Before Jeffery Deaver became one of the most successful writers in the country, he was a journalist, a lawyer—and even a folk singer. But from the time he was in grade school, he knew that he wanted to write fiction. And not just any fiction—commercial, popular fiction. Books that kept readers up all night.
So, some thirty-five years ago, he decided it was time to give it a try. Deaver is the first to admit that his early novels didn’t sell as hoped. But he didn’t give up; he learned from his early work, honed his craft, and worked hard to become a master storyteller.
In the mid-1990s, Deaver released The Bone Collector, which featured quadriplegic protagonist, Lincoln Rhyme. The book has been named one of the best thrillers of all time, and went on to become a feature film starring Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
As for Deaver, today he’s an A-list bestselling author with more than thirty novels to his name, and more literary nominations and awards than you can count.
While many writers might rest on their Lincoln-Rhyme-laurels, Deaver has a broad and impressive body of work. He writes stand alones, short stories, and even penned a James Bond novel, an honor given his love of the iconic character. What’s more, Deaver is an innovator. In The October List, he told a thrilling story—in reverse. In XO, he wrote songs for an album that accompanies the book. And in The Starling Project, he wrote an original audio play. Perhaps publishers should call him Midas—everything he touches seems to turn to gold.
This month, Deaver releases the highly-anticipated SOLITUDE CREEK, the fourth in his acclaimed Kathryn Dance series. The author recently answered some questions for The Big Thrill:
SOLITUDE CREEK is the fourth in the Kathryn Dance series, following the amazing, XO. What’s in store for Dance this time around?
Oh, mayhem, chaos, and terror, of course! In this novel, Kathryn gets busted down to “buck private” for making a serious mistake during an interrogation; she’s relegated to civil work for the CBI, like checking health certificates and bottle deposit receipts. But you can’t keep a strong woman down and she secretly runs an investigation on a villain obsessed with turning people’s panic into a weapon.
Speaking of the panic-inducing villain, a major plot point in SOLITUDE CREEK involves a scene reminiscent of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s famous line from Schenck v. United States, that free speech does not protect someone from shouting fire in a crowded theater. You’re a lawyer—was this an intentional nod to the famous legal principle?
Good question. Yes, it was. My legal background has proven very helpful in writing books—both for the subject matter and for the discipline law teaches, notably organization and research.
You mentioned the CBI, the California Bureau of Investigation, which is an interesting departure from the FBI or more common agencies that appear in thrillers. What made you choose a state agency?
The fact is, the real CBI (now called the Bureau of Investigation) is a bit different from the one employing Kathryn Dance in the novels. The BI has a number of very specialized teams, ranging from, as I say above, fraud in bottle deposits to terrorism and money laundering cases. It consults with local law enforcement agencies and investigates crimes in areas where there are no local cops. Mine has two divisions, criminal and civil, and, when it comes to crimes, investigates what most jurisdictions would call “major cases.”
The book begins, as you note, with Dance suspended from her regular job. What were some of the challenges—or perks—of taking her out of her element?
I have great fun tormenting my heroes! By forcing Kathryn Dance to operate clandestinely, with no weapon, I pushed to the limit of what she could and couldn’t do—both from a personal safety perspective, and as someone who was pushing the moral limits of her job.
Back to your villain. You always have such creative villains. What inspired Antioch March and his love of creating terror by inducing panic in everyday situations?
Thanks! I love my villains. March is both a horrific killer (enjoying watching people destroy themselves in a frenzy of their own panic) and yet someone for whom we feel some sympathy. A typical latch-key kid, he fell into the world of violent video games and was never able to pull himself out. Reality and fantasy are much the same to him.
Lincoln Rhyme made an appearance in Dance’s last book, XO. What was the response from readers? Any other crossovers in Dance or Rhyme’s futures?
Oh, most of my readers love Lincoln and Amelia. They enjoyed the fact that in XO, both Lincoln and Kathryn used their respective skills (forensics and body language) to solve important plot points, while maintaining a friendly rivalry that the other’s expertise is a bit less polished than his or her own.
From bestseller lists to movie adaptations to many acclaimed side projects, including writing an intro for Frankenstein (and even making a cameo in As the World Turns). What possibly is left on your writerly bucket list?
I had fun doing the recent audio play for Audible.com, staring Alfred Molina. Then, before that was the October List, a thriller told in reverse. What I’d like to do next, possibly, is a thriller with an accompanying video, much like I wrote songs for XO. I have an idea for a thriller told in poetry but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. I don’t know how well readers would take to it. But then again that guy named Will Shakespeare managed to pull it off!
After more than thirty novels, countless awards and acclaim, does it ever get boring?
No. I find the process of creating an emotionally engaging story to be exhilarating. Sometimes it’s agonizing and frustrating, but never boring.
