Peter Swanson’s debut suspense novel, THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART, will be out next week, and he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions!
Peter, have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I started by writing silly poems that were heavily influenced by Roald Dahl, and especially the songs the Oompa Loompas sing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I kept writing poetry all through high school, then college, then got an MFA in creative writing with an emphasis on poetry at Emerson College in Boston. I didn’t start writing novels until about ten years ago, when I came up with an idea for a whodunit. But what I learned from writing that first novel (unpublished) was how much I loved writing novels, especially crime novels. There’s something to be said for staying in a story for a long period of time, waking up every day and getting back into that world.
Will you tell us more about your upcoming novel, THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART, and what inspired you to write it?
It started life as a short story about two college freshman. I’d been thinking about Facebook, marveling at how much information you can get about people you barely know. It made me think of college, and how, when I was a freshman in 1986, students came in not knowing anything about one another. We were all blank slates. This led me to wondering if two high school seniors could switch places so that one went to college in the other’s place. If they were clever enough, who would find out? If I were a different type of writer this could have turned into a satirical farce or a romantic comedy, but I started to write it and it became a thriller.
How did you celebrate when you found out the book would be published?
My wife and I were on a vacation in Bermuda. It was our first trip in a really long time, since we’d been through a little bit of a financial rough patch. So there we were in Bermuda when I got an email from my agent telling me to call him. I called and he said he’d sold the book to William Morrow. I hadn’t even known that he was going to start pitching it. It was surreal, especially since we were on this beautiful island—we felt as though we were suddenly living someone else’s life. We celebrated that night with many Dark and Stormy’s. The next day I turned my scooter back into the scooter rental place, and picked up a bus pass for the remainder of the trip. I was a really terrible scooter driver, and the roads in Bermuda are winding and treacherous, and I didn’t want to die a few days after getting a book deal.
What kind of research did you do for the novel?
Absolutely none. Well, that’s not entirely true, but very little. I looked up a little bit about diamonds, and I own a book about police procedure that I consulted a couple of times. I’m not really good at research. If I ever get rich, maybe I’ll hire someone to do research for me, the way Stephen King does.
The book has already been compared to Body Heat (one of my favorite films, actually.) Do you think that’s an accurate comparison?
I’ll say yes, only because it’s one of my absolute favorite films as well, and I’m happy for the comparison. Body Heat is part of a long tradition of books/movies in which a femme fatale talks a witless man into doing her bidding, and The Girl With a Clock for a Heart definitely falls into that category. I didn’t think about Body Heat when I was writing the book until the very end. My ending is definitely an homage (some might call it something else) to the final scene of Body Heat.
Why do you think readers will connect with George Foss?
The important thing about George is that, even though he makes some poor decisions, he knows what he’s getting into. He’s an everyman, someone whose life has become a little bit of a drudgery, and also someone who lives in the past. So when the woman from that past comes back into his life, he doesn’t have a choice but to follow her down the rabbit hole.
I think he will appeal to those readers who like to read about ordinary people pulled into extraordinary circumstances. He’s in over his head.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I hope that readers will get caught up in the story, lose track of time, and keep turning the pages. That’s my ultimate goal. There’s something cozy, I think, about reading mysteries and thrillers, so I picture my ideal reader as someone in a comfy chair on a cold winter evening, curled up and reading my book, and hopefully stepping out of their own life for a little while.
What’s one of the first things you remember writing?
I remember writing a series of short poems about my favorite monsters. I wrote one for Dracula, one for Frankenstein, one for a werewolf, etcetera. I believe I illustrated these poems with drawings. That’s a habit I’ve given up.
What are a few authors that have influenced you in your writing, and in life?
I’ve already mentioned Roald Dahl, my favorite writer as a kid. When I got little older I’d read anything, especially mystery stories and thrillers. I fell in love with Stephen King’s early books, and still read all his new work. His book, On Writing, is the best book about writing I’ve ever read, and was a big help when I set out to start writing novels.
My favorite thriller writer is John D. MacDonald, who is sort of a forgotten man these days. Reading his books is like having the best writing teacher. He wrote a hundred novels, or so, and some are obviously better than others, but I’m pretty sure he never wrote a bad sentence.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I’m going to cheat a little bit, and say The Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. There are 21 books in total, and I would love to have them erased from my mind so I could start over. That would make for a very happy summer.
What’s next for you?
I’ve finished a first draft of my next novel. It’s called The Lonely Lives of Murderers, and it’s about what happens when you sit next to a complete stranger on a plane and confess to her that you want to murder your wife.
About THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART:
An atmospheric tale of romantic noir with shades of Hitchcock about a man who is swept into a vortex of irresistible passion and murder when an old love mysteriously reappears
George Foss, a forty-year-old employee of a Boston literary magazine, has passed the age when he thinks he might fall madly in love or take the world by storm, or have anything truly remarkable happen to him. He spends most of his evenings at his local tavern talking about the Red Sox and the minutiae of everyday life, and obsessing over a lost love from his college days who vanished twenty years earlier. Until she reappears.
George has both dreamed of and dreaded seeing Liana Decter again. She isn’t just an ex-girlfriend or the first love George could never forget. She’s also an enigma and quite possibly someone who was involved in a murder years ago, a woman whose transgressions are more in line with Greek tragedy than youthful indiscretion. But suddenly, she’s back—and she needs his help. She says that some men are after her and that they believe she’s stolen money from them. And now they will do whatever it takes to get it back.
George knows Liana is trouble. But he can’t say no—he never could—and soon his quiet life is gone as he is pulled into a terrifying whirlpool of lies, betrayal, and murder from which there is no sure escape.
Bold and masterful, full of malevolent foreboding and subtle surprises, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is an addictive, nonstop reading experience—an ever-tightening coil of suspense that will hold you in its grip right up to its electrifying end.