Friday, December 08, 2006

The Winter Forecast Calls for Frost

You may recall that I was rather excited a few weeks ago by the emergence of a new and exciting talent in the thriller genre: Scott Frost. Next month, Britain’s Headline Publishing will release a mass-market edition of Never Fear, the second in Frost’s series featuring Lieutenant Alex Delillo of the Pasadena, California, police department. I loved this book. It was fresh with a vibrant voice, but also filled with pathos. In Never Fear, Delillo investigates the murder of a man, only to realize that he was her long-lost brother. Why had the deceased tried to contact her just before he died? And what is the connection to a long-forgotten serial killer known as “The River Killer,” who is rumored to have been her father? Never Fear is a complex, propulsive thriller that also demonstrates Frost’s skill at creating distinctive characters.

As it turns out, though, Headline isn’t satisfied with putting just one Frost book on the market. Next week, it will release his debut novel, Run the Risk (originally published in the States in 2005), in the UK, with a mass-market edition of that book coming in the summer of 2007. Risk finds Delillo and her Southern California cop colleagues ensnared in a cat-and-mouse game with a seriously deranged bomber, who may or may not be a serial killer and international terrorist--if not something worse. As in Never Fear, we see Alex’s family drawn into the mayhem of Risk, only this time it’s the life of Alex’s daughter that hangs in the balance.

My guess is that Frost--who’s already a screenwriter (as well as the brother of author-screenwriter Mark Frost [The List of Seven] and actress Lindsay Frost)--has a huge career ahead of him as a thriller writer. I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that he’s represented by influential New York literary agent Elaine Koster, and that he’s already signed with Putnam in the United States for a two-book deal (the specifics to be announced).

So impressed was I by Scott Frost’s existing fiction and his launch in the UK, that I decided to track him down and ask him to tell The Rap Sheet a little about how he came to plot his thrillers. His response:
As someone who writes crime fiction, it seems a natural question to ask--the creative process being as much a mystery as the books themselves. Having never been a journalist, the notion that a story can come out of a headline or research is an alien idea, not a bad one by any means, just one that is beyond my field of experience. Trying to base fiction on fact feels like putting the horse before the cart. And the old idea that you write what you know is probably one that came from a harassed teacher spending too many days staring into the faces of students who expected to actually learn something. One doesn’t have to go any further than a bathroom mirror to realize that relying on the sum of your own knowledge would rarely get you past page five, and that would be on a good day.

Or at least that is what I thought until I began thinking about
Never Fear. OK, that’s not entirely true, but it is a little bit true. While [that story] didn’t exactly come from something I know, it did come from memory--a very specific one in this case--that, happily, had little to do with the events and characters that unfold in the book.

I was eight years old, give or take, watching an old black-and-white movie on television one summer afternoon at my grandmother’s house in upstate New York. It was a monster movie--to be specific, a low budget, badly made B-movie entitled
War of the Colossal Beast [1958].

I was happily sitting on the couch, eating popcorn, (though I may have added that part over time) when the monster, a creation that looked oddly like a cycloped
Walter Matthau grown to gigantic proportions, began attacking [Los Angeles’] Griffith Park Observatory. As the city fought back, the screen cut to a lone police dispatcher desperately calling on all available units to respond to the monster. The dispatcher was my father. I stared in disbelief for a moment, then jumped off the couch and started screaming, “that’s Dad,” and then he was gone. Eight seconds of screen time at most that turned into forty years of memory and, eventually, the opening scene of the book where Alex sees her father, an actor, who disappeared from her life when she was a child, in a film.

Late in his career my father played George Costanza’s father-in-law-to-be on
Seinfeld. In one memorable moment he rode around Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage driven by Kramer, who had just fed the horse a very large can of beans. I can’t wait to find out where this memory will end up someday in my writing. So, write what you know, or at least remember, because you never know where a book is hiding.
I hear that Hollywood filmmakers have been expressing an interest in bringing investigator Alex Delillo to the big screen. Talk about a screenwriter working backwards! I wonder if Frost himself will pen the movie script.

No comments: