Steven James Makes His Move with The Pawn
- Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Why did you decide to present the killer’s point of view?
I make a lot of promises to the reader from the point of view of the Illusionist, so there has to be a big payoff from the reader. It can’t be just another dead body. It has to be something disturbing, otherwise all the previous 150 pages would have to be toned down. Suspense is the promise that something is going to go wrong. You drop the ball if you make a promise that something is going to go wrong and there isn’t anything that goes wrong. That was the problem with the movie The Village. There was a huge promise but it was just people dressing up. There has to be a payoff.
In a mystery, the reader is two steps behind the detective. But in a suspense novel, you’re two steps ahead. You see the killer coming into the house, walking into the kid’s room, and you’re like, “No, no, no, no!” You know he’s there and that he’s about to do something. So that’s why I think I’ll always have the point of view of the antagonist. I tend to step into the character’s head. I start thinking like that.
How do you step into the head of a serial killer? Do you have serial killer relatives?
When I asked my wife who I was most like in the story, she said the serial killer. I’m not sure that’s a good thing! No, I have a masters in storytelling and it’s always been natural for me to think in monologues. So it’s partly the way I’m engineered, to step into a character’s eyes. I tell writers that you need to enter your black hole. It’s a place we don’t normally step into, because of convention or society or whatever. We don’t like to go there. So I try and think, if I were this killer, what would I be thinking? I did about a year of research. I read lots of books on criminal profiling, geographic profiling, serial killers, criminology. I had the world’s leading geographic profiler consulting with me.
I like the main character of Patrick. He has so many qualities, yet he’s not perfect. How did you come up with him?
I wanted a character like Sherlock Holmes, who could piece the character together and be ahead of the reader. But Holmes seems kind of wimpy. I wanted [my character] to be a man of action, conviction and courage, but also notice what other people don’t notice. We identify with the struggle of a character. So to have a character who has internal struggles, questions and doubts, but still has strength, we can draw some hope from that but also identify with them.
What about your Asian character?
I don’t know. I just wanted more of an international feel. I didn’t want it to be just a North American book. Initially I envisioned seven books with a culminating one. I wanted some of them set in the U.S. and some set in other places around the world. So I think that gives it another international flavor. I liked the idea of creating an international team of agents who aren’t all white, generic characters. I like her character. In my next book, The Rook, she’s going to be a POV character so you’ll see a bit more about her struggle.
I’m not a huge fan of thrillers, but I really, really, really enjoyed your book. I have to tell you, however, that I was amazed that this came from a Christian publisher. The quality is so good. Sadly, we don’t see that every day.
It’s interesting you should say that, because I was just at a Christian conference and I said to the audience, “How many of you have said, ‘I love reading great writing. I love great storytelling, and that’s why I only read Christian fiction.’ Everyone was like, “Uhhh, that never happens. That’s why I don’t read Christian fiction.” My goal is to change some of that. Too often we excuse mediocrity by saying, “It’s Christian.”
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