Interview with Jeffery Deaver–Bestselling Thriller Writer
September 24, 2013 | 4:24 pm
By Juli Monroe
Jeffery Deaver was the Saturday keynote speaker at the Creatures, Crime and Creativity Conference a couple of weeks ago. His speech was an hilarious “journal of a writer” which slipped some excellent writing advice in between gut-splitting jokes. Wish I had a transcript, but you’ll just have to settle for the interview I had before we all headed to the bar.
TeleRead: So you’ve been writing now for how long?
Jeffery: Well, I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote my first book at age eleven. And then I was a journalist. I wrote then. I wrote literary poetry, edited my literary magazine in high school, but I’ve been writing published novels now for thirty plus years. Full time for twenty-five.
TeleRead: And you’ve never gone back to the day job.
Jeffery: No, I don’t play well with others. I’m good at sitting in a dark room and writing.
TeleRead: So you don’t mind playing with your imaginary friends at all? [Editor note: The "playing with imaginary friends" line was started by John Gilstrap and became a running joke.]
Jeffery: No, I like them. I prefer them to a lot of people, frankly.
TeleRead: What made you start writing fiction?
Jeffery: I learned at a very young age that there was something good about story telling. I found a lot of solace in books, and I know that there is a function books serve on many levels. I suppose I should say a number of functions. One is to teach people. That’s always important. But also, they can kind of take you away from the daily cares. They can be a form of great joy and pleasure. I thought I had some talent to do it. I was good at making up stories. That was never a problem, and I thought this was a good mix.
TeleRead: So where did the character of Lincoln Rhyme come from? Because he’s my favorite of all yours.
Jeffery: Oh, thank you, Juli. He was a pure figure of my imagination, as all my characters are. Now, I would say that I was, in a luck of the draw, in a dorm with some handicapped students–you’d say disabled nowadays–but at the time it was called “the handicapped dorm,” and my roommate for a short time was disabled, and for some reason I was uncomfortable around that. I’m not sure why, but many people are uncomfortable around the disabled, and then within a week, he was just like everybody else. I put that in the back of my mind, and then when it came time to write the book that became The Bone Collector, I thought, well, I wanted a character who was much like Sherlock Holmes, who would out-think the villain. And I thought how can I structure that. So I thought about my college roommate, who was a paraplegic, and I said, no I want to go one step further and make him a quadriplegic and make him entirely unable to fight the bad guy. I tried it in The Bone Collector, and I didn’t think it would be as popular as it was, but it did take off, and so I’ve stuck with him ever since.
Editor note: Mild spoiler warning for The Kill Room ahead
TeleRead: So in The Kill Room, he has the use of one hand, and he decided not to have the operation to go forward and gain more mobility. Is that a definite, or will he come back to that in the future?
Jeffery: No, I decided that was a significant plot point in the book, and he had to make that decision because of the terrible thing that almost happened. He got a little cocky, and he realized that his talent really is something entirely different, that is his talent is his mind, which he knew all along, but he had to come back to that.
TeleRead: And then you brought in Kathryn Dance seven years ago. He’s more the Sherlock Holmes. She’s more the soft skills type. Was that an experiment to see how they’d play off of one another?
Jeffery: I’d intended to create a new character that was the antithesis of Rhyme because there were a lot of crimes I wanted to write about that don’t involve forensics. I mean forensics is always involved in a crime, but it is not always the most compelling part of the story. Sometimes, for instance, Charles Manson, was never at the Tate and LaBianca killings. There was no forensics linking him, but he was still convicted for that, and it was the interrogation and the interviews that made that link, aside from the fact that he had a Swastika tattooed on his forehead, and said, “Yes, I killed them.” So there was that little piece. It was the psychological element of evil that I wanted to explore in a new character, so I created her. They were together in The Cold Moon. That’s how they met. And then I spun her off. Those books have done well too, though they’re not as popular as Lincoln yet. She’s only three books into it, and next year, 2014, there will be a new Kathryn book.
TeleRead: I like her. I like Lincoln better.
Jeffery: Yeah, most people do.
TeleRead: So since much of the focus of this conference has been for new writers and learning, what would be your best advice, especially considering with traditional, indie and self-publishing, there’s a wider variety of options than when you started.
Jeffery: Sure. I’m not a fan of self-publishing. Frankly, I think the vetting process and the editorial process cuts out a lot of things that are not as quality-minded. The best advice I could give is that you’re creating a product for an audience. You have to know the audience’s needs and wants. You don’t make liver-flavored toothpaste if you’re Proctor & Gamble. You make mint-flavored toothpaste, and they spend a lot of time deciding exactly why mint-flavored toothpaste works. So I’m going to run through my list of beginning author’s advice.
1. Know your audience and give them what they want.
2. Write in the genre that you read because you’ve already learned a lot about it.
3. Take the authors you admire and who have written successful books in your opinion and you tear those books apart. Outline them. Learn what they did and when they did it.
4. You need to outline your books. You need to structure you books. It doesn’t have to be as extensive as I do, but you need to structure the books so you know where it’s going to go.
5. Finally, remember that a rejection is a speed bump. It’s not a brick wall. And just keep at it.
I would try to get a traditional agent and publisher. I think that’s important to do.
TeleRead: Thank you.
Jeffery: That was easy. Time for the bar?
And yes, we then went off to the bar to discuss favorite horror movies and other important topics to writers. Fun was had by all.