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Interview: March 14, 2003

March 14, 2003

In this interview with's Suspense/Thriller Author Spotlight team (Carol Fitzgerald, Joe Hartlaub, and Wiley Saichek), New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver discusses his writing and research methods (we were intrigued by the outline and development process that takes place before he writes a word of the story), his characters, and his upcoming projects.

BRC: THE VANISHED MAN was noteworthy for a number of reasons, one of them being that Lincoln Rhyme didn't seem to figure as prominently in the story as he has in past novels. Do you have any plans to change Lincoln's situation, or further develop his character, in future novels?

Jeffery Deaver: It's important in a series both to give the readers what they expect and want and yet provide variations to keep the story fresh. While Lincoln Rhyme is, of course, the driving force behind the investigation in THE VANISHED MAN, the Amelia Sachs subplot --- and her relationship with Kara, the young magician --- took more prominence than in the past.

BRC: What was the most interesting thing you learned about magic/illusion/magicians while conducting research for THE VANISHED MAN?

Jeffery Deaver: That it's an extremely difficult art to practice! I tried a few trick myself and found that I'm a complete klutz. One thing that I did find helpful, though, was that much of what I do in my books is identical to what illusionists do: misdirection, that is, leading the audience's attention one way while doing something else out of their range of perception that will ultimately give them a huge shock.

BRC: You introduced Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs in THE BONE COLLECTOR. Did you originally plan to craft a series of novels around him, or did you sense, upon completing THE BONE COLLECTOR, that there were more tales in him?

Jeffery Deaver: No, Lincoln was going to be a one-off novel. But because of the great response around the world to Lincoln and Amelia, I decided it would be good for my fans to keep him around.

BRC: THE EMPTY CHAIR was set in North Carolina, and because of this Lincoln Rhyme often remarked to himself that he felt like a "fish out of water." What made you decide to set this particular novel in North Carolina instead of New York City or upstate New York? Do you have plans for Lincoln and Amelia to do more traveling in future books?

Jeffery Deaver: I picked North Carolina because I wanted a state that was both sophisticated and had a rich culture and yet had a backwoods aspect to it, so that Lincoln would indeed be a fish out of water. Lincoln and Amelia will stick pretty close to New York but may venture out again.

BRC: THE STONE MONKEY dealt heavily with Chinese culture and history. What sparked your interest in China?

Jeffery Deaver: I never have a particular interest in a subject before I conceive of the idea for a book. I look for subjects that I think will interest readers and be appropriate for a thriller. I was aware of illegal immigration and the ruthlessness of the "snakeheads" (human smugglers) from the news. I thought that would give me the chance to write a compelling story set in New York and featuring Lincoln Rhyme.

BRC: You've written about a wide range of topics --- from forensics in the Lincoln Rhyme books to computer hacking in THE BLUE NOWHERE. How much of your time is spent on research for your books? How long does it take you to actually write the book?

Jeffery Deaver: I spend eight months outlining and researching a book before I write a single word of the prose. The outline is usually 150-250 pages long and includes every plot twist, every character, each clue, every subplot resolution and a comprehensive choreography of the ending. Researching and outlining are a full-time job for that eight-month period and, despite the fact I research extensively, I make certain that I only incorporate information in the book that furthers the story; it's a sin for authors to digress from the tale to show off or instruct readers. Once the outline's done, it takes me only two months or so to write the book.

BRC: Speaking of subject matter --- are there any topics you won't write about? Why or why not?

Jeffery Deaver: I won't pick a topic (or write a scene within a book) that would turn readers off --- either because of boredom or a repellent subject matter, such as excessive, gratuitous violence. I write books for my readers' pleasure. Anything that troubles them should come out.

BRC: Many readers have commented about the charts in the books that represent the "evidence" board used in the books. How do YOU keep track of your notes while working? Do you have your own board, or do you use a computer or notepad?

Jeffery Deaver: I create and keep elaborate chronological charts of the clues (both the ones that my characters find and know about during the book and the ones that are sent out for analysis and those that are yet to be discovered). These start out being handwritten then after the book is completely organized and underway I transfer them to a computer, then check them against the final book to make sure I haven't missed anything.

BRC: One of the things fans like best about your books is the interaction between your characters and their individual approaches to solving the crime. Do you have a favorite recurring character? Which, if any, is most like you?

