Sunday, April 29, 2012

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)

Tell us about your current novel (or project).

VICIOUS is how you could describe Mama's Boy, a serial killer who kept
Seattle in the grip of fear for two years back in the late 90's. He
abducted women right in front of their sons, and later strangled them.
Mama's Boy was never caught, but the killings suddenly stopped in 2001-at
least in the Seattle area. Now it's ten years later, and Susan Blanchette,
a beautiful widow, is taking a weekend getaway in a resort town north of
Seattle with her toddler son and her fiancé, Allen. But something isn't
quite right about the lakeside house they've rented, and Susan discovers
that two women went missing in the area within the last year. Then Allen
vanishes without a trace. But the worst discovery of all may come too late
for Susan: Mama's Boy is back. You can get VICIOUS in May!

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

The working title for my thriller-in-the-works is DISTURBED. It's about a
scandal at a Seattle high school that leads to the suicide of one student
and the firing of a beloved guidance counselor. Molly Dennehy is the
stepmother of a student indirectly involved in that scandal. After the
guidance counselor is slain in what appears to be a hold up, bizarre
occurrences-including a few untimely, gruesome deaths-begin to plague
Molly's neighbors in an isolated suburban cul-de-sac. That's all I'm
saying for now. I don't want to give too much away!

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Having my own hours, not having to go into an office, getting a rush from
something I write-those are some of the perks. The greatest pleasure is
hearing from readers who enjoy my books. It's especially terrific to learn
that I've gotten someone hooked on reading-or when someone tells me that a
character in my fiction really touches a cord with them. But I also love
hearing that one of my books simply kept a reader entertained during a
snowed-in weekend or a long airplane ride.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

The solitude, the deadlines, and the occasional nasty reviews on
(I can have nine glowing reviews, and one lousy review-and I'll obsess over
the lousy one).

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Quit giving huge, million-plus advances to politicians and celebrities for
their ghost-written memoirs, and put that money toward paying the working
writer something resembling a living wage. I know Bestselling authors who
still need other part-time jobs to pay the bills.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in
print again?

Several of Edgar Award winner Margaret Millar's mystery-thrillers are out of
print. Also-J.B. Dickey at Seattle Mystery Bookshop knows I'm from Chicago,
and he was telling me about Max Allen Collins' Nathan Heller books that
blend true events (the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the assassination attempt
on Roosevelt, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and many more) with a
fictional detective from the Windy City. They sound incredible-and right
up my alley. And most of them are out of print.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that

Back in college, I made a goal for myself to get published by the time I was
thirty. I wrote two Hitchcock-rip-off screenplays that never sold, and
about a dozen short stories that no one would publish. I started writing my
first novel, ACTORS, in a creative writing night class. I found an agent
for it, but after two years and one major rewrite, she started to lose her
enthusiasm for the book. By the time my thirtieth birthday rolled around,
only one publishing house, St, Martin's Press, had ACTORS, and they'd
rejected an earlier draft of it a year before. My agent wasn't returning
my calls. Things didn't look very good on my 30th birthday. The following
morning, the phone rang at 7 AM. I thought it was one of my bosses calling
from the east coast (I was working for the railroads at the time). Who
else would call so early in the morning? I let my answering machine pick it
up (this was before the days of Caller ID), and I heard my agent on the
other end, singing Happy Birthday-the way Marilyn sang it to JFK. "For your
birthday," she said. "I'd like to tell you that you sold your book...and
you have, honey. Call me..."

1 comment:

RJR said...

Ed, tell Kevin that Al's books are back from Amazon.