David J. Bell is the author of CEMETERY GIRL, forthcoming from NAL/Penguin in October 2011. He is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Western Kentucky University and can be reached via his website at www.davidbellnovels.com
Cemetery Girl is your first published novel. With the recent advent of e-readers, did you ever consider self publishing?
No, I didn’t. It was always my dream to publish with a New York publisher. I certainly understand that publishing is changing right now, and a lot of authors are opting to go that route. But for me a New York publisher has been a great experience. I’ve worked with an amazing editor–Danielle Perez–and an amazing agent–Laney Becker–and everyone at NAL and Penguin has worked hard to market the book and get it out there. I’m very pleased.
You mention in your bio that you are an avid reader, what author or authors have inspired you to write?
The list could go on for days. Early on, when I was a student, I read and was inspired by some giants of literature–Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford. In terms of suspense and mystery, I’m a big fan of Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, Ed Gorman, and Robert B. Parker. The truth is I’m an obsessive reader, and I’ll read just about anything.
Is there a specific author that you feel has influenced the way in which you write?
I’m most influenced by those writers who work in the realistic tradition and spin compelling stories. I love it when a book grabs hold of me and won’t let go through a combination of great characters, sharp dialogue, and crisp, precise writing. Anyone who does that gets my attention.
Are there other genres, aside from thrillers, that you would like to explore through your writing?
I read broadly and I’m a fan of a lot of genres. I’m just as likely to read a spy novel or a fantasy novel as a thriller, and whenever I read the work of an outstanding writer, I’m inspired to go back to my own work and try to improve. A lot of writers I admire have written in multiple genres–Richard Matheson, Ed Gorman, Elmore Leonard. Who knows where my imagination will take me, but for now I have ideas for a lot of thrillers.
One of the things that I found refreshing about Cemetery Girl is that all of the characters actions are believable. Were you ever tempted to take them in a different direction in order to deliver a bigger thrill?
I enjoy reading fiction that features characters who are complicated and flawed the way all of us are complicated and flawed. Over the course of writing the book, I felt I got to know the characters very well, and I could understand what was driving them to do what they were doing. The story played out based on the desires of those characters, and to try to have them do anything else would have seemed false or forced.
Some writers feel that having an outline is essential in writing a novel. Others have said that they don’t use them, preferring to let the story flow as they write. Which do you prefer?
I didn’t have a formal outline for Cemetery Girl. I always work best when I know the end of the story. I don’t mean that I literally know what the last scene or moment will be, but I need to have a sense of the characters’ arc–which also means I know how I want the readers to feel at the end of the story. As long as I know that, then I feel confident I can get to where I need to go. One of the great joys of writing is being surprised by something that happens in the book, and that can happen whether there’s an outline or not. I figure that if I’m surprised as the writer then the reader will be surprised as well.
The importance of family is a recurring theme throughout the book. How has your own family influenced your writing?
I was fortunate to grow up in a house that was full of reading materials. My parents read several newspapers a day. They both read books, especially my dad. My dad read every Louis L’Amour book at least ten times. And my dad took me to the library or the bookstore on a regular basis. It wasn’t a special treat–it was just part of life to go and collect a stack of books from the library and read them. I trace my love of writing to my love of reading and my family played a big role in that.
As a newly published author, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing fiction writers today?
I don’t know that the challenges are any different than they were when Homer sat around the campfire. Writers need to tell good stories that entertain and tell us something about the crazy world we exist in. There are always going to be economic problems and technology problems, but in the end, people want good stories, and whether they’re reading them in a paper book or an e-reader, the best stories will find an audience and endure.
Would you ever consider writing a sequel to Cemetery Girl?
It seems to me that the book is pretty self-contained, but only a fool would say never. Who knows if somewhere down the road I’ll want to revisit these characters and see where they ended up?
Are you working on another book now, and can you give us a preview of what it will be about?
Definitely. I’m working on another thriller about a family whose child was murdered twenty-five years earlier. Except that as the twenty-fifth anniversary of the murder approaches, things are happening to make them question those past events–did the man convicted of the crime really commit it? Did their child even die? I’m having a lot of fun with the twists and turns.