I wonder how you’d respond to that, not the perfect part (laughs)?
JC: I would respond to that by saying let me come over to your house and do a load of laundry (laughs). But, you take the criticism of your book with a grain of salt. I’ve never found book-review type criticism to be something that I say, “oh gosh maybe that’s true I should be a different writer.” Because the truth is that any book is going to be met with a variety of responses and experiences, not every reader… For god sakes why would we expect everybody to love a book, that’s crazy, that’s like expecting everybody to love brussles sprouts.
BE: There also has to be a certain sense of envy there (for the reviewer), somewhere deep, buried in the subconscious, “I wish I could have written this.”
JC: Well, you like to think well of your fellow man and woman, but you know I m actually tremendously thin-skinned. I do want everybody to love me– men, women and dogs. So you know, I read the reviews, and thankfully most of them were positive and encouraging. What I decided to do, because this book was reviewed more than anything I had written, because among other things, since The Summer Guest there have been all of these online venues created for people, not professional critics, but just readers to post their thoughts… So literally, if you wanted to you could read thousand of opinions of your book, thousands. So what I decided to do was look at what would be helpful, that was sort of my standard, and if somebody just went on a rant, you know you could say, “Well I guess my book is just not for them.” We probably wouldn’t agree on many things: music, television, film, food, architecture, you know. Some people just don’t think the way you do. You know I did read a lot of them (the reviews) and thought about what people had to say. Both the praise of course and some of the criticism.
BE: If they’re not envious of the literary aspect of the book, Then I’m certain they are of the 1.75 million dollar sale for the movie rights.
JC: A book that kind of goes out to the world with a big number attached to it…
BE: I was living in France and I hadn’t heard of anything about you or your writing and one day, there’s your picture next to a story about vampires. I was shocked.
JC: You think you were shocked (laughs).
BE: Prior to embarking on this project, did you have disdain somewhere in you for genre fiction?
JC: Well, I think there is great genre fiction, and there is stuff that is kind of junk…
BE: Don’t say anything about Sweet Valley High (laughs).
JC: (Laughs) I will not talk trash about Sweet Valley High.
You know, there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s written for entertainment. In general it doesn’t entertain me because I’m a college English major and I’m in the business you know? What I really like is something different, the experience of language itself is part of why I read.
BE: Yeah, a pro baseball player is not going to go see a little league game.
JC: Exactly, unless his kid is in it. So, my point of view on this is a little bit different. I think disdain is probably just a bad feeling to have for anything. I mean you know, each to his own, god bless. That’s how I take it. The one thing that I do take exception to is sometimes there is sort of resentment going back and forth between the two camps. I’ve heard commercial writers say that literary writers would do what we do if only they could, and I’ve heard literary writers say commercial writers are always upset about not getting review attention but they don’t write well enough to deserve it. That’s kind of…
BE: I’d say the latter is far more accurate.
JC: Yeah, I mean you can pick a side, and I won’t do it here, but of course I have mine. It’s not a pleasant discussion and its kind of mean spirited and it mostly comes down to business. There’s a perceived dichotomy between critical respect and what you get paid and I’ll be perfectly honest, when I wrote The Passage I wanted both. I didn’t believe that they were mutually exclusive.
BE: No, there comes a time when you get paid for your craft and you go out and you hustle, and that’s what you did.
JC: Yeah, there was no reason not to try, because if it didn’t work, it didn’t work. It wasn’t going to cost me anything.
BE: While you’ve put your whole life into developing your craft as a writer, why not? Talk to me about getting plopped into the world of science fiction conferences. I saw some abhorrent interviews with you on YouTube (laughs). Not that you were bad, just that the questions were so inane.
JC: My relationship to the science fiction world is actually a slightly different world because it comes from the 1970’s principally. I’m still kind of first in line at the multiplex for what my wife – who prefers movies where people are trying to decide who marries the vicar – what she calls “outer-space shit.” I love it, I love science fiction. But most of my experience of it in the last 20 years has been through movies, I mean some books, Children of Men I think is a great novel.
BE: I just talked to Jeff Daniels and I guess he’s making a picture with Joseph Gordon-Levitt called Looper that is kind of science fiction-based. It integrates time travel and what not, so keep an eye out for it.
JC: I love good, high-concept science fiction when its well-executed and it has something stylistically innovative going on. I grew up on a steady diet of, at first the sort of juvee Robert Heinlein novels, you know Space Cadet and Farmer in the Sky, and Have Space Suit—Will Travel, and then graduated on to meatier stuff like Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov.
BE: Who wrote A Swiftly Tilting Planet?… Madeleine L’Engle, did you ever get into that?
