Interview: Koethi Zan

koethizanThe Never List is one of the most-anticipated releases of the summer. It is the debut novel of Koethi Zan, who was born and raised in Alabama. She attended Yale Law School and nowadays lives in an old farmhouse in upstate New York. The book has already won high praise from the likes of Jeffery Deaver and Tess Gerritsen and we will be reviewing it soon here on CFL. We invited the author over for an interview…

Tell us a little about The Never List.
The Never List is a psychological thriller about Sarah Farber, a 31-year old woman who was abducted along with her best friend when they were in college and held captive for years in a basement along with two other women. Ten years after her escape, Sarah is still struggling psychologically to recover and still grieving over the loss of her friend, who didn’t make it out. To make matters worse, her abductor is up for parole and sending her twisted letters from jail. Sarah discovers she has to face her past to keep him in jail, and in the process, she gets drawn into an even darker and more complex mystery.

It is a daunting subject for a debut novel, what inspired you to write it?
The Never List was inspired by the amazing stories of captivity survivors: Elizabeth Fritzl, Natascha Kampusch, Sabine Dardenne, Jaycee Lee Dugard. These women have suffered through the absolute worst thing I can imagine and every one of them has demonstrated incredible strength in the wake of such trauma. My own difficult life struggles paled in comparison. I was – and am – in awe of them. I wanted to create a character like that: a woman who was strong in the face of unfathomable horror, but who needed to confront her past to figure that out. I wanted this book to be both an exciting crime thriller and a trauma recovery memoir that would explore how these women could survive such tragedy, and how they could integrate the experience into their lives in its aftermath.

The Never ListEven though the girls are free, the novel has a real sense of claustrophobia and oppression – did you find it easy to create such tension and darkness?
Because this novel is drawn from my own deepest darkest fears, that part was relatively easy. This story is my own worst nightmare, so writing it was very intense. I wrote in a very ‘method’ manner, so I spent a lot of time with my mind in a terrifying place, and, for better or worse, I have a vivid imagination. It also probably helped that I wrote it in a dark, stone-walled basement.

Are you a crime fiction fan? Who are your favourite authors?
I’m a huge crime fiction fan. My favourite authors are Patricia Highsmith, Graham Greene, Dorothy B Hughes, Ruth Rendell, Henning Mankell and Shirley Jackson, to name a few. I particularly love recent Scandinavian crime fiction, and have read an awful lot of what is out there translated.

Are you a disciplined writer?
Definitely. I had to be. I wrote this book while I was working full-time as Deputy General Counsel of MTV, renovating my house, and caring for my two children. I had exactly one hour each day to write: from 5am to 6am. I set myself a word count requirement of 500 words a day, five days a week. Then I added an incentive plan. If I ever hit 10,000 words in any calendar month, I could take the rest of the month off. I noticed I would hit my word count earlier and earlier each month. Also, I kept moving forward as I wrote, never looking back at what I’d written until the entire draft was complete. I didn’t want to get caught up on the language and not finish it according to the deadline I’d set for myself.

What’s coming up next for you?
My next book will be a stand-alone crime novel unrelated to The Never List. However, I definitely have certain pre-occupations and themes that continue to fascinate me. I’m interested in writing books that explore complicated psychological questions, moral dilemmas and power relations rather than by-the-numbers crime procedurals. I want to ask why people do deviant things, how the victims cope with them, and what forms and distorts personalities to begin with. As in my first book, I continue to be interested in the distinction between evil and mental illness. In any event, readers can rest assured that my next book will be dark, suspenseful and probably a little twisted.

Koethi Zan’s debut novel comes out 1 August. Watch for a review here on Crime Fiction Lover. You can get the first chapter free on Amazon here.

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