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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Eric Van Lustbader, Author Our Coverage Sponsored by Bergen Linen

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Eric Van Lustbader was born and raised in Greenwich Village, New York. He is the author of more than 35 best-selling novels, including The Ninja, a N.Y. Times bestseller for 24 weeks, in which he introduced Nicholas Linnear, one of modern fiction’s most beloved and enduring heroes.

Spanning 40 years, his novels have been translated into over 20 languages, and are so popular whole sections of bookstores from Bangkok to Dublin are devoted to them.

In 2004, Mr. Lustbader was chosen by the estate of the late Robert Ludlum to continue the Jason Bourne novels. He has written 10 Bourne novels, the latest is The Bourne Enigma, July, 2016, which we loved and recommended. 

He is also the author of Any Minute Now, August, 2016, and in 2017, the sequel to The Testament, an international best-seller, The Fallen, the first novel in a planned trilogy.

Mr. Lustbader is a graduate of Columbia College, with a degree in Sociology. He enjoyed highly successful careers in the New York City public school system, where he holds licenses in both elementary and early childhood education, and in the music business, writing producing, managing. At Elektra and CBS Records, he worked in A&R, publicity, marketing, designing album covers and, in one instance, a special bio for Pink Floyd; he was the only person in the company the group would speak to directly. Writing in Cash Box Magazine, he predicted the success of Elton John, Santana, Roxy Music, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie, among others. He wrote and field produced a ground-breaking segment for “John Chancellor’s Nightly News” on Elton John.

Mr. Lustbader has served on the Board of Trustees, the Executive Committee, and was Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee of the City & Country School in Greenwich Village. He is a founding member of the International Thriller Writers. In his spare time, he tends the 20 species of Japanese maples on his property. He loves his wife, editor and author, Victoria, his god-children, and traveling, in that order.  Though we have only read one of his books so far, we have high hopes for many more and to that end, we are absolutely thrilled to present Eric Van Lustbader as our latest Mover and Shaker.  Peachy Deegan interviewed Eric for Whom You Know.

What is your first writing memory?
I wrote a poem about a friendly brontosaurus when I was seven.

What were your favorite books growing up and what did you like about them?
I loved Babar, the Elephant, but then I’ve always loved animals.
I was, and still am, a voracious reader. Early on, I tended toward science fiction/fantasy and novels of intrigue. Anything by Raymond Chandler, for instance, because, first and foremost, I love writing that envelopes you in time and place, books that you can sink into, forget the world around you. Become someone else. The novels of Elleston Trevor writing as Adam Hall were my favorite spy novels, SevenEves by Neal Stephenson, is my favorite sf novel and Neverness, by David Zindell, is my favorite fantasy book.

What other writers do you admire and why?
I was always a misfit (perhaps because of my dyslexia), a loner, an outsider. But I never really understood myself until I read The Outsider, by Colin Wilson, a writer and philosopher, who accurately described my outlook on life. I wish I had been able to meet him. Elleston Trevor is another writer I would have loved to meet. He signed one of his books to me shortly before his death, and I treasure it now. I am, frankly, astonished by pretty much everything that Neal Stephenson writes. His grasp of the sciences and history are staggering. Roberto Bolaño, whose prose comes closest to poetry. Amitav Ghosh, John Le Carré, for their use of language, Phillip Kerr, the honest-to-goodness heir to Raymond Chandler, and Salman Rushdie for teaching me about the histories of India and Pakistan.

What are your favorite grammar rules and why?
It vexes me no end that the rules governing the apostrophe (a wonderful and necessary part of written English) have been systematically ignored and abused. Few, it seems, seem to understand what it is and what it’s used for, or even care. I fear it may be becoming as vestigial as an appendix in our post-modern, multi-tasking, shortcut-crazy world. Perhaps I’ll create an emoji for the apostrophe.

What are your favorite words and why?
Polymath, because I am one.
Autodidact, because one of my writing and philosophy heroes, Colin Wilson, was one.

Have you lived in Manhattan for your entire life and if so why and if not where else have you lived?
I was born and raised in Greenwich Village. I went to a private elementary school, City & Country, which was a short walk from our apartment (such as it was) on Bank St. My wife and I moved out of the city when we built a house in Southampton thirty-five years ago. But we’re both still inveterate Manhattanites.

What sparked your interest in trees and are your trees in Manhattan?
My trees are in Southampton; there’s no space for them in Manhattan. I fell in love with Japanese maples in the same way I fell in love with Japanese wood-block prints.

