By Nate Kenyon
Megan is a suburban soccer mom who once upon a time walked on the wild side. Now she’s got two kids, a perfect husband, a picket fence, and a growing sense of dissatisfaction. Ray used to be a talented documentary photographer, but at age forty he finds himself in a dead- end job posing as a paparazzo pandering to celebrity-obsessed rich kids. Jack is a detective who can’t let go of a cold case-a local husband and father disappeared seventeen years ago, and Jack spends the anniversary every year visiting a house frozen in time, the missing man’s family still waiting, his slippers left by the recliner as if he might show up any moment to step into them.
Three people living lives they never wanted, hiding secrets that even those closest to them would never suspect, will find that the past doesn’t recede. Even as the terrible consequences of long-ago events crash together in the present and threaten to ruin lives, they will come to the startling realization that they may not want to forget the past at all. And as each confronts the dark side of the American Dream- the boredom of a nice suburban life, the excitement of temptation, the desperation and hunger that can lurk behind even the prettiest facades- they will discover the hard truth that the line between one kind of life and another can be as whisper-thin as a heartbeat.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Harlan for TheBigThrill:
You’ve been called the “modern master of the hook-and-twist.” Tell us how you construct your intricate plot lines–do you know exactly where you’ll take your characters before you begin to write? Or do your stories unfold for you as you go?
I usually know the beginning and I know the ending. I know very little of what will happen between those two.
In contrast to many of the high body count thrillers, your novels feature ordinary people caught in a sticky web of shadowed pasts and dark secrets. You don’t seem to need the explosions, grisly violence and exotic locales to hook readers. What do you think is the secret of your remarkable success?
I’m all about story. I’m all about narrative drive and making you turn pages. How do you do that? Two ways. One, plot (duh). You can’t cheat or look for shortcuts. The plot has to zing. Two, you have to have characters people care about (duh again) – heart, if you will. You need both. I can write fast, rip-roaring plots, but if you aren’t genuinely moved or made to care, well, what’s the point? I can own the coolest car in the world, but if it doesn’t have gas, it isn’t going anywhere.
Many of your novels seem to have a “ripped from the headlines” feel. Are you inspired by actual events–playing the “what if” game?
I don’t know any writer who doesn’t play “what if.” It is a must. Normally the seed comes from something small in my real life and grows from there. Quick example: A friend told me he was worried about his teenage son and put spyware on his computer. Well, “what if” he saw a message while spying that changed everything he knew about his kid? That was the seed that became HOLD TIGHT.
Apart from your standalone novels, you have a very successful series character in Myron Bolitar. What was the inspiration for him, and do you approach those novels any differently than the others? Do you see an end to the series anytime soon, or will it continue?
I never had an interest in writing a series like, say, Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, where the character never ages or really changes. I wanted it to be more personal. I wanted Myron, Win and the gang to age and change and grow and not just solve a crime. Myron was 27 years old when the first book DEAL BREAKER came out. In LIVE WIRE, the latest, he is in his forties. I like that. I like to think of each book as a chapter in a larger book. Am I done with him? I don’t think so, but I really don’t know for certain. The disadvantage to a series with an aging character and where many books are “personal” is that you can’t (or shouldn’t) write them forever.
You recently released your first young adult title, SHELTER, feature Myron Bolitar’s nephew, Mickey. What made you interested in writing YA fiction? Was it a challenge for you, writing for a younger audience?
I know that we need to label books and yes, teens will, I think, especially relate to SHELTER, but there is very little difference between my so-called adult books and SHELTER. The biggest change is that the lead character is 16 years old, rather than being in his thirties or forties. As for why, when I first met Mickey in LIVE WIRE, I realized that he made more tales to share. I’m always looking for new ways to tell a story in a different way, so I’m pretty fired up about Mickey and the gang. Oh, and Myron is in the series too.
Let’s talk about your newest thriller STAY CLOSE. You weave three people’s stories together to expose some very explosive and dangerous secrets. What was the spark for this story? Was this an easy one to write, or a tough one?
I’ve often written about the man or woman who fought hard to achieve the American dream – spouse, kids, house with picket fence — and then something comes along to threaten it. This time I did the opposite. I started with a woman who had achieved the dream against all odds, but she wonders if it’s worth it. She feels restless and discontent. The dream for her isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, and she yearns for her more decadent past. In fact, all three leads are living lives that maybe they never wanted, all due to a terrible incident seventeen years ago that rises up now and brings them all back together again. I think STAY CLOSE is more nuanced than some of my previous work – and that makes it somehow more compelling.
I understand you’re working on a screenplay for STAY CLOSE with Lawrence Kasdan, one of the most successful screenwriters of the past thirty years. Can you tell us more about that project?
Lawrence Kasdan has written and/or directed EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, BIG CHILL, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, BODY HEAT, I could go on and on. He’s one of my heroes. When I sent him an early draft of STAY CLOSE, he called me right away and suggested that we partner up on it. We are co-writing the screenplay and then Larry will direct. Right now we are about midway through the process and I’m learning a ton. I know it’s a cliché to say that it’s a great relationship and I love working with him – but it is and I do.
The French film TELL NO ONE was a smash hit. But readers have clamored for more movies to be made from your novels, which all seem built for the big screen. You’ve had some close calls with Hollywood before. Has the success of TELL NO ONE opened up more doors–are there other projects in the works other than STAY CLOSE?
There are a plenty of projects somewhat in the works, including a remake of TELL NO ONE directed by Ben Affleck, but until they’re actually on the screen, they aren’t worth discussing.
It’s easy to see what you’ve done right in your career. But what was the worst mistake you made along the way?
I’ve made zero “worst” mistakes because every mistake has brought me here. See what I mean? There is nothing I would take back because, well, it might have led me down another road and then I wouldn’t be where I am now. I was wonderfully naïve when I started out. There was no Amazon rankings or any of that, so I had no idea how small-time I was. I know that everyone tells the new writer to get involved in the business side, but really, try not to. It is far more important to write the next book and make it better than this one than it is to check your Twitter followers or, ugh, “know the market.” And because it took me a longer time to “break out,” I have a far better appreciation for how lucky I am than those who achieve success early. I like that. It makes me work harder.
Harlan is the author of twenty-one previous novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers LIVE WIRE, CAUGHT, LONG LOST, and HOLD TIGHT, as well as PLAY DEAD and the popular Myron Bolitar series. Winner of the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Awards, Coben lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.
To learn more about Harlan, please visit his website.
Photo credit: Claudio Marinesco