Question: Will you always have supernatural elements to all your novels? You have written a couple of books without this element, and it was a great mystery novel. Will you do more of these? Do you get tired of coming up with supernatural elements? Ray, St. George, Utah
Answer: Intensity, False Memory, Dark Rivers of the Heart, and eight or 10 other books of mine have no element of the fantastic. Most of the rest have some science-fictional element like time travel or ETs or nanotechnology or genetic engineering, as in Watchers and the two Chris Snow books. Of my 43 books in print, only Odd Thomas, The Face, Hideaway, Darkfall, The Mask, and The Servants of Twilight include genuinely supernatural elements. But I seem to be tending in that direction these days, more than in the past … though the mix of upcoming novels includes some with elements of the fantastic of different types and some without. I don't calculate what to write, and I certainly don't write what I'm "tired" of. I just go where current passion takes me.
Question: When you began writing and as you moved forward as a writer, how did you teach yourself to keep the tight, furious pace you write with? I loved Mr. Murder; it made me breathless. How can the author best be aware of the tempo he or she wants to use in storytelling? Sharron, Los Angeles
Answer: I'm always terrified of boring the reader. I've also got a low boredom threshold myself. And I've always admired those writers who tell stories of substance with the pace of suspense — not the least of which is Dickens. You can't find a boring page in any of his major novels even though some are huge. For me the trick is in those 20, 30 and more revisions of each page, because I take advantage of every pass to trim and tighten wherever possible. Some critics will take a look at a 600-page book and declare, by habit, that it is overwritten.
But when a publisher of mine once told me I would have to cut a 900-page manuscript to 600 pages, the editor spent months poring over the script before finally suggesting just ten pages of cuts. After multiple readings, he reached the conclusion that everything in the book was essential to its structure and coherence. Literally line by line, paragraph by paragraph, I ask myself whether the information is essential — and whether it serves multiple narrative purposes. For instance, if it is scene description, I want it to have more than one purpose: Not only should it help the reader see the place, but it should help to establish the mood of the scene, and because every description is made through the point of view of a character (or should be), it can also serve to illuminate the character by showing us what is important to him in a landscape or a room. Furthermore, depending on the theme of a particular book, the metaphors and similes used in scene descriptions can subtly echo those themes. Bad weather is almost a character in The Face, and if you examine the descriptions of the rain that saturate the book, you'll find images that refer to or reflect the supernatural matrix — angels, devils, the power of contrition, the hope of redemption — that is the heart of the story. When language is required to serve multiple purposes, it not only deepens the story but powers it to a fast pace.