Saturday, May 16, 2009

Harlan Coben Gets “Lost”

For all of his fame, author Harlan Coben is remarkably low on hubris and pretentiousness. As a result, I’ve always enjoyed his company. He was particularly charming with my family during the 2007 Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, and in the process turned my son, Alexander, into a huge fan of his series featuring sports agent and troubleshooter Myron Bolitar. That series began with Deal Breaker in 1995 and this year added a ninth installment, Long Lost, which sends Bolitar and his horny sidekick, billionaire and martial artist Windsor “Win” Horne Lockwood III, into the center of a global conspiracy.

Although Coben (shown at right) cut his teeth on suburban crime fiction set in and around New York City and New Jersey, where he was born in 1962, in Long Lost he proves to be adept at working on a much broader canvas. This new thriller finds his series protagonists in Europe, trying to help one of Myron’s old flames, former TV anchorwoman Terese Collins--only to become embroiled in a scheme linked to what was used to be known as the “war on terror.” Coben’s UK publisher, Orion, sent The Rap Sheet a review copy of Long Lost, plus the following press release, which explains some of what the author is up to in his latest book:
Harlan Coben’s millions of fans have waited three long years for a new Myron Bolitar novel and soon their patience will be rewarded in spectacular fashion. Myron hasn’t heard from Terese Collins in years. Not since their affair ended without explanation. He’s had no contact with her since, so her call catches him off guard. She’s in Paris, she says, in trouble and only Myron can help. Terese tells him a sad story she’s never before revealed: a good marriage, her struggles to get pregnant, the happiest moment of her life when her only child was born, the day everything she’d ever loved was taken from her. As the years passed Terese heard nothing from her ex-husband, until the phone call that brought her to Paris. But on arrival, Terese finds her husband has been murdered, leaving her as a prime suspect. Then comes a startling piece of evidence that turns the entire case upside down, laying bare Terese’s long-buried family secrets in the most shocking way and leaving Myron nowhere to turn for help. Caught in a foreign landscape where nothing is as it seems, he must tear apart the city--and eventually the globe--fighting for answers to unfathomable questions that will take Myron, and Harlan Coben’s readers, where they have never gone before.
In addition, the good folks at Orion arranged for me to interview the author, who’d ventured across the Atlantic to promote the British edition of Long Lost. So, armed with my trusty tape recorder, I headed off to the Waterstone’s bookstore in the Buckinghamshire town of Milton Keynes, hoping to ask Coben about his transition from suburban suspensers to international thrillers, the French adaptation of his 2001 breakout novel, Tell No One, and why he’s been associated with comedian Jerry Lewis.

Ali Karim: First of all, let me offer my congratulations on Hold Tight having hit both the New York Times and London Times bestseller charts last year. And now, Long Lost has climbed its way onto those same charts. Are you settling into a pattern of alternating standalone novels and Myron Bolitar books?

Harlan Coben: I don’t think so, as I’ve not done that before. It’s always about the idea, so if the idea fits a Myron book, that’s what I’ll do; or if it doesn’t, then I’ll do a standalone. Basically, the books I write center around the idea.

AK: How does it feel to see the early Myron books making it big in the UK, thanks to Orion’s recent series of reissues?

HC: I love it, seeing people finding the early Myron books. It’s amazing to see how many people, after reading Long Lost, go back and start reading the earlier Myron books, because prior to reading Long Lost they’d never heard of Myron Bolitar. …

AK: I really enjoyed the French film adaptation of Tell No One [trailer here]. And I laughed when I spotted your cameo appearance at the station. Can you tell us a little about how that cameo came to be?

HC: Well Guillaume Canet [the director of Tell No One] wanted me to be in it just for the fun of it. Guillaume and his team were very nice about the whole thing, they wanted my input, and really kept me involved throughout the process. Guillaume said that he’d really like me to come over when they were filming and do a cameo scene, if I’d like to. I was really into it, so I brought the whole family, and in fact my wife and kids all ended up in it too. It was great fun, and as a family we all really enjoyed the experience.

AK: The city of Paris plays a large role in Long Lost. Did your love of France develop because of your involvement in the French adaptation of Tell No One? Or did it maybe have something to do with your previous life, working in the travel industry?

HC: Well, I have been dubbed “the Jerry Lewis of crime fiction” in France; I don’t know why. It seems that my books sell very well there. Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world [apart from New York, my home city]. I spend a lot of time in Paris; in fact, I was over six times during the 10-month period that Tell No One was being made, including [for] the premiere as well as the Cesar Awards Banquet [France’s equivalent of the Oscars]. This has made Paris very close to my heart. I love Paris, and recently I saw this amazing building; I marveled at the structure and architecture, and was amazed when I found out it was the police headquarters. So I decided to set a scene in Long Lost there.

AK: So did you have fun hauling Myron and his pal Win across the Atlantic to France and England?

HC: Yes, I did. In fact, as a writer you always try to do something new, and Long Lost has a lot of new things going on. I’d never written Myron in the first-person before--this is a first. I often have to change something in each successive book. In [Hold Tight] I had five to six different families going through crises, with perhaps 20 different viewpoints, replete with small contained stories. Whereas in Long Lost, I did the opposite: Instead of a gazillion viewpoints, we have one--Myron Bolitar’s; instead of several small, self-contained stories, we have one big one. In Long Lost, the threat has global implications.

