I've been waiting twenty long years for a sequel to WATCHERS. It's time, don't you think? —Lissa, New Jersey
It’s not time, Lissa. It may never be time. I’ve long said that I wouldn’t write a sequel to WATCHERS unless I had a story equal to the first. That novel was about change: about the difficulty of changing ourselves for the better, of letting go of our world view even when we recognize that it’s false; about the way that an encounter with the right person can suddenly change us forever when, as a solitary pursuit, change had seemed impossible. The main characters in WATCHERS followed a major arc of change, lifted by one another. To me, their story feels finished, and even if a new plot hook occurred to me, I would have to know what character evolution would drive the story. But I never say never. Actually, I just said it twice, but you know what I mean.
If they make a movie of VELOCITY, Ralph Cottle has to be played by Harry Dean Stanton. Were you thinking of him when you wrote the part? Is Harry Dean Stanton alive? Do you know who I mean–Harry Dean Stanton? Can you write back and answer me? I'd really like to know. Will there be a movie? With Harry Dean Stanton? –Roger, New York
Two words, Roger–less caffeine. You might want to adjust your sugar consumption, too. I wasn’t consciously thinking of Harry Dean Stanton, the great character actor, when I wrote Ralph Cottle, but you’re absolutely right. My friend Stephen Tolkin, the wonderful screenwriter, said the same thing when he read the novel. And it would be perfect casting. I do believe Stanton, a superb character actor, is alive and well. I did recently sign a film option for the rights to VELOCITY, and the producer is planning a revolutionary approach to the material that I’m not permitted to discuss at this time. It’s so revolutionary, in fact, that he might never get it off the ground in the way he hopes, but he’s been solid in the past, and he’s a doer. No matter what, they won’t be filming the project tomorrow. They don’t even have a script yet. And besides the need to cast, film, and edit it, a lot of time is needed to make all that popcorn and get it to theaters.
I was fascinated by the waitress, Ivy Elgin, in VELOCITY. She has a small part, but she's magical. Would you consider writing an entire novel about her? I guess this is a stupid question. –Rebecca, Seattle
Don’t usurp my authority, Rebecca. I’ll be the one who decides which questions are stupid. This is not a stupid question. In fact, lots of people have written to me with the same request. And when I finished Chapter 43 of VELOCITY, I felt it was likely that Ivy was going to get the leading role in a future novel. She’s a very mysterious, even haunting, character, and I would like to have a look at the world from inside her head. I haven’t come up with a story for her, but I can feel it brewing.
VELOCITY rocks! I've never read anything that moved this fast. But what's with the birds? There are birds all through the book. Why all the birds?––Andrea, Wisconsin
Birds inspire more pleasant images than do fat slimy slugs. I could have threaded through the book metaphors and similes filled with fat slimy slugs, but it might have gotten to be off-putting except to those readers with an abiding affection for slimy slugs. Actually, Andrea, this is the kind of detail that a writer is wise not to talk about too much. You do not need to know why all the birds are there in order to enjoy the story. The birds are there in part to create a mood, so for that purpose they in part affect the reader on a conscious level. But they are there for several other reasons, all of which are meant to affect the reader in a particular way on a subconscious level. Let’s just say that one of those reasons is related to the fact that birds represent the ultimate freedom of movement, the freedom of flight, and Billy Wiles, the lead of the novel, is a man living in a cage of his own construction when the novel opens––and has freed himself by the end. Now I retreat into mystery. Do not ask the magician to show you where the missing quarter really went; you won’t enjoy the sleight of hand as much when you know the mechanics of it.
I saw there will be a movie made of THE HUSBAND. Do you have reason to hope Hollywood will get it right this time? They've screwed up your stuff before, you know. –Ian, London
They have? They have screwed up film adaptations of my books? Really? What books? When? Who? Trixie is shaking her head. No, she says. No. She seems to be saying you’re wrong, Ian. She seems to be saying you’re thinking of another writer. I don’t recall any films ever being made from my books, especially not WATCHERS or HIDEAWAY or THE SERVANTS OF TWILIGHT. Trixie puts a paw on my arm and gives me a very solemn stare. She has a very commanding stare, a very deep stare. I feel so relaxed staring into Trixie’s eyes. I feel so at peace. No, Ian, you must be wrong. THE HUSBAND will be the first feature film ever made from one of my novels. And I’m very happy with the people who have acquired the rights. I have every reason to think this will be a brilliant film and that even if Hollywood had screwed up my films in the past (which seems to be your bizarre fantasy), this would make up for everything that went before. I’m dealing now with people of substance and taste. Don’t look for it in theaters next week, of course. They have to develop a screenplay –and these are people whose artistic aspirations are high–so THE HUSBAND won’t be in front of a camera for quite some time yet. But it now does seem as if I’ll live long enough to see a first-rate film based on one of my books.
