Matthew Turbeville: Hi Linwood! I’m really excited to talk about your nonstop thrill ride Elevator Pitch, which is sped along with a determination, force, and precision of a number of Jeff Abbott’s famous novels, and the dangers of living in today while haunted by the history of tomorrow. How did you come up with the premise?
Linwood Barclay: I was listening to the news in Toronto, where there has been an explosion of highrise condos, and heard that the city did not have enough elevator inspectors. And the idea, of a serial killer who sabotages elevators, was instantly in my head.
MT: The title Elevator Pitch works on a number of levels, at least two easily understandable to readers. Can you think of other ways the title works in the context of the novel and also our modern world, and how important is a working title to you and do you often change the working title before printing?
LB: There was never any other title. (Okay, at one point I suggested Going Down, but that sounded like a different kind of book.) The elevator pitch for Elevator Pitch is that someone is sabotaging elevators so that they pitch right down to the bottom of the shaft. It’s the only possible title.
MT: Your books are amazingly propulsive. As I said, they remind me of Jeff Abbott, the hands down master of suspense and thrills, able to capture the reader in any and all of his books. Everyone from my grandmother to other writers and such are able to appreciate your work—I mention my grandmother because she’s a famously voracious reader in the crime community and I always trust ARCs and such by her. She’s a big fan. What books and authors do youturn to for inspiration, for understanding characters, setting, story, and what books are just simply your absolute favorite, crime fiction or not?
LB: I tend to read writers I think are way better at this than I am, so the list is long. James Lee Burke immediately comes to mind. But I don’t read strictly crime fiction. I loved a recent bio on Mel Brooks. My favorite writer ever is Ross Macdonald, whose Lew Archer novels I discovered in my teens, and which made a huge impression on me.
MT: The world’s in a state of turmoil in most places, and I always feel like crime fiction—and all fiction is often crime fiction in one way or another—helps provide a certain balance to everyone who can’t make sense of other things. What book do you turn to in times of turmoil, and what book do you think more people should read, and which might help readers in general?
LB: I need to just turn CNN off for a week to reduce my angst level. When I am looking for the literary equivalent of comfort food, I read one of the early Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker. There’s solace in seeking out things you loved when you were younger, when there were fewer problems personally, and globally.
MT: You put out about a book a year. How are you so effective and productive? Do you feel real life ever gets in the way? What is your general schedule like, both for an average day for the great Linwood Barclay and also for each individual session of writing, editing, revision, rewriting.
LB: I spent 30 years in newspapers, so writing is a job. You get up and go to work, and aim to get 2,000 words done before the whistle blows. I’m at my desk usually by 8:30 and go till about 3 p.m. with plenty of wandering about in between. I think life gets in the way on occasion no matter what you do for a living. Writers are not special that way.
MT: For those people who want to be “the next Linwood Barclay,” what advice do you have to give to upcoming and new writers, and what do you think the crime community is missing today? Recently, Agora was launched, promising great crime fiction by diverse authors. I’m very excited to see this, but I was wondering what you’ve thought about different authors, diversity in crime fiction, and where we’re going with the genre.
LB: I don’t honestly think about the big picture a great deal. I write to my strengths, do what I think I am good at, without thinking about the genre as a whole. But more diversity will only make the crime-writing community stronger. As for advice, if you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader. And if you think you want to be a writer, but aren’t currently writing, then maybe you’re more in love with the idea of it than the actual work.
MT: Are there ever books you want to give up on? How many books did you write before first being published? I know some have only written the one, never failing, while others have written three, seven, and some numbers are outrageously high and too often to list.
LB: I wrote several novels in my late teens and early twenties I could not sell, and we can all me thankful for that. But after 25 years in newspapers I was ready to give it another go, and that novel was published.
MT: I’m also writing a piece on fiction writers and their most undervalued or overlooked works. I was wondering if you had any ideas for who you would name—and what titles you would list—for most overlooked work by a great author? How do you feel about your own books? Is there one book you feel never sold well or reached as wide of an audience, despite the blockbuster author you are today? What would that be, and why do you feel more people should read it?
LB: One writer I believe deserves an even greater readership than he currently enjoys (and he’s not doing at all badly) is Michael Robotham, from Australia. As for my own work, I may be too close to judge. I think last year’s book, A Noise Downstairs, was one of my best and I would not object if more people decided to pick it up.
MT: Elevators are scary for a lot of people—they not only provide height, but machinery that isn’t always reliable, as shown in your book—especially if, in extreme cases like the story depicted in your book, a fictional character was able to control the elevators and kill people this way. What are the scariest things for you, and what can you absolutely not write about? There are a few things that I can’t write about, but mostly they are things I found gross, my abject, the things that make me feel sick when I look at them or talk about the issues.
LB: I don’t know that there’s any subject I absolutely would not write about, but there might be limitations in HOW I write about it. There’s violence in my novels, but I don’t spend a lot of time on the gory details. The reader can fill in those spots with their own mental images.
MT: We know the elevator, or something involved the elevators, will kill so many people. What do you think about this keeps people reading, despite knowing where most of the danger is involved, and why do you think you’re able to keep them in suspense we know so much will revolve around the elevators? What do you think the secret to building and keeping suspense continuous through the whole novel?
LB: A thriller needs momentum. The plot is a kind of engine, and the writer is putting his or her foot to the floor. You’re in that car and it’s not safe to jump out so you might as well enjoy the ride.
MT: You mention one way to die—a scarf, I believe, getting stuck in an elevator—which was a very memorable and frightening thing for me—elevator, heights, suffocationand possible decapitation, depending on the circumstance. There was a scene like this in the movie Final Destination, or one of the sequels, and I also read Wes Craven added a scene into Scream 4, one of his final films, where he’d seen in the news a police officer was shot in the head but kept walking. What do you feel are the best sources of inspiration for bone chilling death scenes which keep the reader terrified and interested in both the most thrilling and worst ways? Most people wouldn’t believe Wes Craven’s story if it weren’t listed in the news, and so I wonder if anyone has actually questioned anything similar in your books?
LB: Not that I can recall. And anyway, my answer is: it’s a thriller. I want to root it in the believable, but I’m going to take a few liberties along the way.
MT: Recently, with the death of Toni Morrison, I think our country has finally realized literature is significant, her loss felt so intensely by so many of my friends, many of them not even big readers or members of the literary community or crime community. What authors do you regret not being able to interview, talk to, befriend because of their death? One I’ve thought about often is Reynolds Price. I love his work and he died in 2011, not far from my home in South Carolina, and it’s a big regret of mine how I never summoned the courage to meet him.
LB: I would love to have met Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, Donald Westlake. I’m lucky to have met, and had dinner with, Ross Macdonald (real name Kenneth Millar) and his wife Margaret Millar when I was 21. And I very much miss Margaret Laurence, and wonderful Canadian novelist who was a mentor and friend to my wife and me. I wish we could still sit around her kitchen table and trade stories.
MT: What’s next for you? You’ve written standalones, series, trilogies—what book or books do you have in mind? How far ahead do you write, and how far ahead do you plan? Do you plan out each book step by step, and do you ever give yourself wiggle room for any sort of improvising or unexpected writing you feel is necessary to the rest of the novel?
LB: Once I have a hook for a story, a “what if,” I figure out who did what and where I want to end up. I have the big picture in mind before I begin, but I don’t know the opportunities that exist in the big “mushy middle” of the novel until I get into it. As for what’s coming next, I’m not saying a thing.
MT: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with us at Writers Tell All, Linwood. I cannot wait for your next book (which I’m sure will be out soon, and will be great!). Feel free to tell us anything about the book so we can go ahead and pre-order, and for any readers who haven’t already read Elevator Pitchand Linwood’s other novels, please do so at your earliest convenience! His books are unforgettable.
LB: Elevator Pitch will have to keep you entertained for the time being. But not to worry, I’m hard at work.