NAW Interview with Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson has won awards in poetry from The Lyric and Yankee Magazine, and is currently completing a sonnet sequence on all 53 of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. His poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Slant Magazine, Soundings East, Rattapallax, and The Vocabula Review. He He has earned degrees in Creative Writing, Education, and Literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College. His debut novel, The Girl With a Clock for a Heart, is published by William Morrow. Visit him here.

NAW- Tell us about your book, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?

It’s a book that tells two separate but linked stories, happening twenty years apart. In each story, there’s mystery, danger, several murders, and a central romance between my two main characters, George Foss and Liana Decter. The idea for the book happened when I was thinking about the difference between going to college now and going to college when I did, back in the 1980s. Nowadays, most teens have an established online identity. When you arrive as a freshman and meet someone new you probably run back to your room and look them up on facebook and find out everything about them. But in the olden days all these kids arrived in college, and they had a real opportunity to reinvent themselves. No one knew anything about anyone. That was the spark that led me to wondering how far a freshman year re-invention could go.

NAW- Tell us about the character of George Foss. How did you develop the character?

He’s one of those ordinary heroes, really. Just a guy who gets involved with a situation that’s over his head. In the original short story, I envisioned him as a naïve freshman at college who falls in love with a girl, and that love changes him forever. The rest of his life will feel pale in comparison.

NAW- The book has also been optioned for a movie, right?

It has, which is exciting, but I’m well aware that options are common while book-to-film adaptations are not. I’ve spoken with the writer/director who is attached and he feels really strongly about the story, and I have no doubt that if the film gets made, people will be saying how much better it is than the book.

NAW- What drew you to the thriller genre?

It’s what I’ve always read, ever since I was young. I’m drawn to books that force you to keep turning the pages, to make you want to find out what happens next. Occasionally I’ll read a book that doesn’t have a murder in it, but it has to be a really extraordinary book.

NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?

Well, this book took a while only because there was a period of time between writing the short story portion—the college years—and the rest of the book. The title came early, and it came out of a piece of dialogue in the story. I also wanted a title that sounded like pulp fiction, like a cheap paperback novel from the 1950s.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart

NAW- What can a novice reader expect from The Girl with a Clock for a Heart?

I hope that it’s a story they need to finish, one of those books that keeps you turning the pages. That’s what I always shoot for with my writing. If they also find it moody and stylishly written, well, I can live with that.

NAW- Tell us about your other works.

My new novel, The Kind Worth Killing, is coming out in February of 2015. It’s about what happens when you sit next to a strange woman on a plane and tell her that you’re planning on murdering your wife. I’m also working on a sonnet sequence, one poem for each of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. I’ve written all the poems, although I’m still tinkering with them, and hoping to find a publisher.

NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.

My agent read The Girl with a Clock for a Heart—the short story—after it was published in the online journal Mysterical-E. He contacted me and asked if I’d consider turning it into a full-length novel. I agreed to give it a shot, and after writing it, he sold it to William Morrow before even telling me he’d decided to begin pitching it. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

I work part time as a project manager at a non-profit in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I lived with my wife and cat, and the three of us watch a lot of movies together.

NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?

My inspiration is John D. Macdonald, a pulp writer who published about a hundred books from the 1950s through the 1980s. He is most famous for the Travis McGee series. He is my favorite thriller writer, and simply one of the great American writers. Other writers I love, past and present, are Kingsley Amis, Ruth Rendell, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, and William Boyd.

NAW-What are you currently reading?

The Dinner by Herman Koch. Somone told me that my new novel was similar so I thought I’d check it out. So far, so good. Very chilling.

NAW- What will you be working on next?

I have an idea for a third novel that I’m beginning to work on. It is also a thriller set in New England.

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