I just read the advance proof of THE HUSBAND. Wow! INTENSITY moved fast, VELOCITY was fast, but this is a rocket. Fantastic! I adore Mitch. And Holly is a fabulous role-model. All the beautiful references to nature. Do you really know so much about flowers and trees? Will you re-do my yard? –Carmen, Connecticut
Thanks for the effusive review, Carmen. Your check is in the mail. I’ve been interested in landscape design for at least thirty years. When we landscaped our current home, we had to import 240 trees, large and small, because the land was bare. Gerda and I visited nurseries and selected each specimen, which probably sounds insufferably boring to some folks, but we had a great time. I’m particularly familiar with PacificCoast and Southwest plants. Last year I received a letter from a guy–let’s call him Grump–who said he was sick of encountering bougainvillea in so many of my novels. Bougainvillea is a vine with showy, colorful flowers, cascades of dazzling flowers. We don’t have any bougainvillea at our place because it grows faster than weeds and is very difficult to keep under control, but I enjoy it on other people’s properties. Grump said the word bougainvillea and the thought of it repelled him every time he encountered it. “By God,” he said, “if you don’t stop using it in your novels, I’ll stop reading them.” After advising him to seek psychiatric care, I looked over the manuscript of THE HUSBAND, discovered I hadn’t yet used the word bougainvillea, and at once added it to Chapter 23.
Is there an intended parallel between Anson and Mitch, Cain and Able?
Absolutely, Mitch is the innocent Able, who does not recognize the evil in his brother; and Anson is the murderous Cain. This is a book about a man–Mitch–who was raised to see the world in shades of gray and to think like a moral relativist. He rejected the teaching of his father, and he leads an ethical life; but he has been numbed, by his upbringing, such that he cannot recognize true evil. In the course of this story, he awakens to the reality of evil in the world, perhaps even Evil in the upper case. When a story has twists in it, I always play fair with the reader, leaving clues, and when Taggart quotes God’s words to Cain–”Blood cryeth unto me from the ground”–a little foreshadowing is indeed underway. I am fair but also sneaky.
You go into detail describing Holly's grandmother's items in the garage attic. Why? They only become pertinent to the story at one point, but it's obvious you are saying that Mitch isn't seeing something, that they are necessary to the story. — Laurene
Laurene wonders why I spent ten lines or so, in Chapter 12, describing Holly’s grandmother’s items stored in the garage attic. Well, a lot is going on in this scene aside from the action, and it has to do with the theme of the discovery of evil, mentioned above. Evil and chaos are often equated. The evil that has entered Mitch’s life, for which he is unprepared, is about to spawn chaos when the gunman in the garage accidentally falls to his death, complicating Mitch’s situation enormously. Mitch’s cruel upbringing was evil, while Holly’s grandmother raised her in a benign atmosphere of love and order–which is one reason Mitch is so intensely drawn to Holly, for she embodies the reason and order for which he yearns. By bringing to your attention the grandmother’s collections, and the ebullient traditions with which she celebrated every major and minor holiday, I am hoping to establish, in ten lines, the contrast between Mitch’s childhood and Holly’s. In Chapter 15, on page 98, when Mitch stands in the garage attic, thinking that an important truth is hiding from him in plain sight, he is beginning to come to the recognition that Evil and Good exist, that the definition of evil is not relative, and that the loveless and irrational world of his father is beginning to poison the loving and ordered life he has built with Holly–which it is indeed poisoning, through the medium of his brother. Now I’ve just spent ten times more words explaining why grandma’s collections were described than I used to describe them in the first place. But I’ve always believed that this kind of subtle building of background is preferable to three pages of flashbacks to show the grandma being a loving person and a keeper of traditions!
Did Trixie like THE HUSBAND?
Yes, Trixie liked THE HUSBAND with one complaint. She felt that the role of the golden retriever, in the first two chapters, was too small. She felt that the book would have been a lot better if Mitch had proved not to be at all resourceful and if, instead, the golden retriever had found Holly, captured the various malevolent types in the story, and been given a significant part of the bad guy’s money for squeaky plush toys.