Thursday, October 10, 2013

Talking Thrillers with Dawn Klehr

Today I'm welcoming Dawn Klehr, author of THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR, to the Tangled blog.

Dawn is a fellow Flux author, and her debut is a Junior Library Guild selection that Kirkus called "a distinctive thriller that is most successful in its nuanced exploration of a young man’s obsession and a young woman’s journey to self-knowledge." 

Here's the blurb:
Life in the Heights has never been easy for seventeen-year-old Riley Frost, but when she’s publicly dumped and outed at the same time, she becomes an immediate social outcast at her high school. So Riley swears off romance and throws herself into solving the murder of her favorite teacher, Ms. Dunn.
Riley turns to her best friend, budding filmmaker Desmond Brandt, for help. What she doesn’t know is that Dez has been secretly directing her life, blackmailing her friends, and hoping his manipulations will make her love him. When his schemes go too far, Dez’s web of lies threatens to destroy both of their lives.

A few days ago, I interviewed Dawn about her new release and writing thrillers:
Lisa: Okay, so I have to say, your book sounds creeptastically awesome. What drew you to the idea of writing it--and writing in the thriller genre to start with?

Dawn: Well, I didn't mean to write a thriller. It started as a love story. Isn't that crazy? Riley was a character in another manuscript and I loved her. I wanted to write a lover story for her. But then *cue dun, dun, dun* Dez showed it and the story took a major turn! However, my crit partners always tell me I have a dark side

Lisa: That's so funny!  I set out to write a love story and ended up with something decidedly more...creepy and dark as well.

Dawn: I love it! That is the best way. You let the characters lead you, rather than a specific plot idea.

Lisa: Maybe there's something inherent in that line between love and obsession that's fun to walk? Or jump right over?

Dawn: I agree. Much like my character Dez, I became obsessed with writing this story. It was an amazing experience.

Lisa: That's interesting that you say the characters led you-- it seems like a thriller, especially one that has a mystery threaded to it, would be so completely plot driven.

Dawn: Yes. My first draft had all the creepy obsession in it, but the mystery came later. I almost wrote it in a layered way. I don't recommend it, but it worked for me.
What about you, how do you approach it?

Lisa: Usually I'm a total plotter, so I tend to have all the main action points first. But as you say, characters get in the way. In mine, the bad guy is actually someone I hadn't originally planned on. They just kind of walked onstage and I was like, huh. Had to rework a lot.

Dawn: I love when that happens. At first, I didn't know who was going to be the bad guy. When I figured it out, however, I had all these clues. It's like somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it all along.

Lisa: Sometimes, I think that the story's there-- you just to figure out the telling, right? But I think one of the hardest things in any book is to keep that tension going as you're telling. That seems like it would be doubly-hard for a thriller, which depends on a sense of urgency almost to make it really sing. Which, from that Kirkus review, it must :O)

Dawn: YES!!

Lisa: How did you make sure that your plot didn't get overwhelmed with character? It's so easy to let them take over!

Dawn: I think my film theme helped. It helped draw out a sense of urgency. It also acted like a character much of the time -- if that makes sense.

Lisa: Totally. So in the book, Desmond Brandt--your main character's best friend--is a filmmaker. I know you have some background working in TV, but were there any other things that influence you in putting film and filmmaking front and center in your book?

Dawn: I love film, so that helped. But it was really Dez who made that decision.
At first, I thought he was a director in a play. It didn't work. When I realized he was into film, the story took on a life of its own. The beginning of the book is almost exactly how I wrote it in first draft.

Lisa: Does that happen a lot for you? I always have trouble writing until I know what that first scene and first line is--they don't usually change much.

Dawn: It doesn't come easy, but I HAVE to get that first part nailed down before I can move on with the rest of the book. Once the first thirty pages are done, I'm golden.

Lisa: I feel the same way. I can write thousands of words, but if the first ones aren't right, nothing else works. What is it about those first thirty pages do you think that makes them so necessary?

Dawn: It's almost like the foundation for me. And you need that to build a book.
The first thirty sets the tone, the voice, the pacing. It's everything!

Lisa: So let's talk those first 30 for thrillers. They're not a genre I write, so I'm interested to know what features are essential for thrillers in those first 30 pages? And what was the hardest thing when you were writing the first 30 for THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR?

Dawn: Oooh. Good question. I think my character's motivation was the hardest part.
I knew what they wanted, but I didn't know what made them tick at first.
They both acted much different that I thought I would've in their situations.
Once I got to the end, I went back to the first 30 and smoothed it out, gave hints to details about their past (without telling), and laid the groundwork for some of the events that would happen in the future. I also had to go back and adjust the pacing.
I tend to move into my stories too quickly. I needed to work on grounding a bit in the revising stages.

So for features needed:
*You need to be grounded in the moment in time
*Have a quick pace without rushing
*Hints of where the story is going to take you
*A promise for the reader

Lisa: Love it!
Okay- one more question before we wrap up...

Dawn: Cool. Lay it on me.

Lisa: So I saw that you're doing a contest on your website/blog for a book trailer...

Dawn: Yes! I'm so excited about this. I hope I get a million entries.
It is for budding (or not so budding) film makers to try their hand at producing a book trailer.
I have a $250 Amazon gift card for the winner. $50 for 2nd and 3rd place
Plus, I'm going to feature them on my website and use the grand prize winner's piece as my official book trailer!

Lisa: That’s awesome! So help your fans out: Give me one word that encapsulates your book that your budding filmmakers might need to hit to win the big prize. :0)


Thanks so much, Dawn! And congrats on your release!

Okay, everyone--be sure to check out the book trailer contest on Dawn's Website:

And go LIKE her Facebook page for a chance to win books!!

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  1. Fantastic interview! I am especially intrigued in essential components of a thriller. Can't wait to read the book.

  2. I love the part about the story already being there, just doing the telling of it. So true!

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