10 Questions with Chris Pavone
1. Mr. Pavone, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your new thriller, THE ACCIDENT, came out today. Tell us a bit more about this book.
A woman—a literary agent named Isabel Reed—receives an anonymous manuscript, revealing dangerous truths about a powerful man. And then people around her start dying. It becomes clear that Isabel has found herself at the center of a complex web of loyalties and betrayals that includes myriad media types in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles as well as spies in Copenhagen, the author in Zurich, and all their interrelated back stories in Paris, London, and a winding country road, long ago and late at night, in upstate New York, scene of the eponymous accident.
2. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how much of it is true and how much is fiction?
Before I was a novelist I was a book editor, and many of my friends work in book publishing, as does my wife. I’ve spent nearly all of my entire adult life in the book world, and I wanted to write a novel that uses the publishing community as a backdrop. Just as I think my first novel, The Expats, contains a lot of truth about being an expat, and about Luxembourg, and about marriage, I hope that The Accident contains a lot of truth about the media, and New York, and ambition.
3. How did it happen that you made the jump from editor of cookbooks to a writer of thrillers?
There were a couple of interim steps: first I was a ghostwriter for a year, transitioning away from office life to writing life. Then I was an expat living in Luxembourg, where we moved for my wife’s job. I was taking care of the children, and our household, doing the things that expat trailing spouses do, trying to redefine myself now that I no longer had a career and the long-established identity that came with it; I didn’t know who I was anymore. I started writing a novel about this experience, and it evolved into an international espionage thriller.
4. What are your writing habits? Outline or not?
I outline very carefully but not dogmatically: I change things up quite a bit as I go. I leave my apartment every morning—I can’t work when there’s a dinner to cook, or possibly a wall to paint—and I write until I run out of ideas or get hungry, whichever comes first. Then I obsess about the story in the middle of the night.
5. What is the single most important thing you have learned during the writing process of crafting a novel?
That I should make sure there’s a point to everything I write. “Character development” and “atmosphere” can be lazy excuses to meander pointlessly, slowing down the story without adding what the reader wants. I like to do some wandering, but not if it’s pointless. If I’m not sure what purpose a character, chapter, passage, or sentence is serving, it’s probably not, so I should delete it. I hit the Delete key an awful lot. I’ve been writing full-time for five years, and this year my goal is to stop needing to delete so much, and instead to simply skip writing the pointless bits to begin with. But I get carried away.
6. A word of advice for new writers?
I believe that books are for readers. Writing for the mere sake of expressing yourself is what a journal is for. But writing for publication means producing something specifically for the public. It means that as writers we’re asking for strangers’ very finite leisure time and hard-won attention and hard-earned money in exchange for whatever it is we have to offer. So we have to remember to try to offer something that we have a reasonable expectation other people might want.
7. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing? Did you ever consider it or might you consider it in the future?
Traditional publishers add tremendous value and convenience to author’s work and lives. First of all there’s making the book better—it’s astounding to me how much books (especially my own) improve during the editing stages, from the big-picture conceptual editing and the sentence-by-sentence line-editing down to the nitpicky copyediting and proofreading: these were all jobs I did, for years, and they’re jobs that definitely need doing.
But there are also the many things I never did, and can’t do, or don’t want to do: the interior page design and the cover design. The publicity campaign—the phone calls and emails and bound-galley mailings and finished-book mailings to hundreds of media contacts—and the festival bookings, the bookstore events, the travel and interview arrangements. The industry marketing—the pitches, the meetings, the four-color printed materials, the trade-shows—to bookstores, libraries, distributors, blogs, book clubs. The in-person sales calls and telemarketing to every type of retailer, all around the world. The distribution, the returns, the accounting, the customer service—late orders, missing cartons, damaged books. The print-run timing, quantities, paper purchasing, cover over-runs. The ISBN and Library of Congress and copyright registrations, the awards submissions, the subsidiary-rights deals, the meta-data management. The advertising creative and media buys. The negotiations and contracts and schedules of everything, not to mention deciding how much money to outlay for every item before a single dime of revenue arrives . . . There are hundreds of jobs that must be done well, at the right moment, to properly publish a book. Me, I only want to do one of those: write. I’m sure there are people out there who think they can be effective at all this, but I’m not one of them.
8. What are your favorite pastimes?
Anything with my ten-year-old twin sons: we play (and watch) a lot of baseball, we ski, we hit tennis balls, we’re trying to eat at every single restaurant in Greenwich Village. We travel quite a bit; this shows up in my books. I cook a lot, and some of it gets pretty complicated. And I read voraciously.
9. How do you connect with you fans?
10. What is your next book going to be about?
An accidental spy.