Thursday, December 9, 2021

Andrew Bourelle

Andrew Bourelle is the author of the novel Heavy Metal and coauthor with James Patterson of Texas Ranger and Texas Outlaw. His short stories have been published widely in literary magazines and fiction anthologies. He is an associate professor of English at the University of New Mexico.

Bourelle's new novel is 48 Hours to Kill.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think the title 48 Hours to Kill pretty much says it all. It tells you what the protagonist plans to do and how much time he has to do it.

The book is about a prison inmate, Ethan Lockhart, being released for a 48-hour furlough to attend his sister’s funeral, and he decides to use that time to try to find her killer. Every chapter begins with a countdown, letting readers know exactly how much time Ethan has left.

As I was writing the book, I had a different working title in mind, but my agent, the amazing Amy Tannenbaum, suggested I come up with something that would signal to readers how the book is structured as a countdown. I thought 48 Hours to Kill was a nice play on words since “time to kill” usually suggests having spare time—the exact opposite of what Ethan has in the book. The publisher briefly toyed with the idea of changing the title but ended up sticking with 48 Hours to Kill. I’m glad Amy prompted me to come up with the title and I’m glad the publisher stuck with it because I think it tells readers exactly what kind of ride they’re in for.

What's in a name?

The book takes place in Northern Nevada, and there are plenty of real locations, like Lake Tahoe or the Black Rock Desert, but I also created several fictional settings. For these, I did think hard about the names. For example, in the prologue, Ethan and his sister and her friend Whitney go swimming next to a tall rock outcropping on the edge of Lake Tahoe where people like to cliff dive. In Lake Tahoe’s 72 miles of shoreline, there’s no cliff like this, although it certainly seems like something that could be there. I created the cliff for the book and called it Coffin Rock, describing it like an old pine casket standing upright over the water. I chose the name because it has an ominous feel to it. There is a real casket later in the book—and plenty of bodies pile up throughout the book.

Another example is the strip club owned by the gangster Ethan used to work for. In the first draft, I called the club Fantasy World, but that just didn’t have the right feel to it. I wanted something more noir and came up with Dark Secrets. To me, Dark Secrets sounds like it could be the real name for a strip club (for all I know, there might be one out there somewhere with that name) but it also suggests something more sinister. The whole book is about dark secrets.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I think my teenage reader self would like the book. He’d look up from the Stephen King book he was reading, or the X-Men comic book, and say, “What took you so long?”

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I guess endings are harder. That’s the part I seem to rewrite the most. When it comes to revising the beginning, it’s a matter of tweaking the language and making sure the tone and feel fits with the rest of the book, the parts I’d written once I found my groove. But the endings can require more revision. When I finish a draft, of a story or novel, I sometimes realize that the ending I had in the back of my head all along isn’t the right one after all. So I have to do some extra work to find the ending that works the best.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Not really. I suppose there’s some kernel of my personality in Ethan Lockhart, the protagonist of 48 Hours to Kill. But I’m not nearly as tough or as cool or as … well … criminal as him. In all my life, I’ve never walked into a bathroom, punched a guy in the kidney as he urinated, shoved his head into the toilet, and demanded he give me the answers I was looking for. That’s a typical Saturday night for Ethan.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I used to live in Northern Nevada, and I always thought the area would make a great setting for a noir novel. The gambling and casinos, and the vast expanses of desert and mountains surrounding it. I loved living in Nevada, especially all the outdoor opportunities, but the writer in me couldn’t go camping out in the desert without imagining gangsters burying a body out there, or swimming in Lake Tahoe without imagining some kind of showdown out on a boat in the middle of the lake, where there’s no escape except miles of icy water in every direction. Setting tends to influence my writing, and that was especially the case with this book.
Visit Andrew Bourelle's website.

--Marshal Zeringue