Already Gone: A Q&A with Suspense Writer John Rector
John Rector, the best-selling author of The Grove and The Cold Kiss (optioned for a feature film), has a new thriller out today: Already Gone. In this pulse-racer of a book, writing teacher Jake Reese is attacked in a parking lot one night by two men who cut off his ring finger. Bewildered by the incident, Jake tries chalking it up to bad luck—until his wife disappears, and he realizes that his dark past has finally come to track him down.
Amazon: Already Gone opens with an dramatic attack that eventually drives a wedge between Jake and his wife. Then you pull back and carefully build an emotional situation between these newlyweds. Was opening with that kind of contrast always your plan?
John Rector: The contrast wasn't as much a plan as a necessity. Already Gone takes off at full speed, so I had to introduce the reader to the characters right away. The trick was building the characters as the story developed, so the reader wouldn't get bored and close the book. Writing action and plot twists isn't the hard part—the hard part is creating characters the reader will care about. To do that, I had to show who they were before the main conflict tore through their lives and changed everything.
A: Are you ever surprised by how your writing unfolds?
JR: Yes, I'm often surprised by how things unfold as I'm writing. I usually have an idea where things are heading, but in each book, there has come a point where the different elements all come together in an unexpected way and form a bigger picture. That revelation is one of my favorite things about writing.
A: You are a prize-winning short-story writer as well as a best-selling novelist. How is writing a story different than writing a novel?
JR: Anyone who has tried both can tell you that writing short fiction is a different skill set. When you're working on a short story, every single line you write has to either develop character or advance the plot. If a line doesn't add something essential, it should be cut. With novels, you have a little more room to play. It becomes more about the scene than the individual lines, but the goal is the same.
A: Do you still write short fiction?
JR: For the past several years, my focus has been on novels, so I haven't written short fiction in quite a while. I've received emails from a number of readers asking about my old stories, so I recently decided to put a few together and released a small collection. It's called The Walls Around Us, and it's a snapshot of what I was working on when I started writing fiction. Short stories were my way of learning how to create a scene, build tension, and develop characters. I had a great time writing them, but my true love is the novel.
A: I've heard that you don't consider yourself a mystery/thriller writer, but Already Gone is a thrilling, mysterious read. How would you describe your writing, and what kinds of readers do you think will love this book?
JR: I consider myself a suspense writer. Some of what I write falls into the mystery/thriller genre, but I've also written horror stories, noir stories, and even science fiction. The only constant element in everything I've written is suspense. Anyone who likes fast-paced, dark novels with a lot of danger and plot twists should like my books.
A: What are you reading now?
A: What do you like to read over and over again?
JR: There are a few books I always seem to revisit: The Notebook by Agota Kristof, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver, Night Shift by Stephen King, Big Bad Love by Larry Brown, Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski, and A Farewell to Arms by Earnest Hemingway are the first ones that come to my mind. I go back to these books because the writing in them is so clear and vivid and beautiful, which to me is the best kind of writing—also the hardest. Whenever I'm struggling, it's nice to be able to grab one of these books, flip it open, and see how it should be done.