How were you chosen to pen the Bourne novels; was there a formal selection process?
I met Robert Ludlum, the creator of Jason Bourne, in 1980, the year that The Bourne Identity and my novel The Ninja were both on the NY Times Bestseller list. Ludlum had read The Ninja, loved it, and wanted to meet me. This was easily done, since we shared the same agent. From the first, we got on swimmingly, and became, if not best friends, then congenial colleagues, of which he had very few. After he died, the executor of his estate, whom I knew, contacted me and asked me to take up the Bourne baton. That’s as formal as the selection process ever got.

What is the difference between a successful writer and one who is not?
You have to be born with the talent, first of all. You have to be lucky, second of all; timing is almost everything. You have to have an excellent agent in your corner, third of all.

What do you think makes you a great writer?
I was born wanting to read and write. I started writing poems and then short stories the moment I learned how to write. There is an endless river inside me that flows out of me almost without my own volition. This talent, plus plenty of perseverance (I’ve gone through some pretty bad times) and a grounded sense of yourself are essential qualities.

What are the essential elements of a successful thriller?
Odd to say, but in my opinion, you have to start with good, well-rounded characters. Your readers must identify with at least your lead character, as he or she is the one who they will follow through the novel. Without that, you have nothing. Your lead character must be incomplete, must learn to face his or her incompleteness, and most importantly, overcome it. This is what’s called a character arc. If you don’t have character arcs, you have nothing. As for plot, you need to take you reader on what amounts to a roller coaster ride, increasing the tension, then slacking off so the reader can catch his or her breath, then ratcheting up the tension to a higher level.

If you were stranded on a desert island with any 5 fictional characters that came to life at your request who would they be and why and would they all get along with each other as well as you?
Sherlock Holmes, Capt. Nemo, Moby-Dick, Babar, the Elephant King, Lolita. As for getting along with each other, no. It’d be like herding cats. Plus, we’d have to swim out to talk with Moby-Dick. That might be dangerous, what with his infamous temper.

What did you like most about Columbia and what should the world know about it?
Frankly, I liked nothing about my four years at Columbia. I learned more about life and dealing with people, both peers and elders, at City & Country. Columbia was a kind of factory when I was there. It was run in the German manner, where the college itself was an afterthought. All the attention went into the various graduate schools that made up the university. My professors were either incompetent or so harried by the “publish or perish” doctrine of the university they had nothing but contempt for their classes and us students.

What should the world know about Victoria that they might not know yet?
She has a huge heart. As an only child, I was a selfish child. Victoria, and her wondrous mother, who just passed away at the age of 102+, taught me the joys of sharing, of putting other peoples’ interests ahead of your own, and how to see the best in people.

And your godchildren?
Our godchildren are one of the great joys of our life together, but I am not in the business of talking publicly about them, other than to say that they’re all amazing people in their own right and that I’m proud of the fact that Victoria and I have had a profound effect on their lives, that they rely on us, and confide in us in ways they can’t with their parents. 

How did you like being a teacher?
I loved my students; I hated the other teachers. A more nasty, backbiting lot I have yet to encounter.

How did you like being a music executive?
In the beginning it was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. I got into the music business at just the right time, when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were on their upward swings. Everyone rode on instinct, and there was always a buzz in the air, not necessarily drug-fueled. I left to write full time, also at the right moment, when the suits were taking over, the bean counters were determining strict bottom lines. I’m very glad I got out when I did. These days, the music business is a very cold mess. 

Where do you recommend traveling, what do you do when you get there, and during what season do you go?
Well, my wife and I love France, and being in Italy is like dying and going to heaven. Rome has the best food of any city we’ve ever been to. I love the energy of Hong Kong and the ineffable peacefulness of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia and Borobudur, in Java. My favorite island is Bali – but eastern Bali, when the old Bali still abides. But I also love Capri for its hills, pristine waters, and Roman ruins. I love Roman history, and this deepens my love of Capri. One of my great experiences was swimming into the Blue Grotto after all the tourists had left for the day, floating on my back in the otherworldly sapphire light.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
I was born with an inner drive for excellence. My father gave me my solid grounding in right and wrong. Colin Wilson’s books helped me harness that drive as I learned who I really was and why I feel about things as I do.

What are you proudest of and why?
The house and grounds Victoria and I built, a sanctuary of peace and tranquility. But also, using our money to help our godchildren and members of Victoria’s family who were in need, as well as organizations that protect animals who are nearing extinction.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
I would love to write a black comedy, but that is one genre which has so far eluded me.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
I can think of none that would be of interest to your readers.

