Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tapping Into Barclay’s Methods

I was lucky enough last week to interview Linwood Barclay, author of the new thriller A Tap on the Window. You’ll find the results of our exchange in my Kirkus Reviews column posted earlier today.

I’ve encountered Barclay at a couple of Bouchercons over the years, but strangely, we’ve never taken the opportunity to sit down and talk about our mutual interest in crime fiction. Via e-mail, though, this 58-year-old resident of Oakville, Ontario (who, by the way, is celebrating his 36th wedding anniversary this week), seemed quite pleased to discuss subjects ranging from his writing history and his story-plotting process, to his favorite authors and the debts he owes to renowned California detective novelist Ross Macdonald. Barclay joked that after three decades of working for newspapers (during part of which he penned a humor column), he’d learned to “turn stuff around fast”--so responding to more than a dozen of my queries must barely have caused an interruption in his day’s schedule.

Unlike some previous author interviews I have put together for Kirkus, I left less of my conversation with Barclay on the cutting-room floor. But there were parts I had to cut out, and those I am posting below for your delectation. After you read the Kirkus portion of our interview, the Q&As here should make more sense.

J. Kingston Pierce: I have to say, you’ve weighted down your protagonist, upstate New York private eye Cal Weaver, with extraordinary burdens of guilt and pain in this novel, especially in the closing chapters. Did you ever think he might have deserved to walk away from this story with at least a modicum of happiness?

Linwood Barclay: I was kind of mean to him, wasn’t I? But my hope is that the readers feel a hint of Cal’s pain, that this is a book that will stay with them for a while. There’s a major event near the end of the novel that I could have avoided, but to not do it felt like a cop-out. I thought, “I’m going all in.”

JKP: Without giving away too much of Tap’s story, let me just say that I liked how Weaver’s exploration of young Claire Sanders’ disappearance ultimately shed new light on the recent death of the P.I.’s son, Scott. Did you know, when starting on the book, how that would work out in the end? Or was the solution to Scott’s death revealed to you during the process of writing?

LB: I knew from the outset it all had to be linked. Just how worked itself out as I went along. For the most part, I think everything in a thriller has to be there for a reason. If we start a book knowing Cal’s son has passed away, there has to be a reason why that’s in the story. It has to matter.

JKP: As you unmask the “bad guys” in this tale, we comprehend--but only slowly--the depths and tragic purpose of their misdeeds. Other writers can be much more black-and-white in portraying their villains. How important do you think it is to be subtle in exploring the characters of fictional malefactors?

LB: No one is black and white. I like to think there are not only shades of gray to the bad guys, but the good ones, too. Cal is far from perfect.

JKP: Stories by which other crime, mystery, and thriller authors--old and new--do you most enjoy reading?

LB: So many, one hates to single anyone out. I just finished the latest James Lee Burke (Light of the World). How does somebody write a book like that every single year? Blown away. I love, in no particular order, George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Tess Gerritsen, William Landay, Lisa Gardner, Lawrence Block, Stephen King, Alafair Burke, Michael Robotham, Donald E. Westlake, Ed McBain ... I could go on. And Ace Atkins is doing a nice job with Spenser.

JKP: After all this time, what weakness do you still have as a writer?

LB: How much space do you have? I learn with every book. I think authors are their own worst critics, and thank goodness my readers don’t see all the things wrong with my books that I do. I have a friend who is a satirical writer and artist, and he said he’s never done a drawing that was as good as he saw it in his head. I get that.

JKP: Finally, if you could have grown up to be any other novelist, who would it have been? And why?

LB: I imagine most authors sometimes think, “Oh, I wish I’d had his success and fame,” but then you’d have also had to have had their life. When I was in my teens, I wanted nothing more than to be Ross Macdonald, writing a book a year to critical acclaim, but having read Tom Nolan’s brilliant bio on him, I think, “Was his a happy life?” I’m not so sure. I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve had, the years [my wife] Neetha and I have shared, the wonderful times we’ve had with our kids, for anyone else’s.

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You can watch a promotional trailer for A Tap at the Window here. And CBC News has posted a video interview with Linwood Barclay--wordsmith and model train enthusiast--here.

1 comment:

Kelly Robinson said...

Cool -- we get the director's cut, so to speak!