Please welcome Peter Swanson, author of the highly-addictive debut thriller, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, on sale today.The story of a man swept into a vortex of irresistible passion and murder when an old love mysteriously reappears, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is an electrifying tale of romantic noir.
I don’t always remember the exact moment when I come up with an idea, but in the case of The Girl With a Clock for a Heart, which was originally a short story, I do remember that moment. I was looking at Facebook, probably avoiding some piece of work that needed to be done, and I was marveling at how much information you could find out about people you barely knew. It made me think of college—I was a freshman in 1986, and incoming students received a handbook, half of which (the unread half) was rules and regulations, the other half a listing of incoming students, where they had gone to a school, and, in some cases, a photograph. This thing was like a Bible. It was all you had to go on, after meeting someone new at a party. And it led me to one of those “What if” questions that often start a story.
In this case, the "What if" question was: What if you were a high school student who had gotten into college, and didn't want to go? What if someone else went in your place? First of all, I knew that it could never happen nowadays. Too many Facebook pages, and Instagram accounts, and Snapchat (I don’t know what Snapchat is, but I’ve heard of it). But when I went to college I thought that it could be done—that two seniors in high school could switch identities so that one could go to college, and one wouldn't have to. If they were clever enough, who would find out?
If I were a different type of writer, this might have turned into a romantic comedy, or a piece of literary fiction about the temporal nature of identity, or something farcical, but I turned it into a thriller. I was partly inspired by the movie Brick, written and directed by Rian Johnson, in which a noir sensibility is fused with a story of high school students. I wanted my novella to feel like pulp fiction, but with college freshman in 1986.
I wrote it relatively fast (for me). I was happy with it, and thrilled that Joe DeMarco agreed to publish it on his excellent e-zine Mysterical-E. This led to being nominated for a Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web, which led to getting an email from Nat Sobel, who became my agent. He is the one who initially suggested that the story could become a novel. I was skeptical at first, but when Nat asked me what I thought might happen if the two college freshmen from the story met again years later, I knew I had my story.
So George and Liana met again. It’s twenty years later, and without giving too much away, Liana, by necessity, is still a woman without a past. Still no Facebook page, or Twitter profile, or Linkedin account. Not even a cellphone. This makes sense for the character, but it was also great for me, the writer. Modern technology can be hell on the thriller writer. How many times have you, as a reader, wondered why the character in peril doesn’t just break out the cellphone? And a lot of mystery novels would end on page 50 if such-and-such character simply Googled such-and-such other character, and discovered she was a convicted jewel thief. So Liana’s lack of a past, and lack of a computer trail, is great for me, the writer. And it also means that Liana, for George, and for the reader, remains an enigma, just like she was when George first met her his freshman year at college.
Peter Swanson has degrees in creative writing, education, and literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College. His stories and poems have appeared in the Atlantic, Mysterical-E, Vocabula Review, and Yankee Magazine. He lives with his wife in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is at work on his second novel.