From the Booking Desk:
Hopefully, at this point you have already pre-ordered Alafair Burke’s new book, The Wife. Critical praise of this novel has been very strong and I even called it “an instant classic,” so it should be no surprise that I invited Alafair here to the blog to answer a few questions about this extremely topical novel. The Wife is officially out tomorrow, so grab this book and prepare yourself for a hell of read!
BOLO Books: What is your brief elevator pitch for The Wife?
Alafair Burke: When a beloved public persona is accused of sexual misconduct, his wife becomes part of the narrative. If she’s lucky, she can save him or herself, but not both.
BOLO Books: Talk about timely. When I was helping you hand out advance copies of The Wife at Bouchercon’s opening ceremonies in Toronto, the Harvey Weinstein news had just recently broken and you were mentioning the connection to the new novel. But now, even more similar situations have come to light making The Wife timelier than ever. When did the idea of focusing on sexual harassment first come to you?
Alafair Burke: Accomplished and respected men have been accused of heinous sexual misconduct for decades. Clarence Thomas holds a seat on the Supreme Court today, despite accusations of harassment nearly 30 years ago, while Bill Cosby’s earliest accusations of assault did little to curb his rise to stardom.
Inevitably, when a man gets catapulted into the spotlight, the public gaze shifts to include the man’s private partner, his wife. We wonder if she knew, and we begin to make judgments about the kind of woman she must be. She in essence becomes one of his victims. The story in The Wife began with a single premise: when a married man is accused of sexual misconduct, his wife becomes part of the narrative, no matter how hard she tries not to.
BOLO Books: The Wife does not present claims of sexual harassment in a cut and dried way. Like most crime novels, it has to examine things from all angles. With your legal background, do you find it easier or harder to see both sides of potential criminal acts? Are you drawn to plots that have elements of gray area with which to toy with reader’s expectations?
Alafair Burke: The best stories are neither black nor white. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. Crimes are often situational, not necessarily reflective of the actor’s fundamental character. Most fair-minded people accept these statements as truths. Indeed, our criminal justice system is generally based on the notion that not all crimes are capital, and most offenders can do their time and return to society. We’re in a time now, fortunately, that we realize that some offenses have gone un- and under-punished for too long. The language of “zero tolerance” permeates the dialogue, even among traditionally rehabilitation-minded voices. But when the offender is someone you know—whom you love, who is your husband, who is your child’s father—how absolute can one be?
BOLO Books: In my opinion, The Wife is one of the most perfectly paced novels I have read in years. More than a few early readers who I highly respect have said that this is a one-sitting read – and I completely agree. Pacing is such an elusive thing, almost impossible to judge until a work is complete. How much of your later draft reworking is focused on getting the right hills and valleys into the storyline, the right chapter lengths, and those killer cliffhanger endings?
Alafair Burke: I don’t outline at all. I just write until I’m done and then read and re-read until it seems right to me. Hand to God, I don’t rework with an idea toward pace or plotting. I focus entirely on character, and it always seems to work out.
BOLO Books: The Wife is a stand-alone, but Olivia Randall, from last year’s The Ex, does factor into this story as a secondary character. What was it about her that made you want to return to her? Do you think readers will be seeing her again?
Alafair Burke: As I was writing The Ex, I resisted the urge to show Olivia (the main character, a defense attorney representing her ex-fiance) representing work-a-day clients, because it would be a distraction from the core relationship that drove the story. At the same time, I knew off the page that she was exactly the kind of lawyer you’d call if someone you cared about needed a shark. Then, lo and behold, Jason Powell needed a shark, and there she was. This stuff just happens.
BOLO Books: How do you know when a story is a stand-alone as opposed to something that is a better fit for your series character, Ellie Hatcher?
Alafair Burke: My characters are very real to me, and their presence carries weight and direction. They dictate the story, rather than being dictated by the story. Series characters end up presenting themselves to me in obvious ways, and I knew The Wife was about the story of Angela Powell, not Ellie Hatcher or Samantha Kincaid.
BOLO Books: I always have to talk about cover design. I love the cover for The Wife. Were you pleased with what the publisher came up with?
Alafair Burke: I love this jacket. A ring in the sand immediately evokes the idea of a marriage thrown away. And the relationship between Angela and Jason is tied to the beach in ways readers will recognize once they know the characters.
BOLO Books: I know that you are a fan of many of the same crime writers I admire. What books are you currently recommending? Is there a particular book that you feel too many people have overlooked in recent years?
Alafair Burke: I’ve made my favorites well known over the years. In alphabetical order, with many omissions: Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Unger. Recent books from relative newcomers that I loved are Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley, Caz Frear’s Sweet Little Lies, Kristen Lepionka’s The Last Place You Look, and Lauren Stahl’s The Devil Song.
BOLO Books: 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?
Alafair Burke: Dude, not fair. Can I get away with saying mass-markets would be first off the island? After that, the game would be on.