David Bell is swiftly becoming a household name in the thriller genre, a genre that’s packed with phenomenal talent from cozy thrillers to action-packed wild chase novels. Within this mix, Bell has found his sweet spot mixing the everyday life with the thrill of intrigue and possibility of danger–“All of my books are about ordinary people who get caught up in something extraordinary and unusual...It’s kind of like going over the rainbow in the Wizard of Oz. All of a sudden there’s color and strangeness.” Join us as Art + Deco’s Annie Dauber takes us down the yellow brick road of David Bell’s new novel, Layover, out tomorrow, July 2, 2019!
1) You are becoming a seasoned veteran of the thriller genre, something that has always been close to my heart. As an author and as a reader, what draws you to thrillers, and are the reasons different in those different roles?
I don’t think the reasons are different. I think they’re the same. The best advice about writing I’ve ever been given is to write the kind of book you would like to read. Well, there’s nothing better than picking up a book that is so riveting you simply can’t put it down. What higher compliment can you pay to a writer besides, “I stayed up late into the night because I couldn’t stop reading your book?” Those are the books I love to read and those are the books I try to write.
2) What do you find to be most gratifying as a thriller writer, and how did that manifest as you were writing your newest novel, Layover?
As I said above, the most gratifying thing is writing a book that keeps the reader turning the pages late into the night because they just have to know what is going to happen next. I’d like to think I’ve done that with LAYOVER because there are enough surprises and revelations along the way that the reader won’t know what is coming next.
3) Many of your novels start off in commonplace situations, looping the reader into a scene they could conceivably be a part of. Layover begins like this: “We ended up next to each other at an airport gift shop.” The tone is passive, standing “next to” each other but not with each other, ending up in this everyday locale by pure chance. Is this effect intentional? What do you hope to convey to your reader with this type of narrative construction?
All of my books are about ordinary people who get caught up in something extraordinary and unusual. So at the beginning of LAYOVER, life is going on for Joshua just like it has for years. He’s in a rut. His work is mundane. He barely notices the world around him. But when he meets Morgan, the world opens up in a way it hasn’t before. It’s kind of like going over the rainbow in the Wizard of Oz. All of a sudden there’s color and strangeness.
4) Your dialogue throughout the novel is very honest, flowing like natural conversation even while Joshua and Morgan delve deep into personal histories. No statement ever seems unprompted, a trap many authors fall into. How do you keep your dialogue so naturalistic, so evenly paced and true to life?
I enjoy listening to people more than I enjoy talking. I’ve always been a listener, even when I was a kid. I loved listening to the adults talk. Dialogue has to sound natural even though it isn’t. Our speech in real life is halting, rambling, grammatically incorrect. But it can’t appear quite that way in a book. So I’m just trying to replicate the way people sound in real life while still conveying the important information about plot, character etc.
5) Joshua feels a pull between Renee back at home and this new, enigmatic beauty, Morgan, whom he chases as though she will bring wonder and mystery back into his life. What was your intention behind adding two separate objects of affection? What do each of them represent to Joshua, and in the larger narrative of the book?
Stories only work and are only interesting if the characters have two almost equal choices to make. Joshua has a lot going right in his life, even if he doesn’t see it. Good job, loving father, successful girlfriend at home. All of those things represent stability, success, the life he was meant to live. Morgan is a risk. She’s the road less traveled. And Joshua has a real connection with her. Which would you pick? Stability? Or the possibility of true love?
6) Morgan is something of a femme fatale. She is effortlessly beautiful, drawing Joshua into this devolving journey. How were you able to play with the history of this character archetype? Did you find it most useful to stay within the lines of the femme fatale, or were there any places you chose to deviate from that?
I understand why Morgan is described as a femme fatale, but she’s not intentionally leading Joshua to his doom. In fact, she gives him plenty of opportunities to go his own way and never see her again. It’s Joshua who chooses to keep pursuing her, to try to find out more about what is really going on. Joshua gets himself in hot water more than Morgan does.
7) Our main character seems to have a little affinity for Xanax, maybe a dangerous dependency in the real world but definitely an effective literary device. Mentions of the pill are surrounded by hazy memories or bouts of anxiety. How did you use Xanax as a tool to ground Joshua in a modern reality? What elements of his psyche are revealed during these stupors?
We all have anxieties, fears, and phobias. And we live in a world that provides a lot of ready-made assistance for those things. Joshua’s use of Xanax while he flies is simply showing how unhappy he is with his job and the state of his life. He flies all the time, day after day, but he only does it when he’s medicated with Xanax and alcohol. He’s really not happy living this life, which is why Morgan is such an intriguing way out. But pursuing Morgan still means getting on an airplane…
8) The relationship between Joshua and his dad clearly informs much of his action in the novel. This tension of proving himself while still relying on his father, supporting him through his mom’s departure. At various points, his dad represents the parts of his life he most resents, but also the comfort of familial love. How do these emotions interact, and how did they inform your writing of Joshua as a character?
After I wrote the book, I realized that the three main characters are all involved in parent/child relationships. Joshua works for his dad, Morgan is dealing with her mother, and Detective Givens, the cop investigating the case, is raising her daughter. These parent/child relationships go a long way toward defining who these characters are and why they do what they do. So Joshua’s relationship with this dad is central to who he is. And you’re right—he wants to break away from his father even as he respects and appreciates everything his dad has done for him. That’s a pretty universal feeling—that desire to break away from our parents while still needing them in our lives for all the things they provide.
I’m Annie, a recent UC Berkeley grad and publicity intern here at Art + Deco Agency. I’ll be your resident blogger, chatting with and about emerging voices in the literary industry and getting you started on your summer reading list. Catch me here every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday!