Ritual question to start my interviews, can you define you in three words, just three?
Husband. Writer. Cat-lover. (Did I cheat? Is that four?)
I discover you tardily with this novel, The Bone House. For those like me, how would you describe your writing career?
Don’t worry, I write my books carefully so that new readers can dive into any of my books. They don’t have to start at the beginning. The Bone House is also a stand-alone, so it’s a great way to discover my style.
I like to write books where the twists keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next — all the way to the shocking conclusion. I think that’s why I’m often compared to Harlan Coben, who is such a master of twists. One reader wrote to tell me she needed to take “illicit bathroom breaks” at work to get in another chapter. I love that!
So I want to write books that you can’t put down — but I also want the characters to linger in your mind when you’re done. I write drama that emerges out of the secrets and the backgrounds of real people. I don’t write about super-heroes or super-villains. I want you to see yourself in every book.
What are the qualities of a good psychological thriller, according to you?
It may sound strange, but I think a great thriller is emotional. For example, why is pace important? Because it creates excitement and fear, two emotions that make you feel alive. I also think you can’t care about a thriller if you don’t care about the characters, both good and bad. Many times, I have tears running down my face when I’m writing certain chapters, because I’m so intimately connected to the characters and what is happening to them. I want my readers to share that connection.
So the best thriller should be like a theme park roller coaster that leaves you breathless and energized — a ride you can’t wait to experience again.
This story is a real puzzle, particularly complex. Did you have all the pieces in mind when you started his writing?
Yes, I usually know how everything is going to end when I start. You’re right, my plots are very complex, with lots of threads that come together. If I didn’t know how everything connected, it would be easy to write myself into a corner.
There are two layers to planning a book. The first is the back story — what actually happened, who did what to whom. The back story usually doesn’t change. On the other hand, the second layer is how I tell that story to the reader, how I reveal the secrets with the most suspense. That can change as I write the novel, because writing is such an organic process. The story and characters take on a life of their own. So I guess I would say I always know where I’m going — but how I get there can change along the way.
Original cover French cover
The presumption of innocence is a bit of a joke in the minds of many people, right?
I think the presumption of innocence is nothing more than a legal device to protect people in court — and it’s necessary because as human beings, we tend to assume the worst about others. We leap to the conclusion that someone is guilty, even if we don’t know the truth. That’s a theme behind The Bone House. Everyone thinks Mark Bradley is guilty of murder, and only his wife believes in him — but even her faith is tested.
You seem to pay much attention to create complex characters, who are not totally black and white, and all have secrets …
Yes, I as I said before, I don’t like super-heroes and super-villains. I like to write about real people. My characters have flaws. They make mistakes. Even the good people don’t always do good things. And you may even shed a tear for some of the characters who do the worst things, when you understand what drew them across some terrible lines.
I want characters to whom readers can relate. I want you to ask yourself: What would I have done in those circumstances? What would I have believed or said? If I write “real” characters, then they are closer to the reader’s heart.
You play with intelligence on the contrast between the stifling climate of Florida and glacial rural area of Wisconsin. The atmosphere of a novel and how to behave in his characters is clearly influenced by where it takes place?
We talk about “place” in thrillers (Nordic noir, for example) more than in many other genres. Great mystery writers are often associated with the cities they write about.
While many of my books — including L’Empreinte du Soupcon — are set in the cold, desolate region of the American Midwest, I also use very hot places like Florida and Las Vegas. The bottom line is: Place defines who we are, and so place is an essential component of my thrillers.
I want the sense of place to be as vivid in my books as any of the characters. My goal is to give readers a “you are there” feel, as if they’ve been dropped into every chapter and can feel, touch, taste, hear, and smell everything happening around them.
Part of the way I do this is by scouting locations the way a film director would. I look for specific, real locales that reinforce the drama of each chapter. So in most of my books, you can go to Google Earth and find the actual place where the drama is happening.
In this novel, we discover an unusual cop, Cab Bolton. Can you tell us a little about him? Will we have the chance to find him in future adventures?
Ah, Cab Bolton. Cab isn’t your typical cop. For one thing, he doesn’t look much like a cop. Imagine a young Peter O’Toole…absolutely amazing blue eyes, spiky blonde hair, skin so perfect you want to know what moisturizer he uses. He’s crazy-tall and wouldn’t be caught dead in anything but an expensive suit. He’s got money, thanks to his Hollywood mother, so he’s a cop not because he HAS to be but because he WANTS to be. He enjoys the game. The challenge. He’s clever, and he’s good at it.
However, Cab may as well wear a sign that says: Does not play well with others. He hates authority. He doesn’t like rules. And for most of his life, he’s been playing a game of hopscotch, jumping from place to place. Other cops call him Catch-a-Cab Bolton, because he always has one foot out of town.
One thing about Cab…he’s genuinely charming. Handsome. Funny. Sharp. He banters with friends and enemies alike. He’s secure about who he is and who he’s not. He takes life seriously and himself not at all. Which makes him impossible not to like.
I wrote The Bone House as a stand-alone, but readers enjoyed Cab so much that they demanded his return! So I have a new book out in the US and UK called Season of Fear that is the second in a new Cab Bolton series.
Hopefully, we will be able to bring it to French readers soon!
Be translated in 46 countries, is quite impressive. Did it give you a different vision of your novelist profession?
Well, I think what it does is shrink the world for you. When you hear from readers in different countries, you realize that people are more alike than they are different. That’s an important lesson to remember. People respond to books as people, with all of the same emotions, likes, and dislikes.
I don’t hear from French, Turkish, Spanish, Italian, or American readers. I simply hear from readers.
This blog is made of words and sounds. How Is music involved in your creative process?
That’s a great question. For me, there is a music to prose. I hear it in my head. I will often edit my writing by narrating the novel aloud to myself. There is a definite musical rhythm to each book.
All of my books are available in English audio editions from a wonderful narrator named Joe Barrett. But I can’t listen to them! I hear the books in a very different way because of that distinctive music, and to hear someone else narrate them… well, it drives me crazy!
I was told that you speak a little French, I leave you the last word in my language, if you like 😉
Ha ha, merci…mais je pense que vous regretterez ce question! J’ecrit et je parle un peu Francais, mais mon grammaire? Terrible! Quand je vais en France, je parle Francais…mais alors, vous parlez un reponse vite vite vite…et je souris et je ne comprends pas! Ha ha, eh bien…je dit simplement: J’aime France et j’aime mes lecteures francaises. Et quand vous lisez mes livres, ecrivez a moi!
Catégories :Interviews littéraires