Tag Archives: Interviews

Jane Harper’s New Work, “The Dry,” Makes Waves

The Dry, by Jane Harper

Jane Harper’s first novel, “The Dry,” involves death and drought in rural Australia.  Although not yet released in the United States (it will released be this Tuesday, January 10), it has enjoyed brisk sales in the land down under and earned a flood of advance praise worldwide.  The film rights have been purchased by Pacific Standard, Reese Witherspoon’s film company; the book is set for publication in at least 20 languages; and it’s the first work in a three-book deal that Harper has signed with her US publisher, Flatiron Books. It’s an impressive string of successes, especially for a book that originated in an online writing classes less than three years ago.

Mike Yawn: Describe “The Dry.”

Jane Harper: It’s a thriller set in a rural community in Australia. The main character, Aaron Faulk, returns to his home town which he left—under a cloud of suspicion—some 20 years before.  He returns for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and he’s drawn into the circumstances of that death.  His investigation results in a confrontation not only of his friend’s death, but also the community that turned its back on him many years before.

MY: That community—the entire setting of rural Australia—becomes a leading character in your novel.

JH: The nature of the plot shaped the setting. I envisioned a community under pressure and how such a setting would impact the characters and their relationship.  The drought in this novel is the catalyst for the small community’s problems, but the problems in a small community often involve the same stresses: the overreliance on neighbors; the attachments to a place you cannot leave; people knowing too much of your business.  I think that’s a universal feeling for tight communities, and I think a lot of people can relate to the claustrophobia that can result.

MY: Tell us how “The Dry” came about.

JH: I always thought I’d like to write a novel, but I never took it seriously.  In 2014, however, I decided that if I were ever Jane Harper, author of The Drygoing to write a novel, I needed to find time to do it.  I took an online course in novel writing, and much of the writing was completed for that 12-week course.

MY: Where did you go from there?

JH: Well, during the course, I saw that the deadline for Victorian Premier’s literary award for an unpublished manuscript was about six months away.  So I wanted to use that as another deadline for myself, and I entered that competition, and I ended up winning! From there, it just snowballed.

MY: If I recall, you entered it in the competition in April 2014 and you found out you won in May 2014?

JH: Yes!

MY: And it was published in 2016?

JH: Yes!

MY: That’s unusual.  Was there someone who said, “Wow, this is good!”?

JH: I was the only one who had read the whole thing when I entered it.  My online classmates read parts of it, and that feedback wasn’t all positive. But it was key, and I think it’s important when writing a novel to listen to feedback and, if it’s valid, to accept it and use it to improve the work.

MY: Did you use a daily quota system to meet your writing deadlines?

JH: I don’t have that rigid of a system.  I work in scenes more than words. I try to move the story forward each day, and I don’t spend much time on rewrites until I finish with the main story.

MY: Did you have a full plot outline before writing?

JH: I had the main plot—the start, the end, and a few key points between.  I then think about what the characters would naturally do and what’s plausible, and that might take me from A to B.  I usually know where I’m headed, and then it’s a question of the best way to get there.

MY: How did your 13 years in journalism help you create this book?

JH: It helped in so many ways. Journalism gets you accustomed to deadlines.  It also helps you concentrate on the reader; it trains you to create something that people will be drawn into. And it helps you sit down, and not let a blank page become too daunting.  I’m not sure I could have written this novel without my years in journalism.

MY: David Baldacci offered a nice cover blurb.

JH: I have to give credit to the publishers.  I didn’t know it was happening, but I got an email from them saying, “great news, David Baldacci gave you a fantastic quote after reading the book!”  I’ve been a big fan of his for years, and to have someone like that endorse your book is a great feeling.

MY: What are other authors or books you enjoy?

JH: I like the books of Lee Child, Val McDermid, and some of the recent big bestsellers such as “Girl on a Train” and “Gone Girl.”

MY: “The Dry” was picked up by Pacific Standard, the same production company that picked up “Gone Girl,” is that right?

JH: Yes.  Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea are partners in the company.  Papandrea is from Australia, and I think that may have helped get it in front of them.

MY: It will be released next week in the US, but it has done well overseas.  When did you say, “Hey, this might become a hit?”

JH: When I got a three-book deal in Australia, the US, and the U.K.  I thought, “this might be the start of something rather than just a one-off.”

MY: How do you follow up this novel?

JH: By starting it right away.  I wanted to have it largely completed by the time “The Dry” was released in Australia (June 2016), because I knew the release would increase the pressure on me.  I wanted to do the best I could, and write it much the way I wrote the first one.

