'Kill Room' Author Jeffery Deaver: 'The Goal Is Suspense, Not Gore' (Q&A)
The writer of "The Bone Collector" talks to THR about his ripped-from-the-headlines, Hollywood-ready novels about assassinations, government intelligence, drones and twisty mysteries.
Jeffery Deaver, master of trick endings and winner of the British Thumping Good Read Award, has written 30 best-sellers resulting in more than $150 million worth of films, including The Bone Collector, about his quadriplegic sleuth hero Lincoln Rhymes. He talks to The Hollywood Reporter about his latest fact-based Rhymes thriller, The Kill Room, Hollywood and the tricks of his lucrative trade.
THR: In The Kill Room, Rhymes takes the case of a U.S. intelligence agency charged with assassinating a U.S. citizen. It sounds awfully plausible.
Deaver: It’s my first political novel, inspired by the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, with a drone. A month ago, I’m watching Obama on TV admitting the government killed him, and the commentator says, “Never until this moment was it known for certain the government took out Al-Awlaki.” I’m thinking, “Hell, I’m in print saying they did.” I had checked with five sources, but not the CIA. I said, “Thank you, President Obama, for validating it so my publisher didn’t have to pulp 150,000 copies.”
THR: But it’s not about Al-Awlaki.
Deaver: It’s about this targeted killing, but they got the intelligence wrong, so there’s a criminal case, and the bad guys try to kill the witnesses.
THR: The first killing is a sniper shot from over a mile away. Can anybody really hit something from 2,500 yards?
Deaver: Yeah. In fact, a fellow I know made those shots, Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL, who killed more people than any sniper in U.S. history. He was killed at a Texas gun range by a veteran who had post-traumatic stress.
THR: Bradley Cooper is slated to play Kyle in a Steven Spielberg movie, American Sniper. Do you shoot?
Deaver. I shoot, I don’t hunt. My liberal friends are mad at me for owning a gun; my right-wing friends are mad because I said there should be registration and extensive background checks. I have a line in a book where Amelia, Lincoln’s partner, talks to the head of an arms company who says, “But if you register the guns, the government knows who you are and can take them.” Amelia realizes the government has nukes -- if they want us out of the picture, they’ll take us out.
THR: Is everything in The Kill Room true, or based on reality?
Deaver: It has to be credible, but not necessarily 100 percent accurate. As a joke, I put a seatbelt on a drone seat. Just a little detail to bring it to life. I don’t worry about giving away secrets, because most of the stuff I make up.
THR: How do you feel about Hollywood?
Deaver: Absolutely love it. I was as influenced by films as books. My style is very cinematic, and that’s a prime selling point to Hollywood. Suspense is the goal of thriller writing, not gore, and Hitchcock is my model. You don’t see the knife stab Janet Leigh. I don’t have any patience for this torture porn stuff. There are no graphic autopsies in my books. I’ll never hurt a child or animal. In my books, women are dead meat, but no children or animals. I did kill a rabid dog once, and I felt kind of bad about it.
THR: Any advice for filmmakers?
Deaver: Some of the best movies are 90 minutes. You don’t need three hours. A good, solid Hollywood film by Hitchcock or Spielberg, there's nothing like that. At the risk of offending people, I’ve seen Memento three times and I couldn’t tell what was what. But I thought, “What a brilliant idea.” But I didn’t enjoy it the way I thought I should. Same with the fractured time in Mr. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. I thought, “I want to tell a story backwards and do it right, like The Killing.” So in October I’ll publish The October List, a crime novel on the Hitchcock model about a woman and her kidnapped child. The whole story is a rollercoaster ride, backwards.
THR: The Kill Room’s bad guy, Jacob Swann, is a gourmet chef with very nice knives. People will compare him to Hannibal Lecter.
Deaver: He’s me! My girlfriend and I cook a lot. So I decided to incorporate Jacob Swann recipes on my website.
THR: You do a lot of multimedia things to support your books.
Deaver: I do think it’s important to expand the book out beyond the pages, to get and keep an audience. Last year, for XO, about a Taylor Swift-ish country western singer who gets stalked, I recorded a country western album in Nashville. It’s on iTunes. I’ve been studying video editing, and I want readers to come to a point in the book --0 with iBooks, e-books, you can touch hyperlinks and explore.
THR: You could have your book link with your country western album on Amazon. Maybe you should do a Kindle Single book for them.
Deaver: Amazon’s Dan Slater has been asking me to do a project with them. I’ve written two books this year, two next year, so the year after that, maybe.
THR: Do you like gaming?
Deaver: I’ve tried, but you get the bazooka, you forgot your armor, then you shoot things and they shoot you. I get bored. I’m aware of the changing dynamics in the entertainment field today, but writing is still there. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, Game of Thrones wouldn’t be successful if young folks didn’t enjoy the engagement that a book provides. Who doesn’t want to blow things up on a screen occasionally? But a book stays with you longer.