Jeffery Deaver: I have no particular character I like more than any other (among the good guys, I mean). I know Lincoln better than the others because there are more books featuring him and they're more recent. But every time I sit down to write a book I try to get as completely into each character's mind as possible. And, no, I don't write from personal experience; none of the characters are the reflection of me --- except to the extent that all writers' work reflect their experiences.

BRC: Your books have strong women characters, i.e. Rune from her series, Lucy from THE EMPTY CHAIR, Amelia Sachs, and Kara in THE VANISHED MAN. Tell us how you approach creating a strong, believable female character. Is this process something that has gotten easier over your years of writing, or does it remain a challenge?

Jeffery Deaver: One of the most important jobs of any author is to create believable characters and since the best books involve a mix of cultures, sexes and ages, it's necessary for a writer to roll up his or her sleeves and try to become that person, as difficult as it might be sometimes. It involves research and a certain intuitiveness and empathy. It's also one of the most exhilarating things for a writer to explore ---different personalities and cultures --- in creating those characters. I love it.

BRC: Any more books featuring Rune? If yes, when can readers look for them, and if not, why?

Jeffery Deaver: Ah, Rune . . . She's a feisty young woman who lives in Downtown Manhattan. She solves crimes she stumbles across (or that stumble across her). She's a delightful, curious and gritty character (no cozy plots for her)! But the books starring her are nearly twenty years old and they tend to be smaller and lighter; my fans nowadays prefer longer, more complex stories. Though I may have her return at some point in the future.

BRC: Have you created any other characters that you might possibly feature as ongoing protagonists in a new series of novels?

Jeffery Deaver: Possibly. But more likely I will bring back characters in conjunction with the Lincoln Rhyme series (such as a book featuring hostage negotiator Arthur Potter) or create an entirely new series. Most of my existing one-off characters have specialties that wouldn't lend themselves to series.

BRC: Why did you decide to publish the John Pellam books under the byline of "William Jefferies?"

Jeffery Deaver: This was done for contractual reasons. In my "youth" I was writing two books a year and couldn't publish under the "Deaver" name because of my main publishing contract. So I took a pseudonym that echoed my first name. Those books are now available under my real name. (SHALLOW GRAVES, BLOODY RIVER BLUES and HELL'S KITCHEN.)

BRC: You have nestled quite comfortably in the mystery-suspense genre, arguably carving a niche that is all your own. Do you have any intentions of branching out into another genre, or writing another type of book, outside of the genre for which you are best known?

Jeffery Deaver: No, I have no desire to shift gears at all. I love writing thrillers and my fans seem to enjoy what I do --- and I as said earlier, the whole point of this is to give readers what they want. Besides, I feel strongly that no one type of storytelling is better, in any sense, than another; literary fiction, say, isn't superior to thrillers; they each simply serve a different purpose. The criteria for good writing is simply this: has the author told his story in the best way possible to communicate and affect his readers as he or she set out to do?

BRC: How involved are you in the process of making one of your books into a movie?

Jeffery Deaver: I'm not involved at all, nor do I want to be. My love is writing books, which is a full-time job. I don't want to take the time off to adapt one of mine. I also prefer the higher level of control I have in the books, versus films, which are, of course, projects created by committee.

BRC: You are doing a 15-city tour for THE VANISHED MAN. What is your favorite part of these lengthy tours? The worst part? What advice would you give to a novelist about to embark on his/her first major book tour?

Jeffery Deaver: Meeting fans is the best part of the tour. The worst is simply the physical exhaustion from a great deal of travel and long hours. My best advice to an author is to entertain your audiences at readings. Don't stand up and read a long portion of your book; edit your passages or find a short section --- never read for more than ten minutes and make it a bang-up suspenseful or emotional read. Be funny and charming and be sure to share something about yourself. After all, they can read your book; a signing is a chance to get to know you.

BRC: What's next?

Jeffery Deaver: I'm writing a thriller novella called FOREVER for an Evan Hunter anthology and writing my main novel for 2004, a historical thriller that takes place over two days in Berlin in July of 1936, just before the Olympics. It's tentatively called THE CITY OF WHISPERS. Then I'm outlining a Lincoln Rhyme novel for 2005.