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Jeffery Deaver on Modern Signed Books!

Bestselling author Jeffery Deaver discusses the Burial Hour on the Modern Signed Books podcast.

Episode transcript (also available as a PDF):
Rodger Nichols: Welcome to BlogTalk Radio. We are very pleased to welcome Jeffery Deaver to our microphones. He's a number one international best selling author who has sold more than 50 million books worldwide. His books are sold in 150 countries and translated into 25 languages. His first novel featuring Lincoln Rhyme, 'The Bone Collector' made into a major motion pictures starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. He has received or been short listed for too many awards for us to mention today. That would be amazing enough, but Jeffery Deaver, is what you call a value added author. He has written a James Bond novel, has appeared as a corrupt reporter, what other kind are there, on his favorite soap opera, 'As the World Turns', and been a lyricist for a country western album. He also happens to be a former attorney and, as I understand, the president of Mystery Writers of America for 2017. His latest book is 'The Burial Hour', a new Lincoln Rhyme novel. Welcome.

Jeffery Deaver: Thank you. Always good to talk to you.

Rodger Nichols: The thing I like about you is you seem like such a really nice guy, but you get some pretty bizarre situations going out there. I wonder about what kind of dreams you have.

Jeffery Deaver: Well, you know, it's interesting you mention that because just the other night I had a dream. I wish I could say it was a sick and twisted nightmare, but in fact it was one of those odd dreams where the trees turn into clouds and then the clouds become a vice presidential candidate or something like that. I thought it had maybe a good mystery twist in it. Then I woke up, and I couldn't remember the darned thing. My novel for 2018 is probably going to be something entirely different from what I'd hoped.

Rodger Nichols: That's the way it happens I suppose. There are a few things you miss. I suspect you do so much research and so much interesting things. You get to in this get to invent a new espionage acronym for one thing, which I found really delightful.

Jeffery Deaver: I do. Having the whole power of creation in your hand when you write novels is really great. You mentioned an interesting word just in research. I have to say, I was born with a pretty vivid imagination, but I have to rein it in continually. When I did write 'The Burial Hour', we can talk about that in just a bit, I came up with some pretty fanciful ideas. I outline and plan my books ahead of time. I did the first rough draft of the outline. I went back and looked at it and said, "You know, there are things here that really aren't grounded in reality."

I sat down and did a great deal of research. I'm hesitating a little because the books, as you know, are very twist oriented. I have a lot of surprises. The government organization you're talking about actually has its roots in some real history of government security. I thought I was kind of making it up out of whole cloth I thought, but then going back and looking at my research I learned there are some aspects of government security that are echoed rather inadvertently in my book. I adjusted a few things, and I didn't have to make as many changes as I thought. If this doesn't intrigue your listeners, I certainly don't know what will.

Rodger Nichols: You are a tease. You know that. That's why you're so good at what you do. I want to talk a little bit about process here because I noticed that in this book you've got seven sections designated almost as if they were episodic. They certainly have some of that, but it's all tied together. It's all a straight through line through the story. it was kind of interesting what you chose and how that accented that particular section of the story.

Jeffery Deaver: Sure. I'll talk a little bit about that in the book if I could, and this will address that comment, which is very perceptive I will say, because that was intentional, but I wasn't sure if folks would necessarily catch on to it. All of my books take place over a short period of time. The high point of my career, I would say, creatively was managing to write a book of about 400 pages that took place over eight hours. It was in real time, actually it was almost a little faster than real time. That was very difficult to do.

In general, my Lincoln Rhyme books, actually all of my thrillers, take place over a very shot period of time. 'The Burial Hour', it does that as well, however we have one element that I had to work around, and that was that's. The book begins in New York City where Lincoln and Amelia, and for your listeners who may not be familiar, Lincoln Rhymes is the character from 'The Bone Collector' movie which you mentioned, and Amelia Sachs is his partner both professionally and personally. They are on the trail of, believe it or not, a sick and twisted apparent serial killer in New York City. Well, he eludes them, and where does he end up a few days later? In Italy. Through various mechanizations they end up there trying to track him down.

Well, the story, although it does take place over a fairly short period of time, required me to get them to Italy. I thought in this book we don't need to be quite so much of a race horse. We can slow down a bit. Each of those seven sections you talk about are a separate day. In a way, 'The Burial Hour' is I guess my most leisurely book, although I try in every one of those sections to make it a race against the clock to make sure that the victim is saved or if the victim isn't saved, which does happen sometimes in my books of course, that Lincoln and Amelia can at least get clues that will allow them to close in on the bad guy.

