Interview with Jeffery Deaver
NYPD criminalist Lincoln Rhyme is a complex character who defies the conventions of the typical fictional detective and in the process tears to shreds many of the stereotypes about people sufferingv from disabilities.
Jeffery Deaver introduced this winning protagonist to the public in 1997 with The Bone Collector. After suffering a horrifying accident at a crime scene, Rhyme is rendered quadriplegic and falls into a severe depression, until a series of crimes around the city brings him back into action. Seven novels later, the wheelchair-bound forensic scientist is still taking on and outsmarting some of the most chilling criminals in detective fiction. With his resourceful partner Amelia Sachs doing much of the legwork, Rhyme has solved cases that range from tracking down a professional killer in The Coffin Dancer (1998), to preventing a gruesome act of vengeance by a master illusionist in The Vanished Man (2003), to stopping a time-obsessed serial killer known as the Watchmaker in The Cold Moon (2006).
In addition to the Lincoln Rhyme series, Deaver writes a series of novels featuring talent scout and former stuntman John Pellam, and has recently begun a new series following the adventures of California Bureau of Investigations interrogator and kinesics expert, Kathryn Dance. He has also written a number of highly successful stand-alone novels, including The Devil’s Teardrop (1999), The Blue Nowhere (2001), and Garden of Beasts (2004).
Readers who book a ticket on the rollercoaster ride that is a Deaver novel are captured by his uniquely frightening and very human criminals, his realistic rendering of police and forensic procedure and his insights into the minds of multi-dimensional protagonists. Over his 20-year career as a writer, Deaver has established himself as a master of the multi-plotted novel, winning acclaim for fast-paced narratives, complex characters and trademark surprise endings.
In 2002, he received the DREAM Award from the Western Law Center for Disability Rights for his realistic portrayal of a fictional character suffering from a disability. In 2004, he was awarded the Silver Dagger from the Crime Writers Association for Garden of Beasts, as well as the Short Story Dagger for “The Weekender.” He has also been nominated six times for Edgar Awards from Mystery Writers of America.
Jeffery Deaver’s latest Lincoln Rhyme novel, The Broken Window, was released this summer by Simon & Schuster.
AFG: I want to start with one of my favorite books, Garden of Beasts. Will you ever try anything like that again? I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read.
JD: That’s very kind of you, Andrew. I must say, it is probably my favorite of the books that I’ve written, and it’s the one that I spent the most time on. Now, I always do a book a year, but this one took me two years to write. Garden of Beasts was so compelling that I slipped it in between my series books. I planned it out beforehand so that I would still publish one book a year. There was a Lincoln Rhyme, then Garden of Beasts, then another Lincoln Rhyme. I don’t ever want to neglect my readers because I know they want a book a year. But I do find that particular subject, so interesting, and was so excited about that book, that I spent two years doing it. The research was quite extensive, and I wanted to make sure it worked well. I’m very proud of it. Of course, it won the Crime Writer’s Association Silver Dagger. I think for several reasons that book resonated in Europe much more than here, largely because World War II is much more immediate to them. I had some young people come up at signings and say they liked it, and that they were now going to learn more about World War II. They don’t really have a sense of that distant history. I was born in 1950 so for me, even though it was history, it wasn’t that far off. Nowadays, for younger readers, it seems like that was a long, long time ago.
AFG: Do publishers pressure you to continue with the series characters?
JD: Sure. But I do understand it. I as a reader enjoy series characters, so I have no problem with that. My fans like series characters and I write for my fans. I think I’ve mentioned this ad nauseum, if not to you, to many people. This is all about them; it’s not about me. I enjoy writing anything. I can write standalones or series books. But the fans like series and I’m happy to write that for them. Of course, when I start out with a book, I never know if it’s going to be part of a series or not. You can claim it will be, and it may never come to fruition.
AFG: So when did you decide to become a writer? I know you wrote your first novel when you were 11.
JD: Well pretty much around that age. One never knows exactly at what point you make these decisions, but I decided very young that I enjoyed writing and enjoyed reading. I liked movies, too, but basically I liked the idea of stories and storytelling. I tried a number of different things. I was a journalist, I was editor of a literary magazine, I wrote a lot of poetry, I wrote songs. And yet, much of that was simply because I enjoyed the act of writing and expressing myself. But in the back of my mind, despite whatever else I was doing, I wanted to write popular fiction, commercial fiction. I wanted to be Conan Doyle, or Agatha Christie, or Ian Fleming. That was the type of story that I enjoyed reading, and that was what I wanted to write. I made a number of attempts throughout my teens and 20s to do that, and I learned that there are very few prodigy writers. Presumably Mozart, who was composing at 4 and 5, displayed some prodigious talent. But writers have to live a while, have to experience things, otherwise you can’t bring much depth to your books. So, my early attempts were not very good at all, and I actually threw out almost everything. But in my 30s, I developed more of a voice, and that’s when the dream came to fruition. So I quit working in 1989, and I’ve been writing full time ever since. But I absolutely wanted to be a writer all my life.
AFG: You used the term “commercial fiction.” Would you describe yourself as a commercial fiction writer? Because I’ve read commercial fiction, and I’ve read your novels, and I don’t see your work as commercial fiction.
JD: By commercial fiction, I simply mean I write for a living, I write for profit, and I make no bones about it. And I gear my books to my audience. Now I do spend a lot of time on them. I do believe I’m a craftsman, at least in terms of creating a product that will find a good market out there. I don’t think there’s anything disparaging about referring to these books as products. That simply means it’s a created object for which there’s a market. So I don’t have any problem with that. I do feel that some authors are more skilled at doing that than others. There are some very, very talented commercial fiction writers out there, and there are some that are hacks, that just churn out a product that leaves the reader wanting more. But I think my audience is really smart, and they have high standards. I think my books have a level of complexity that has in one way limited my audience. The books are very intense, you pick them up and go through this roller coaster of two or three days, and I have a lot of clues and a lot of subplots and everything. I mean, authors like John Le Carre for instance, who is one of my gods in writing, he’s both a commercial and literary writer, and he’s got a huge market all over the world, a number of movies made of his books—he’s quite talented.