Between the Lines Interview with Iris Johansen by Brett King

By Brett King

Eve.

If you are among the legion of fans dedicated to Iris Johansen’s #1 NEW YORK TIMES best-selling thrillers, you know exactly who I’m talking about. Since her debut in the 1998 novel THE FACE OF DECEPTION, Eve Duncan has emerged as one of the most beloved protagonists in contemporary crime fiction. Rising above a hardscrabble childhood, Eve is a survivor who has overcome heartbreaking challenges including the tragic abduction and murder of her seven-year-old daughter, Bonnie. Time after time, Eve has overcome adversity to become one of the world’s leading forensic sculptors, a profession that allows her to offer emotional and psychological closure to parents struggling with the loss of a child.

Iris Johansen found remarkable success writing romance novels in the 1980s before shifting to crime fiction in 1996 with the publication of THE UGLY DUCKLING. THE NEW YORK POST has described her storytelling as “[t]horoughly gripping and with a number of shocking plot twists” and BOOKLIST has praised her “knack for delivering robust action and commanding characters.”In 2011, Iris released a spellbinding trilogy composed of EVE, QUINN, and BONNIE. The bestselling books gave insights into Eve’s background and shed new light into Bonnie’s disappearance. This year, she is again treating her fans to three new interconnected thrillers featuring Eve Duncan, starting with TAKING EVE on April 17, followed by HUNTING EVE on July 16, and concluding with SILENCING EVE on October 15. In her groundbreaking new trilogy, Iris promises to “take [Eve] places we’ve never seen her go before.”

In the first installment, Jim Doane is coming to grips with the loss of his son and he is searching for answers to many of the same questions that have haunted Eve and her clients over the years. He needs Eve’s skill to find answers about his son and he’ll take any risk to make it happen, even if it means TAKING EVE. In the subsequent books, Eve must battle the man who has taken her prisoner while confronting secrets from her past. In her inimitable style, Iris Johansen has created a riveting storyline driven by stakes that escalate with each book, culminating with a shocking conclusion in the final book.

St. Martin’s Press is showcasing the new Eve Duncan trilogy with covers designed by Senior Art Director Rob Grom. His compelling jackets bring to life Iris’ powerhouse storytelling. Taking time out of her busy schedule, Iris shared insights with me about the first book in the new trilogy. As an added bonus, I also had a chance to visit with Rob Grom about his cover design for her books.

Iris, TAKING EVE is the first book in your current trilogy, followed by HUNTING EVE and SILENCING EVE. What challenges have you encountered in writing trilogies?

The first challenge is always to tell a good story and furnish threads from book to book that will eventually form a tapestry. The second challenge is the back history I have to put in each book that will keep the reader up to date and not leave a new reader in the dark. In a trilogy as complicated as mine that can be difficult to keep seamless.

As dedicated fans of your work know, Eve Duncan is one of the world’s foremost forensic sculptors. Her daughter, Bonnie, was taken from her when the girl was age seven. How has the loss of her child enhanced Eve’s forensic work?

The loss of her daughter was the sole reason for Eve becoming a forensic sculptor. It increased her sensitivity to the problem and also gave her an obsessive need to help the grieving parents of those children who have been lost and thrown away.

Eve is a survivor with a powerful sense of compassion, trust, and intuition. Now that the mystery surrounding Bonnie’s abduction has been solved, how has it changed Eve’s perspective on the world?

The compassion, trust, and intuition are still in full force in Eve. The difference is that the torment of uncertainty that surrounded her search for Bonnie has been eased. She will always have sympathy toward the other parents who have lost their children.

When you introduce Jim Doane, the principal antagonist, you portray him as a good role model for his next-door neighbor’s son. Doane shows some disturbing and suitably creepy behaviors but, from time to time, you enhance his character with redeeming, even sympathetic traits. What was your biggest challenge in writing Jim Doane?

The challenge in creating Jim Doane was to make him three dimensional while still maintaining his mystery and not reveal the depths of his character.

You did an outstanding job highlighting the psychological differences and similarities in the way Eve and Doane approach the loss of their respective children. They share several powerful moments where you really inflame the tension between the two characters. After Doane tries to manipulate Eve, what does that experience reveal to her? What does she learn about herself that she didn’t know before her time with him?

Eve knows herself very well. She’s learned the hard way to look at her life with clarity and realize that others may look at life differently. Her contrast to Doane is tense but she has a cynical streak that will not allow her not to look below the surface.

Iris, can you share any writing techniques that you use for drawing readers into a scene?

I write instinctively and I let the character develop their own personality through dialogue. I have a vague idea where I want to go with a character but they sometimes surprise me.

Margaret Douglas plays a critical role in TAKING EVE. She’s a fascinating figure who is highly perceptive about humans and animals. I had the sense that you really enjoyed writing for her! Did someone serve as the inspiration for her character?

I had a wonderful time with Margaret Douglas. She’s not only perceptive, but she is optimistic and she shines. I had no outside inspiration for Margaret. She just appeared and I ran with her.

Any chance we’ll see Margaret play a bigger role in future books beyond the current trilogy?

There is a very good chance of Margaret appearing again, perhaps in a starring role. She is just too interesting to let her disappear.

When you introduce a new character, what do you do to bring alive that person in the minds of your readers? What is most critical aspect of developing a character?

The most critical aspect of developing a character is to know their motivations and letting them show it to the reader through dialogue. If they do the work, the character comes alive.

Eve contemplates her beliefs about “things that go bump in the night.” What are your thoughts about paranormal psychology and supernatural phenomena?

I believe that all things are possible in the paranormal and supernatural field. We’ve all experienced minor or major events that make us take a look at things that go bump in the night.

