By Jeremy Burns
Jeffrey Deaver is a thriller writer who needs no introduction. The author of 33 novels and three collections of short stories has won or been shortlisted for almost every crime or thriller award a novelist can vie for, including CWA’s Steel Dagger Award and ITW’s Novel of the Year Award. His books have been made into feature films and HBO specials, he was selected to write CARTE BLANCHE – the #1 internationally best-selling James Bond continuation novel – and he has been a perennial mainstay on best-seller lists in many of the 150 countries his books are sold in. But like the plot of one of his novels, just when you think he’s done everything, he throws a killer twist at his fans in the form of his new book, THE OCTOBER LIST. Mr. Deaver sat down with THE BIG THRILL to give readers a glimpse behind the curtain of this modern master of suspense.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a former folk-singer, journalist and lawyer and have been a full-time novelist now for 25 years. I’ve written 33 novels and three collections of short stories.
Tell us about your new thriller, THE OCTOBER LIST.
A typical thriller of mine falls into a certain pattern: They all take place over a short time period, move very quickly and feature many reversals and plot shifts as the story moves along. I tell the story from different points of view and with several subplots moving along simultaneously with the main plot. Most important to me is the surprise endings—note: that’s plural. I like multiple surprise endings, one right after another.
THE OCTOBER LIST does the same—except it moves backward. It opens Sunday night and then goes back in time to Friday morning. In effect, I wanted to create a book with a surprise beginning, not a surprise ending (though it turns out that the ending is a surprise too!).
What was your initial inspiration for THE OCTOBER LIST? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
I was inspired after hearing an interview with Stephen Sondheim, the great musical theater songwriter and playwright. He was discussing MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, a play that began at the end and went backward in time.
As a so-called “thriller told in reverse,” what challenges did you encounter in writing this book?
First, I had to maintain suspense. I needed to keep a certain level of mystery throughout—even though it appears we know the ending. Second, I had to play fair. I couldn’t really describe a character who’s been in the story since Friday morning the way he or she would be introduced in a forward-moving novel. Finally, since the story is a bit more challenging I had to make sure to continually remind readers where we were with the story, who was who, and what had happened in the previous pages.
Another interesting aspect of the novel is that I include original images of mine; I’ve been a photographer for many years and, since that’s the vocation of my main characters, I decided to begin each chapter with either a street shot or a studio picture. These are used either as illustrations or to give clues about what’s really going on in the story.
What are some of the ways you’ve conducted research for this novel? Any interesting stories there?
There wasn’t much research for this novel, unlike my Lincoln Rhyme books, which are filled with much technical detail. The emphasis in THE OCTOBER LIST was character and plot, rather than detail, other than trying to capture the richness of New York City, where the book is set.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in THE OCTOBER LIST do you most identify?
I put none of myself into any of my books (except to the extent that a writer always brings some life experience to all characters). My job is to be detached.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
The villain, Joseph. He’s particularly cold, calculating and has a weird little laugh (Heath Ledger in the Batman movie not long ago). Villains are always the most fun to write!
When sitting down to write a new book, how much of an outline or plan do you usually create before launching into the first draft?
I do eight solid months of outlining and research before I write a single word of the prose. You need to know where you’re going before you start your journey. You’ll never have writer’s block if you plan out the plot ahead of time. And you’ll also know in the early stage that a book is not going to work. Much easier to throw out a thirty page outline than 300 pages of prose.
Other than THE OCTOBER LIST, what is your favorite book you’ve written? Why?
My favorite is GARDEN OF BEASTS, my historical thriller, set in Berlin in 1936. Not only is it filled with good surprises and twists, but it deals with an important topic: institutionalized evil (the Nazis, in that case, but it can be read in a broader sense—think, al-Qaeda, Pol Pot, Stalin, etc.).
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
Probably THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH, by Saul Bellow. It’s one of the essential books about America in the mid twentieth century, which is when I grew up.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
Italy. Because of the friendly people, the food, the casual attitude about life, but mostly because they are passionate about books.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
It’s a constant intellectual puzzle. You’ll never be bored if you’re a writer (frustrated sometimes, yes, but that’s much, much better than boredom!).
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you or your writing process?
I’m actually not as scary as people think. My presentations are more stand-up comedy routines than readings of frightening passages. Some readers wish I were personally more gothic.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors who look up to you?
Write the sort of book you enjoy reading, plan the story out ahead of time, and always remember: if you want to be a professional writer, you create books for the readers, not for yourself. Ask yourself on every page, does this passage reward the person who will buy my book?
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
I’m writing a sequel to THE BONE COLLECTOR right now (called THE SKIN COLLECTOR). And if readers want details on my tour schedules they can go to my website.
A tremendous thank you to Mr. Deaver for stopping by and letting readers get a glimpse into his world. Even if you’re a seasoned thriller reader who prides yourself on being able to sniff out a plot twist a mile away, chances are THE OCTOBER LIST will still throw you for a loop (or three). If you’re already a Deaver fan, you probably have his latest thriller pre-ordered. If you haven’t yet read anything by him, there’s never been a better time to start. Check out THE OCTOBER LIST today.
“Thriller Award-winner Deaver (Edge) delivers a clever, demanding stand-alone…As the ingenious plot folds back on itself, the reader has to reevaluate and reinterpret the constantly shifting “facts” in the case. The finished picture finally emerges with a shock of recognition. This is brilliant craftsmanship in a vastly entertaining package.”–PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Perhaps the cleverest of all Deaver’s exceptionally clever thrillers. If you’ve ever wished you could take the film Memento to the beach, here’s your chance.”–KIRKUS
Jeffery Deaver is the author of 32 novels and three collections of short stories. He’s an internationally number one best-selling author and has received the ITW novel of the year award, the Ellery Queen Readers award for best short story, a Nero Wolf award and has seven Edgar nominations.
To learn more, please visit his website.