Artists see a blank canvas and are inspired to paint the world. Jeffery Deaver sees the world and is inspired to change the landscape of the canvas. An award-winning, New York Times Bestselling author, he has been entertaining and challenging readers for over twenty years. It’s hard to imagine Deaver as anything other than a storyteller. But he is a man who has worn many hats, including as a former journalist, purveyor of law, and songwriter. So which does he most identify with? “I have not been a musician in over 30 years, and I’m a recovering attorney. My goal has always been to be a full time writer of fiction. I’ve always had the intent to become a novelist.”
Deaver’s protagonist, Lincoln Rhyme, is one of the most empathetic and otherworldly characters created. Having just released the ninth book in the series, Deaver and Lincoln spend most of their time together. Readers know that Lincoln’s world is a complex, often dark and twisted battle ground, which makes me wonder, how does Deaver shake off the echoes of Lincoln’s world? “I’ll compare it to this analogy: [Say] I am an airline pilot. I am very passionate; I am very efficient. I see a terrible thunder storm up ahead and what do I do – I concentrate on flying through it.” He doesn’t stop to think about the fear that storm clouds generate, or marvel over the splendor of the situation.
“In order to create a very intense emotional experience I have to remain objective and detached. I keep all of myself, my personal emotions, out of the writing of the book. I love writing – it’s very joyful. But one aspect that is part of our craft is that we have to get into the minds of the characters. This isn’t to say we don’t sweat profusely to go deep into the minds of characters. But I enjoy stepping into their minds to figure out what they would be thinking and saying. I delve into the minds of elderly women, teenagers, killers, etc. Most often I write about characters who will be the victim, and it’s always a great challenge to become these new characters.”
With so many facets involved in creating the worlds that he weaves, how much research goes into creating a story? “A lot of research. In somewhat of a unique approach, I do an extensive eight month outline. I’m a curious person, and I like to learn about everything. The important thing is not to put too much [factual information] in [the story].” You don’t want to overwhelm the reader. “You want the reader to enjoy being in the world. Make sure the research moves the story. The point is not to teach readers, the point is to excite them. You don’t want to digress. If you want to learn or teach readers, then write a non-fiction book about it.
“This is all about my readers. I look at [writing as] what is my purpose here? Writing is an act of communication. A diary or a laundry list is for yourself. My job is to give readers something they want. A writer’s responsibility is to create a union between his or her thoughts. The readers of post modern experimental fiction want to be challenged.”
My outline is always plot based. It’s never character based. In The Burning Wire the villain uses electricity. I know that and so I then sit down, and while doing the research, I continue to work on the outline and figure out the next step. The next idea occurs, and I know I need a surprise in the middle. Over the course of eight months, the story slowly grows.”
For Deaver, each outline varies in length. “The James Bond book, which I just finished three weeks ago, is 180 pages long. It has every aspect of the plot. I know when the characters are introduced. I know the spies, and over the eight months, I figure out what will work and what won’t.” How does he eliminate what moves the storyline, versus what doesn’t? “I have thrown out ideas. It is so much easier to throw out an outline than to write the book and be stuck with a writer’s block situation.” Or as he prefers to say, an idea block.
Deaver is known for educating his readers while enthralling them, but it’s more of a bi-product of his crafting. “I write entertainment, and I am very proud of doing that. But entertainment is a slippery word. I find Shakespeare immensely entertaining, but does that mean [those works] don’t have any substance. No, I don’t think so. [The style is] brining the conditions of the genre, i.e. suspense, romance, etc. to enhance the reader’s experience. It is very important to bring in other issues, such as social, political or philosophical to the story.” The depth of the storyline will keep readers engaged, while the style will move them from one sequence of thought to the next. “I love surprises and twists. So many readers have said to me, I reread this book and loved it again. Well, if my books were all about the twists, no one would read them again because you know who the bad guys are.”
How important is character development in a novel – how important is being able to identify with the people in these worlds? “It is very important. I talk about plots because they are my number one thing, but you have to have characters of depth and we have to care about the villains too. We have to want to feel that they will feel bad if they don’t succeed at their mission, so we can understand what this character is about. If he’s a serial killer, then will he have a complete sense of failure, one that to us would be as if we failed a test or did something wrong? I think the experience is enhanced in the way that we could know them – that on some level we could feel what they feel.”
Lincoln is obviously a thinking man – being unable to use the speed of his body, he relies on that of his mind. What inspired Deaver to create him this way? “I always look for two things when I sit down to write a book. One is that I want to give my readers what they expect, the formula for a Deaver book – a very fast timeframe. [This type of book] has deadlines and a lot of the esoteric information, chock full of big surprises.
“So I always do that, but I am also thinking I need to do something else. What haven’t they seen before? [In creating Rhymes] I thought, we haven’t seen a Sherlock Holmes character for a while. Bone Collector was written before CSI. We hadn’t seen forensic science like Holmes did. One of the things we like about Holmes was that he wasn’t this wise guy private detective. He did a lot of his work in his study and in his mind. I thought, let me take it one step further and make a character that physically cannot get out in the field and has to out think the villain. It’s a mental chess game.”
How does Deaver feel about the advancement of eBooks and the electronic libraries? “I think it’s important for parents and teachers to expose children to books and reading. Curling up with a book is a better experience than if they play on the computer. If you turn kids on to books at such a young age, they will always be there. They will recognize after reading that the experience of escaping inside a book was really cool – it will stay with them, unlike a video game.
“We will always have hard covers, but I believe we will see an increase in eBooks, especially among younger readers. But it is still reading. Once upon a time books didn’t exist. They are a relatively new phenomenon, being only a few hundred years old. There has only been moveable type since the 15th century. The fact that we have a new delivery mechanism now, that doesn’t bother me. We’re just experiencing a delivery mechanism recall at the moment.”
Deaver will be the Guest of Honor at Killer Nashville this weekend, so what aspect of the conference is he most looking forward to attending? “People speak very highly of the event, and this one is not only popular, but very productive and known as a great opportunity to meet fans. This is really an opportunity to meet fans. It’s being in Nashville, I’m partially excited because I did use to be a musician and have written a few country western songs.”
Artist, songwriter, world builder, Jeffery Deaver has many faces, and lucky for readers he uses each of them to tap into the layers of humanity and build edge-of-your-seat suspense novels that move body from time and time from place. With his James Bond novel on the horizon, and opportunity for Lincoln Rhyme around every corner, we can only wait on bated breath for what Deaver delivers next.