As a former journalist and lawyer, how did you transition into writing fiction? What do you think is the appeal for so many former journalists and lawyers to turn to fiction?
I always wanted to write fiction—and commercial, popular fiction. I wasn’t sure whether it would be science fiction, fantasy, or crime, but from the time I was in grade school I knew I would do it. The transition was simply when I was able to make enough writing books to support myself, I left law and devoted myself to fiction. I think the reason so many in those professions write books is that journalism and law require honed communication skills and, in reportage and litigation, at least, a sense of structure and pacing in presenting your story. Also, as I tell my students—you HAVE to get your chops down, meaning complete command of grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Those are prerequisites for a career in law or journalism.
You were a folk singer, why’d you give it up? Music played a big role in XO and the album that accompanied the novel was well received. Any more on music on the horizon for Jeffery Deaver?
There’s a simple answer: I couldn’t sing. I love writing songs but performing . . . oh, well. Maybe in my next life.
Publishing is ever-changing, and the thriller genre has evolved since you started. What are some of your strategies for adapting / weathering the ups and downs? What advice would you give to writers just entering the industry?
My advice in writing fiction is to create living-breathing characters (good and bad) and throw them into conflict every few pages, then resolve that conflict in the end (no ambiguity). Outline your story first (very important) before you write a single word of it. And rewrite as many times as you’re able before submitting the book. Don’t worry about what’s current and target your book to that. The world is always hungry for a good story, whatever genre or theme.
What’s your biggest criticism, if any, of today’s new writers? Biggest compliment?
I must say I don’t see any generational difference in writing from when I began, thirty-five years ago, to now. I’m not a fan of self-publishing because the vetting and editing process is vital to create solid, compelling fiction. But self-publishing hasn’t harmed the general body of writing in any significant way that I can determine.
There’s been a sea change in how books are promoted in light of the rise of the ebook and Internet since you started. Have any of the changes been particularly good or bad in your view?
I do miss the phenomenon of readings in stores; they’re so much more rare now. But in reality the serious promotion has never been in person, but through advertising and public relations via the press. That’s much the same now; only the medium has changed, from pure print and broadcast, shifting to those plus online.
How do you feel about social media?
Very important. I Tweet and have an active Facebook page, as well as a website and e-mail list. You can’t be in any business nowadays (and writing fiction is a business) without exploiting the Internet.
I read that you learned how to craft your bestsellers by learning from the mistakes of your very early books, which you said did not sell very well. What did you learn?
That the story must be structured before you write. I never outlined my early books; as a result they rambled and I missed the opportunity for twists and deflated suspenseful moments.
Do you have any writing rituals—a place, a habit/quirk, etc.—that you could share?
No, I don’t. I write anywhere, anytime (provided it’s relatively free of distraction). I use computers and touch type, usually with my eyes closed or in a dark room, as I picture the scene (and hear the dialogue) in my head.
You’ve said that you go through twenty or more revisions before the editor even sees your manuscript. Given everything else that an author has to do—promotion, tours, research—how do you pace out the writing of each book?
I write one book a year, at the least. About eight months of that is outlining and research and then I spend two months or so banging out the first draft. The other two months are rewriting and editing. I work about eight hours a day, five or six days a week. Writing fiction is a job, like any other.
Any more James Bond books in the works for you? How was it working with someone else’s character (and in this case an icon)?
I loved writing Carte Blanche, my James Bond novel from a few years ago. I probably wouldn’t have done any other character, but I’ve read Bond from the time I was eight and knew the character cold. The Fleming estate and I are on very good terms but I was happy doing just the one.
Your books have been made into several successful movies (and, as noted, you’ve been a Soap star of sorts yourself). Any upcoming adaptations of your novels or short stories in the works (and any possible cameos from you)?
Almost everything I’ve written has been optioned but I don’t believe anything’s in development. I’ve pitched an original TV series—a medium that I’m much more interested in than feature films. (I was a huge fan of Breaking Bad.) But Hollywood is Hollywood. I believe the project gets made when I see it on my DirecTV guide!
Any talk about making The Skin Collector into a sequel to the The Bone Collector movie?
Apparently there are still some legal disputes surrounding some business aspects of The Bone Collector, so sequels are on hold for the time being. Did I mention Hollywood. . . ?
What’s next for Dance?
I have some ideas I’m working on now but nothing specific at this point.
I’m writing my new Rhyme for 2016 at the moment, as for the topic . . . I’ll have to keep you all in suspense!
Jeffery Deaver is the #1 international bestselling author of over thirty novels and three collections of short stories. His books are sold in 150 countries and translated into 25 languages. His first novel featuring Lincoln Rhyme, The Bone Collector, was made into a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. He’s received or been shortlisted for a number of awards around the world. He lives in North Carolina.
To learn more about Jeffery Deaver please visit his website.
Photography Credit: Niko Giovanni Coniglio