So without Further ado... Welcome Harry!
I'm in purple.Harry's in blue.
You've got a prologue! Cheeky monkey! Wait, I should probably form this as a question. Did anyone try to talk you out of it? I like that you did it, as it allowed us to meet Loogan, your first person narrator, so a person who hasn't read Bad Things Happen isn't surprised after a few chapters from Anthony Lark, our murderer, to come to Loogan's perspective again. I wonder though, if this fell quite naturally, or if you had to wrestle someone, or at least talk them into it?
|Too much of me, and just right Harry and Liz Crowe|
The truth is just the opposite: I had to be talked into adding the prologue. The original draft of the novel began with what’s now chapter 1 -- with the killer, Anthony Lark, in his hotel room. But that meant there were three chapters of Lark before David Loogan entered into the narrative. My editor/publisher, Amy Einhorn, thought that David needed to be there earlier. She thought that if this were the seventh or eighth book in the series, I could get away with having the protagonist show up in chapter 4, but since it’s only the second book it would be better to open with David. I had to admit that made sense, so I tried my hand at an opening chapter that would establish David as the main character and then transition to Lark. The current prologue was my second or third attempt. It serves to reintroduce both David Loogan and Elizabeth Waishkey (the police detective from the first book), and it reveals something about how they became romantically involved. The first book ended with the implication that they were together, but I thought something more needed to be said.
Much of this book is written from the point of view of Anthony Lark, the killer. Did you find any particular challenges in this—in particular in wrestling with how to keep the twisty ending from being revealed because the killer, by definition, sort of knows what's up? And how much research went into his condition?
Anthony Lark is a very disturbed man who’s obsessed with a decades-old crime -- the Great Lakes Bank robbery. Lark is plagued by headaches, and he has a neurological condition called synesthesia, which causes words to take on color and movement in his mind’s eye. So, for example, when he writes down a list of the bank robbers he intends to kill, their names glow red and seem to breathe on the page. Synesthesia is a real condition that I learned about initially from an article in the New York Times a few years back. I filed it away, thinking it would make an interesting character trait. The term synesthesia covers a variety of conditions in which people experience a sort of confusion of the senses -- so that, for example, a piece of music might be experienced both as a series of sounds and as a series of colors. The particular form of synesthesia that affects Lark is based on a common form in which individual letters or numbers are perceived as having color. As for writing scenes from Lark’s point of view, I found that it came to me rather easily. When you have a character like that who’s not in his right mind, you can take him almost anywhere and have him do interesting and unexpected things. Then if you add in the element of violence, you find all sorts of opportunities for dark humor. So those scenes with Lark were some of the most enjoyable to write. And since those scenes were written in the third person, I was able to decide just how much of Lark’s thinking to reveal, and you learn more about his inner life as the story goes on, all without giving away what’s ultimately going to happen.
Elizabeth Waishkey makes a reappearance, and though she isn't physically present for as much of this book, we learn a little of her backstory. Did you have this all worked out for her when you were writing Bad Things Happen? If so, was it hard not to reveal some of it then?
The plot of Bad Things Happen revolves around a series of murders of people associated with a mystery magazine, Gray Streets -- including the murder of the publisher, Tom Kristoll. David develops a friendship with Tom early in the book, and later becomes tangled up in the murder investigation. Elizabeth is the Ann Arbor detective who conducts the official investigation of the murders, and comes into conflict with David (who at a certain point becomes a suspect). In the new book, Very Bad Men, David and Elizabeth take a trip to Michigan’s upper peninsula -- which, as I reveal, is where she grew up. I didn’t have that particular detail in mind when I wrote the first book, and in fact I’m still working out many of the details of Elizabeth’s past, including her relationship with her ex-husband (the father of her daughter, Sarah).