In the concluding pages of TAKING EVE, Eve faces a dramatic revelation that could have a major impact on her life. It all makes for a powerful and gripping conclusion. Did that revelation evolve as you wrote the book or was it already present in your preliminary outline?

I don’t always know where I’m going in any given book, but this time I did realize what was going to happen in that last scene. As far as the rest of the book…it wrote itself. The scantiest of outlines.

The issue of trust—or the absence of it—forms the bedrock for some character dynamics in TAKING EVE. Margaret Douglas doesn’t trust Seth Caleb. Jim Doane doesn’t trust Terence Blick. Joe Quinn doesn’t trust Venable. And Eve’s adopted daughter, Jane MacGuire, doesn’t trust a lot of people. Will the issue of trust also play a role in the next two books?

Trust or the lack of it will be a major player in the next two books. Adventure and emotion will dominate, of course, along with a detective story woven into the mix.

You create vivid physical descriptions of your characters. What advice would you share with aspiring authors about finding compelling ways to describe people and settings?

I rely on character and personality to be the guiding stars in any description. I don’t go into great physical detail but try to leave it to the reader’s imagination. Settings are the same. If you need a setting for choreography of an action scene, you have to have detail. Otherwise emotional or intellectual response to a setting works better for me.

How has your writing strategy or process evolved during the course of your career?

It’s remained the same through my career. My goal has always been to tell a great story and do it with dialogue and emotion.

Can you share any thoughts or hints about HUNTING EVE, the next book in the trilogy?

I loved writing HUNTING EVE. Eve continues to grow and change through hardship. The people who love her are determined and clever. The story is suspenseful and kept twisting and surprising me.

The matching cover art for TAKING EVE, HUNTING EVE, and SILENCING EVE is complementary and compelling. Did you have any input into the design?

No, my publisher has a brilliant art department and I leave them to do what they do best. I believe the cover art for this trilogy is positively riveting and I couldn’t be happier.

On that topic, Rob, here’s a question for you.What was your inspiration for creating a single image to span the covers of TAKING EVE, HUNTING EVE, and SILENCING EVE?

I’ve always wanted to create a series of books that connected together.I had designed a number of trilogies for crossword and Sudoku puzzle books and I felt that I could take it one step further.

Rob, can you share insights into your creative process? What was involved in designing the latest trilogy for Iris?

First I had a thumbnail sketch of a reclined woman with different objects, such as a knife and a gun. This was just a pencil sketch. I then composited images of a woman with everything I was looking for: the type of boots, weapons, clothing, face, and hair. The rough digital sketch was basically a Frankenstein image put together from multiple sources.

Once I had this idea laid-out, I adjusted the colors and tones and split the image onto three separate covers. I designed the title type in a way that would reflect not only the object that the woman possesses,but also the context of the title. For example, on Hunting Eve, the “V”has a crosshair superimposed on it while the photographic image has a gun in hand.

At this stage I had shown the covers at a jacket meeting with the editor, publisher, and marketer and they all loved the concept. Next, I researched a photographer that could execute this concept in the way I envisioned. I had come across a photographer named Shuhui Yang featured in a commercial photography book. I contacted her and gave a description of the books as well as the character, Eve. She had emailed me a selection of models, clothing, and hairstyles. Once I had all these in hand, I presented them to the editor and together we came to an agreement of what to go with.

At the photo shoot, I directed the photographer along with her stylists and assistants to execute the job. We had many different variations, hand and leg positioning, lighting as well as facial expressions. I then received all the shots from the shoot and picked out the best photos. I communicated with the photographer and she did all the fine-detailed photo retouching. When I received the final photograph, I applied the type on the image and fine tuned every other detail.

What helps you to capture the psychology or mood of a book?

After I designed Iris Johansen’s first trilogy: Eve, Quinn, and Bonnie, I realized that her covers could be darker and more sophisticated looking. I felt that with TAKING EVE, HUNTING EVE, and SILENCING EVE, the title had to correlate directly to the image.

The elements had to be focused as well as expressive. TAKING EVE has a knife and boots, which would suggest running and survival. Hunting Eve has a gun being raised, which would mean there is trouble around the corner. On SILENCING EVE, we see her upper-body, her head is turned to the viewer and she puts her index finger to her lips to suggest to keep quiet. When you see the complete image of her lying on the ground, it looks like she is hiding after being chased. In other words, she looks ready for conflict, yet vulnerable to her enemies.

What are challenges that you face when designing a book jacket?

The greatest challenge with design is making an idea fresh again. So many great designs have been executed throughout the years, it’s difficult to get beyond what has already been done. However, there are always new approaches to the same ideas and every designer has the ability to translate anyone’s concept using their own voice.That’s what makes each book jacket distinct to the designer and every design problem can have a plethora of visual solutions.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect to designing the jacket is the multiple voices that are involved with approving the art. Subjective opinions in conference rooms and author’s homes often dilute our obvious goal: selling the book. In other words, a book needs to look great enough to make a person want to purchase it.

With any packaging of a product, both the designer and the client must understand that the content of the product is the most important aspect for longstanding, consistent sales. As long as I stand behind the product, I will create a design that we can all stand behind.

Thanks, Iris and Rob! It was terrific visiting with you both.

Brett King

Brett King is an award-winning professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. His debut novel, THE RADIX, was described by New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver as “A topnotch thriller! Part DA VINCI CODE, part 24, THE RADIX is roller-coaster storytelling at its best.” The second book in his series, THE FALSE DOOR, will be published in December 2013 by Thomas & Mercer. King recently completed two novellas and is currently writing his third novel.

To learn more about Brett’s work, please visit his website and his author page on Facebook.
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