What one word best describes you and why?
I am the quintessential Capricorn in every sense. Loyalty and perseverance.

What do you take your sense of identity from?
First and foremost, from City & Country, where I learned to be both an independent thinker and how to speak to adults, to stand up for myself when I felt I was right; to be respectful, not intimidated by elders.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
The High Line, for sure. Walking it always feels like coming home.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
I’m an avid chocoholic, so I’d say The Meadow, in the West Village. It carries two of my favorite artisanal chocolate brands, Marou from Vietnam and Fruition from Shokan, NY. For hand-made, in-house chocolates there’s no better than Varsano’s, also in the Village.

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
I’d hire my friend and business partner Michael Schlow, a magnificent chef.

What is your favorite drink?
Day of the Dead: two parts Vago Elote mezcal, one part each of fresh lime juice and fresh grapefruit juice, splash of simple syrup. Rocks. Rim Old Fashioned glass with jalapeño salt.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
Out in SF for the party to kick off the Jefferson Starship’s Grunt label, someone offered me a glass of white wine. I hate white wine, so I declined, but I did take a few tokes from a friend of mine with whom I had spent all afternoon smoking great stuff up on Mt. Tamalpais. Anyway, one minute I was inhaling, the next minute I was on my hands and knees in the midst of a forest of legs. I managed to crawl across the floor to the men’s room, somehow got myself into a cubicle and more or less passed out. When I came to, I staggered back out to the party only to find the place had been invaded with EMT workers taking people out on stretchers. Someone had laced the white wine with acid. There but for the grace of God…

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
It changes, of course. Right now, I’d say Santina, right by the High Line. 

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature?
For some reason unknown to me, there are a ton of overrated books set in Manhattan. The one I like best is The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I would love to be Lana Del Rey for a day. First of all, to be a female would be fascinating. Second of all, to be able to open my mouth and sing like that would be divine.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
The Cloisters. I loved it as a child, I love it today.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
When I was a kid, my dad made me a cool soap box racer. I used to take it to Washington Square Park and partake in races with the Carradine boys.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Hang out with good friends, revisit old haunts in the Village, have drinks at the Pegu Club on Houston, dinner at EN Japanese Brasserie, watch the sun set over the Hudson River.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Queen Elizabeth I, Tudor. She is one of the figures out of history I most admire. She had not only to guide her country through rough political and economic waters but she was also beset on all sides by religious strife – Catholic assassins out to murder her. As a result her had developed the first real secret service agency.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
My wife and I met a great teacher and artist John Zinsser when we took his Art History course at the New School. Any time John takes us around a museum of art gallery is a fantastic learning experience. Because I was in the music business for a decade, there are many highlights, including being backstage during the Elton John concert in Madison Square Garden the night John Lennon appeared as Elton’s guest, to settle a bet. Afterward, Elton sat me between him and John at the private party he hosted. A night talking to Lennon, unforgettable. But for all those moments, the one that is closest to my heart is a concert by the Modern Jazz Quartet my aunt took me to in the sculpture garden of the Modern Museum of Art. To this day, I can hear every note the MJQ played as if it were yesterday.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
My novels have helped so many people. Following the publication of Black Heart, which was about the war in Vietnam and Cambodia, I received so many letters (this was before email) from vets (mostly gunship crew members) who said they did not understand why they were in Vietnam until they read my book. In a similar vein, after First Daughter was published I got a slew of emails on my Web site from parents of dyslexic children and adults who had dyslexia thanking me for making dyslexia understandable to them. Jack McClure, the lead character in the five novels is dyslexic, just like me, and the descriptions of how he learned to read, how fast his mind worked, how highly intelligent and yet misunderstood dyslexics are hit home to a great many people. Times like those are when you know you’ve accomplished something important and lasting.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan?
Mast Brothers chocolate is so overrated. As for underrated, Being high up in the Flatiron Building (my publishers have their offices there), looking out at the city, the confluence of avenues that start at 23rd Street, is magical. From that perch I can still see in my mind’s eye the way Manhattan was at the turn of the 19th Century.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite WhomYouKnow​.com​ column and what do you like about it?
Decadent Desserts, what else?

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I am kind, I am lovable. I am highly opinionated, with a keenly developed sense of humor. A sense of humor is essential in a decent human being.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
You can write to me at I am also available on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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