Thursday, September 1, 2011

An Interview with Thriller Author Linwood Barclay, by Carla Buckley

Linwood Barclay is the #1 Internationally Bestselling author of nine novels, a novella, and a memoir. His latest release, The Accident, features Glen Garber, a contractor who stumbles upon a terrible car accident late one night, only to recognize his wife's car among the wreckage. Reeling from his wife's death, taking care of their eight-year-old daughter, Kelly, and trying to keep his business afloat, Glen soon realizes that the accident that claimed his wife's life was, in fact, no ordinary accident. Kirkus Reviews calls it a "home run," and Stephen King has it on his summer reading list.

We’re delighted he agreed to be interviewed by Carla Buckley for The Thrill Begins.

CB: Linwood, thank you for stopping by to talk about your writing! I'd like to start off by asking if you could tell us a little about your path to publication. Many debut authors find writing their second novel a struggle, mostly because they're facing now deadlines and answering to an audience. Was that your experience?

LB: Depends what you consider the second novel. The first one that got me any real attention was No Time for Goodbye, so I felt some pressure with the following book, Too Close to Home, particularly in the UK, where none of my earlier books had been published, and No Time had been a monstrous hit. But in fact, Too Close to Home was my sixth novel, so that also eased the pressure. I knew I would be able to write it. It was more a sense of apprehension waiting for it to come out, how it would be judged after No Time for Goodbye. (Thankfully, not too badly.) My real second novel was Bad Guys, the second novel featuring Zack Walker. Considering that the preceding novel, Bad Move, had sold about nine copies (at the time) I didn't feel as though thousands of readers were waiting to judge me.

CB: Would you talk about your writing process--are you a writer who outlines, or who starts with a concept and runs with it?

LB: I need to come up with a great opening hook that I really like, and feel has potential to sustain an entire book. Once I have that, I spend a week or two making notes about what's actually going on and who the main players are. So have a semi-outline, and have a pretty good idea where I am going to end up. But then I reach a point where I just have to start writing, because it's only during the writing that I see the opportunities, the different ways I can go, and the twists I can work in. I usually do a first draft in two to three months. There can be a few more weeks, or a few more months, of work, depending on how good that first draft turns out to be.

CB: Would you say that your journalism background (with the Toronto Star) has influenced or shaped your work? Would you encourage other writers starting out to consider journalism as a career?

LB: Working in newspapers has had a profound effect on how I write novels. First, I appreciate deadlines. They are real and they mean something. So I always deliver books on time, or way ahead of time. And I think I approach writing books in a very professional, realistic, unromantic way. It's a job (a great job), so get it done. People always ask if you get "writer's block" but no one ever asks a plumber if he gets "plumber's block." Writing is a job. When you work in newspapers, no one cares if you just didn't feel creative one day, or the muse wasn't there. You do the work.

Also, working in newspapers teaches you to write clearly. Some critics have complained that my writing is simple, not terribly complex. I can live with that. I want my readers to understand my story, not have them get lost in a lot of flowery description that they're probably going to skip anyway.

CB: You're a master at taking ordinary people and placing them in extraordinary situations. Could you tell us how you came up with the idea for The Accident?

LB: My agent and I had been talking for some time about this huge business in knockoff purses. But to my mind, it was the backdrop for another story. Then I hit upon the idea of a man whose wife dies in a car accident that kills two other people, and police conclude she was at fault, drunk behind the wheel. I saw a way to put all that together. And the other background story, of course, is the disastrous downturn in the US economy, and how some people have decided to deal with it.

CB: One of the qualities I most love about your work is your deft and honest exploration of domestic life. How do you balance that quality with the pulse-pounding thriller heartbeat that runs through your stories?

LB: I don't really think about balancing it. But for years I wrote a humor column for the Toronto Star that was often about the funny side of domestic life. It wasn't difficult to turn things upside down and tackle the same subject matter in a dark, instead of humorous, way.

CB: Your premises are always high concept: a girl returns home from school to find her entire family missing (No Time For Goodbye); a man takes his family to an amusement park only to have his wife disappear (Never Look Away); a car salesman races to find his teenaged daughter who's vanished without a trace (Fear The Worst). May I ask whether Hollywood has noticed?

LB: Eric McCormack, who was Will in Will & Grace, has just renewed an option on No Time for Goodbye and when I last heard from him -- a couple of days ago -- he seems determined to get this film made. Fingers crossed. Fear the Worst has been optioned for film in Spain, and it least one production company has been sniffing around Never Look Away, but nothing definite there yet.

CB: I’ll keep my fingers crossed, too! Thank you, Linwood, for stopping by to speak with the debut authors and congratulations on the UK publication today of The Accident!

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Interviewed by Carla Buckley

Carla Buckley is the debut author of the award-nominated The Things That Keep Us Here (Random House, 2010). Her next novel, Invisible, will be released by Random House in 2012. She chairs the ITW Debut Authors Program, and lives in Ohio with her husband, children, and two bossy little dogs.


Tracey Devlyn said...

Thanks Linwood and Carla for providing such an informative interview!

Linwood, do you come up with your high concept hook -- a man takes his family to an amusement park only to have his wife disappear -- first, or do you come up with an opening line first?


Linwood Barclay said...

Tracey, I always come up with the hook first. Once I know what that is, I can think about that opening line/

jack hrusoff said...

Really enjoyed this interview; How many starts from sixth to second book, the hooks -or lead-ins, which I'm a real fan of-- and the deadlines.A real opportunity and honor to read

Tracy March said...

Hi Linwood and Carla,

I really enjoyed this interview. It's always interesting to get a peek into a writer's processes and thinking.

The idea that you do a semi-outline yet give yourself creative license otherwise. I have boxed myself in before with too much outlining/planning and ruined the spontaneity of a story. Write and learn... :)

Jenny Milchman said...

What a great interview, Linwood& Carla! I'm so glad to learn more about Linwood's process and writing journey--he is one of my very favorite "family thriller" authors (to use reviewer Oline Cogdill's term, which I happen to love :) I just bought THE ACCIDENT on our bookstore-to-bookstore cross country trip and every time I catch a glimpse of that black and green cover, I get an anticipatory tingle.

Rochelle Staab said...

Hi Linwood and Carla,

Great interview. Linwood, I'm still smiling about "plumber's block." Thank you for sharing your process, I love hearing how other writers get it done. I look forward to reading The Accident. Best of luck on release!