Interview: October 31, 2008
October 31, 2008
New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers has written over 50 novels, including TEMPTING FATE, THE WIDOW, THE ANGEL and the newly released COLD PURSUIT.
In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Amie Taylor, Neggers describes how the idea for this latest work arose from the main characters instead of the plot and explains how her atmospheric home in Vermont inspired the story's New England setting. She also discusses how her parents instilled in her both a sense of wanderlust and the need to tell stories, shares her personal writing philosophy and reveals details about her next book, THE MIST, set for publication in June 2009.
Bookreporter.com: Your latest romantic suspense novel, COLD PURSUIT, was hard to put down. The main characters, Jo Harper and Elijah Cameron, were strong and independent people, both able to survive in the world alone but still desirous of a relationship with each other. What inspired you to create these characters?
Carla Neggers: Thanks! Jo and Elijah jumped off the page for me. I just knew these characters from the start --- I could see them, hear them, understand what was going on with them. They weren't elusive at all, as sometimes happen. COLD PURSUIT is a story that arose out of the main characters rather than a specific premise.
BRC: Was there any particular reason you chose Vermont as the setting? Is it a case of writing what you know or just a strong tie to a beautiful part of the country?
CN: I wrote COLD PURSUIT during one of our snowiest winters on record, and for some scenes, I just had to look out the window for inspiration. The northern New England setting with its contrasts is almost a character in itself. Think about the beauty of the mountains after a snowstorm --- and then think of two scared teenagers up there in the cold, on the run from a killer.
BRC: I really liked the fact that both Jo and Elijah had returned home and were surrounded by so many friends and loved ones. Does it ever become difficult to keep track of so many characters?
CN: Every character is so "real" to me that I don't have trouble keeping track. COLD PURSUIT introduces two families --- the Camerons and the Harpers --- as well as the fictional town of Black Falls, Vermont. I hope readers have fun guessing who will appear in upcoming Black Falls books. Stay tuned!
BRC: COLD PURSUIT contains three tried-and-true premises while many books contain only one --- man against man, man against nature, man against himself. Was this a conscious decision when you began writing or just something that evolved as you wove the fabric of the story?
CN: Good observation! I'm such an intuitive writer that I haven't thought of the story in those classic terms, but you're absolutely right. Jo and Elijah go up against killers, the elements and themselves. For me, these multiple conflicts add to the drama and excitement of the story. They certainly kept me typing. I couldn't wait to get to the computer in the morning.
BRC: This is a serious novel with the lives of many people at stake, yet you manage to inject some humor into it as well. Do you enjoy a good prank in real life, such as the one Charlie Neal pulled on Jo?
CN: I'd react just like Jo did if a kid played Charlie's prank on me. The humor in COLD PURSUIT felt natural to me --- not imposed on the characters but arising out of them. Jo and Elijah have known each other since they were tots and have a history that plays out in how they interact. Their attitudes also arise out of the tough jobs they have: Jo as a Secret Service agent, Elijah as a Special Forces soldier. Then there's 16-year-old Charlie Neal and his 180 IQ…and Grit Taylor, Elijah's Navy SEAL friend. You can probably tell I've had a lot of fun with these characters.
BRC: You manage to keep the suspense going throughout the entire novel. What are your secrets to that kind of pacing, which keeps the reader turning pages late into the night?
CN: It helps to have a scary, creepy villain (or two!) and to create a sense of urgency --- will Jo and Elijah find the missing teenagers before the killers do? And questions. Lots of questions. Was Elijah's father murdered? Why? How does his death from hypothermia in the mountains of Vermont relate to the hit-and-run death of an ambassador in Washington, D.C., and his missing stepdaughter? These questions help fuel the action and certainly kept me engaged as I wrote the story.
BRC: You seem to have had a unique childhood, growing up in the country as one of seven children. How do you think this contributed to your imagination and storytelling ability?
CN: I'm third of the seven of us --- four girls and three boys. I had a wonderful childhood in rural west-central Massachusetts. We'd go off in the woods and have adventures, make up adventures. I'd climb a tree with a pad and pen and write, or sit on a rock in the middle of a brook and write. I always loved making up stories.
BRC: I've read that your father was a Dutch sailor and that you like to travel. Do you think you inherited your wanderlust from him?
CN: Oh, yes. My father traveled all over the world as a Dutch merchant marine and served on Allied ships during World War II --- a highly dangerous job. He came to America after the war and met my mother in northern Florida. They packed up the car with my older brother and sister --- I was on the way --- and headed north to the town where my mother still lives. They were home. I grew up listening to his stories about his adventures at sea. Not all happy stories, mind you, but they fired my imagination…and my wanderlust.
BRC: Sailors are known storytellers. Did your father influence you in any way in that arena?
CN: My father was a fabulous storyteller, in part, I think, because he didn't like to hear himself talk. The story itself was the thing. He truly could paint pictures with words about places we'd never seen and people we'd never met. For example, all four of my grandparents died before I was born, and he was able to describe them and their lives so that I felt I knew them.
BRC: To what countries have you traveled, and what locales are among your favorites?
CN: I have so many more places I want to visit. My husband and I love to travel. We spent last Christmas in Ireland, an amazing experience. I'm in love with the little mince pies served at the Park Hotel in Kenmare. Right now we're planning a trip to visit my cousins in Holland next spring…and Australia awaits. I have first cousins in Sydney and Perth I'd love to visit.
BRC: You started writing at a young age. What kind of tales did you spin early on?
CN: Action, adventure, romance, suspense, mystery…and humor. Big surprise, huh? Okay, when I was in high school I wrote a miserable story about a guy in solitary confinement who ended up beating his head against the wall until he died. I decided I like writing stories that are more fun.
BRC: You live in the mountains of Vermont. How do you believe living among nature in that way contributes to your creativity?
CN: I love living in the mountains, but I also love getting to the city --- Boston is "my" city. I notice everything up here on our hill. The sunrise, the woodpecker hacking away at the old maple tree outside my office, the wild turkeys in the yard. It's a wonderful place to write, but I can write anywhere --- such as…um…south Florida in February?!
BRC: As the author of over 50 books, it would seem that you would be writing nonstop. What kind of schedule do you follow for your writing?
CN: I have two mottos. One is from the Tao: Let life ripen and fall, force is not the way at all. The other is one I heard from a friend: Anxiety focuses the mind. They're not as contradictory as you might think. I'm not a regimented writer, but I work hard. I absolutely love it, and I'm fortunate to have such a wonderful publisher in MIRA Books and work with such a gifted editor and agent. I can't imagine having a better job.
BRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?
CN: I'm finishing up THE MIST, which will be available in hardcover in June 2009. It's the third in a series of connected books that started with THE WIDOW and THE ANGEL (due out in paperback in June, too). Next up is COLD RIVER, which returns us to Black Falls, Vermont. I can't wait to dive in!