Rodger Nichols: Again, I just want to say this is very highly satisfying and a great page turner because that's the way I work. I get going on this thing, and it's in the zone. Next thing I know it's three AM, and I've got to get up in five minutes and go to work. This is excellent stuff all the way through. One of the things I like about the small touch is you really have a gift for simile and metaphor as well. The one that jumped out at me ... Two of them jumped out at me. Early in the book you write 'the boundary between the state and federal jurisdiction in criminal investigation is as gray as the East River in March', which I found beautiful. Close to the end of the book you talked about 'as vague as a narrator in a Viagra ad'. Now that, that is poetry, my friend. I appreciate that so much.

Jeffery Deaver: You know, it's interesting you bring that up because my process in writing the book, I kind of alluded to this a moment ago, is very, I guess I'd say and I'm not ashamed of this, very mechanical. The outline, ends up being about, for 'The Burial Hour', 130, 140 pages. That's a schematic. I start on my wall. I put it all together. I move things around. Then I do a lot of the research we talked about a moment ago.

Then I sit down to write the book. That's when I occasionally have moments of inspiration. Now, I'm not saying that a reference to a Viagra ad, which just occurred to me, and I thought that was rather clever, I'm not saying that's Shakespearian literature, but I thought it might raise a few smiles on the parts of my readers. Little things like that, where do they come from? I have no idea, but I'm glad they resonate if they do.

Rodger Nichols: Yeah. One writer said, he just left a little bowl of milk out for the brownies on the back step every day, and that's where that stuff came from.

Jeffery Deaver: That's very well said. I like that.

Rodger Nichols: The one aspect that I really resonated with me. You talk about how Rhyme just doesn't know anything, very little that isn't related to criminalistics. In fact, doesn't want to know. That is right out of Sherlock Holmes 'Study in Scarlet'.

Jeffery Deaver: Yeah.

Rodger Nichols: You did write something for a Sherlock Holmes anthology, did you not?

Jeffery Deaver: I did. Your listeners may recall this because it was the line from Conan Doyle. This was echoed in the Benedict Cumberbatch remake, reboot I should say, not remake necessarily, of Sherlock Holmes where Watson was astonished to learn that Holmes didn't know that the earth and the planets revolved around the sun. Watson, of course, being a man of science looked at Holmes, another man of science, and said, "How can you possibly not know that?" Holmes's response, very much like Lincoln Rhyme's might be that it doesn't affect my job, and what's most important is my deductions in catching the criminal or whatever clue they're prowling after at the moment.

It's odd you mention that because Sherlock Holmes was an inspiration for Lincoln Rhyme. Holmes did get out into the field a bit. He used fisticuffs, and he carried a big old British revolver occasionally, but mostly he was never happier than when he was engaging in a mental chess match with the villain. Lincoln Rhyme is the same way. Sherlock Holmes has always been a big influence on me. Most recently the short story I wrote, and I do love short fiction a great deal, was not a period piece about Sherlock Holmes, but it was a modern day story about a man obsessed with the Sherlock Holmes myth. My main character was somebody who fancied himself as smart as Holmes and kept trying to volunteer to the police to solve a series of crimes. Again, because I'm obsessed with the twists and the surprise, I really can't say very much else about the story. It was very fun to write.

I go back to the Conan Doyle stories quite a bit. Holmes appeared in relatively few novels, but Doyle wrote a lot of short stories. They still hold up. They're just a great delight to read.

Rodger Nichols: One of the things that though he doesn't know some basic facts and doesn't want to know them, he knows that rats shed due to Bartonella bacteria, that dactylography is fingerprinting, knows the chemical composition of electro-conductive jelly for shock treatments, all of which are factors in the book that he does know because they are relevant to what he's doing.

Jeffery Deaver: Yeah. If your next question is going to be, "Jeff, did you know all that before you sat down to write the book?" My answer will be no. Because of research. One of the reasons I write crime books is that crime books allow very lucky authors to include all sorts of esoterica in the story. In the course of my roughly 40 novels now, I have written about the infrastructure grid, the power system, about tattooing. A book of mine a few years ago called 'The Broken Window' was about a data miner who had access to every single bit of information that we generated, from insurance claims to our shoe size to our history to our children to potential very obscure and rare diseases we might have. The villain in that book was not somebody you would think who was working for the government, a big plot. It was a fellow who was in effect a serial killer who had access to all our personal information. I was fascinated with that.

