It was great fun sending questions to twisty thriller writer Jeffery Deaver for RT's October issue Q&A, where we talked about his July Lincoln Rhyme novel, The Kill Room and his October stand-alone thriller, The October List. One remarkable thing about The October List is the fact that it's written backwards, starting at the end of the story and working back in increments. As usual, I wanted to know so much from my interview subject that I asked too many questions! Here are Deaver's answers to two bonus questions that didn't fit into the print magazine, I hope you enjoy seeing how he plots his novels — this time in reverse!
You’re the king of plot twists; how much more difficult was it to include them in a reverse narrative? Do you have a quota, like OK, we’ve had five pages or three chapters without a big twist, time to give readers a doozy?
Actually, the twists weren’t that difficult, but they took a different form than in one of my forward books. The technique I used to was to present an innocuous fact that readers don’t even think about—until it’s revealed soon after that something very different occurred from what they believed.
A simple example (not from the book):
Chapter 20 (8 p.m.): A repairman knocks on an attractive woman’s door and says he’s come to fix her cable TV, which was out. The green-eyed blonde lets him in and goes about her business of sautéing dinner for herself in her kitchen.
Chapter 15 (6 p.m.): The “repairman” is revealed to be a serial killer, with a passion for green-eyed blondes. He’s targeted the woman and makes plans to cut her woman’s cable, wait till she calls for service and then, in a few hours, come to her place and kill her.
Chapter 10 (4 p.m.): The woman is revealed to be a vigilante, who knows about the killer’s M.O., and has been strolling through the neighborhood in a blonde wig and green contact lenses, to draw his attention. She’ll have a gun ready as soon as he comes into her apartment to fix the cable. But first she’ll treat him to a bit of boiling oil from the pan she’ll pretend to be cooking in.…
As far as the placement of the twists, that was critical, because readers had to recall those innocuous facts or references to characters to make the subsequent revelations work. As far as the number of surprises, that pretty much comes naturally after having written so many thrillers. The important rule is: too few and the book is boring; too many and readers say, “Gimme a break.”
You write so knowledgeably about New York City, right down to the manhole covers — which are manufactured abroad. I know you lived there for 20 years; why did you move? What about the city do you miss, or do you visit often enough that you don’t miss it? Where did you live when you lived in NYC?
Most of my friends had moved away from the city and I was looking for a change. I do get back frequently. Mostly I miss the culture and the energy. I lived mostly in the West Village.