Mike Yawn is the Director of the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics at Sam Houston State University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One-on-One with Author Lisa Gardner

Lisa Gardner’s crime fiction shows off her research and writing abilities, a combination that has led her to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Her newest novel, “Find Her,” explores a high-profile kidnapping as well as the changing nature of the government’s response to crime. She spoke at a Houston bookstore a couple of weeks after being interviewed by Mike Yawn.  The interview is below.

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Q: You do extensive research for your novels, and you often select topical issues. Tell us how you choose the topics.

A: The research I did for my new novel, “Find Her,” was something I started with “Catch Me.” It’s related to self-defense, and I think we’re all more conscious about safety and security issues. I attended a “Writers’ Police Academy,” and we learned various self-defense tactics and also how to free yourself from handcuffs with a “universal handcuff key,” which I found online for about $15. Since then, I’ve met various law-enforcement and military personnel, and they’re like, “Yeah, we never leave home without those keys.” I think my writing involves facing deep fears. As a mom, child abduction is one of my greatest terrors, and it happens to the main character, Flora, in “Find Her.”

Q: Speaking of Flora, she spends much time locked up in a coffin in your new novel. Did you actually get into a coffin or some enclosed space to write about that?

A: I’m claustrophobic, so I didn’t actually go into a coffin. But I did force myself into position in my office as if I were in a coffin. What are the boundaries? How limited is movement? What could you do to pass the time? I read several biographies of women who were in these types of situations, and they all discussed the boredom and isolation, among other things.

Q: In “Find Her” you hint at Stockholm Syndrome, the idea that captors can build a bond with those who took them hostage.

A: The experience that resonated more with me from my research is called “Trauma Bonding.” This can happen, for example, to battered women. They endure so much, but the tormentor might come back with an “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t mean to do to that.” All the captives I read about discuss this phenomenon. Even the most evil kidnapper can only be evil so many hours of the day. Ariel Castro, for example, had movie nights for the girls he kidnapped. A “trauma bond” is created that no one outside can understand, and I think that is what Flora struggles with in “Find Her.” She hates the man who abducted her; how could she not? But at the end of the day, this might be the single most impactful relationship she’s ever had.

Q: You allocate about three months for your research, and then you begin writing. Do you have daily writing goals or quotas?

A: I have a page count each week that I like to achieve, and I break that apart a bit. I write in ten-page segments or so, and I also polish as I go.

Q: Do you outline the plot before writing?

A: No. I go where the writing leads me. Once the story is written, I work with my US and UK editors, and I do pretty extensive revision work. A lot of people think we pop books out, but writing is hard work.

Q: You’ve written more than 20 books in the crime fiction genre, and many of those are part of a series. Even if you don’t plot out individual books, do you map out your series?

A: No. My publishers are open minded about what story I bring to them. I’m definitely a character-driven author. The characters know what they’re doing and how things are going to work out.

Q: “Find Her” is part of what is now called the “D. D. Warren” series, but Warren was a relatively minor character in “her” first book. How did she evolve into the series’ focal point?

A: Some of that is feedback from the readers. She was a secondary Boston cop in the first novel, but the response to her was strong.   The readers said, “We would really like to hear her story.”

Q: D. D. Warren is not your typical detective protagonist. Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot are almost super-heroic. Warren is more dogged. She’s admirable, but not super-human. What do you think draws readers to her?

A: She’s human. She’s confident as a detective, but she isn’t a detective who sees things no one else can see. She has to work to get her information. She knows the system and the process, and she wants to solve the crime and she is going to keep going until she gets it right. Now she has a husband and a child, and she is juggling things, and I think people relate to that.

Q: You are sympathetic to officers in your novels.

A: I wish we offered more support for our law enforcement. It’s a difficult job. I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing officers and for them, it’s a call to serve. You don’t do this unless you are passionate about it, and you are putting your life on the line. Yes, some cops are imperfect but all of us are imperfect. They are public servants, and I wish we were more appreciative of that.

Q: What’s new in your latest novel?

A: It’s a terrific novel of psychological suspense, with an intriguing new character, Flora Danes. To bring this full circle somewhat, I also focus on a character who is a Victim Assistant with the FBI, a position that I researched before writing this novel. The nature of crime is changing today. In the classic murder mystery, you identify who did it, the case is closed, and people live happily ever after. That’s not true anymore. The Boston City Marathon bombing, for example, was a life-altering event for the victims and their families. That’s an ongoing process. Grandparents have to leave jobs because their grown child is in physical therapy or rehabilitation. What do law-enforcement agencies have to do to help ensure that needs are met? That’s the FBI Office of Victim Assistance, and I think people will be interested in learning more about a position that many people haven’t heard about.

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Mike Yawn directs the Center for Law, Engagement And Politics at Sam Houston State University.

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