Friday, September 28, 2012
(Editor’s note: This is Part II of a feature by British correspondent Ali Karim. Part I appeared yesterday in The Rap Sheet.)
I’m still reeling from my reading last week of Linwood Barclay’s new techno-thriller, Trust Your Eyes (NAL), and marveling at the author’s skill in producing such a captivating and elegant work. Before moving on to other projects, I contacted Barclay because I wanted to ask him a few questions about this novel--which came out earlier in the month in the United States, but was released only yesterday in Britain.
During our exchange, Barclay--who lives in Ontario, Canada--explained why the title of this new book underwent a change; why Bill Clinton figures into the narrative; the link between Trust Your Eyes and Rear Window; and why his supporting character, Keisha Ceylon, from 2007’s No Time for Goodbye, is making a comeback in his latest novella.
Ali Karim: What was the genesis of Trust Your Eyes?
Linwood Barclay: Wow. Where does any idea come from? However, I think I should thank Winston, our friend’s dog. When the Google Street View car passed by their house, Winston was looking out the window. If you look up the address, you can see him. I got thinking, What if, instead of a dog, that car driving past, capturing millions of images for its online mapping system, happened to catch something happening in that window that was far more sinister?
AK: Your novel can be described as a reworking and updating of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, using modern technology. But of course, the source material for that 1954 film was Cornell Woolrich’s short story, “It Had to Be Murder.” Have you ever read Woolrich’s original tale?
LB: I’ve only seen the movie Rear Window--and probably 25 times. The similarities between the book and the movie didn’t actually occur to me until the project was underway. But there is one line in the novel that is a direct lift from the movie. It’s my homage to Hitchcock. I wonder how many readers will find it.
AK: This book has a very intricate plot. Did you have to map it out or storyboard it extensively, or did you do a “high-wire act”?
LB: I didn’t really map it out or storyboard it. But I had a lot of it figured it out in my head before I got started.
AK: I understand that your original title was 360. Can you tell us why you changed the title to Trust Your Eyes?
LB: We were worried that a numeric title might be confusing and difficult to find online. We were afraid anyone trying to order the book would end up with an Xbox. My agent, Helen Heller, came up with the alternative title. I didn’t like it at first, but now it seems perfect. Don’t tell her I said that.
AK: So was Helen Heller the first to read the manuscript, or did Bill Massey of Orion Publishing read it before her? Or what is the process you deploy when you feel a manuscript is ready for sending on?
LB: Helen’s the first. I’ll usually send her the first 100 pages, too. Once Helen thinks the book is in shape, we will send it to Bill and my U.S. and Canadian editors.
AK: Did Massey or Heller suggest other changes in the book?
LB: Nothing too horrendous. Probably the biggest changes concerned the [journalist] Julie [McGill] character. She was poorly drawn in the first draft, so I ditched her from the last half of the novel. But when I rewrote her, everyone liked her so much, I had to put her back into the last half of the book. There were other changes, too, but this was not one of my more difficult books.
AK: There’s some real darkness in this story. Yet there’s also subtle humor, usually connected to the eccentric nature of Thomas Kilbride. Did you have to rein yourself in when it came to light relief?
LB: I don’t make a point of trying to inject humor into the story. I just let it come out where it seems to make sense. I think, when your heroes are regular people who are ill-equipped for dealing with bad guys, there can be humor in how they react. And Thomas’ characteristics do allow for some light touches, so long as you remain respectful of the condition he has to live with.
AK: Your use of former U.S. President Bill Clinton in this yarn is really amusing. Did you know that he’s a big mystery reader?
LB: I know Bill Clinton is a big thriller reader. He particularly likes Lee Child, Janet Evanovich, Daniel Silva, and Sue Grafton. I actually used George W. Bush in an earlier draft, but for reasons I can’t explain, it didn’t feel right. Maybe because Bush is an even more polarizing figure than Clinton (at least in my mind). Clinton just seemed right.
AK: You wrote sections of this novel in first-person from Ray Kilbride’s point of view, but then peppered third-person sections in between. Why didn’t you just write the whole narrative in third-person?
LB: I like first-person. Ray tells the bulk of the story, and I can get more into a character’s point of view when I write in first.
AK: Without giving away the ending, especially the final reveal(s), how happy were you that readers would not be able to second- or third-guess you?
LB: I love pulling the rug out from under people. I think I did it better here than in any of my other books, although Fear the Worst  and The Accident  have twists I’m very proud of.
AK: I see you have released your childhood memoir, Last Resort, as an e-book. Can you tell us a little about that work and why you felt compelled to write it?
LB: That book was published in Canada--and only in Canada--in 2000. It had gone out of print, and a lot of people, from beyond Canada, were asking about it. We got the digital rights back on it so we could give it a second life as an e-book. It’s my own coming-of-age story, which I think is unique enough to make it worth writing about. It’s also about my development as a writer, including the story of how I came to know Ross Macdonald, who wrote the Lew Archer novels, and whose real name was Kenneth Millar.
AK: Tell us a little about your e-book novella Never Saw It Coming, as it’s a coda to the 2007 thriller No Time for Goodbye.
LB: Never Saw it Coming is a much-expanded version of the  novella Clouded Vision, which I wrote for the UK Quick Reads program. The novella was very open-ended. There was much that could come after it, and in Never Saw it Coming I tell you the end of the story. And yes, it does star a minor character from No Time for Goodbye, the bogus psychic.
AK: So why did Keisha Ceylon resonate so strongly as a character, that you had to write about her again?
LB: We only see one dimension of her in No Time for Goodbye. She’s a con artist, plain and simple, who preys on families where someone has gone missing. She offers, for a price, to use her psychic powers to help find them. She’s still up to her tricks in the new book, but we see other aspects to her now. As a mother, as someone in an abusive relationship, as someone seeking some redemption. This book is a bit shorter than my regular novels, but I think it’s every bit as much fun.
AK: Why is Never Saw It Coming already available as an e-book in the States, but not scheduled for release in the UK until early 2013?
LB: In the U.S. they’re asking, how come the UK gets it as an actual book you can hold in your hands, and we don’t? It’s out in North America as an e-book only, and its release was timed to build interest in Trust Your Eyes.
AK: So tell us what you are working on currently. And how do you plan to top Trust Your Eyes?
LB: I don’t know whether I can top Trust Your Eyes right away, but next year’s novel, A Tap at the Window, is done. Next up, I plan to write a sequel to No Time for Goodbye. I’ll plan that in November and December, and probably start writing the first of the new year.
AK: Finally, I hear that you’ll be attending Bouchercon in Cleveland next week. What are your plans while you’re there, and do you have any panel assignments?
LB: I’m on one panel, on thrillers. Mostly, I’ll be dining and drinking and hanging out with friends, like you, that I only see once a year.
(Author photo © 2012 Ali Karim)