Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ON SURPRISE ENDINGS


“Compton’s debut is a taut, tense cautionary tale complete with courtroom drama and a surprise ending.”

-Kirkus (starred review)


Her first book. A starred review. What one reviewer called a "searing" novel about an up and coming attorney--who makes one wrong decision--and it's a big one. He becomes obsessed with a colleague. And Jenny's not his wife. What should have been a one-time fling turns disastrous-- when Jenny is accused of the murder of one of her clients, and Jack is her only alibi. Now Jack’s in the painful and precarious position of being trapped between saving a friend and protecting his family.

(cue scary music)

Julie Compton was a huge hit at Thrillerfest..and now that she's back home, she's taking a moment from Mom duties to tell us about thinking in the shower and writing like a man.


HANK: You're a lawyer--have you always wanted to write mysteries? Do you remember when the idea for Tell No Lies came to you? If you can tell us your kind of eureka moment without giving away the ending--what was it?

JULIE:
When I first began to write the novel that eventually became Tell No Lies, I didn't intend to write a mystery or a legal thriller. At the time I wrote the first scene, I had no idea what the novel would be "about." I didn't even know whether I was starting a novel or a short story; I merely had a scene in my head of two characters arguing about the death penalty over lunch.

Those two characters eventually became Jack, my main character, and Jenny, the object of his obsession.

The idea for the larger story came only after I'd run across two news stories. One involved unethical behavior by a politician (imagine that!) and it got me to thinking, as so many of those stories do: Why would he do that? Why would he risk everything? I believe most people are good -- even those who do "bad" things -- and I wanted to explore how and why a good person ends up doing something so out of character.
The second news story involved a young man accused of a crime, and despite the mounting evidence against him, his mother continued to insist he was innocent. She was in complete denial. It was another aspect of human nature I found interesting and wanted to explore.

Interestingly enough, I heard the first news story on my shower radio while taking a shower! I started formulating an idea for the novel right then and there, and as soon as I dried off, I ran down to my office and wrote the idea in a stream of consciousness narrative so I wouldn't forget it. If you were to look at that "summary" today, however, it barely resembles the finished product.

HANK: Your main character is a man. Did you have to reset your brain to write from a male point of view? How?

JULIE: I didn't even realize my tendency to write from the male point of view until someone pointed it out to me! But it's absolutely true. Almost everything I've written and finished has been written from the male point of view. The few times I've tried to write something from the female point of view, I've run out of steam. For whatever reason, I hit a wall or became bored with my story, and I stopped in the middle.
The easy explanation,I think, is that I grew up with five older brothers. I spent a lot of time around boys! But in general, I just find it more fun to write about men. Men seem to keep a lot inside and that makes it much more interesting to write from the male point of view. What they say on the outside (their dialogue) may be completely different from what they're thinking on the inside (the narrative). It becomes more of a challenge to the writer, I think.

HANK: Are you still working as a lawyer? How do you juggle your lawyer/mom/writing time?

JULIE: No, I no longer actively practice, though I volunteer as a guardian ad litem for abused and neglected children. I'm not a lawyer in those cases, but it keeps me in the courtroom and I feel like I'm able to make a positive difference in the world, however small.Juggling my roles as a mom and a writer is a bit easier now because my girls are older. When I wrote Tell No Lies, my older daughter was in elementary school and the younger was in preschool, so I wrote when they were at school.

I do remember days, though, when they'd come home and I'd be in the middle of a scene and not want to stop writing. I'd encourage them to invite friends over, because although the house would then be crowded and loud, they would keep themselves busy playing and didn't care that I was still writing. I could see right into their playroom from my office, so I was able to keep an eye on them even as I wrote.
I returned to the practice of law for a few years after I had the first draft completed, and it took me a long time to edit because I simply didn't have the same amount of time to devote to my writing. I'm one of those people who require eight hours of sleep a night. I admire writers who hold another full-time job and still have the energy to spend their evenings writing. They must have incredible stamina! When we moved to Florida and I had the opportunity to stay home with my girls again, I jumped. I enjoyed being there when they returned from school, and I missed the long days of writing.
HANK: There's a lot of chat about the "surprise ending"--comparing your book with Presumed Innocent. (Nice!) Do you wish people would stop talking about the ending?

