Thursday, August 24, 2023

Robert Swartwood

Robert Swartwood is the USA Today bestselling author of The Serial Killer’s Wife, The Calling, Man of Wax, and several other novels. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Daily Beast, ChiZine, Space and Time, Postscripts, and PANK. He created the term “hint fiction” and is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. He lives with his wife in Pennsylvania.

Swartwood's new novel is The Killing Room.

My Q&A with the author:

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

The book starts with a businessman waking up in a Las Vegas hotel room that isn't his to find a dead woman in the bathtub. That's literally the first few pages. So the title, The Killing Room, gives the reader a good sense of what they're getting into when they pick up the book.

At the same time, I've always loved books that lead you in one direction and then suddenly go in an entirely different direction. Many times with thrillers, you know where the story is going after the first few chapters. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing! I’ve certainly written books like that.

But for this one, I wanted the reader to get caught up in what they think they know and then pull the rug right out from under them—so it’s challenging to go into much of the plot without giving away major spoilers, though I will note that I love titles that can have more than one meaning, and the title to this book is no exception.

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

I grew up reading Michael Crichton and Stephen King, so I'm not sure my teenage reader self would be too surprised. Though, at that age, I believed I would become a horror writer, so maybe my teenage self would be a bit bummed to learn I ended up going the crime/thriller route.

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

A blank page is always scary, for sure, but before I sit down to write a new book, I usually have been thinking about the plot and characters for a while, and sometimes even have an ending in mind, though oftentimes when I get to the end a few surprises pop up along the way—and that's always fun, because if I as the writer am surprised by what happens, then hopefully the reader will be even more surprised.

Having said that, as the story starts to crystalize, I'll sometimes realize certain parts of the beginning need to change. And sometimes I'll write an ending that doesn't work no matter how hard I try and needs to be retooled entirely. That's happened once or twice before. I don't love when that happens, but if it means the book is stronger for it, then so be it.

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

Some might call me a smart-ass, and my protagonists often have a sardonic streak that runs through them. But I also write about a lot of evil characters, so it's scary sometimes to think that maybe part of me is in those characters, too, just beneath the surface.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Movies and TV, for sure. Readers often comment that my writing is cinematic, which I think is a roundabout way of saying they can easily see the action playing out in their heads. Probably because when I write, I'm just typing out the action as I see it in my head.
Visit Robert Swartwood's website.

--Marshal Zeringue