One of the problems that we writers do have to cope with though is these things are so interesting we tend to put too many details in the book, certainly in our first drafts. I do at least. I don't want to suggest anyone else is guilty of this, although I think we've all read a book where we say to the author, "Well, let's get on with the story." We're on the fifth page of how the missile was constructed. Okay, it's interesting, but let's really move things along. I have to be very careful about being ruthless in editing out many of the facts that I find interesting but that aren't relevant to the story.

Rodger Nichols: You don't want too many raisins or too many seeds in the seed cake.

Jeffery Deaver: Well said. Can I steal that metaphor from you?

Rodger Nichols: It's all yours. File the serial number off. It's yours, absolutely. There's some interesting observations in here too that I've picked up because I do take lots of notes when I read, particularly your books I have to say. You say evenings are best for listening. The cool damp air lifts sounds from the ground and trees, sounds you'll never hear otherwise and carries them to you like the wise men's gifts. Again, a good metaphor there. It's also interesting that it's true. It is for some reason a better time to listen to things.

Jeffery Deaver: Yeah. When I sat down to think about what 'The Burial Hour' would be about, I thought, "Well, something I have never looked at is the sense of sound." I have a book, 'Solitude Creek' about a villain who was, I guess we'd say, a voyeur. He tried to find situations where people were in extremis. Maybe there had been a car accident or there had been a fire in a hotel or something, and he wanted to be there and record this unfolding tragedy. When he couldn't get enough of that high, he would start creating fires and things like this. That was what my hero had to track down and stop of course.

I thought, "You know, I've never done anything with sound." I created a villain in 'The Burial Hour' who has had some mental issues. He's been troubled, but he has this sense that the world is revealed through sounds. For instance, he gets depressed sometimes because there was no recording device available in Roman times. I think there's a scene where he says, "I so wish there had been an MP3 recorder at Calvary," because he would have liked to have heard the comments between Jesus and the soldiers who were crucifying him or maybe heard Pontius Pilate's voice. This is somebody who clearly has, first of all, may have a few screws loose, but on the other hand he has quite an obsession with sound and how it impacts our life.

As I do with all my characters, I kind of got into his head, not homicidally I like to think, but certainly try to figure out the world through his eyes. I was just very aware of sounds. One evening I was sitting outside with my dog and I suddenly realized I was hearing things on a cool moist night that I hadn't heard during the day. Certainly there were more ... I know some frogs come out at night and so forth. It wasn't that so much. It was just the whole ambiance of noise struck me as an interesting phenomenon, and that ended up in the book.

Rodger Nichols: Your character has an extraordinary gift to be able to listen to something that's been recorded and focus on different aspects and sort out what the sounds are decipher what they mean to some incredible degree, which is really fascinating to read about.

Jeffery Deaver: Yeah. I'm always looking for puzzles as well. The thing you're talking about is where the police, who are working with Lincoln Rhyme, this is in Italy, the book takes place in Naples largely. They know something terrible is going to happen, and all they have as a clue is a recorded phone message. The words themselves are not particularly helpful because the bad guys know that the NSA or whoever might be listening could hear the words and deduce what's going on, so they're talking in code more or less. They haven't thought to mask out the other sounds.

We have a scene where Lincoln with some assistance deconstructs the ambient noise around the words, and in fact they have to listen to it a number of times so that the words become meaningless. Then they listen past the words. Again, I won't give away what happens, but I think the analysis itself that they go through is fascinating in its own right, whatever the outcome of the analysis. I found that was quite fascinating. I will say that in writing the book, and for a while afterward, was much more aware of sounds, trying to define what is that odd sound there?

An example of an odd coincidence when I was writing the book, I thought, "Something is wrong with my fire alarm," because I heard what sounded like a fire alarm going off in part of the house, but it was a very different sound. I thought either it's broken or it means something else. Maybe carbon monoxide. I said, "It just doesn't sound quite right." I walked into my living room, and there was a bird sitting on my mantel. I don't know what kind of bird it was, but it made a call, I'm sure it was inadvertent, but mimicking what would be a smoke detector sound. He had flown in. I had the door open, he had flown into the house. I managed to open all the doors and usher him out. The volume was loud. It was a very troubling sound. I'm thinking there may have been a fire or smoke or something like that. No, it turned out to be this little tiny bird with really good lungs.

