From the Booking Desk:
It is with great pleasure that I welcome Justin Kramon to BOLO Books today. Justin’s second novel, The Preservationist, has just been released and this is a book that psychological thriller fans are going to be talking about. Read on to see what insight Justin provides about this thought-provoking novel and then stop back again tomorrow to read the BOLO Books review of the book.
BOLOBooks: How did the idea for The Preservationist originate? And did you settle on the title early in the process or was that a later choice?
Justin Kramon: The idea came from some of the reading I was doing at the time. I think I read only thrillers for a year or so. Some of my favorites were the ones that explored the thoughts of all the characters (not just the detective’s or victim’s), and I also tend not to like procedurals as much as the novels that focus on character and psychology. (Though there are procedurals I love, too.)
So I was interested in writing a suspense novel that didn’t go deeply into a police investigation, but focused more on the characters, and that gave equal weight to everyone, regardless of how moral we felt the characters were. Then I just started filling up notebooks with character ideas, and eventually came to the three at the center of this book.
The title came later. I knew I wanted Sam featured in the title, since his point of view might be the thing that makes this book a little different from some others in the genre. I wanted the title to capture the essence of Sam, and the contradictions in him, but I also wanted the title to be meaningful for all the characters in the book. I feel like they all have this interest in preserving something, even though their stories all move toward destruction.
BOLOBooks: The Preservationist is quite a departure from your previous novel, Finny, which was at its core a humorous love story and coming-of-age tale. Did you set out with the plan to write a suspense novel or did you just follow the characters where they led you?
Justin Kramon: It’s true, this book is very different. Finny came from reading 19th-century coming-of-age novels. It had that old-fashioned structure and storytelling style, and I wanted to capture that sense of adventure, romance, humor, larger-than-life characters, and the satirical set pieces you get in those novels. This new book is more contemporary, sharper and more pared down. It starts in the action of the main story, as Julia is about to meet Sam. I didn’t want to spend long stretches talking about everyone’s childhoods, so I tried to build the background into the main story. But both Finny and The Preservationist share the thread of being inspired by books I love, which made me think about how I could put my own peculiar spin on a certain type of story.
I did set out to write a suspense novel, at least by the time I began drafting the book. The thriller plot is what pulls all these characters together, and I think it’s what would draw a reader to them. So I spent a lot of time figuring out how to start the story as close to the end as possible, so that we could get to know the characters, but also feel the suspense growing the whole time.
BOLOBooks: Tell us a bit about Julia, the female lead in the story. Both of your novels have had female lead characters. Do you find it difficult to successfully channel the female point of view?
Justin Kramon: Julia has a sharp, quirky sense of humor, which she uses as a way to shield her deeper feelings from people. She’s an oddball, has always been a little left of center, and I think she carries a lot of guilt with her, possibly from even before what happened with her brother (which is revealed several chapters into the book). She’s insecure, and she has the misfortune of having her small mistakes snowball into tragedy. My sense is that, when we meet her early in the book, she’s reeling from all that’s happened to her. The difficulty for me was in trying to find a way to show her poor judgment, emotional distress, and the mess in her head without spending a huge amount of time detailing every single one of her self-destructive thoughts. Some readers might prefer to get more of her thoughts, but the style of the book was to just lightly touch and move on.
It’s as difficult for me to get into the minds of female characters as male characters — which is pretty difficult. I spend a lot of time, before I even start drafting a book, just writing stuff in notebooks about the characters, or thoughts they have, or things that happened to them. Sometimes just weird lists, like of things Sam has in his drawer or refrigerator. Most of it never gets into the book. But the hope is that the book is like the tip of the iceberg, and that there will be a feeling of a very substantial thing underneath the surface of the action I choose to show.
Also, since people do ask me about the female character thing sometimes, I feel like I should say that I’m never trying to write on behalf of women, just as when I write a character of an undertaker or a mailman, I’m not trying to write on behalf of undertakers and mailmen. I’m just struggling crazily to lock into a couple unique and specific personalities, and if they happen to be women, I’m game.
BOLOBooks: The chapters in the novel are each titled. Why did you make this decision?
