Welcome back to your summer book club with Crown Publishing! Two weeks ago, we introduced Chris Pavone’s debut thriller, The Expats (and waxed poetic about all the reasons we love it). Now, we’re digging deeper in an interview with the talented novelist himself. If you haven’t picked up any of Pavone’s work yet, you’re about to feel the urge. And if you devoured it like we did and you’re ready for your next read, check out our full summer book list here.
In case you missed our intro to The Expats, here's a quick refresher:
Not quite a classic spy novel, and not quite chick lit, the fast-paced thriller reads like James Bond meets Lipstick Jungle. In it, an affluent, young American couple moves to Luxembourg so the husband, Dexter, can pursue a lucrative job. Unbeknown to Dexter, his wife Kate has to resign from a covert position at the CIA to make the move. Drama and danger inevitably ensue.
So, we sat down with Pavone to get the scoop on how his time living as an expat influenced the book, his favorite books, and the nitty-gritty of his writing process. Who doesn't want to spend some time digging through the mind of a genius?
1. You were an expatriate in Luxembourg. How much of the story was formed during your time abroad?
Everything about The Expats came from my experience as an expat, thrust into an unfamiliar world in an unfamiliar language, living the unfamiliar day-to-day life of a stay-at-home parent, trailing a spouse without a paying job — in fact without any career anymore, without friends and support, without anything familiar. I don't think there's anything in the book that I would've written until I'd lived in Luxembourg.
2. Kate is an intelligent, ambitious woman juggling a family life and a secret. So many women today feel that anxiety of being pulled in several directions. Who inspired this character? How have people responded to her?
The book cover features a woman with a passing resemblance to my wife. Some people have thought that Madeline was the inspiration for the protagonist. Nope. The inspiration for Kate Moore was me — my experiences, my conflicts. But I decided to make this character a woman because I do think this is a predicament that's more easily relatable for a character who's a mother; this is a situation we can all recognize at a glance, sympathize with. The greatest compliment any readers have paid me is that some thought that the author of The Expats was actually a woman.
3. "The Expats," "The Accident," and "The Travelers" all have elements of espionage and are what you'd consider "thrillers." What makes you gravitate toward this genre?
I'm trying to write the sort of books that I like to read. But I'm also trying to carve out a space for myself as a writer that isn't already occupied by thousands upon thousands of other novelists. My books are thrillers that don't revolve around violence (and, in fact, The Travelers doesn't include even a single gun), without traditional evil bad guys, with core tensions created among characters with close — even intimate — relationships, driven by their secrets. Mine are three very different novels, with different central themes — marriage, ambition, work — but I do hope they're all similarly satisfying to a certain type of reader.
4. From James Bond to the countless offshoots of spy books, TV shows, and films, it's clear that people are fascinated by this "secret world" of danger and intrigue. Why do you think that is?
I find spy stories at their most compelling when they're about characters who are lying to each other, betraying each other, with consequences to these personal treacheries that extend to the wider world. For me this is a very compelling combination, at once ordinary and extraordinary.
5. What are a few of your favorite books?
I read a lot of short-form news and commentary, but for books almost all my reading is fiction, except for the odd book here and there for research. Many of the novels I read these days are crime fiction of one sort or another — mysteries, thrillers, espionage — but I also consume a lot of literary fiction. The "favorite books" question is a quagmire that I prefer not to wade into, but I will admit to recently loving the latest by Laura Lippman, Maria Semple, Lou Berney, and Dana Spiotta.
6. I don't know if I've ever encountered a talented writer who didn't love to read. What's the first book you recall having a profound impact on you?
Joseph Heller's Catch-22 made me realize that an important, intensely moving book about war and death could also be side-splittingly hilarious. And if that combination is possible, what isn't?
7. Your novels feature complex networks of plot threads woven together and unraveled with great precision. J.K. Rowling has spreadsheets, Daniel Handler uses notecards and recipe boxes. How do you map out the strands of a story?
I'm a diligent outliner using a word-processing document, but then I'm forever ignoring the outline when other ideas occur to me, and frankly, I sometimes confuse the hell out of myself, which is frustrating and inefficient and, now that I'm admitting it here, also humiliating. So, maybe I should try spreadsheets. Or something.
8. What do you hope people get out of reading your books?
What a great question! First and foremost, I want these books to be entertaining, and at times exciting. But I also hope that readers will see the real world reflected in these fictions in a way that will resonate and provoke thought about relationships — about honesty and empathy, about duplicity and betrayal — that will make us look at our own lives more clearly.
9. What's your next major goal — career- or otherwise?
I'm the father of two children, and they're twins, which means that my first go-round with any parenting stage is also my one and only shot at getting it right. These wonderful boys of mine are now 12 years old, and my most important goal in the near future is to steer them through early adolescence without any major crashes.