Site icon Joanna Campbell Slan

I'm a Researchaholic: An Interview with Joe Finder

Joe Finder will be appearing at the Love Is Murder Conference in Chicago, Feb. 4-6, 2011. For more information go to

1.Unlike most action oriented books, your settings are not exotic. Often the scariest scenes occur in office buildings. Many authors rely on dramatic settings. How do you manage to make such commonplace settings still seem frightening?

The familiar is what we identify with most, and we need to identify with a situation before we can be frightened. Alfred Hitchock understood this. He was the master of taking the ordinary man in the commonplace setting, and turning it into something tense and unexpected. That tension, that fear happens when something disrupts the familiar: the thing under the bed, the noise on the stairs. That’s what I’m interested in.

2.Your hero/ine is often a sort of “every man” or “every woman” who is discounted by others. Why does this type of character appeal to you? It would seem that the pitfall would be a character who is too bland or boring to hold the reader’s attention, and yet your characters are compelling…even if they are slackers. Please comment. Also, you seem to include male characters who are amazed that they’re loved by smart and attractive women. This goes contrary to many male fantasies of being irresistible. Tell us about that.

I think the “everyman” is the ideal protagonist for a thriller, again because of this question of identifying with the hero. I also love the idea of the underdog, the person the reader wants to root for because everyone else seems to underestimate them. Nick Heller can be beaten, and because we know that, the stakes are higher. It’s much more exciting for the reader when he overcomes those obstacles.

Men might pretend to think they’re irresistible, but I’ll let you in on a secret: most of us know that’s a fantasy. Most men have no idea why any woman would find us attractive. Life’s not an Axe commercial. I think both men and women appreciate a more realistic approach.

3. Your books are full of tension and suspense, but it comes from events most of us might imagine ourselves in, such as snooping around in an office where we don’t belong. Or getting caught in a lie. You are a master at upping the stakes and amplifying the threat. How do you do that?

All of my anxieties feed my twisted imagination, or maybe it’s the other way around. I imagine myself in a given situation and ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Then I play out the scenario in ways that will challenge the reader’s expectations. If a reader thinks, “Oh, I know where this is going,” but something completely different happens, that’s exciting, that’s thrilling.

You have to start with a character the reader cares about, and then put them through a sequence of events that escalate, with moments of real tension