Justin Kramon: I did that in both my novels. In Finny, I did it to imitate the way that Dickens and some other 19th-century folks had those great whimsical chapter titles like “In which a very important person is introduced after a swig of ale” or whatever. My understanding is that Dickens did that in a lot of books because his novels were serialized, appearing often in three-chapter chunks. So he wanted to tease you with the action you were going to get in a given installment.
Then I noticed that Stephen King used chapter titles in The Shining and a couple other books. And other thriller/horror writers do that. Only, instead of the verbose titles, you get the really pared-down titles like “The Living Room” or “Upstairs.” I’ve actually never thought about why I love that so much. I guess it just gives the book a focus, like some kind of organizing presence is telling you, “Look here. There’s something important happening here.” That’s where the chapter titles come from in this book. They’re like a camera lens, quickly cutting from one moment of importance to another.
BOLOBooks: The following quote comes from Chapter Five. “Sam didn’t believe there was anything wrong with fiction if it was interesting and helped you get to the truth about people.” Do you believe that everyone is guilty of making up stories and “white lies” at times? And isn’t that a reflection of our natural tendencies toward insecurity?
Justin Kramon: That makes a lot of sense. And my hunch is that Sam takes this to an extreme. That’s what’s fun in doing a psychological book like this. I could take feelings and a life philosophy that most people probably bear traces of, and then push it to the extreme within a character. It’s like seeing yourself reflected in a distorted mirror, blowing up what had appeared to be the tiniest details. Also, I liked that Sam was presenting a warped view of the way a lot of writers (possibly including myself) feel about novels, that it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not, but simply what they say about people and the world. He’s just taking that philosophy into his life.
BOLOBooks: Later in the novel there is an observation that “…only the people in books get to explain themselves.” Do you think that is why so many readers enjoy fictional stories as a form of entertainment?
Justin Kramon: It might be. There is the sense that fiction allows you to move a level deeper than you can in reality, allows you to stop and notice in a way that you simply can’t in life. Even the slowness of reading (versus watching a movie or seeing a play) points toward that lingering, that depth. I’m not sure that characters actually get to explain themselves in books, but I think they’re often presented more fully than they might be in life. For people who love fiction, it seems that there’s something about the slowing down and the immersion in imagination that is very appealing, irreplaceable even.
BOLOBooks: Both the cover design and the book trailer for the novel are strong examples of how to do these promotional materials “correctly.” How involved were you in that process and are you happy with the end results?
Justin Kramon: I’m really happy with both. Pegasus was wonderful in including me in the cover process. Michael Fusco designed the cover, so I can’t take any credit for that. I remember getting an email with five different possible designs, each of which had its own advantage, but we all (my editor, the publisher, my agent, and I) felt that the present cover did the most to represent the experience of the book. So it was a very easy and pleasant experience.
I had a little more input in the trailer. We came to Adam Hong, and I had some ideas about what I wanted the trailer to do, and Adam used his filmmaking background to flesh those out. We were also very lucky to have song permission from Le Loup for the wonderful music. The actors, who are both Julliard grads and performing all over NY, were really nice to agree to do this for less than they normally get paid. Therese has been a friend for a while, and she basically helped me out. So we found ways to stretch a small budget and get a product we were all happy with.
BOLOBooks: What can we expect to see next from Justin Kramon? Should we expect another complete departure or something in a similar vein to The Preservationist?
Justin Kramon: I’m working on a very odd thriller now. It’s different than The Preservationist, but shares the suspense aspect. It’s really too early to commit to anything more than that.
BOLOBooks: If forced to choose only one format for all your future reading, which would you choose: Hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, or e-book? And why?
Justin Kramon: For me personally, I read a lot of trade paperbacks, since I do some traveling when I’m promoting a book, and they’re lighter than hardbacks and a little more durable than mass market. I don’t have any issues with e-books or any of the formats. It really has to do with the fact that, without print books, I don’t know how I’d decorate my house. Literally, I don’t know how I’d fill the wall space. It’s also just an issue of how I’m used to experiencing the pleasure of reading. For me, computers and devices have an anxiety and quickness associated with them, and reading for me has always been a way to step away from that world, into a place where I can think more clearly. I’m very content with the fact that not everyone feels this way or has these associations, so I like that there are options. I hope that will continue to be the case.