JULIE: Not at all! I love that they talk about it! The only downside is that now I feel compelled to have another surprise at the end of my next novel. My editor laughed when I told her this and said that I'll drive myself crazy if I put that kind of pressure on myself.

HANK: So you're working on a new book now? How does it end? (Kidding.)
JULIE: I finished my second novel and recently received the feedback from my editors, so I'm gearing up to work on the revisions. It's the story of a biker guy (there's that male point of view again!) whose girlfriend is mysteriously taken from him without so much as a goodbye. In his quest to find her and literally save her life, he ends up figuratively saving his own.

HANK: And finally, the Jungle Red Quiz!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Poirot. It's the French accent. (Though I guess he was actually Belgian, right?)

Sex or violence?
Sex, without a doubt. I'm one of those parents who don't quite get the other parents who have no trouble with their kids seeing whatever level of violence, blood and gore -- whether in games, on the screen, books, etc. -- yet cover their child's eyes if they happen to see a picture of a naked woman. What's that all about??

Pizza or chocolate?
Hmm, that's a tough one. Pizza, but only if it's Imo's Pizza in St. Louis.

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)
You're killing me here, Hank! Can I take Pierce's face and Daniel's body?

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?
Katherine, hands down.

First person or Third Person?
Third.

Prologue or no prologue?Depends on the type of book one is writing, but if I have to choose, I'd say no prologue.

Your favorite non-mystery book?
I don't know that I can name just one, but the book I'm telling everyone about right now is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Simply amazing.

Making dinner or making reservations?Making reservations. I'm a huge foodie, as long as someone else is the chef.

And now, of course, for your readers: The Jungle Red Quiz:
Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess

1. My house was once demolished by a tornado.
2. I'm a pilot.
3. I can play the saxophone.
4. Our family's menagerie of animals includes a dog, three cats, two turtles, two rats, a bird and an alligator who sits on our driveway.

Thanks Julie! I'm guessing: saxophone.

(HANK: Here's what I wonder, though, shouldn't every mystery have a "surprise" ending? I mean, if it doesn't, hasn't the author failed? I guess some are just more surprise-y than others, right? I mean--Presumed Innocent, yeah. That was a surprise. Roger Ackroyd, of course. And the movie the Sixth Sense. What makes them good? Is it--they they're fair? A surprise ending that's stupid is certainly a surprise--but not one you'd want.)


*********************************************
Though Julie Compton was born, raised, and educated in St. Louis, MO (the setting for Tell No Lies), she's had the pleasure of bouncing around the country for more than a decade with her husband Rick and daughters Jessie and Sally. After leaving St. Louis, she spent a few years in Boston and even more in Philly before her family settled finally in Florida. She's practiced law along the way, including a stint with the U.S. Trustee's Office in Wilmington, Delaware (part of the U.S. Department of Justice), but now she gets to pop out of bed in the morning to do something much more fun: write.

Visit Julie at http://www.julie-compton.com

15 comments:

Matt Bronleewe said...

What a great interview! Can't wait to discover the twist ending! Sounds like a book that would make a perfect movie too...

Allison Brennan said...

Great interview, Julie and Hank! Fabulous to meet you (both!) at Thrillerfest. I love how you came up with your ideas, Julie. It often works the same for me. I have no idea what I'm doing, then bam! something clicks. I still don't know what I'm doing, but at least there's a story buried somewhere . . . .

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Matt...I'm still bummed I never got you to sign ILLUMINATED for me at Thrillerfest. It looks terrific. And is there a new one coming out?

As for you, Allison. See you in San Francisco next week--and whoa. The RITAs. Very exciting.

I'm at my desk right now, trying to write, hoping for an idea. Maybe--I should just go take a shower...

Roberta Isleib said...

hi Julie, welcome to Jungle Red! I'm going to ask the question people always ask me when they hear I'm a clinical psychologist who no longer practices: do you miss practicing law? Any plans to go back?

sounds like a terrific book--I can't wait to read it! Roberta

Jan Brogan said...

