|Harlan A Coben|
January 4, 1962 |
Newark, New Jersey,
|Alma mater||Amherst College|
|Notable works||Myron Bolitar series of novels|
|Notable awards||Anthony Award (1996),
Edgar Award and Shamus Award (1997)
I love to fool you once, I love to fool you twice, I love to fool you a third time. And just when you think it's all over, I have what I call that Carrie hand-out-of-the-grave moment. Just when you think it's all over, I'm going to hit you with just one more. I can't help myself.
When I was seventeen, I worked as a counsellor at a co-ed sleep-away camp for eight weeks. I loved it but it could be harrowing – it was far too much responsibility for someone my age.
If I don't write, I hate myself. Simple as that. My life is out of balance.
If I didn't write, I'd be like a duvet cover; I have no other marketable skills.
In real life, coincidences happen all the time. In novels, they are leapt upon with fury.
I like to see the difference between good and evil as kind of like the foul line at a baseball game. It's very thin, it's made of something very flimsy like lime, and if you cross it, it really starts to blur where fair becomes foul and foul becomes fair.
We're called New Jersey but we're actually the suburbs of New York.
I like to go out and write. So I'll often go to a Starbucks or a local coffee bar, and I'll sit there and I'll write. I can write pretty much anywhere.
You can't have an up without a down, a right without a left, a back without a front – or a happy without a sad.
If I didn't write, I'd be like a duvet cover; I have no other marketable skills. Clearly I'm not meant to do anything else.
What I want to do is tell stories about normal people in the American suburbs. I don't write the book where it's a conspiracy reaching the prime minister; I don't write the book with the big serial killer who lops off heads. My setting is a very placid pool of suburbia, family life. And within that I can make pretty big splashes.
The muse is not an angelic voice that sits on your shoulder and sings sweetly. The muse is the most annoying whine. The muse isn't hard to find, just hard to like – she follows you everywhere, tapping you on the shoulder, demanding that you stop doing whatever else you might be doing and pay attention to her.
The preparation for building a series of thrillers based on a single character is kind of like the preparation for becoming a parent: The best part is the idea – wink, wink.
No characters in 'Stay Close,' including the leads, are black and white. I want them to be grey. I think that makes for a much more interesting reading experience, something that will stay with you a little bit longer.
The most annoying and full-of-crap thing a writer says is, 'I write only for myself, I don't care if anyone reads it.' A writer without a reader doesn't exist.
I always say three things make a writer: inspiration, obviously; perspiration, doing the work. But the third is desperation. I'm not really fit for anything else, or to have a real job. That fear drives me. The pressure has always been self inflicted.
There are three things that make a person a writer: inspiration, perspiration and desperation.
'Caught' is a novel of forgiveness, and the past and the present – who should be and who shouldn't be forgiven. None of my books are ever just about thrills, or it won't work.
I live in the suburbs, the final battleground of the American dream, where people get married and have kids and try to scratch out a happy life for themselves.
I don't necessarily love the sports per se, I love the stories behind them. Also in a kind of perverse way I like to study what it does to us, why we care so much. It's caring about something that's utterly meaningless.
If I'm not writing well, I'm not happy. If I'm not spending enough time with my family, I'm not happy. If I'm not connecting to friends or if I don't work out enough… You get the point. Everything has to be balanced. Nothing should be an extreme.
I am very lucky that I get to tell stories for a living. I love being able to grab people's attention, to keep them turning the pages, to make them stay awake all night.
Children learn much more from how you act than from what you tell them. There are times this worries me – we parents are rarely the role models we want to be. True for life. True for driving.
Outlining is not writing. Coming up with ideas is not writing. Researching is not writing. Creating characters is not writing. Only writing is writing.
I pretty much only wear Lilly Pulitzer ties because my best friend owns the company.
In short, the satisfaction of creating, not necessarily the process, always lifts my heart.
I am very lucky that I get to tell stories for a living. I love being able to grab people's attention, to keep them turning the pages, to make them stay awake all night. I want to stir the pulse, yes, but also to stir the heart. I hope 'The Woods' does that.
Life may not always fall into neat chapters, and you may not always get the satisfying ending you're looking for, but sometimes a good explanation is all the rewrite you need.
In the end, we know what makes us happy. We also know what makes us unhappy. That's the irony. We know and yet we still mess it up. That's part of the human condition, no, and why we need to work on it.
Writers always say, 'I always knew I wanted to be a writer; when I was a three-month-old foetus a pen formed in my hand and I began to scratch my first story on the inside of my mother's womb.' I started later, in my early twenties.
Writing isn't about the process. It is about creating. The joy comes not from the process but from the creation.
You know, people call mystery novels or thrillers 'puzzles.' I never understood that, because when I buy a puzzle, I already know what it is. It's on the box. And even if I don't, if it's a 5,000-piece puzzle of the 'Mona Lisa', it's not like I put the last piece in and go, 'I had no idea it's the 'Mona Lisa'!'
Hope can be the most wonderful thing in the world or it can crush your heart like an eggshell.
