Our pick of the month for March, Chris Pavone’s The Accident, has been getting rave reviews. This novel about the CIA trying to stop a damaging manuscript from getting out works on several levels. We caught up with Mr. Pavone to as him a few questions.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What made you think the publishing world would be a great setting for a thriller?
CHRIS PAVONE: I think one of the reasons we read fiction is to become immersed in other worlds, to learn about the day-to-day lives of other people: small-town courtroom lawyers, aid workers in Africa, unlucky surgeons. Any setting can be great for a thriller if the characters are compelling, the conflict is credible, and if readers have the opportunity to learn something they want to know. And I suspect that many people who read books are at least mildly interested in the book-publishing business – the authors and editors and agents, how the whole things works. I admit that it’s not a slam-dunk setting like the Cold War in Berlin, but I hope it’s not too far afield.
MP: What did you want to get across about the industry?
CP: There’s a whole rich world behind the scenes of every book, an industry populated by people who care immensely about the written word, and have dedicated their lives to adding value to books; people who have children and mortgages, love and loss. Also that the entire industry–publishers and booksellers, reviewers and authors–is in a precarious state of uncertainty.
MP: You capture the personalities in that world spot on. Are there any people you hope don’t read it?
CP: Yes! But if I named them, they’d know it.
MP: A crux of the plot involves a woman who acquires books for film. How much influence does the film industry have on publishing today?
CP: Film adaptations are obviously important for the overall bottom line of the publishing sector; there are always book-to-screen projects on bestseller lists, and those books have a tendency to be huge. Nevertheless there are just a few handfuls of these adaptations per year, representing such a tiny proportion of the industry’s overall output that it’s never anything but an extreme long shot; certainly nothing that can rationally be relied upon. All of which is to say that the film adaptation is a bit like inheriting a fortune from a relative you didn’t know you had: it’s great if it happens to you, but there’s no way to make it happen or plan for it.
MP: What I like about your characters is that there are few who are simply “good” or “bad”, yet their objectives are perfectly clear. How do you approach writing them?
CP: One of the main characters in The Accident says, “No one is a villain in his own autobiography.” That sums up my attitude toward my fictional characters, and it might even define my entire world outlook: everyone is simply doing what they think they should, and sometimes that creates conflict with other people who are also doing what they think they should. Nearly all of the time, neither person is bad.
CP: I wanted The Accident to be a book about ambition, about compromise and corruption. The characters are all people whose actual grown-up selves have diverged from the ideal people they were hoping to become; this is what life is. And I think that the core questions at the heart of an espionage story–Whom can I trust? For whom do I work? Why?–can also offer opportunities to heighten conflict and define tensions in a non-espionage context. In both my novels, I’ve tried to tell stories that work on two levels: as thrillers, but also as novels about universal human conflicts.
Chris Pavone will be at BookPeople on Thurs, Mar 20 at 7PM speaking & signing copies of The Accident. Click here for more information & to pre-order a signed copy of The Accident.