Anne Frasier Knows How to Make Your Skin Crawl e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (August, 2006)
Anne Frasier is the USA Today best selling thriller author of Hush, Sleep Tight, Play Dead, and Before I Wake. She's been recognized with numerous awards including the RITA and Daphne du Maurier for romantic suspense. Publishers Weekly says Frasier 'has perfected the art of making a reader's skin crawl' and the Minneapolis Star Tribune calls her a master of the genre. She's had her work published since 1988 and her books have been printed in more than a dozen languages. Frasier lives in Minneapolis/St. Paul where she is working on her nineteenth novel, which is scheduled for release in October of 2007.
Q: When did it first become clear to you that writing thrillers and making reader's skin crawl was your creative calling?
A: I started out in romance almost twenty years ago, but even back then I was always being told to remove the blood and bodies from my books. At one point when I was writing for Bantam I said, "Why don't I just remove the romance?" That was about the time one of their other romance writers switched to straight suspense, and I was told the house couldn't support more than one such writer. It's all about timing in this business. A year or two later they probably would have jumped at the suggestion. So the desire has been there for almost twenty years, but it took me a while to sell anybody else on the idea.
Q: Why does the thriller, in its various incarnations and sub-genres, hold such an appeal for readers?
A: With my first thriller I worried that I was exploiting victims and glorifying killers. But then I realized that people have a need to uncover and expose what they fear. I think it gives them a feeling of control or the feeling that if this happened to me I would know what to do because I've been here before. And in thrillers the good guy wins, which sadly doesn't always happen in real life. People want to read about good overcoming evil.
Q: What's the hardest part about writing a page-turning thriller? The easiest?
A: The hardest is creating realistic evil without going over the top and making it some hand rubbing, cackling cartoon. The other side of that problem is being careful not to make a realistic killer too sympathetic. It's a delicate balance, one I'm not sure I've always pulled off.
Easiest ... Hmmm. Maybe scaring people. People will say, "How can you write that? I was so scared!" But of course it's different for the person writing it. I know what's going to happen.
Q: Various of your novels like Play Dead and Before I Wake are set in the deep south in cities like Savannah and New Orleans. How important is setting and atmosphere for your stories?
A: I think of setting as a character. I'm actually becoming more aware of that with each book. For me, setting is just as important as the main characters.
Q: Once you decide on a location, do you make a point of visiting and getting a good feel for the area before you begin your book?
A: I visited Savannah a few times. Love Savannah. For Hush I made a couple of trips to Chicago. But travel and research can be expensive and time-consuming. With Pale Immortal I deliberately decided on a familiar area. Also Pale Immortal has more of a fantasy element, so I felt I didn't have to be as accurate even when it came down to police uniforms and police procedure. I relaxed that a bit. So if somebody says, "Hey, in Juneau County a coroner would never be the medical examiner." I will just say that in Tuonela they would. Although I did research this subject enough to know that in some areas of the country a person can be both. Maybe even Juneau County for all I know.
Q: Most readers wouldn't associate a small town in Wisconsin as being particularly creepy, yet you instill a wonderful aura of menace and foreboding as well as an almost otherworldly tone in every page of Pale Immortal. What's your secret?
A: I find foreboding in everything. Old buildings. New buildings. Bridges. An open field. A weedy pasture. A grove of trees. A quiet street. Anything and everything can seem sinister to me. Small towns can be particularly secretive while at the same time seductive. On the surface they can look quaint and welcoming, but underneath they resent newcomers and change. Nature is the same way. Beautiful and inviting, but dangerous and secretive.
Do I need therapy? I'm suddenly thinking I need therapy.
Q: Your main character, Evan Stroud, is afflicted with porpheria as a teen and lives in relative seclusion, not to mention being taunted by kids and the curious as a vampire. How does his affliction play into the theme of your story?
A: I think we all have some Evan in us. He's the ultimate outsider, yearning for answers he will never find and a life he can never have. And possibly a love he can never have. And yet he isn't an outsider by choice. Maybe nobody really is.
He's also trapped by circumstance – another recurring theme with both Evan and Rachel, and I think something many people deal with in their lives. The weight of responsibility. Do you turn your back on the people you love in order to have a different life, the promise of a better life? No. This also mirrors the isolation, loss of identity, and sense of displacement that's so prevalent in society today. I think many of us long for at least the roots and heritage of that quaint town and a life that doesn't exist.
Q: You also include a strong sub-plot involving Graham Yates (Evan's son), his less than ideal upbringing and disturbing glimpses into teenage angst and obsession. Was it easy for you to get into Graham's head?
A: I love that age. I love writing characters who are sixteen. They are so naïve and cocky, innocent and volatile. They think they know everything and approach life that way. They can make you mad and break your heart all at the same time. I have to say that's the easiest age for me to write. Teenagers come much easier for me than adults.
Q: You generally incorporate a romance into your thrillers, albeit an attraction between characters who are often very fractured. Does a romance add more dimension to your characters and the story in general?
A: Pale Immortal deals with fantasy and the supernatural, but I wanted to make the story real when I could make it real. That was my plan from the beginning. And romance was a natural part of the story. I think love raises the stakes. I definitely wanted to get two kinds of love in there. Romantic love and the love a father feels for his child.
Q: It appears you're not nearly finished with Evan and his connection to the Pale Immortal or the mystery surrounding Old Tuonela. Can you give us some non-spoiler hints about what Evan might discover in the sequel?
A: When I was close to half done with Pale Immortal, I realized I had too much story for one book. Way too much story. The true history of Old Tuonela is revealed in the second book. We find out who Victoria is. Tuonela itself becomes a tourist town, which gives it a strange, surreal carnival feel. Evan's father comes back from Florida and Evan confronts him about the past and his illness. Here the love-of-a–father-for-his-son theme is revisited.
Evan is literally digging up history and Old Tuonela awakens and becomes a force that has to be dealt with. I introduce a couple of new characters, but most of the players are the same.
Q: Are you planning on continuing this series?
A: This is definitely something that could go on for several books, but that depends on my publisher and how well the first book does.
Q: You were a judge in the International Thriller Writer's 2005 Best Novel contest. What were a few of the highlights of that experience?
A: The highlight was working with fellow judges Alex Kava, Ali Karim, and James Siegel. And reading such an enormous amount of books in such a short span of time was extremely educational. I really got a handle on what was being published, who was publishing it, who was writing it.
Q: Has the thriller come full circle or do you believe thriller writers continue to evolve and come up with new and better ways to tell a gripping, page-turning story?
A: I'd like to think it's continually evolving. Right now there's a lot of genre crossover going on that is interesting and exciting. It used to be publishers were very much against crossover fiction.
Q: Which authors have influenced your career?
A: Oh, that's tough. I would guess there are hundreds going all the way back to Dr. Seuss. Some people think I'm kidding when I mention Dr. Seuss, but I'm completely serious.
I'm a very visual person, so I think movies have also influenced me in a big way: Night of the Living Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nosferatu and a lot of the old black and white horror movies. Also Hitchcock. With Pale Immortal I wanted to take some of those horror/supernatural elements and combine them with a story that was basically character-driven, and a story that, in a weird way, had love at its foundation.
Q: What do you do when you aren't plotting your next thriller?
A: Other than blogging, which is threatening to swallow me whole, I take photos and listen to music. I also spend an enormous amount of time fantasizing about a warm place to live in a perfect small town.Find out more about the author, her books and current project, and read her blog at AnneFrasier.com.
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.