Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Interview with Max Byrd, Author of Pont Neuf

10 August 2020

Special Guest Interview with Max Byrd, Author of Pont Neuf

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

From bestselling writer Max Byrd comes an unforgettable evocation and portrait of Paris at the end of the second World War.

I'm pleased to welcome author Max Byrd to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

In Pont Neuf, the splendidly gifted (and faintly scandalous) writer Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s famously unhappy third wife, is the presiding spirit over a great romance. Two American soldiers, torn apart by the war, meet and fall in love with Martha’s protégé—the irresistibly charming and vulnerable young reporter, Annie March.

Their story begins and ends on the beautiful Pont Neuf, the oldest and best-loved bridge in Paris. For Annie, every bridge connects two different worlds; to cross a bridge is to make a choice. For her, crossing Pont Neuf means choosing one man over the other, one life over another. It is a haunting love story that will move readers to tears.

In its Homeric themes of death and love, Eros and Thanatos, Pont Neuf involves the last two massive battles of the war—Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and the cataclysmic Battle of the Bulge. These historic moments are not simply a backdrop for romance, but also the treacherous and explosive landscape through which love itself moves.

What is your preferred writing routine? 

When I was teaching, I wrote at night, after work.  Today I have an unmarked office in a commercial building.  No internet and no window, and I’m there every morning from 9 am to 2 pm.
I originally wrote detective novels because that is the best way to learn how to plot.  Many writers (Gore Vidal, Oakley Hall, for example) have served an apprenticeship with mystery novels---there’s only one requirement: the story has to make sense, to be coherent.  But that’s the basic requirement for any story, no matter the genre.

What advice do you have for new writers? 

A young person should learn, really learn a foreign language, preferably Latin.  My students used to roll their eyes when I said that.  Then one day the great novelist John Updike visited my writing class.  A mischievous student asked him the very question you’re asking.  To their stunned silence, Updike answered, “Read Latin.”  They swore I had prompted him, but no. The reasons, of course---vocabulary, concentration on individual words, the complex possibilities of syntax and rhetoric that Latin offers.

The other indispensable preparation is learning to be playful with words.  Someone who doesn’t like Dr Seuss doesn’t have much chance of writing well.  I once heard Anthony Burgess at a book signing.  An anxious mother pushed her teenage son toe the head of the line and asked what he should do to become a novelist like Burgess.  Burgess said, “Read lots of poetry.”  The mother looked shocked, the son looked unhappy.  I grinned.  (But I wished he had said Latin.)

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

My new novel “Pont Neuf” arose from listening to my friend Burnett Miller tell stories about the Battle of the Bulge.  (He won the Silver Star in it.)

What are you planning to write next?

Very few novelists proceed without a plan.  It can be as simple as a one-page summary or as complex as a twenty-page outline.  I’ve tried both ways.  Raymond Chandler used to write 90 or 100 pages at top speed, without rereading.  Then he’d stop and see what he had.  P. G. Wodehouse started with a five-page outline.  Then a ten-page outline.  Then a thirty-page outline.  Then sixty.  Then one hundred.  And so on, until the book was suddenly there. I don’t have my next “plan” yet, but it will be coming soon.

Max Byrd

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About the Author

Max Byrd was born in Atlanta, Georgia and now lives in northern California. He was educated at Harvard and at King's College, Cambridge, England. He has taught English at Yale and the University of California, Davis, though he left academia some time ago to become a full-time writer. During his teaching years he published a number of scholarly books and articles about 18th-century literature In 1980 he began to write detective novels. The first was called California Thriller (Bantam Books, 1981) and won the Shamus Award for best paperback original of the year. This was followed by Finders, Weepers and Fly Away, Jill, all featuring the same hardboiled private eye, Mike Haller. Later came Target of Opportunity, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and Fuse Time, the research for which led him to take a brief course in the California Highway Patrol Bomb Squad School (a somewhat different world from Harvard). Finding that crime really did not pay, he turned to the historical fiction. Find out more at his website

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