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An interview with Chris Pavone

Last week we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview thriller writer Chris Pavone. Chris’s debut novel The Expats was published in 2012 and was an international and New York Times bestseller, with sales exceeding well over 300,000 copies in the UK & EU alone.

Published in paperback earlier this month, Chris’s second thriller, The Accident, draws on the rich worlds of publishing, politics and international spies, telling a suspenseful tale of intrigue in the vein of John Grisham and Laura Lippman.

We asked Chris to tell us a bit about his writing, research and second novel. A huge thank to you Chris for taking the time to answer our questions!

An interview with Chris Pavone:

What inspired you to write?

I’d worked in publishing for two decades, mostly as a book editor, before I started writing my first novel. I’ve spent the entirety of my adult life around the business and culture of books, and I always intended to write a novel. But it wasn’t until I was forty, and I moved from having a job in New York City to having none in Luxembourg, that I found myself a story worth telling.

Who are your favourite authors?

I get immense enjoyment from a wide variety of fiction, and I honestly can’t narrow it down to a digestible list of all-time favourites: my favourite authors are whoever’s books I’ve read recently. In the past few weeks that’s been a somewhat old book by Lee Child, a recent one by Roger Hobbs, and a forthcoming book by Lisa Lutz. All terrific.

If you could recommend to your fans one book that you have read (and possibly even wish you had written!) what would it be and why?
I think Donna Tartt accomplished something brilliant with The Goldfinch, deftly combining a variety of genres — a comedy of manners, a crime thriller, a coming-of-age novel, even an addiction memoir — in one cohesive plot populated by credible characters, and all of it is beautiful. It’s the type of language that makes me love simply travelling from the beginning of the sentence to the end, pausing at the period, then starting a new trip. Plus the book is tremendously long, and I prefer the books I love to be long ones. I feel that way about lots of life. If you’re going to serve terrific food, let’s please have six courses, and sit at the table for so long that we’ll need to swap out fresh candles.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

I think I’d return to book publishing, possibly this time as a literary agent, or maybe I’d try being a chef. I love cooking.

What gave you the idea for The Accident?

A decade ago, there was a huge uproar over a book called A Million Little Pieces, published as a memoir that turned out to be not entirely true, about the author’s struggles with substance addiction. The controversy involved an outraged Oprah Winfrey, and resulted in rebates for readers who supposedly felt cheated, as well as a public pillory of the book’s editor. This was all a tremendous amount of attention paid to the details of a non-public figure’s private life, which he’d embellished, possibly in the pursuit of powerful storytelling, possibly in the pursuit of fame and fortune; who knows. I wanted to write a novel that examined a similar situation — a purported non-fiction that’s not completely factual, but whose departure from the facts may get the story closer to the truth than reality. But I wanted my setup to be a much more serious predicament, in which the veracity of a book is a matter of life and death. And I wanted to ask this question: is it possible for a lie to be more true than a fact?

Do you have a favourite scene in The Accident, one that you were the most pleased with?

There’s one sentence that I particularly like about two-thirds of the way through the book. It’s about going home for a holiday and is in excess of two hundred words long. I think one my challenges in writing crime fiction is that I want to tell stories that might be just the far side of plausible – that’s what crime fiction is, I think — but whose characters are all thoroughly credible, real people, not caricatures, not even the bit players. I’m constantly trying to invent ways to meld the exigencies of plot with the development of character; for back stories to have identifiable impacts on present action; for plot to have clear repercussions on character. This aforementioned long sentence of mine is one of those attempts: to tie a character to both his back story and his current predicament, while also painting a partial picture of his life, and making him a realer person, albeit a real person who’s capable of a level of deviousness that may not be quite plausible.

How do you research your novels – do you live and breathe them whilst writing them?

Yes! When I’m in the midst of a draft, I’m always thinking about the characters and plot. I actually sit at a computer and type for only a few hours per day, but I never stop taking notes — walking down the street, at the gym, in the kitchen… I’m forever inventing (and often rejecting) new plot twists and back-story elements, even when it looks like I’m doing something else like cooking rigatoni alla Bolognese. I just spent the entirety of my flight from New York to Heathrow working on my next manuscript, forgoing the immense pleasure of watching free crappy movies on a tiny screen with bad audio.

Would you ever write a series? I’d love to see more of Hayden!

I do intend write a future book that picks up where The Expats leaves off, and I’m sure that’ll involve Hayden Gray, who’s a minor character in The Expats but a major player in The Accident.

Do you find it hard to write thrillers – the pacing and the suspense in particular?

What I found particularly hard was (a) understanding subatomic physics, at university, thirty years ago, and, more recently, (b) being an expat stay-at-home father to twin preschool boys. In comparison, everything else has been pretty easy.

Are you working on anything new? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I’m writing a new thriller about a travel writer who becomes a spy. An accidental spy.

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