William F. Buckley Jr., The Art of Fiction No. 146

Sam Vaughn, The Paris Review, Summer 1996.



One of the questions about your novels is how much is true, and how much is invented.


Well, I poach on history to the extent that I can. For instance, when I was in the CIA it was reported to me that the evidence was overwhelming that the destruction of Constantin Oumansky’s airplane—he was the Soviet ambassador to Mexico—was an act of terrorism, executed by Stalin. Stalin was killing people capriciously anyway in those days, so it was inherently believable. On the other hand, as I remember, Oumansky lived for a few hours after the plane came down, so the explosion wasn’t very efficient. Thus there’s a school of thought that sees it as a genuine accident. But for a novel I don’t trouble myself about matters of that kind. That is to say, if something was in fact a coincidence, but might have been an act of treachery, I don’t hesitate to decide which is more convenient for the purpose of the narrative. The books are, after all, introduced as works of fiction. Everybody knows that Charles de Gaulle is going to survive the OAS, and everybody knows that Kennedy is not going to survive the twenty-second of November 1963, and everybody knows that the Berlin Wall is going to rise. Even so, I attempt to create suspense around such episodes. And manifestly succeed. The books get heavy criticism, positive and negative, but no one says, Why read a book in which you know what’s going to happen?

The Paris Review