In connection with the launch of King of Paine, several fantastic book bloggers honored me with interviews posted on their websites. Here’s the best of the Q&A, which I like to imagine occurred with the five intrigued ladies peppering me with questions across a round table beside a roaring fireplace while I answered coolly between sips of hot cocoa. (I know, Hemingway I am not.)
Larry Kahn: I’m a thriller/suspense writer who spent 20 years masquerading as an attorney. Remnants from those two decades of “research” tend to show up in my novels. I live in suburban Atlanta with my wife and have two sons graduating Georgia State University this spring.
Misty, The Top Shelf: What led you to writing?
LK: I was born to write. My life story is more about what led me away from it. I won book review contests as a first grader, always had a writing class on my schedule, and wrote for my college newspaper. But it was too hard to pass up Yale Law School for a sports reporting gig at a local rag. In the end, my 20-year legal career navigating the world of international mergers and acquisitions gave me the life experience to write more interesting novels.
Natalie, Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews: What books have most influenced your writing and why?
LK: The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth, because I read it at an impressionable age and loved the way the author hid the critical clue in plain sight. When the protagonist revealed whodunit, I felt awe and not at all cheated. That’s a lesson I hope I apply in my writing–I want the reader to feel the suspense, struggling to solve critical puzzles along with the protagonist but then doing a classic palm slap to the forehead when the twist is revealed. “Damn, I should have seen that!”
The Firm by John Grisham, because the author showed that lawyers and the issues they address can thrill.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, because the author demonstrated that intelligence can be sexy, that suspense can be created with words as well as actions, and that fiction can be a medium for political philosophy. I think her philosophy is flawed, but that’s a topic I could write an entire essay about.
On Writing by Sol Stein, because this is my bible for novel mechanics. I re-read sections of it before I start each major draft.
Vanessa, Boekie’s Book Reviews: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
LK: That reminds me of the interview scene at the end of the movie Almost Famous, where William Miller, the teenage freelancer for Rolling Stone, finally gets to interview his rock hero and asks, “What do you love about music?” A smile comes over the guitarist’s face as he pulls up a chair and sighs, “Everything.” I find everything about writing challenging in a good way. It’s easy to put words on paper, as the proliferation of new fiction in the marketplace demonstrates, but it’s incredibly difficult–and rewarding–to craft an intricate, relevant, and entertaining novel. I love trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Kathy, Hampton Reviews: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
LK: My process allows for writer’s block, even counts on it. While I’m writing I allocate time to three tasks, depending upon my creativity, sharpness, and mood. Writing requires the most creative energy. If I’m sharp but not creative I’ll spend my day researching. If I wake up feeling dopey, I edit. I do a lot of editing.
Holly: Can you tell us a little bit about your first novel The Jinx?
LK: A young estate lawyer discovers a cryptic poem among his murdered client’s possessions that hints at a 160-year vendetta against the American presidency. His skepticism wanes when he discovers an unusual phenomenon–the presidents elected every twenty years from 1840 through 1960 died in office, and Ronald Reagan barely survived an assassination attempt. His perilous journey leads him to the answer to his question: is the poem merely a dead man’s wacky conspiracy theory or is a powerful cabal primed to claim the White House as vengeance for their ancestor’s death?
Holly: What was your inspiration for this novel?
LK: My high school Civics teacher joked about the “20-Year Jinx” as the 1980 presidential campaign approached. It intrigued me, and when President Reagan was shot in 1981 the notion of a multi-generational conspiracy took root in my mind. I finally wrote the novel while on sabbatical in 1998-1999 so that it could be published before the 2000 presidential election.
Holly: Is The Jinx the first full length novel you wrote or just the first to be published?
LK: It was the first novel. Several prior works of fiction remain unpublished and are stamped “Legal Memorandum.”
Natalie: Is this book [King of Paine] part of a series?
LK: My original intent was for King of Paine to be the second book in a series, but my protagonist in The Jinx, a young lawyer, fell flat as an FBI agent. Paine finally came together when I went for the Hollywood upgrade, bringing in a former action star with a kinky past to replace my heroic, ordinary guy lawyer. Frank Paine’s history made the character motivations more authentic and freed me to explore more interesting (kinkier?) plot developments.
Kathy: Why did you write this book?
