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Interview: May 12, 2000

May 12, 2000

Jeffery Deaver is one of our favorite thriller writers. Not only can he quickly tap out nail-biting suspense novels, he is also genuine, sincere, and from all our email exchanges, kindhearted. You might expect a more frightening visage from the creator of such twisted stories as THE BONE COLLECTOR, but you'd be wrong. Recently, Joe Hartlaub,'s Senior Writer and thriller aficionado, had an opportunity to ask Deaver about his new thriller THE EMPTY CHAIR, future movies starring everyone's favorite protagonist Lincoln Rhyme, the honor of receiving the DREAM Award, and much more in our latest interview.

BRC: THE EMPTY CHAIR focuses on not one, but three, scientific areas: medicine; psychology; and entomology, the study of insects. How did you become interested in insects as an underlying plot device for the novel?

JD: In all my books themes such as the insect world serve several purposes. In THE EMPTY CHAIR the creatures provide an eeriness to the story to keep my readers unsettled --- wasps, after all, are used as a weapon on more than one occasion. They also give me a chance to paint a full portrait of Garrett Hanlon, the kidnapper in the story. He's known as the "Insect Boy," who's learned much of what he knows about life and survival from living among his miniature "friends" in the woods and swamp. This knowledge lets him go one-on-one with Lincoln Rhyme and I liked setting the boy and the man --- both scientists in their own right --- up against each other and having them try to outsmart each other. Finally, insects are the ultimate key to the secret of the tragedies occurring in and around Tanner's Corner (though I can't say more, for fear of spoiling the story).

BRC: Vladimir Nabokov also loved the field of entomology. Were you in any way inspired by him or his writings on the subject? If not, what books helped you in your research?

JD: Nabokov was, of course, an inspired scientist as well as a literary giant and --- if I recall --- made a number of important contributions to the subject of entomology. I didn't, in fact, rely on his scientific writing as much as I did off-the-shelf field manuals and entomological textbooks to extract specific details that were helpful in speeding my plots along. Those who've read my books know that nearly every bit of research I include must either advance the story or flesh out a character. This is true of the information about insects.

BRC: Your books are well-known for a number of factors: unexpected plot twists, unique characters, and meticulous research. For THE EMPTY CHAIR did you continue your past practice of doing your own research, or, given the number of scientific disciplines presented, did you have assistance?

JD: I do all my own research --- for the reason suggested in the previous response: Because the research serves the plot, I alone know what details are important. If I were throwing in information solely for atmosphere then someone else could provide me with facts. But I can't separate research from the story. Besides, I have a voracious curiosity and the act of researching is, for me, pure fun.

BRC: THE EMPTY CHAIR moves Lincoln Rhyme from New York City to an extremely rural area of North Carolina. While we don't want to give away any of the plot aspects, did you begin with the idea of moving Rhyme out of New York, and into another locale, or did you find, as your idea developed, that moving him out of New York and into unfamiliar territory provided additional dimensions to your story?

JD: From the very beginning of my outlining I intended to move Lincoln out of familiar environs. One of the themes of the story is that of a fish out of water (as Lincoln repeats to himself several times) and I wanted both Lincoln and Amelia to be challenged by the strange --- and spooky --- geography and life styles of a place as far from New York as I could make it. As you observe, too, the plot of the story depends on the setting being in a place like the fictional Paquenoke County, North Carolina --- but we'll have to let your subscribers find out why this is so.

BRC: THE EMPTY CHAIR touches on a topic I have been interested in for quite some time, that being the lost colony of Roanoke. You present a theory in THE EMPTY CHAIR as to what occurred. Is this theory your own conclusion, based upon your research for THE EMPTY CHAIR?

JD: After considerable reading about the Lost Colony, I must confess that I'm no closer to an answer than anyone else. I lean toward the theory that the settlers died at sea en route to Hatteras or landed there and were killed but that's far from conclusive. Mary Beth's theory in THE EMPTY CHAIR --- the kidnapped victim --- that the colonists traveled west into Albemarle Sound is plausible but not supported by much historic data.

BRC: There has been an incredible amount of progress which has been made in the past five years with respect to the treatment of spinal cord injuries. The treatment contemplated by Lincoln Rhyme in THE EMPTY CHAIR is in fact quite similar to one of many which have recently reached the experimental stage. Do you at some point see Rhyme regaining, at least to some extent, any additional physical functional capacity?

