‘Imposter Syndrome helps me write better’

Think Twice, is the 12th in the Myron Bolitar series, Bolitar being your not-so-typical sports agent-detective, complex and unpredictable but not unlovable
Last Updated : 23 June 2024, 01:40 IST

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From what I could make out in the grainy Zoom video, American thriller writer Harlan Coben had at least eight notebooks piled higgledy-piggledy next to him. Later in the interview, he told me he carried them everywhere since he is a habitual scribbler — of ideas, thoughts, plots, character traits and everything else in between. Prolific is a word often used to describe Coben and with good reason. He has “35 or 36 or 37, I forget” books to his name and several of his bestsellers (Safe, Stranger, Stay Close, to name a few) have been adapted into TV series and films across many streaming platforms. He is also called the master of twists and turns with his books (and their screen adaptations) never not breathless, with every trick of the trade thrown in — from extraordinary murders to serial killings to dual identities and crimes passionnels.

His latest novel, Think Twice, is the 12th in the Myron Bolitar series, Bolitar being your not-so-typical sports agent-detective, complex and unpredictable but not unlovable. Coben calls it his best yet and throws a challenge that the last chapter would “knock me out” and that I may also shed a tear or two, not at my failure to guess the ending but at the emotional upheaval he promises I will go through. He also chatted about his writing process, how to side-step formulaic writing in crime novels, and more. Excerpts from an interview

When did the writing bug bite you?

I was in college and it must have been 1982-83. I travelled to Costa Del Sol in Spain and worked there for a while as a tour guide for Americans. I really wanted to write a story about this experience, so I went back and wrote a terrible novel! Mind you, I had never written fiction before but that’s how it all began. 

What did you read as a child?

I was a voracious reader. I do not know anyone who has become a writer without reading a lot. I remember reading a whole lot of Roald Dahl books, The Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle and the Narnia series by C S Lewis...curiously, I was never a fan of The Hardy Boys series, which was something of a rage then.

You mentioned you do not much like classifying your novels as crime thrillers...why?

People label the books I write as mystery or crime thrillers but I like to call them novels of immersion — the kind that you can take on a vacation where you would rather stay in your room because you want to know what happens next; you want to read five minutes more before you turn in and the next thing you know it is four in the morning! That is the experience I set out to give my readers.

Do you ever feel like an imposter? If so, how do you handle it?

Oh, I felt like an imposter just yesterday! It never goes away...I do think only bad writers think they are good while the rest of us constantly feel like we are a mess. It is this feeling of insecurity, the infamous Imposter Syndrome that inspires you to write better — you need that angst, that doubt to go on. But it is also a contradiction — you think you stink as a writer but you also have the hubris to write a 500-page novel and expect people to pay to read it!

What’s your writing process? Isn’t mystery writing always in danger of becoming formulaic? 

If there is a formula, I have not found it yet. Some call me the suburban thriller guy...I do not think that is true. I have written a fairly wide range of books — with female leads, male leads, first person, multiple viewpoints...you name it. I look at crime fiction as a form, not a genre. My books are as much about emotional resonance as they are about mysteries. As for the writing process, I like writing in hired cabs; I used to take share-rides just to write! I write around 30-40 pages a day and when in the mood, I can go on for 24 hours!

What’s your next project?

I am writing the follow-up book for Think Twice and working on a few series for streaming platforms. There is also the possibility of adapting the Myron Bolitar books into an American television series. 

Published 23 June 2024, 01:40 IST

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