Interview with Chris Pavone
Bookworm: Kate is such a badass protagonist. Where do you find continuing inspiration for her character? Why do you feel she resonates with both male and female readers?
Chris Pavone: Kate is a stressed-out parent with a faltering career, and misgivings about her life’s biggest choices, and a spouse who sometimes drives her nuts. That’s pretty universal, isn’t it? But Kate also happens to be facing these problems in Luxembourg (in my first book) and in Paris (the new one), which makes her problems just a little more interesting. Plus some of her solutions involve spycraft, weapons, and lethal violence, which makes them a lot more exciting.
I invented Kate a decade ago, when I’d followed my wife’s career to Luxembourg, and found myself without my well-established identities—career, social network, home. I channeled the challenges and frustrations of my unsettled, unfamiliar life into this fictional character, a person going through a very similar experience of becoming an expat trailing spouse, trying to create a whole new life for her family, and a whole new identify for herself. This is a moment of excitement but also of doubt and vulnerability; of possibility but also fear and risk. I think Kate’s predicament is something we can all relate to, a situation we can all imagine ourselves in. Because the book was a thriller, I added a few elements that are less commonplace and a lot more exciting, but at heart I still wanted Kate to be a character whose problems we can all identify with, whose triumphs we can imagine as our own.
BW: Your books never feel stale - they are so current to technology and world events. How much does the news influence your writing?
CP: I write the sorts of high-stakes contemporary plots that have no choice but to address real-world news and technology—international intelligence and espionage, electronic banking and hacking and cyber-security. But I don’t want the books to be about those sideshows, which are never what I find most compelling about fiction. Above all, what I care about are characters—their motivations, their conflicts, their passions, even their hatreds. So I try not to allow too much news or tech to contaminate my stories; I want these details to support the plot, not the other way around. Just because I spent days researching a subject doesn’t mean you need to read any of it.
BW: Ah, Paris! What is your favorite landmark/location in this book? How did you conduct your research about it?
CP: One of my goals is for readers to feel like they’ve been transported to someplace beautiful and exciting—that you can see and hear and smell the Argentinean pampas and Mexico’s zócalos, Venice’s secluded walkways and the rugged end-of-the-worldness of Iceland’s coastal cliffs. And of course Paris, which I’ve visited more or less annually for a decade, and for this book I met with a few people—a friend who works at the Louvre, another who’s a bookseller, a journalist—over drinks and food in extremely appealing places. So this research of mine wasn’t exactly of the onerous sort.
I love so much about the city (which is probably why at least parts of all four of my novels are set there); it’s one of those places where the touristed sites really are as wonderful as you’d hope. And perhaps the most dramatic is the Eiffel Tower, which there are a lot of ways to experience, at different levels of effort and expense; I think I’ve done all of them. My favorite happens to be one that’s easy and 100 percent free: watching the tower’s light show at dusk from a nearby bridge, with the Seine in the foreground. In The Paris Diversion, this is the diverting backdrop to the final confrontation of threats and violence, death and redemption. But for me and you in real life, it’s five minutes of quiet perfection.
BW: What are you reading now?
CP: I’ve read a lot of great novels this spring, and I think my favorites have been Juliet Grames’s debut The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, a wonderful story about the twists, turns, and near-deaths of one woman’s long eventful life; and A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle, an unusually titled but terrific noir.