JD: Despite the intense amount of spinal cord research being done around the world, for someone as severely injured as Lincoln Rhyme there seems to be little chance for major improvement in his condition in the near future. It was important to me to make clear to readers that Lincoln's doctor had told him the operation would have no, or at best minuscule, effect and that the criminalist was seeking this treatment in a Quixotic vein. I liked the irony --- and the resulting insights into their characters --- that Lincoln wanted to risk the operation to improve himself for the sake of Amelia, while she harbored a secret desire that he not improve. This is similar to the theme of a short story some of your subscribers might be familiar with --- "The Gift of the Magi," by O. Henry.

BRC: One of the most enjoyable realistic aspects of your Lincoln Rhyme novels for me has been the slowly developing romance between Rhyme and Amelia Sachs. What is striking is the way they slowly dance around their relationship --- complicated not only by Rhyme's physical condition, but also by their working relationship and Sachs' quiet, surprising insecurity. Yet, their mutual feeling for each other is an irresistible force. You manage to maintain this as a subplot although it has major plot potential. Is there a real world model for this relationship?

JD: I must say that there is no real world model except to the extent that observation and empathy have shown me that the most enduring relationships (and therefore the more appealing to my readers) are those in which the partners challenge each other, respect each other and fill the gaps in each other. It is very important to me --- in order to please my readers --- that I keep a certain realism in the Lincoln Rhyme books and the connection that I've tried to craft between Lincoln and Amelia is what I see as the sort of honest and complex relationship that would develop between two people like these two. I also spend a great deal of time working on their relationship because it's important to me to be able to imperil my characters in as many ways as possible --- and manipulating relationships is as good a way to keep readers on the edge of their seats as exposing them to physical violence.

BRC: You recently were accorded a DREAM award --- an honor which, while not widely known, is nonetheless highly prestigious. Would you mind telling us a bit about that?

JD: This was indeed an honor. The Western Law Center for Disabled Rights --- a watchdog association that advocates the rights of the disabled --- selected me for the award last year. It's given to an individual in the creative arts for a realistic portrayal of the disabled --- not a sentimentalized or melodramatic work, but one that presents the disabled as multidimensional human beings. The award is one of the consequences of my work that I'm most proud of.

BRC: You are an attorney. One would think that you would take the highly traveled road of legal thrillers, since it covers territory which you are familiar with. Yet, you have eschewed that genre, choosing to focus, instead, on forensics, and criminology. What led you to choose those fields as topics for your novels?

JD: My whole point of writing is to give readers something they will enjoy; they pay me hard-earned money and it's my responsibility to return something pleasurable to them. One of the things they enjoy most, I've learned, is the sort of book I now write --- taking place over a short time frame, involving multiple plots, frequent deadlines, surprising plot twists and turns, endings that bring together all the plot strands in a whammy twist or two. I've been called a writer of "ticking-bomb thrillers" and, in general, legal thrillers tend to take place over a longer period of time than my typical book (one or two days) and require more exposition and leisurely development. I have written one legal thriller --- Mistress of Justice --- and it was typical of this distinction, being less an edge-of-the-chair thriller than a dark psychological study of power and corruption on Wall Street.

BRC: Given the theatrical success of THE BONE COLLECTOR, are there any plans in the works for adapting THE COFFIN DANCER into a film? And, if so, what input will you have in the production?

JD: Universal Pictures has the rights to make any future Lincoln Rhyme movies, provided they pay me (just a friendly reminder, just in case any of their executives are reading this!). The box office gross of the movie was good but the video rentals have been phenomenal. I haven't heard specifically if they want to make another movie but I wouldn't be surprised if it happens. I'm so busy with my present writing that I'm afraid I wouldn't have time to be very involved.

BRC: What are you working on now?

JD: The better question might be what am I not working on. Let's see...I'm promoting THE EMPTY CHAIR hardcover and THE DEVIL'S TEARDROP paperback. I'm reviewing proofs for a new hardcover for Simon and Schuster, to be published in December, called SPEAKING IN TONGUES --- another non-Lincoln Rhyme thriller. I'm also helping in the promotion of several of my older books, which are now being brought back into print: MANHATTAN IS MY BEAT, DEATH OF A BLUE MOVIES STAR, HARD NEWS, SHALLOW GRAVES and BLOODY RIVER BLUES. Oh, yes, I'm finishing my big thriller for 2001. I can't say much about it right now but I will tell you this: My intent is to scare the living daylights out of anybody who owns a computer...

BRC: What are you reading now?

JD: Sadly nothing for leisure; it's all been research on the history of Silicon Valley and the computer industry for next year's book. I'll be taking a little time off toward the end of the summer and trying desperately to catch up on my reading.

BRC: What advice would you give to aspiring writers of the suspense genre?

JD: There are only two rules I'd give to aspiring writers: one, write what you enjoy reading and, two, never, ever, ever give up; rejection is a speed bump, not a brick wall.