Author Jeffery Deaver, known best for his Lincoln Rhyme series, wrote his first book at age 11. He has always known he wanted to write and, as a thriller writer, feels it’s his responsibility to take each of his characters on an exciting, suspense-filled journey – complete with twists and turns around every corner.
His newest novel “The Goodbye Man” is no exception.
Professional tracker and survivalist Coulter Shaw makes a living traveling the country as a reward-seeker, collecting compensation offered by the police for the capture of an escaped fugitive or by parents for the return of a missing child. Using his survival skills, he tracks down these individuals, “and then gets in his Winnebago and drives off on another adventure. That’s his job,” says Deaver.
On his newest adventure, Coulter Shaw’s reward-seeking will lead him to a mysterious organization located within Washington state’s vast wilderness. Although he may claim otherwise, the charismatic “Master Eli” is nothing more than a dangerous cult leader. Shaw will first have to get inside this insidious organization before he’s going to get anyone out.
I had the chance to speak with Jeffery Deaver about “The Goodbye Man” and his experience having his work optioned for film and television projects.
Coulter Shaw is a tracker and survivalist. In fact, you named him for “mountain man” John Coulter. Tell us about your research into the survivalist movement.
I knew nothing about survivalism, except what was in popular media. Generally, survivalists were presented as pretty wacko, with bizarre beliefs like: The moon landing never happened, John Kennedy is actually somewhere in the basement of Congress and there’s going to be a revolution of some sort, a new Civil War. There are certainly survivalists like that, but what I was struck with is that there are many people who simply want to be self-sufficient.
With the corona situation, there is something to be said for that. These are folks that don’t have any odd religious beliefs. They simply want to be able to live off the grid. They may use cellphones; they may have Internet. Basically, they don’t want to be dependent on that. They want to be able to live by their own means, and that’s one of the things that surprised me. That’s the kind of survivalist that is Coulter Shaw.
There’s this connection between survivalism and inherited trauma. Tell us about that connection and its role in the book?
It’s important in all of my fiction to have a personal subtext about the character. It makes them more real. In Lincoln Rhyme’s case, for the bulk of the series he’s disabled. How does he deal with that very extreme condition? In Coulter Shaw’s case, his father and mother, both brilliant scientists, escaped from the San Francisco Bay area for reasons we don’t yet know, but I have a whole arc planned out for Coulter Shaw. They have moved to the Sierra Nevada, the wilderness in Eastern California, to prepare for what might be an attack or something worse. We don’t know at this point, but we will. So, what we have is a situation where Coulter Shaw is wrestling with this trauma of his childhood, and yet we don’t know what’s coming.
In “The Goodbye Man,” Coulter encounters a cult. What was your research of cults, their psychology and how they condition their followers?
I had a little experience with a cult. A long time ago, someone tried to recruit me. It didn’t go very well. In fact, it was a non-threatening experience, but I did go to a recruitment meeting where all the other followers were there. It had to be 100 people in a ballroom in a hotel in New York City, and I was terrified.
What scared me was how when the leader walked out on stage, brightly lit, wearing a white outfit of some kind. The cult followers went absolutely crazy. They were not human beings anymore. They were a creature. A mob. He wasn’t even saying anything, but to see people, many of them professionals, many of them otherwise well-adjusted, kind of sell their souls to this fellow was a frightening thing.
I thought, I’m going to put that in a book. I want to have a cult leader have this power over people, and he’s going to go head to head with my hero.
Clearly, you do a lot of research when writing a book like “The Goodbye Man,” drawing from personal experience, but also outside sources. So, what comes first: the story idea or the research itself?
I usually work with a story idea that I’ve come up with. I had the idea of a cult from the very beginning, and that’s all it was – a cult. This leader up against my hero. I began to outline it and research at the same time. I’m a big outliner. I firmly believe that you need to know where you’re going before you start writing. I started the plot and at the same time I was doing research and I’d learn something in the research that would inform the plot and take it in a different direction. So, I do both at the same time, but I’m primarily a plot person.
So, what are you reading right now?
Well, I’m doing a lot of research into my next topic, a Lincoln Rhyme book, which will be out next year, but I don’t dare say what that is because that’ll give a clue to what the book’s about.
Your first book that features Lincoln Rhyme, “The Bone Collector,” was first turned into a film in 1999 starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, and recently, NBC has adapted it into the television series “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector.” What is it like to have your work selected for these types of projects? Did you have any concerns?
I am never concerned. I will not sell one of my books or stories to anyone whose work I don’t respect. Once I sign it off and I get my check for the option, I don’t worry about it. I got a call from the showrunners of the NBC series, I gave them whatever advice they wanted, but after that, I just didn’t really care. That’s their job. My job is to write books and short stories. Their job is to make the movie.
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