Jeffery Deaver goes backwards to delight his readers

Sep. 26, 2013 @ 03:19 PM

Chapel Hill best-selling mystery writer Jeffery Deaver works differently from most of his Orange County literary neighbors.
And in his new book, “The October List,” he writes in a way that sets him apart from almost every writer anywhere, every writer except maybe his Chapel Hill neighbor Daniel Wallace. More later about a literary device Wallace and Deaver share.
Many writers, especially those who work in the literary fiction genre, tell me that their characters, once created, take charge of their writing and guide the development of their stories. Often, they have no idea how the story will end when they begin writing. Nor do they have a specific plan or outline of how to get to the ending. They begin with their characters. As the characters develop, a story follows, one that changes and is revised over and over until the author is satisfied.
Deaver builds his stories a different way. Before beginning to write, he spends months creating a detailed outline covering every detail of the story, every clue, every detour, and the conclusion. His outline could be more than twice as long as the final book. Before he starts writing his novel he orchestrates all the multiple twists that are characteristic of his work.
“I get paid to make up stories, so all I think about is what makes the reader happy,” he says.
Making the reader happy involves a little bit of trickery. For instance, he says, there is a one-eighth inch factor in all his books. One-eighth inch is about 50 pages. So, 50 pages from the end of the book the story ends, or seems to end. But then Deaver brings in a series of twists and new endings, creating more puzzles to make his readers happy.
Growing up, Deaver loved to read, mostly adventure stories like those of Ian Fleming. He also loved the movies and gives them credit for his style of writing. The movies showed how to craft a story “in economic way, 90 minutes to tell story — it’s a small pallet. So every scene contains nothing gratuitous.”
Thus, like the movies, Deaver’s stories are trimmed down and lean. Deaver says that he is not a fan of narration to move the action along. Instead he uses dialogue from the characters. He prefers to “reveal emotion rather than describe it.”
When “The October List” begins, the reader learns a young woman’s child has been kidnapped. For ransom, the kidnapper demands a half million dollars and a copy of a document called the October List. A fast moving, entertaining, tricky tale follows.
Deaver’s most unusual trick is the timing. “The October List” begins at Chapter 35 and then goes backwards in time, with the story concluding at Chapter One. This kind of trick is risky. But Deaver makes it work very well.
What is the Daniel Wallace connection?
Back in 2000 Wallace published “Ray in Reverse,” a sweet story that started with Ray in heaven and then took him and the readers back in time to his birth.
Two great Chapel Hill writers, both telling their stories in reverse.
How do you explain it?
Ask OWASA. Maybe there is something in the water?

Jeffery Deaver will launch “The October List” at a reception and conversation at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
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D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at