Today I’m delighted to welcome Koethi Zan, author of the fabulous psychological thriller, THE NEVER LIST, to the CTG blog.
I found THE NEVER LIST both spellbinding and chilling. Through Sarah (Caroline) the reader experiences the horror, and impact, of her ordeal in a way that feels very authentic. How did you go about researching the book?
I researched the book by reading essentially everything available about the experiences of women who have been abducted: their memoirs, trial transcripts, psychology textbooks, third party accounts and newspaper articles. I was quite submerged in it, which was a very dark and scary place to be for so long a time. Of course, I can never know what that experience is truly like, but I feel I have developed a particular empathy for those victims, and I hope what I’ve learned comes across in the book.
For the BDSM parts of the book, I read books on the topic, but also spent a lot of time going down the internet rabbit hole of that culture. I found myself on many shocking chat boards, websites, and blogs. At a certain point, I’d read so many disturbing accounts that I started to believe I could never be surprised by anything. But there was always that one more site, one more story, one more image.
The idea of Sarah and Jennifer, after experiencing loss and trauma while still at school, creating their never list is fascinating. How did you get the idea for the never list, and would you call yourself a list person?
The relationship between Sarah and Jennifer is loosely based on my own relationship with my best friend. She and I never had a formal, written list of ‘don’ts,’ but we did have a set of rules we’d follow because we were both slightly paranoid. Perhaps not as much as my characters, but there are many shared themes in their lives and ours.
I am definitely a list person, and always have been. I keep multiple to do lists at all times, each with different time horizons. Otherwise the world would be too overwhelming.
What books and authors have inspired you as a reader and writer?
Two crime fiction writers who influenced my book are quite different from one another: Patricia Highsmith, whose pacing is slow and menacing, her technique literary and psychological, and Steig Larsson, who is all action, action, action, with complex and dramatic storylines.
I started reading Highsmith years ago, and though I would not dare compare myself to her, she sparked my interest in crime fiction. I love how she follows the progression of the criminal mind, usually making the reader complicit with the perpetrator, living out the story from his or her point of view. For my book, I wanted to flip her formula on its head and give the victim’s perspective, so the reader would be intimately involved with the crime and its impact on the psyche, not just trying to solve the who, where and what of it.
Only in retrospect did I realize that Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy had such a huge impact on my book. On the one hand, I love his fast action and over-the-top plotting. Anything can happen in his books as long as it propels the story along, and that’s liberating for a writer. On the other hand, I think my approach to violence is in stark contrast to his. I read (and love) a lot of Scandinavian fiction, and as with Larsson’s, the violence is often explicit and raw. I believe in uncovering this dark side of humanity—I think that’s a healthy way to cope with it—but I prefer to use suggestion rather than elaborate, graphic detail. I think that technique can be quite effective because the reader personalizes the terror, drawing on his or her own worst nightmares to fill in the blanks.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan out the story first?
I knew from early on how the book would begin, how it would end, and generally how the characters would develop. Those elements formed the outline of the book for me, and the rest fell into place as I wrote it. I never wrote an outline.
My actual writing process was driven by necessity. When I was writing The Never List, I had one hour a day to write, from 5 am to 6 am. After that, I had to get the kids to school and go to work. I set myself a minimum word count of 500 a day, five days a week. And I had an incentive plan: if I hit 10,000 words in any calendar month, I could take the rest of the month off. I kept finishing earlier an earlier each month.
Now that I’m writing full-time, I still stick to my early morning writing routine and the word count requirements. I’m conditioned to write in the early mornings now, and I love starting my day with my word count done.
THE NEVER LIST was an outstanding debut, and one of my favourite reads of 2013. What was your route to publication?
I was quite lucky. My husband is a writer and so when I’d finished a draft of the book, he mentioned it to his agent. I wasn’t quite ready to show it to anyone—no one had read a word of it yet, but his agent wanted to see it and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. It turned out that they liked it at the agency, so I was pretty over the moon about that. They gave me some notes and we worked on it a bit, and then we took it to publishers. The day we sold it was certainly one of the happiest of my life. There were plenty of tears and celebrations in my house for at least a week. I’m still pinching myself.
And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
I am writing a second book now–not a sequel, but a different stand-alone book. I continue to be interested in the same themes: power, psychological disturbances, dealing with a dark past. My goal is to write a book that builds suspense but also deals with complex issues. I hope to finish it up this spring.
That’s definitely a book I’m looking forward to reading.
A huge thank you to Koethi Zan for popping by the CTG blog.
THE NEVER LIST is out on 30th January in paperback. You can read our review of it here: http://crimethrillergirl.com/2014/01/27/ctg-reviews-the-never-list-by-koethi-zan/