When you like something and you're pretty good at it and you can make a living doing it, you don't ask why. You just count your blessings and go with it.
I love stories. When I'm writing, what I pretend subconsciously is that we're cavemen, we're sitting around the fire, and I'm telling you stories. If I bore you, you're probably going to pick up a big club and hit me over the head.
I'm not very happy idle. There's always this voice in my head that says, 'I should be writing.'
The actual writing time is a lot shorter than the thinking time. I don't do too many notes. I keep it mostly in my head. I usually start writing a new book around January, and it's due October 1.
I never bought the excuse of not having time to write. If you really want to do it, you're either going to find those hours or eventually decide not to be a writer.
I'm 48 years old, not a kid anymore by any definition, but here is a universal truth that every adult at some point will realize: We are all always 17 years old, waiting for our lives to begin.
I am, after all, a thriller writer. I routinely delve into the darkest chambers of the human heart. I've written about murder, kidnapping, depravity, horror, violence, and disfigurement.
I try to stress to my children that buying something never leads to true happiness.
Writing my first book, I think in hindsight I went into it saying, 'It's gonna sell.' I was earning enough to scrape by sometime around a book or two before 'Tell No One.' I moved up from $50,000 to $75,000, then $150,000 for each book. I had never thought I would be doing anything else. I had enough encouragement.
And I love the twist. I love to fool you once, I love to fool you twice, and on the very last page, quite often – very last paragraph sometimes – I like to just play with your perception one more time in a way that makes everything that came before just a little bit different.
I'm thinking of taking up golf, but the idea of spending time with golfers frightens me.
Tragedy is a hell of a teacher. It's much too strict, but it's a hell of a teacher.
My house has too many distractions. There's the email. There's checking my Amazon ranking. I know I'm the only author who's ever done that, ever. There's the fax. Too many distractions. I like to go out and write.
I'm not a fan of self-help books – how can something be 'self-help' if the book itself is purportedly helping you?
A novel is like a sausage. You might like the final taste but you don't want to see how it was made.
I've never chased the dollar, I've always chased the reader's heart. I love having more readers. The more people who read it, the more thrilled I am.
When I'm writing, what I pretend subconsciously is that we're cavemen, we're sitting around the fire, and I'm telling you stories. If I bore you, you're probably going to pick up a big club and hit me over the head.
That's what a good crime novelist – any good novelist – should do with you: play with your perceptions while showing you everything in plain sight.
Writing is one of the few activities where quantity will inevitably make quality. The more you write, the better you're going to get at it.
Sometimes even when the book is over I don't know who's good and who's bad. It's really more interesting, I think, to write about gray characters than it is to write about black and white.
Losing my parents was the most crushing thing that ever happened to me. I lost my dad when I was 26, and it changed my life entirely.
I don't find any real rivalries with crime and thriller writers anyway. That might sound a little Pollyanna, but for the most part the writers I compete with, if you want to use that word, it's a pretty friendly rivalry. I think we all realise that the boat rises and sinks together.
I always think the insecurity is going to go away, but it's always there. Only bad writers think they're good.
Let me back up a little and tell you why I prefer writing to real life: You can rewrite. A novel, for example, can be cleaned up, altered, trimmed, improved. Life, on the other hand, is one big messy rough draft.
I wrote seven Myron Bolitar novels in a row, and I never want to write a Myron book where he just solves a crime. Every one of them I want to be personal, and I want him to grow and change. The problem with that is, it makes the series limited, you can't write a series where a guy is always going through some kind of crisis.
I love to make even villains people you can relate to. When you find out who did it, I think you almost like the person, which is not easy to do.
The book I always say that influenced me, subconsciously, because at the time I didn't know I wanted to be a writer, was William Goldman's 'Marathon Man.' That was the first adult thriller that I loved. I read it when I was 15 or so, when my father gave it to me.
The state of New Jersey is really two places – terrible cities and wonderful suburbs. I live in the suburbs, the final battleground of the American dream, where people get married and have kids and try to scratch out a happy life for themselves. It's very romantic in that way, but a bit naive. I like to play with that in my work.
I can write pretty much anywhere if you give me time and some quiet. The home is not usually the best place because I have four children. It's usually pandemonium around here!
Frankly I'm fairly boring or fairly busy. Between writing and family, I have little time for anything else.
The readers are the ones who let us live our dreams. I try to write books which are really compelling – that you'd take on vacation and rather than going out, you'd read in your hotel room because you had to find out what happened. Hopefully that's what readers are responding to.
I remember the days of sitting at book signings, playing with my pen when no one would come, and still I even then thought I was living the dream, because I had a book out.
This is the price you pay for having a great father. You get the wonder, the joy, the tender moments – and you get the tears at the end, too.
I'd never had money growing up, and it's never been that important to me, except maybe to take our kids on a nice vacation or something like that.
Being a parent is not for the faint of heart. I may joke about knowing fear, but the fact is, the first time I ever knew real fear was the day Charlotte, my first child, was born. Suddenly there is someone in the world you care about more than anything.