LK: King of Paine is a complex story with many inspirations. One of the first was my own musings about the personal accountability of the terminally ill. It’s natural for any of us to have a violent urge from time to time, but fear of God or imprisonment keep most of us from acting on it. I questioned what moral forces would keep a desperate patient in check if the law and religion weren’t enough. I set my “villain” loose to see how far he would go. He went pretty far. [For more, read my blog post, “My Inspirations for King of Paine”]
Misty: Were there ever moments where the story didn’t go the way you planned or personally wanted it to go? How did you deal with that?
LK: I’m a problem-solver by nature–I enjoy the little puzzles that constantly arise when you’re crafting a complex story. Sometimes I go down what seems like a great path and then come to a point where I can’t connect another path without relying on coincidence, so I either have to make an adjustment in one or both paths to set the stage for the intersection of the plot lines more organically or just scrap the idea and start over. That’s the beauty of outlining before writing, though–I never find myself in the awful spot of having to choose between scrapping great pages or relying upon a cheesy coincidence to make the story work. I hate when I’m reading a thriller and solutions magically appear. That’s bad planning.
Natalie: When you start to write a new novel, what is the process for you, do you start with a small idea and when you sit to write is that when the story starts to flow, or, before you start to write do you already have the whole story worked out?
LK: I like intricate plots, and they cannot be crafted on the fly. I brainstorm several main plot and character ideas and think through how they might fit together. I do a lot of my best plotting while I’m lying in bed, mind spinning wildly at 3am, 4am, 5am. It drives my wife crazy because I’m constantly running downstairs to write something in my notebook so I can get it off my mind and sleep. Then, when I’m on a roll, I use a mapping software program called Mind Manager to build characters and their motivations, plots and subplots, and imagine how they might intersect. Because I don’t want to be trite or irrelevant, I intentionally try out a few crazy ideas and see where they take me. I want my characters to dream big. I throw a lot in the trash, but some of the crazy stuff sticks and, I think, works in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. When your followers read about “The Pit” in King of Paine, they will remember this question and chuckle. [See my guest post, “Crafting Intricate Plots“]
Vanessa: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
LK: I do like to weave social themes into my novels, but I try not to be preachy. I include multiple perspectives through characters whose views are expressed organically, with a proper foundation layered into the plot and consistent with the characters’ established personalities and beliefs. Some issues are controversial, others less so. I’d like to think that the subtle call for a renewed emphasis on family and tradition in King of Paine is not. I think readers who see the book’s cover may be surprised to hear that’s the issue I want to talk about, but the story is about so much more than that provocative image suggests. [See my blog post, “Weaving Social Themes Into Suspense Novels”]
Kathy: Who is your favorite character in your books? Why?
LK: Angela del Rio–the “Angel of the River”–is a mysterious and brilliant woman in King of Paine who spreads joy like a contagion to everyone she meets. She’s my favorite because she’s inspired by my wife, who shares those qualities. [See my blog post, “My Hero, My Wife, and a Purple Donkey”]
Vanessa: Which character was the most fun to write?
LK: Frank Paine. I was able to shut the filters off and channel my inner jackass. One of the themes brewing below the surface of King of Paine is that we are who we let the world see through our words and actions, not our thoughts. When I was writing as Frank, I found myself thinking thoughts I ordinarily wouldn’t even dare to let myself think, never mind say aloud. And since Frank’s pre-FBI background is as a Hollywood actor, I also enjoyed creating his mindset, frequently drawing on well-known scenes from movies to inspire his reaction to obstacles he faced. There are a couple of passages that still crack me up when I reread them, like an unflattering image of Jack Nicholson at a Playboy Mansion party that Frank can’t get out of his head at an inopportune moment.
Vanessa: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
LK: The hardest part was trying to make Frank Paine, a deeply flawed man, a protagonist readers can get behind. He wronged the woman he loves, but he’d give up his life to earn her forgiveness. I hope his remorse, fundamental integrity, and determination to fight his darker impulses will ultimately win readers’ hearts. [See my blog post, “Rooting for a Flawed Protagonist”]
Misty: Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on right now if you’re working on anything at all?
LK: I’m still outlining my next thriller, tentatively entitled Hostile Takeover. My protagonist discovers a conspiracy by Asian sovereign investment funds to acquire vital U.S. companies and subvert the government. I’m still debating whether to have my protagonist take heroic action to save the American way of life or write the last third of the book in Chinese. I know, tough call, right?