Category: Archive

Page Turner: Terry McDermott

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Personal: Has been a reporter at eight newspapers for 25 years, the last eight at the Los Angeles Times where he is a national correspondent. In his various newspaper jobs he has covered county zoning boards, state legislatures, and the peculiar culture of the Los Angles Police Department. He has specialized in long-term projects, often immersing himself in an assignment for months or years. He has written on an enormous range of subjects: the financing, design and construction of skyscrapers; the search for a rare molecule; the California Dream; and growing coffee in Indonesia among them. His stories are heavily reported, textured, place-based and complex, written in a strong, distinctive voice. He has won numerous journalism awards from a variety of organizations, including those that honor writing about economics, science and foreign travel.
He has worked also as a carpenter, a political campaign manager and an interpreter of satellite reconnaissance imagery in the U.S. air force. He has a graduate degree in urban planning. While a columnist at the Seattle Times, he published a serial mystery novel about the disappearance of Bill Gates. Like everybody in Southern California, he has two unfinished screenplays on his hard drive.
He was assigned to write about the 9/11 plot within days of the attacks. He eventually spent three and one-half years pursuing the story, traveling to 20 countries on four continents. “Perfect Soldiers” was described by the Washington Post as the definitive examination of the attacks.

What is your latest book about?
It is a detailed exploration of the lives and motivations of the 9/11 hijackers.

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I read for a couple hours in the morning – newspapers, books, magazines, then write until children return from school in the afternoon. I return to the desk in mid-evening and write until 9 or 10 p.m.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
The best writing advice I ever heard was from Raymond Carver. Actually, it’s the best working advice I ever heard, too. The writer’s job, Carver said, was to be at your station. In other words, prepare yourself by doing everything within your capacity and wait for those things that are beyond it.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure?
“The Centaur,” by John Updike; “Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller; “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” by Joan Didion.

What book are you currently reading?
“Brain Architecture: Understanding the Basic Plan,” by Larry Swanson.

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Is there a book you wish you had written?
Several thousand of them. More realistically, I’m a journalist, so pick any Didion, McPhee or Kidder off the shelf and I’ll happily claim it.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by?
Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles.”

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
I’ve interviewed a lot of authors and, to be frank, I’d rather read them.

What book changed your life?
The next one I read.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Never been but everyone tells me I belong in a bar in Galway.

You’re Irish if . . .
your flaws are all fatal but haven’t killed you yet.

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