I loved the pieces of Michigan political history you wove in (and the new pieces of geography, too). Were those pieces in your head from the beginning, or did you go looking for things that might fit the story you had? (Like do you have a file somewhere of stuff you think would be cool to weave into books?) Did you make a trip to Sault Sainte Marie?
|See it? Sault Sainte Marie is the dot... (A2 is by Detroit)|
The story of Very Bad Men has to do with buried secrets, so I decided early on that some of the characters in the book would be politicians -- because politicians need to protect their reputations, and can be harmed if secrets about their past are revealed. I should add that the politicians in the book -- a retiring U.S. senator named John Casterbridge, and his potential successor, a charismatic young candidate named Callie Spencer -- are not based on any actual politicians, from Michigan or anywhere else. Given the choice of politics as a milieu, it was natural to work in some details about Michigan’s political and economic situation, especially the high unemployment rate. As for Sault Sainte Marie, my knowledge of the place is admittedly limited. I’ve taken a couple of trips there, one several years ago and another more recently, as I was writing Very Bad Men. The second trip was intended to refresh my memory of the place, but I still wound up taking some liberties with locations and geography. For example, I needed to set a couple of scenes in a cemetery, and the requirements of the plot dictated that it should have a certain layout (it needed to be surrounded by hills on three sides, for example). I could have spent a lot of time scouting locations to find a real cemetery that fit my needs, but at some point you need to get to work writing the book, so I simply invented the setting I needed and dubbed it Whiteleaf Cemetery. I took similar liberties with other bits of geography, and no one has complained yet, although I suppose someone might eventually.
I'm dying of curiosity. Where on the plotter versus pantser spectrum you fall. You READ like things have been very carefully plotted, but, I know there are people who catch a lot of that in the rewrite. So what's your process?
I find that I have to work from a pretty detailed outline. When I wrote Bad Things Happen, I had all the major plot twists worked out in advance, including the ending, before I wrote a single sentence of the book. With Very Bad Men, I was a bit more relaxed about the outline, in the sense that I started writing without a specific ending in mind. But I still had most of the major plot developments worked out in advance, and I kept working on the outline even as I was writing the book, so that I always knew what was going to happen a few chapters ahead. Of course, no matter how detailed an outline you start out with, you always discover new things along the way. Scenes occur to you that seem like they’d be fun to write, and you work them in, or minor characters end up taking on larger roles.
Your career had a lot of years BEFORE first book release, but it seems to have shot into the stratosphere directly once your first book trajectory was set. I'm curious what you think these days about the changing landscape of publishing. Do you think things might have gone on a different path for you if you'd been a year later?
I left a full-time job as an editor in 1999 with the idea of writing a novel, and my first book was published in 2009, ten years later. So it definitely took me a while to get going. I was very fortunate in that Bad Things Happen was well reviewed and sold reasonably well in hardcover, but it wasn’t until the paperback came out that I came anywhere near a bestseller list. Two factors made that happen: first, Stephen King read the book and gave us a quote to use on the cover (spiced up by a bit foul language to demonstrate his enthusiasm), and second, Borders heavily promoted the book in their stores. And given recent developments at Borders, I can say for certain that things would have gone differently if the book had come out a year later. In a real sense, I owe my career to the fact that Borders managed to hold out as long as it did. As for the future of publishing, I won’t venture any predictions. But I will say that I hope independent bookstores (such as Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, which hosted a signing for Very Bad Men) will be able to fill some of the void left by Borders’ disappearance.
For those of us who fantasize that OUR first book will be a NYT bestseller, how has this book release differed from the last for you?
I’m very happy with the reception that Very Bad Men has gotten, and my publisher has been very supportive. They sent me on a book tour that covered eight cities, even though book tours are becoming rarer these days. I did more radio and print interviews this time than the first time around. But it’s also true that traditional media outlets are devoting less space to book reviews than they have in the past, so even achieving a measure of success with a debut book is no guarantee that subsequent books will get the same kind of coverage. I’m very lucky that my publisher’s publicity people have worked hard to get the new book noticed, and I’ve got no complaints.
Is there a third book in the series in the works? When can we expect it?
Definitely. I’ve signed a contract for at least two more books in the series, so you’ll be hearing more about David Loogan and Elizabeth Waishkey. I’m working on the third one now, and it involves the murder of an intern at Gray Streets magazine. It’s scheduled to come out in the summer of 2013.
Thank you so much, Harry! You were fabulous!!!