Rodger Nichols: Yes, some of them do. I keep bouncing around because there are so many intriguing aspects of this book. At one point I want to quote this one to you. It says, "It was never wise to incur the anger of a muse. Now, you thought they were charming. You thought they were delicate creatures who live quietly in the sequestered world of art and culture, lounging around Olympus, but they were of course daughters of Olympus's most powerful and ruthless god," who of course is Zeus. That's a bit of classicism that's nice to have in the story.

Jeffery Deaver: Yeah. I needed to make those four years of Latin I took in high school pay off to some extent. The villain in my book, this young man, whose identity we don't know until very, very late in the book. We see him as a character, but we don't know who he is and what his story is. He is moved by the muses. Of course, Euterpe, who's the muse of music, the muse that's closest related to sound, his obsession of course, and being over in Italy, of course the Italians, the Romans I should say, borrowed much from the Greek gods. There was a huge Greek influence then and now in Italy, especially around Naples. There were many Greek settlers there and further south.

I thought, yeah, this brings the book a little bit of resonance. At the same time it brings together a lot of what I would call, and I think you referred to classical culture in the modern day. I haven't really mentioned what the theme of the book is, but what happens is this villain goes over there from New York. He escapes, and begins kidnapping refugees, asylum seekers, on the apparent theory that he can have as many victims as he wants because the authorities will be relatively unconcerned that an asylum seeker, we would call them undocumenteds here or refugee, would be less protected by the police. They wouldn't put as much effort into tracking down a crime.

The refugees are coming in Italy largely from North Africa, either Libya of course, which is basically the definition of a failed state, Tunisia to some extent, Morocco as well, but also many sub Saharan African folks, who are escaping less for political reasons than for and of course there have been terrible droughts and famine down there. This huge influx into Italy of refugees and asylum seekers has put such a burden on the country. This fellow it appears thinks, "Well, I can have my way with as many of them as I want, and the police won't do anything."

He hadn't figured on Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia who say a victim is a victim, and we're going to track him down. There is some truth to what my villain's theory was. These refugees are not popular among many people. Some police are a bit lethargic about it, but others agree with Lincoln and Amelia. The book is really a cat and mouse chase. These good cops and Lincoln and Amelia and a few other folks try, as fast as they can, to stop this fellow from preying in the refugee camps.

Rodger Nichols: I have an odd question for you here. This is maybe a bit off the subject, but it came up to me. Do movies like 'Saw', which are referred to as torture porn enter into some of the things? There are some setups there that had echoes of that. Is it because the popular culture has moved that direction that you feel comfortable doing that?

Jeffery Deaver: Sure. I'm glad you brought that up because I feel very strongly about those movies like that or the general concept of torture porn. I find them quite objectionable, but not for the reason you might think. The films that depict graphic violence or books that depict graphic violence I find to be a creative failure. Alfred Hitchcock made suspenseful films with virtually little violence. We saw 'The Birds', the seagulls pecked at Tippi Hedren and a few other people. There was a bid of blood. In 'Psycho' I think Martin Balsam got his forehead cut before he fell down the stairs and died, but we never really saw anything. That's very cathartic and positive suspense.

The films that depict graphic violence, my sense is that the creator didn't go to the trouble to create suspense. They had to rely on escalating scenes of gore basically. Now, the setups in 'The Burial Hour', and we can explain one right now. There's a scene where apparently the killer has rigged a noose for the victim and is videotaping this, and is giving the police X number of minutes or hours to find the victim before he dies. Now, I of course can't give anything away, but we never see anyone actually hurt. That's the setup, but I'm very careful about cutting away, creating the suspense, and then we shift to the police's point of view or Amelia or Lincoln's point of view, and we see the aftermath of what this crime might be. In 'The Burial Hour' as in almost all of my 40 novels and 80 or so short stories, we rarely see ... In 'The Burial Hour' never, but in most of my books we rarely see a killing actually take place.

