You’re driving home from a party one night during a fierce snowstorm, a drink or two inside you, and – bump! – you hit something. It could be a deer – but it could be something much worse. The next morning the cops coming calling… because someone was killed in a hit-and-run in that same road last night. A nightmare scenario, right? It’s the fascinating premise to Carol Goodman’s tense new thriller, River Road.
Published by Titan Books, River Road is a gripping page-turner about grief, betrayal and paranoia in a small community. Carol is a hugely experience writer, she’s written fourteen novels across all sorts of genres, including The Seduction Of Water, which won the prestigious Hammett Prize in 2003. She’s a creative writing teacher and lives in the Hudson Valley.
So Crime Thriller Fella is thrilled that Carol has agreed to give us the intel. She gives us the lowdown on her compromised protagonist and the tragic inspiration for her novel – and, as a writing teacher, she reveals the one piece of advice she tells all her students…
Tell us about Nan Lewis …
Nan is creative writing teacher at a college in the Hudson Valley. She loves teaching but because she suffered a horrible tragedy in her own life she’s become emotionally removed from her own life. She’s driving home from a faculty party one night after a glass (or two) of wine and some bad news and hits a deer in the same spot where her own daughter was killed in a hit-and-run six years ago. The next morning a policeman comes to the door to tell her that one of her students was killed on the river road last night and Nan comes under suspicion for the crime.
Where did you get the inspiration for River Road?
I hit a deer! I hadn’t been drinking but I was very tired. I felt awful and I couldn’t stop reliving the feeling of that impact. Two weeks later there was a horribly tragic double hit-and-run in my community and, along with grieving for the victims and their families, I began thinking about what it would be like to be accused of such an awful crime.
What is it about unreliable protagonists that so fascinates readers?
I think it’s that other people are always a mystery to us. We never really know how far to trust the people around us, how much of what they are saying is completely true and unbiased. There are many ways of being unreliable–from outright lying to having a faulty memory to to just missing something. As a reader we have to figure out whom to trust – just like we have to in real life.
Why are closed communities, like college campuses, such fertile territory for crime writers?
Because they are small, enclosed circles where people get to know each other for better or worse. There are plenty of rivalries and secrets, a volatile mix of young and old, and, thrown into the mix, you’re all trying to figure out and talk about all the big questions in your classes. I also just love the architecture and mood of those old buildings on New York and New England campuses. I went to a beautiful Hudson Valley college (Vassar) and I still dream about the campus.
As a writing teacher yourself, what’s the most important piece of advice you give your students?
Just to keep writing no matter what if you really want to be a writer. You should also read a lot, learn to take criticism, find a day job that adds to your writing instead of taking away from it, but most of all, just keep doing it.
You’re the author of fourteen novels now – in different genres. What’s your process once you have the initial idea for a novel?
Fortunately for the local wildlife, they usually don’t have to start with me hitting a deer. I write down the idea in my notebook. I’ll write fragments of prose and notes until it starts to cohere enough to begin. If there’s research to be done I’ll start reading and looking things up. I’ll know that it’s a solid idea if I can’t get it out of my head.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
That it takes multiple drafts to get it right. I’m inherently lazy so I’d much prefer that my first or second draft was good enough, but luckily I’ve had editors to tell me it isn’t 🙂
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
It’s a long list – from Charlotte Bronte who got snarky letters from male poets, lived through great personal hardship, and defended her right to give voice to her imagination in my favorite novel of all time, Jane Eyre, (And who penned my favorite writing quote: “The faculty of imagination lifted me when I was sinking … and it is for me a part of my religion to defend this gift and profit by its possession.”) to the contemporary British author Sarah Waters who boldly and astutely re-imagines historical periods. I love a lot of the Victorians (Hardy, Dickens, all the Brontes, Wilkie Collins). In contemporary fiction, I like Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, and the aforementioned Sarah Waters. My favorite mystery writers: Val McDermid, Laura Lippmann, Tana French, Elly Griffiths, Gillian Flynn, and Sophie Hannah. Favorite YA (just in case you wanted to know): Libba Bray, Holly Black, and Nova Ren Suma.
What’s next for you?
I have a Middle-Grade novel called THE METROPOLITANS about a bunch of kids on the eve of WWII who have to find a lost book at the Metropolitan Museum in order to save New York City coming out in Spring 2017. My next adult book is a novel about a couple who move into a house in the Hudson Valley and things sort of fall apart for them.
River Road by Carol Goodman is available now from Titan Books, in paperback and ebook, priced £7.99.