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Monday, 13 October 2014

Chris Pavone



Interview

Lynne Patrick talks with Chris Pavone


Most writers struggle for years before making the breakthrough into the big time, but Chris Pavone was that rare publishing phenomenon, a genuine overnight success. Then again, he clearly has something special to make critics say things like a propulsive A-train of a thrill ride and a whirlwind story that will keep you up well past your bedtime, and already acclaimed fellow authors describe him as the new best thing (Michael Connelly) and already one of the best in the thriller business (Joseph Finder); and his work as smart, clever suspense, skilfully plotted (John Grisham) and one of the most accomplished debuts of recent years (John Connolly).

Chris had a small advantage over most first-time authors; he had been working in publishing for nearly 20 years. I kicked off by asking him if it had proved useful to know how the system worked, and maybe who were the right people to approach.
 

Chris: Of course! I suspect that book publishing is like any other endeavour, whether documentary filmmaking or nonrepresentational painting or for that matter real-estate development or investment banking: it always helps to know the culture of the business, and the people in it. Conversely, I suspect it’s awfully difficult to break into almost anything as a complete outsider.

Lynne: You’ve worked with books and writers most of your adult life; have you always been a writer at heart? Is that why you chose publishing as a career – to stay close to words and stories?
Chris: Yes, I think so. But for a long time I wanted to write a novel in the same way that many millions of people want to do a dream job: in the abstract, without taking much action to make it a reality.

Lynne: Not many writers are able to give up the day job; for most people the kind of success you’ve achieved takes years of hard graft. You’ve been one of the lucky ones. Has the swift success you’ve achieved with your first two novels allowed you to become a full-time writer?
Chris: There are people who get up every day at 4:00 a.m. and write a thousand words before the rest of their family awakens. Those people are heroic, and I admire them immensely, and I’m afraid I could never be one. My wife was posted overseas, so I was basically obliged to not have a day job for a while, during which I started The Expats. That interlude gave me not only the opportunity to write, but also the material. I was very lucky.

Lynne: What do you get out of writing fiction, apart from the money, of course?
Chris: I love the actual writing. I also love some of the revising—that is, until it gets tedious. I love going out to promote the books, in bookstores and libraries and radio and television, meeting passionate booksellers and readers. I also really, really love not having a day job; I had a lot of them, and I was nearly always dissatisfied. I’m much happier as a writer than I was as an editor. 

Lynne Who do you write for? Who is the reader in your mind when you write a new novel?
Chris: My reader is me! There are a few different genres of books that I really enjoy reading, and in my writing I’m trying to combine all those types of books into one.

Lynne: How do you go about it? Detailed synopsis first? Just plunge in? Do you know how it’s going to end before you begin?
Chris: I’m in the midst of writing my third book, so it’s not as if I have a long-term well-honed process. I’m still figuring that out. But so far, it looks like I (a) plunge in, then (b) write an outline, then (c) push forward while revising the outline, toggling back and forth between re-planning and writing. And I do know how the story is going to end, but then along the way I change my mind, and end it a bit differently, which means going back and changing the beginning, etc. This is why I can’t write a new book every year. My process is not efficient. But I’m working on it.


Lynne:  How does a new book start in your mind?
Chris:   I have a lot of different stories floating around in my imagination, and by the time I decide to turn one into a book, I know a lot about it already.

Lynne:  You must have handled hundreds, if not thousands, of books at various stages of the process. Do you remember the moment when you first held your book, your own book?
Chris:   It was wonderful and terrifying at the same time. There’s a very long moment—a half-year, at least—between the end of an author’s work on the text and the book’s actual publication. During that period there was nothing I could do to make the book any better, and I was essentially just waiting for publication day, for success or failure, I had no idea which was upon me. The waiting was dreadful.

Lynne: Did it feel familiar – or completely different from the manuscript you initially sent out? Did you re-read it?
Chris: I think I read The Expats ten times in process. By the time I held the finished book in my hands, I never wanted to read that goddamned thing again, and I haven’t.

Lynne: What about your characters? Where do they come from? Are they people you know? People you’ve met? Composites? Or pure imagination?
Chris: There are tiny kernels of real people I’ve met in many of my characters, but not more than tiny; the real people are not people I know well, and the fictional characters are not recreations of the real people. The real people are jumping-off points of maybe one percent; the balance is imagination.

Lynne: And what about the victims? Are they your way of dealing with real-life grudges?
Chris: There’s a single phrase in one of my books that’s based on a real-life grudge, but it serves a purpose in the plot. Otherwise, I don’t really think novels are the appropriate place for me to grind personal axes. I have plenty of them, to be sure, but they’re not of any interest to readers.

Lynne: Your books are partly set in Europe, yet you’ve spent most of your life in New York. How do you go about getting the background detail right?
Chris: I lived in Luxembourg for a year and a half, which is where I started writing The Expats, a book that takes place mostly in Luxembourg. Then, when I was touring for The Expats, I spent an unnecessary few days in Zurich, with nothing much to do except walk around and imagine myself disappearing into that clean quiet city, and so that’s what one of my characters does in The Accident. Then just a few months ago, when I was out promoting The Accident, I visited some places I’d never before been—Dublin, Edinburgh, Stockholm—which all appear in my next manuscript . . .

Lynne: I don’t suppose for a moment that you’ve spent much time living in the shadowy underworld of spying which many of your characters inhabit. Do tell if you have access to inside knowledge! Or is it pure imagination?
Chris: Pure imagination, but honestly not that much of it. My books are about characters who find themselves in conflict, not about tradecraft or geopolitics or the intelligence community.

Lynne: Is there anything you wouldn’t write?
Chris: I wouldn’t write most things. I’m a particular reader, and I’m a particular writer. 

Lynne: What’s next? What are you working on at the moment – or are you too busy promoting The Accident to think about the next project?
Chris: I was promoting The Accident for a good half-year, but that ended at just the right moment when I was growing sick of it. I’m now in the late stages of a new manuscript, which with any luck should be published in early 2015. It’s about an accidental spy.

The Accident

As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through explosive revelations about powerful people. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals while always looking over his shoulder.
Over the course of one long, desperate day, these lives will collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies,
placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril . . .

www.chrispavone.com




 

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.









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