I had an interesting incident a few years ago where a woman came up to me and said, "I was very disappointed by that scene. You showed the woman was killed. It was so graphic. It was just disgusting." I said, "Could you show me that scene." She said, "Well, it's in the first 40 pages or so." She picked up the book and flipped through it. She said, "I can't find it." She was a reader. She bought the book. I was being gentle with her, but I said, "I think that was in your imagination because the scene was this." The woman walked into the room where the killer was. We knew he was armed, whether it was a knife or a rope or whatever it was. I don't know. Then we cut to another scene, and the scene after that Amelia Sachs finds the body. Amelia reflects on what had happened, but we never saw it. My reader said, "You know, you're right. That was in my imagination. I'm the sick and twisted one." I'm paraphrasing a little bit, but that's true.

The setups in things like the 'Saw' movie and other films like that, they will occasionally have, I guess I would say, a very suspenseful often mechanical scene in which something terrible will happen. Nothing wrong with that. That's the basis of suspense fiction, whether it's espionage or a thriller or even an Agatha Christie murder mystery. We have to make sure that readers, it's not really a very literary term, are not grossed out because gore is bad, suspense is good.

Rodger Nichols: What is it Hitchcock said? Murder by a babbling brook is much better than a dark and stormy night.

Jeffery Deaver: Yeah, exactly.

Rodger Nichols: This book, actually as we interview, is going to come out next week, as I understand, on the 11th. Is that correct?

Jeffery Deaver: That's correct, the 11th.

Rodger Nichols: I should mention that you have a really good strong relationship with VJ Books and will provide signed copies for them.

Jeffery Deaver: Absolutely, yeah. It's a phenomenon that I wasn't aware of when I began writing. I was not a book collector. I bought books. I bought books ever since I was a kid. I would spend my allowance or my lawn mowing money on the latest James Bond book or John D. McDonald book. I was so glad that they were available in paperback, because as a 10-year-old in 1960, hardcover went $2 or $3 was more money than I could deal with. I remember the Signet paperbacks for 25 cents. I bought hundreds, thousands of books.

It wasn't until I began writing myself that I learned about the first edition collection and the value of an autographed book. Now I have a collection that's really not worth a great deal because I tend not to get the first, first editions, books like a first edition of Sue Grafton book, 'A is for Alibi' or some of Mike Connelly's first ones can be very expensive. Of course, having the author's signature on them makes a big deal.

Wherever I go, I will sign all the books that people have brought. I know some authors will say, "I'll only sign this one," but no, I think readers just love a signed book. VJ's has such a good philosophy about getting signed books into the hands of readers. I've been partners with them for a long time.

Rodger Nichols: They said you're one of the good ones when I talked to them about you. I agreed, having talked with you before. Is there anything that I have not touched on that you think you would like to share with our listeners?

Jeffery Deaver: I think not. I was very excited about writing 'The Burial Hour' because as Ernest Hemingway said, "If you want to send a message as a novelist, don't put it in the book. Go to Western Union." I should back up a little bit. I've said that in a number of conventions and speaking engagements. Usually the older folks in the audience nod, and the younger folks look at each other and say, "What's Western Union?" If Papa were around now, he probably would say, "If you want to send a message put it on Facebook or tweet it out."

Hemingway was being a little facetious about that because of course his books have important themes in them. He didn't proselytize. He didn't get up on a soap box. I try not to do the same thing, but I do think a book stays with us longer if it deals with themes that are important. 'The Burial Hour' really does look at issues of our responsibility to those from nations that are in trouble and those people fleeing absolutely desperate circumstances.

When I conceived of 'The Burial Hour', I thought it would be a good chance to bring a little substance to the book by writing about the refugee and the undocumented immigrant situation, which has impacted many many countries. The United States far, far less than many nations around the world. I don't want to preach or proselytize. I just want to raise in the readers' minds the questions of how do we as people living in a country that is in general very fortunate? How do we help the folks who are coming from countries that are failing or in a very, very dangerous state now?

I don't preach one way or the other, but I do raise the question. It's possible there could be some bad apples among immigrants, but there are also many many wonderful people. We're pretty smart. We have a lot of resources. We can probably figure out how to figure out how to protect ourselves against the bad guys or weed them out. Readers can agree or disagree with that. It doesn't affect their enjoyment of the story. I thought when you close the last page of the book, sometimes that could be the beginning of the story, not necessarily the end.

Rodger Nichols: Beautifully said. I'm not surprised coming from you. Our guest today has been Jeffery Deaver. His latest is 'The Burial Hour', another Lincoln Rhyme book. Thanks so much for being so generous with time with us today.

Jeffery Deaver: Always a pleasure talking to you. You take care now.