JC: I did, I read her stuff absolutely. A Wrinkle in Time was a really important book for me when I first was kind of reading fatter books, I couldn’t say exactly how old I was when I read that. You know the young mind is enormously receptive to the sort of catch-all category of fantasy and science fiction because you sort of spend all your brain time there anyhow in some way. And I was particularly attracted to the end of the world apocalyptic narrative, because it was the cold war too, I mean it was the kind of mental anxiety that I was living with, its like an itch you have to scratch. So I read all that stuff. Now I go to Comic-Con or whatever and it is a different world. It’s a lot of stuff that wasn’t around when I was young. I mean, just the idea of the graphic novel, nobody called it a graphic novel when I was a kid, it was a comic book.
So there is a whole other thing going on, but I assure you that when I went to Comic-Con I was prowling the bins for Planet of the Apes action figures.
BE: Well, its funny, you go to something like that now and you’re the center of attention. You’ve inserted yourself into that world.
JC: Yeah, its as unlikely a development in my life as I could possibly imagine, but the whole thing has been, it’s sort of been one shock after another.
BE: You know just reading your writing, at least the first two books, and knowing that you grew up on the east coast, I kind of envision you as a younger (John) Cheever, minus the harrowing psychological journey.
JC: Without the alcoholism, ya, (laughs).
BE: It seems to me that you grew up in kind of, dare I say, waspish environs. Is that accurate?
JC: Yeah, I always say I grew up inside of a John Cheever short story, although I didn’t understand most of what was going on. I did, I grew up in suburban New York not far from where he lived, which was Ossining. His short fiction was enormously important to me, still is.
BE: It’s the best.
JC: No dispute. I encountered the first story of his when I was a senior in high school. I was taking a creative writing class and a friend of mine who was a very intelligent reader and a really gifted writer handed me one of his stories. It might have been “Farewell My Brother” or “The Worm in the Apple,” I’m not sure; it could have been a number of them. And it was my first real encounter with sort of ecstatic language applied to a diurnal reality that I recognized. I was just an unrepentant lover of his work, to the extent that in the summer that he died I was working in a deli, I was painting houses during the week and working at a deli on the weekends, you know, making sandwiches and making coffee and working the counter, and I wore a black armband (when he died). And this is sort of in a working class neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut. The major patrons of this deli… There was a post office near by with a big depot so all the postal workers came in, and I was wearing this black armband and they were like “Whose that for?” “Why are you wearing that?” And I’d say, “John Cheever died.” And my favorite response to this was a woman who said… This woman who is wearing a postal delivery uniform, looks at me and a great sadness comes over her face and she touches my hand and says “I’m very sorry for your loss.” (Laughs) I think she thought we were related.
BE: I have a copy of him reading “The Swimmer” that was recorded, I think in the 70’s sometime, I don’t know if you’ve heard it.
JC: I have not, I have not. I would love that.
BE: Do you think Carver a bit over-valued as a short story writer? He’s often lumped in with Cheever, and I understand the minimalism and the genius there, but there’s really no comparison for me I guess.
JC: Well it is…I’d say there’s no comparison in that its kind of apples and oranges. Cheever offered a richness of words and Carver offered a richness of silences.
BE: Very well put.
JC: So they are very, very different and I think they each made a significant contribution. The third leg of that stool for me would be Flannery O’Connor, as sort of the great American short story writers of the 20th century. You know, there’s the competition and it’s a three-way tie.
BE: What did you think about Dubus?
JC: A wonderful writer, I loved his stories. I thought he was a great novella writer, which I admire a lot because it’s such a hopeless enterprise in American publishing to write a novella. I mean it’s great if you’re a 19th century German, but nowadays its about as doomed a thing as you can do.
Some of his stories I think are just about perfect. I think “A Father’s Story” is the best story he wrote, or “The Curse,” and so he’s right up there, but I still would give special honors to Carver, Cheever and O’Connor just as people who really shaped the way we write short stories. They were very, very good, they were the best at it, but they also sort of shaped what we think of as a story. So I’d say, since Chekhov, those are the three.
BE: Is writing cathartic for you Justin?
JC: Yeah, something comes out of you that needs to come out. It’s an internal conversation that you externalize, you know, kind of getting at what’s eating you–– What’s eating you? What are you afraid of? What are you worried about? What’s on your mind?… And you know, you can only shout it so loudly at the hotel bar (laughs). You have to have some place to put it that’s actually useful, and building a story around it is a good way to tell it.
BE: Have you found yourself finding answers on the page, working things out of your head and actually coming to some resolution through what you’ve written?
JC: Yes, absolutely, there’s no question. Some of them are really deeply personal, nothing I would tell anybody but my wife. I think my first book was a place to put a lot of that, and I think that’s usually what drives, or customarily what drives first novels. I mean everybody’s first novel tends to be the most autobiographical and then they have to move on to other people and other lives. But my first book definitely, which I spent a lot of time writing, I mean among other things it was constructed of short stories which, as I said, are enormously time consuming and demanding; but that book came from more of a personal face. My other books did more to metaphorize those thoughts.
BE: There was more of Justin Cronin the person in Mary and O’Neil.
JC: No question, Justin Cronin the writer is in the other two books.