Hi Julie,
I'm intrigued both by writing from the male point of view (I grew up with three older brothers!) and by your twist ending.
And the comparison to Presumed Innocent (my favorite mystery ever) makes me want to run out immediately and buy your book.
Welcome to Jungle Red!

MTV said...

Julie

Great idea and exciting book!! I love it when there is a powerful dynamic conflict. That definitely got my attention. I went over to your site and read the opening just to get a feel for the pacing.

It's almost like the protagonist is going a long one day, and ... boom things start to happen that press on any weak points he's ever had.

Definitely movie material.

Hank

Great interview!

It really points out how a single scene or concept can drive story development. The intensity of one poignant idea when woven into real life can produce a striking story.

And, my final comment in regard to Julie's comment:"I believe most people are good -- even those who do "bad" things"

People do "bad" things out of ignorance and unresolved issues...

I'm sure Roberta would have a field day with that statement.

Mike

Kelli Stanley said...

Terrific interview, Julie! I've got my copy of Tell No Lies from your signing at BEA and can't wait to read it!! (and see a film version ... who's the dream actor for your protagonist?)

Ooh, and those quiz questions are tough ... I'm guessing the tornado. :)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Julie--wow! Lots and lots of hits today..thanks for visiting.

SO?? Is Kelli right about the tornado? Could you do a sax duet with Bill Clinton?

©Hotbutton Press said...

Shoot... is it too late to guess #4? I figure if you have an alligator in your driveway, the other pets would be gone by now. Sounds reasonable. :)

Julie Compton said...

Wow, thanks to everyone for the great comments! Hank, did the shower help?? LOL!

Roberta, you asked if I ever miss practicing law? Sometimes I do, but the part I miss most is the comraderie among lawyers (now, now, no snickering!). I miss the people. That's why it's been so great to discover the International Thriller Writers. I had no idea when I arrived at Thrillerfest what a wonderful group of people I was about to meet.

Mike, hmm, ignorance and unresolved issues. . . You've given me some food for thought.

As for the movie, a lot of people have said the same thing, but so far Hollywood hasn't come calling! I'll keep my fingers crossed. I think I'd want an unknown to play Jack. . .

Finally, Hank had it right from the beginning. Not only can I NOT play the sax, I can't play ANYTHING. I have zippo musical ability. I can't even hold a tune in the shower (which is why I have that shower radio, to drown out my voice!). I once tried to learn how to play the sax, but my dog started howling (in pain) when I practiced, so I gave it up as soon as I started.
There is an alligator who sits in our driveway, but I confess, it's not a live one. He's very real looking, however, and has fooled many an UPS driver.

Hank, thanks again for inviting me here! It's been a lot of fun and given me the opportunity to "meet" some new faces. You're an angel!

Julie Compton said...

Oops, I meant camaraderie!

Jamie Morris said...

What a fun interview. I appreciate Julie letting us know that writers don't have to be super-human (though that doesn't hurt), but that eight hours a night can make or break you.

It's common sense advice like that that interests me. Writers--like so many other creative types--often have a mystique surrounding their processes, but Julie just opened the door for us and invited us in to see a regular woman watching through to the playroom keeping an eye on her kids.

Nice book, nice writer, nice interview.

Thank you!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yeah, Jamie, I agree. I love hearing about real life behind the mystique.

Julie--so funny! I could picture you as a pilot, definitely. The tornado, no one would say that unless it had happened. Alligators--well, you live in Florida and have kids. It could happen. Plus, I dont play an instrument, either. They tried to get me to play the flute. But I had to practice. No way.

And I can't sing. AT ALL.

And Dani, I'm howling about the alligators. There's a terrific Eddie Izzard (my fave) routine. It's Noah, putting animals on the ark.

He calls out:
"Two tigers, go. Two rabbits, go. Two dogs, two cats, two chickens. Go. Okay, my sons. What do we have on board so far?"

And Noah's son says: "Two tigers.

(Come back Friday. You won't regret it.)

Geri said...

Such a thoughtful and instructive interview. Julie, you're definitely my inspiration for how to write from male POV. You have it nailed.

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