AK: Long Lost has much more international intrigue than is found in your previous novels. Were you happy with a larger canvas than your suburban thrillers have offered? And did you have to do a great deal of research about U.S. Homeland Security, Mossad, and the “war on terror,” all of which play into this book’s story line?

HC: Not really. [Laughs] I’m not a big researcher; most of the stuff I already knew about, or I made up. One of the things I’ve always said is that “Hey, I don’t need to do much research, as I don’t write the big international thrillers, with big conspiracies.” But now I’ve done it! Again, it’s about trying to do new things. You see, for Long Lost I had this idea: a small-scale tragedy with one of Myron’s old girlfriends, Terese Collins, whose story I never finished anyway; and then [in Long Lost] I watched it blossom into something much bigger.

AK: I see that you handed over your presidency of the Mystery Writers of America to Lee Child this year. Can you tell us a little about your relationship with the MWA? And being such a busy guy already, how much time did you really invest in being president?

HC: I’ve got to be honest here, because I did almost nothing. The MWA president is a ceremonial post. I took the “ceremonial” aspect to heart. ... The president may be the face of the MWA, but the real work is done by the elected officials, such as Harry Hunsicker, Margery Flax, and many others. I attended several MWA board meetings, and they were so well-run, that the president’s role becomes superfluous when it comes to day-to-day management, because the team is so professional.

AK: Long Lost, like many of your novels, has a pretty high-tech backdrop. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, then, to learn that you manage your own MySpace and Facebook pages, and now you’re on Twitter. What do you do on Twitter?

HC: I guess I “tweet” on Twitter; [I’m] not sure what else you do on Twitter. [Laughs] I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of this technology. I don’t Twitter very often--it’s basically once or twice a day, which is a lot for me. However, when I’m not on a book tour, I don’t know what to Twitter [about], as my life is boring. Should I Twitter, “Picking up the kids now”? So I’m not sure how long I’ll keep Twittering. But the interaction with readers is great, so that part keeps me tweeting.

AK: I’ve enjoyed your ironic tweets, and I recall one in particular: “An hour delay at Newark Airport, hey, I live an exciting life.”

HC: Excellent! That shows that the life the so-called glamorous people lead is not that different from the everyday life we all face.

AK: We knew that former President Bill Clinton was a big fan of yours. And now we hear that several rock artists are also fans of your work, including Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen, and now Moby. Do you keep a tally of your celebrity followers?

HC: I’m too modest to do that. But there are pictures [of fans and friends] on my Web site. A recent one is of Burt Reynolds, who has become a reader after picking up Long Lost!

AK: Oh, and I hear that your old college mate, Dan Brown, has a new book coming out sometime in the near future.

HC: [Laughs] Only you could remember that. ... Yes, Dan was at Amherst College with me. He was two years behind me, but we were in the same fraternity.

AK: I also recall that you were one of the first people to provide Dan Brown with a blurb for the book jacket of The Da Vinci Code when it was originally released. Has Brown called you up for a recommendation for The Lost Symbol?

HC: Not yet. You’d better get on the horn to him, because I was certainly good luck to him before, wasn’t I? [Laughs]

AK: You certainly were. But now, on a much more serious note, let me ask: What are your thoughts regarding the current global financial crisis and how it’s impacting publishing?

HC: I don’t know, really don’t. ... I think our best bet as writers is to basically write the best book we can. I get very confused by all these new developments in publishing: e-books, Kindles, PDAs, etc. I think the best plan as a writer, is to keep my head down and write the very best book I can. The rest I have little control over, as we’re in a time of great change--not just with the problems in the economy ... In publishing, we’ve got to figure out a way of making opportunities while the world is changing. I’m not sure I’m the guy who can figure it out. I’m not that intelligent as a businessman. I just write books.

AK: Finally, what books have you most enjoyed reading lately?

HC: Well I just read George Pelecanos’ The Turnaround, which I know is not his new book, but it was a standout; but then what else can you expect from George? I’m probably reading the same books you’ve been reading, but one that sticks in the mind is Safer, by Sean Doolittle. Also, I think Heartless, by Alison Gaylin, is great and she’s an exciting new voice in the crime-writing genre. There’s a lot of good talent out there. I really enjoyed Spoiled, a collection of short stories by Caitlin Macy. Though not strictly crime fiction, it is a tremendous read.

* * *

As I packed up my tape machine, a couple of journalists from the Yorkshire Post moved in quickly to record an interview with Coben, for later podcasting. After Coben’s headline appearance at Harrogate two years ago, he’s become rather popular in Britain’s largest county. I, meanwhile, headed off to the room where Coben was scheduled to read from his new novel and answer audience questions, hoping to find a seat--no easy exercise, as it turned out, for the event was practically sold out.

That’s what happens when you become a bestselling author.

AH, BUT THERE’S MORE: If you’d like to read the first chapter from Long Lost, click here; Michael Carlson reviews the novel here; and click here to see Coben talk about the inspiration for his work.


Anonymous said...

GREAT post! Harlan and I share the same state and I know the locales he writes about. I digested most of the Myron stories while on vacation about 8 years ago and couldn't wait for the next installment. Glad it's on the way!

Anonymous said...

Nice interview, Ali. You're spoiling us with all the great conversations you have...