New Books: Terrified by Kevin O'Brien
Tell us about TERRIFIED. Kevin O'Brien:
In TERRIFIED, Lisa Swan fakes her own death and disappears to escape from her abusive husband, Glenn, a Chicago surgeon. Lisa moves to Seattle, changes her identity and soon discovers she’s pregnant with Glenn’s child. Meanwhile, Chicago-area police believe the body parts discovered in various garbage bags scattered along the North Shore are Lisa’s remains, and Glenn is arrested for her murder. Lisa fears Glenn will be as abusive a father as he was a husband. So she remains in Seattle, and raises their child, Josh, on her own. But she’s constantly looking over her shoulder, worried someone might discover her true identity.Adding to her anxiety is a rash of “garbage bag” killings in the Seattle area—similar to the case in Chicago. After fifteen years, DNA testing clears Glenn of Lisa’s murder and he’s released from jail. That’s when Lisa begins to receive cryptic emails and mysterious phone calls.Someone is following Josh around at his high school. Then the unthinkable happens. Josh is abducted. I won’t say any more, except that’s just the first half of the book!
Can you describe your writing process? For instance, how did the core idea for TERRIFED come about?
John Scognamiglio, my editor at Kensington Books, sometimes emails me ideas. He threw one my way about two years ago: “How about if you tried a new twist to the SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY story?” We bounced ideas back and forth for a while, and then he left me alone.At this point, I did what I usually do with a book idea—lots and lots of stream of conscious note-taking. I work out the characters and their histories—to account for how they’ll act and react in the situation I’m creating. After a few weeks of writing random notes and character biographies, I start to write an outline—which reads very much like a condensed novel. With dialogue, description, cliff-hanger section breaks, and the works, I try to make my outline as entertaining and compelling as possible. This is what my editor reads before he approves the book—and more importantly, before he gives the green light for my paycheck! The outline for TERRIFIED was about 90 pages. With such a thorough, detailed outline, my editor can work out any kinks he sees in the plot or characters. He can also get the ball rolling for cover art, cover copy and promotion while I write the book. By the time he gets the finished book, there are no surprises, and he usually asks for only a couple of minor changes. It’s kind of a unique author-editor relationship, but it really works for us.
What is your work day like?
Well, Ed, it depends on how far along I am in a book. If I’m in the phase in which I’m taking notes, researching, and working toward an outline, I’ll give priority to answering email and fan mail, and wait for the muse to inspire me. I’ll stay up late jotting notes. There’s less structure to my life during this period. When I’m writing the book, and the deadline is looming, I get more structured and disciplined. As the deadline gets closer, it’s like finals week in school. I live, eat, and breathe the book. I’m a hard-typist (from starting out on a manual typewriter); so my fingers will get sore. I’ll keep an ice-pack by the keyboard for during the lulls. I get less and less sleep. My social life suffers and chores get postponed. I remember asking Stephanie Kallos what she planned to do once she delivered her book. “I’m dying to clean out my closet,” she admitted. That’s exactly what I always end up doing the day after I deliver a manuscript. It’s my way of getting my life back in order. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. I’m getting paid to do something I love.
There is always disagreement among writers about outlining. Some do, some don’t. How about you?
Oh, I’m an outline believer, for sure. As I said earlier, my outlines are epic. Plus, during that deadline-pressure phase of writing, it’s so great to have a detailed blueprint from which I can work. How many thrillers seem to fall apart near the end? I think that’s because those authors didn’t have an outline—and perhaps meeting a deadline forced them to wrap it up too soon.
What do you find the most difficult aspect of writing?
The solitude. Writing can be a very lonely profession, but it’s necessary. You have to cut yourself off from everything to get into that writing space. I recall an interview with Jamie Ford in which he said, “Most of us write alone in our own little sequestered spots—like the Unabomber.” The other thing that’s tough for me as a writer is the uncertainty. Every time I finish a new book, I’m convinced it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written. I have to distance myself from the material and see several glowing reviews before I feel the book is any good.
What turned you to suspense fiction as a writer?
It took a while to find a publisher for my first two novels (both mainstream fiction, ACTORS in 1986 and ONLY SON in 1996). So in 1999, my agent suggested I try my hand at a thriller. She said books in that genre were easier to sell—and in high demand. I didn’t take much convincing.I’ve always been a fan of Hitchcock and thrillers. So—I started writing what was to become THE NEXT TO DIE (2001). True to form, when I finished the manuscript, I was convinced it wasn’t very good. Fortunately, my editor, John, didn’t agree. The book hit the USA TodayBestseller list. So I’d found my calling. And I’m now hard at work on my twelfth thriller.
-----------------Pro-File Kevin O'Brien (from 2011)